From a recent convo with Aine Llewellyn on FaceBook:
How do we know that anything we do for the gods is what they for sure definitely totally 100% want double triple quadruple-checked? Can we stop with the obnoxious excuse of ‘we can’t be sure the gods REALLY want this’ argument? It provides nothing, as it can’t actually be argued against, nor is it itself a coherent argument. It adds nothing, nothing, nothing, to any discussion I have seen it brought up in. All it does, is shut discussion down.
…to which I responded:
We also can’t be sure that when a couple says ‘I do’ at a wedding, that they really, truly, 100%, double-triple-quadruple checked meant it. Seriously, we can’t be 100% certain of anything in our lives other than ‘do I feel what I’m experiencing as real?’ …and even then, we can’t be sure of every factor that played into our experience of it, we can only be sure of how we feel of it at the time we experienced it. Thus the whole ‘we cannot be certain of the gods’ argument is, inherently, useless –cos if one wants to play that game, I can play it better.
Someone once said to me on the Internet, that they had more evidence from experience of the existence of their gods than they had of my own existence —which makes perfect sense from an empirical standpoint. For all they knew, I could have been, at most, a ‘fake’ person created by some one else to RP with online, or even an elaborate sock-puppet troll —at most. I could’ve also been a really odd mass-hallucination shared by them and several other people that the first person knew to exist and, at least sometimes, post to an email list under certain email addresses. If you want to get technical, i could’ve also been their own hallucination from a comabed they mightn’t have left for years, all the while completely unaware that they’d ever had an accident that put them there. It was that logic that actually helped bring me around to Hedonism, cos it’s technically correct —which, as I’m sure you know, is my favourite kind of correct.
And in all seriousness, how can we be certain that my ntural hair colour ISN’T L’Oreal’s 2.1 Onyx Sheen, and the “dying process” I perform every month is actually just an unveiling to release the true colour from the outgrown false one? Sure, we can say that the empirical evidence suggests that I’m adding colour onto the outgrowth of my natural auburn, but how can we be certain that what we’ve observed is what is true? Because we’ve seen it? The wealth of evidence that the human mind is very good at playing tricks on itself suggests that we can’t be. Because it’s what others observe, as well? Unfortunately, mass hallucinations are also a fairly common phenomenon, and we can only truly be certain of that which exists in ourselves, in other words: Do we feel it to be real? Does it meet our own criteria, which exists only for us, for something that is real?
My friend Phaedra had once remarked that her hair had been candy-red for so long, that for all intents and purposes, it was her real haircolour, and the process of changing it from her own auburn to a candy red was simply a “revealing” ritual. (Of course, last we Skyped, it seemed she’d switched to Black, but that’s irrelevant.) Every time I’ve changed my hair colour, I’ve essentially changed my reality —not just in how I look, but also in how I feel, and how people treat me. Reality isn’t merely what’s observed, reality is what’s experienced and known from that experience to be real.
The topic seemed to have dovetailed from a debacle of several weeks concerning the nature of sacrifice and the appropriateness of animal sacrifice.
True, I haven’t made any statements here on that topic, ever, but I’ve said enough in comments elsewhere that I think it should be well-known what my feelings are, but for the sake of completeness, I’ll say something about it here:
On all ethical grounds, I really have no problem with blood sacrifices; after all, while my default diet lately has been “semi-vegetarian” (if only cos meat costs too much to eat every day, much less with every meal, as many Americans believe is necessary), I do eat meat, and in my mind, an animal raised for the purpose of sacrifice to the gods tends to have a measurably better life than one raised in factory farming for the sole purpose of becoming meat.
The argument that we’ve come far enough as a species and/or a culture to no longer need either meat, blood sacrifice, or both, erases the experiences of those in the culture with certain food allergies who are also too poor to supplement their diet with the veg*n options necessary to make up for a complete lack of meat and/or dairy —in other words, it is an ableist and classist argument. Since the meat eaten in a feast following the relatively humane slaughter practises from a ritual sarcifice has had a measurably better, more humane and comfortable life than the factory-farmed animal, blood sacrifice therefore become the most-humane option for consuming meat —this still may not be a feasible option as the only meat one eats, and i’m not going to pretend I have any insights into how that may be balanced, but it’s like the poor gay kid shopping at Salvation Army thrift stores: They’re an incredibly homophobic organisation, but if that’s one’s only option for clothing and furniture, then one isn’t doing oneself any favours by depriving oneself to make a statement (that said, if one’s statement is more important to oneself than being properly clothed, that’s certainly a decision that one is free to make).
Furthermore, the argument that white people practising religions with pantheosn Whose worship originated in Western Europe and certain areas of the Mediteranean shouldn’t practise blood sacrifices, but that dark people practising religions of Africa and the applicale diaspora should be free to do all the animal sacrifices they please is an inherently racist argument. It’s not racist because it is an argument that implicitly forbids white people from a freedom that is extended to black people —it is racist because (especially when juxtaposed alongside a “we’ve come so far….” argument) it simply plays into the old “savage” archetypes and tropes of Africans and suggests that those of the African diaspora are an inherently “primitive” people. Basically, it’s a patronising sort of racism that really has no place in civilised discussions, especially from a group of people (being pagans, the Pagan community, and polytheists) that tends to fancy themselves as being inherently unracist. While true that forbidding such practises to the African diaspora (AD) and others is a product of colonialism (which, in some respects, is closely related to racism in ways that it can be difficult to tell one from the other), the apparent motivations behind allowing AD and other groups while forbidding it to white people is born of the same kind of racism that produces exotification and the “noble savage” tropes. If one doesn’t support white people practising polytheist religions that have a history of blood sacrifice traditions to actually practise those blood sacrifice traditions, but one supports blood sacrifices when practised by darker people practising traditional and syncretic religions that utilise blood sacrifice, then one must ask oneself why, and re-evaluate the inherent validity of that belief.
Furthermore, the argument for the sentience of plant life becomes more and more compelling with each new observation and study in the field. While this in no way diminishes what has already been known of animal central nervous systems, perception of pain and suffering, and inherent sentience, the average ethical argument against the practises of blood sacrifice do tend to absolutely ignore the very real matter of plant sentience, and even the basic fact that the average vegan diet relies on the deaths and mutilations of billions of plants. If all life were truly equal to such people, then frankly, they’d be fruitarian and eat only fruits and nuts, the only parts of the plant which are freely given and (especially in the case of fruit) is actually best for the plant to be eaten, than to be left to rot. To fool oneself into believing, in light of evidence for plant sentience, that excluding animal life from the deaths needed to sustain one’s own existence, is an adherence to a principle of “least harm” is to make a pact of intellectual dishonesty and speciesism. To me, the lettuce sacred to Adonis is no less worthy of its life than the cow sacred to Hera.
To bring this back around to what the gods want, the fact of the matter is that if one believes in the multiplicity, and also the inherent individuality and personal autonomy of the gods, then it is perfectly logical that different deities may have different opinions, and especially permissive deities may not care if one group or selection of individuals practises blood sacrifice, while another group does no, and each group conducts each practise in that deity’s name. If not one of us can be certain of the wants and desires of the gods, then logically that argument must be applied to all groups and individuals performing ritual, including sacrifices, to the gods. When someone counters an assertion of a divine request of blood sacrifice with “oh, but no-one can really be certain of the wants and desires of the gods”, then logically, that person can no more be certain that the first person is wrong, either; if the second is to foolishly add on “…and it’s been requested of me by [x-Deity] to only perform bloodless sacrifices…” or “and [x-Deity] doesn’t mind that my sacrifices are bloodless…” then the same argument of “we cannot be certain of the gods” works just as much as it would work against the person performing a blood sacrifice. “We cannot be certain of the gods”, as true a statement as any, applies to everyone, regardless of what, exactly, they are doing in a Deitie’s name —to assert that truth whilst implying that one’s own position may be a favoured one is not only inconsistent with the asserted statement, it is hubristic.