|Caravaggio - Sacrifice of Isaac, 1603|
sacrifice /ˈsækrəfaɪs, ˈsækrɪfaɪs /, noun
(1) when you decide not to have something valuable, in order to get something that is more important
(2) a) the act of offering something to a god, especially in the past, by killing an animal or person in a religious ceremony; b) an animal, person, or object offered to a god in sacrifice
a human sacrifice (= a person killed as a sacrifice )
offering /ˈɒfərɪŋ/, noun
(1) a book, play, piece of music etc that someone has written recently
(2) something that is given to God
(3) something that is given as a present to please someone
A sacrifice is the giving of something or someone to a deity or deities as a gift, in supplication, to atone, or to appease. It establishes a connection between the profane and the sacred. Common sacrifices are food and drink, tokens from the harvest, animals, and - historically - even humans. (pp. 398-399)He defines an offering as:
A sacrifice or gift to the gods. Whenever Witches have a meal, before they eat or drink they pour some wine onto the earth, onto the altar, or into the fire, as a sign of giving thanks to the gods for what they have. This is an essential part of the ceremony of Cakes and Wine, a part of every Witch meeting, although it will also be done any time Witches are feasting together. Offerings may also be made at any time, but they are done especially at the time of harvest to show appreciation for the bounty of the gods. (p. 350)
sacrifice: An offering of a gift, especially to a deity or being, in petition, thanksgiving or appeasement. The most common offerings are food, drink, the fruits of harvest and the blood sacrifice of animals and fowl. The highest sacrifice is that of human life, a practice now rare. Sacrifices can be made to the elements, the sun and Moon, the cardinal points, sacred landmarks (mountains, lakes, rivers and so on), the dead and supernatural beings.
In contemporary Witchcraft and Paganism offerings are cakes, drinks, fruits, flowers, poems, handicrafts, incense, nuts and other items. Blood sacrifice is considered unnecessary for worship. In Witchcraft rituals, an offering of food and drink is presented at the altar or sprinkled about the outdoors as an offering. (p. 294)
For us Wiccans, but also many other Pagans, the ceremony of the Cakes and Wine is the part of the ritual when we give offerings to the gods. This time, I have no objections to Rosemary Guiley's definition:
cakes-and-wine (also cakes-and-ale): In Wicca and Paganism, a relaxed sharing of refreshments, conversation, dancing and singing that follows rituals, circles, seasonal celebrations, rites of passage and other sacred occasions. The food and drink, which help to replenish energy after psychic work has been done, are consecrated and blessed by the high priest and priestess, which imbues the refreshments with divine energy of the Goddess and God. An offering is made to the deities as a thanks for the basic necessities of life. The high priest and high priestess sample the food and drink then share them with the group. Some of the refreshments may be scattered upon the earth as an offering, or be left for the fairies or elementals. (p. 49)I can testify that the above definition is very accurate because all of the Pagan rituals I have attended or lead have included a food/drink offering. Occasionally, some crystals or flowers were also given to the earth, elementals or other beings, but the first bit of food and the first sip of the drink are generally left in a libation bowl as offerings (or directly poured/scattered on the ground).
It is also necessary to mention the nature of Pagan offerings. Pagans do not atone for their sins by giving gifts to the gods, they do not try to get on their good side by doing this or try to make them less angry. My perception of offerings is like food or drink that you give to a respected, pleasant guest when they enter your home. For instance, when you welcome someone you like and respect into your home for tea and cookies (or whatever), it is a matter of etiquette to pour tea into their cup first and offer them a snack to go with it. Only when you have done this do you take some tea and cookies. This is simply a sign of respect and greeting or perhaps gratitude for the guest coming to your home (e.g. if they are very important). As I see it, it's the same with gods and basically any entity which is welcomed into the ritual circle. Offering them food and drink is a way of saying: "Hello. We welcome you into our sacred space and wish you to join us in celebration. We thank you for being here with us and give you love and respect just as you do to us". Hopefully this has made things a bit clearer.
As for the topic of blood sacrifice, I don't have much to say except that it is not a part of Paganism. Most Pagans see it as being an ancient tradition that simply does not fit into modern-day ethics and the Neopagan worldview in general. Personally, I think that blood sacrifice completely goes against the "golden rule" of Paganism - harm none - because "none" includes basically all living beings.
So these were my thoughts on the subject and I would love to hear yours (even if they might differ from mine). Feel free to leave them in the comments below. :)
Until next time. Yours,