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  • Clare Hogan

Sacrifice - Its Meaning and its Nature

To make sacred. Sacred? The word derives from the Latin sacrare which means to devote and sacer meaning holy. The ‘fice’ component is from the Latin facere which is to perform or do. A useful translation might be to perform a devotion; to focus a devotional action on something holy (derivative of whole, complete, divine). Sacrifice need not and should not equal suffering. It is designed to create expansion rather than results and an experience of knowing rather than of achieving. It is to give in order to receive, to surrender or forfeit in order to benefit and grow. It is a continual flow of surrender and receipt which enables us to stand aside and allow reality in all its splendour to reveal itself. This very performance defines the art of dying before you die, of permitting death to be a welcome component of life so that it can teach and guide us towards the gateway to further life, to life beyond this one.

Most if not all spiritual practices address the subject of sacrifice, and, as usual, misinterpretations arising from spurious agendas over the decades and centuries have warped and veiled a clear understanding of its true nature. Biblical offerings are associated with lambs, sons, and precious ‘possessions’ that are seemingly demanded by god to prove ones faith, submission, repentance and devotion. It’s absurd at the level of human reason, bordering on fascism.

We surrender what we delusionally consider to be most precious so as to realise and awaken to the awareness of its non-reality. In other words, our idea of ourselves as finite separate isolated beings. To surrender one’s son is the worst possible misery. It is an illustration to reveal the truth that you cannot lose who and what you really are. It is allegory, and more than that. It is in the Lotus Sutra, the Baghavad Gita, the Bible, and all perennial philosophy. Consciousness (Life) has us; we don’t have it; therefore, we cannot lose it, we only enter further and further into more of it. The awakening to this can feel initially like a risk or threat of some sort, as we relinquish (sacrifice) the idea of ourselves (which has been the cause of suffering all along). But, as we release the notion of a material universe we gain the ultimate freedom of the one Mind of which we all a part. Death isn’t quite meaningless, because it becomes interesting, even exciting – an adventure of conscious awareness. What does lose meaning is the fear and anxiety surrounding death, and of that which we believe may be lost. Nothing is ultimately lost because there are no things. There are things that look like things, that’s all.

Sacrifice is a profoundly significant symbolic spiritual performance to establish a relationship between man and the divine. It cannot be reduced and/or dismissed on grounds of rationality because rationality is incapable of penetrating the mythical foundations from which it has grown over thousands of years. Mythology’s influence and power lies in its imaginative expression through narrative to reveal a shared truth or reality as experienced by humanity. Its relevance is entirely in the present irrespective of when the stories might have been said to have occurred. The imagination as the source of creation was a principle tenet of Henry Corbin (1903 – 1978), a French philosopher and theologian who coined the term mundus imaginalis to mean:

“a dimension beyond the apparent limitations of most waking human experience. It is the world of the Platonic archetypes of light, of the collective unconscious described, explored, and experienced by Jung. It lies beyond the limited perception of the waking mind, but still within consciousness itself, as of course it must….The vastness of the mundus imaginalis is not possible to conceive with the conceptual mind, but we can access it, and do so sometimes when asleep. Another way is through art which, at its finest, draws on this timeless realm of the imaginary and the imaginal and manifests it for others to share in the experience. That is why we are so compelled by the best of it, because it expresses the ineffable and is describes and felt at times as ‘not of this world.” [i]

Henry Corbin was a professor of Islamic philosophy, and he was keen to ensure that his perception of this and other theological/psychological ideas would be considered through the prism of Sufism. Being the more mystical element of Islam, Sufis regard the nature of sacrifice slightly differently and they don’t indulge in blood sacrifice or the need for a victim. Ritualistic sacrifice is partly time specific; what might have been expedient 3000 years ago is now irrelevant. To slaughter a lamb to provide necessary meat might be understandable then, but it isn’t now, and Sufis abstain from the entire process.

The nature and meaning of sacrifice has to evolve over time otherwise it becomes delusional and even barbaric. The desire and need to consecrate, to ordain, to offer and make sacred shouldn’t require a victim, nor suffering of any kind. It is a (ritualistic) performance to make something, someone holy – to join the realm of the transcendent or ultimate reality. Every performance ritual has its own foundation and purpose, and the components usually involve the MC, the offering, when and where, how, who to, and why. All of this can be enacted at an entirely personal level or can include a vast multitude. The performance of making something or someone holy, whether it’s a priest or a baby, is to surrender the illusion of separateness to gain the awareness of oneness.

[i] Performance and Purpose in Dying and Death – CK Hogan FAb 2022

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