What Stace had to say on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
On Sacrifice

First…OMH, y’all, FINDING MAGIC is going to be on sale in like five days. Holy crap! And CHASING MAGIC in less than a month.

(BTW, for those curious…yes, that is basically Chess’s natural hair color; maybe not quite that blond, but definitely a lighter color. She’s naturally quite pale.)

Anyway. It just occurred to me this morning how close we are to release for that, so…eep!

But it’s not what I’m discussing. This is something I’ve thought about for a while, off and on, and I think will be interesting. It’s not meant to be advocating anything, At ALL. Especially not human or other mammalian sacrifice; for the record, let me state clearly that I DO NOT CONDONE OR ADVOCATE HUMAN SACRIFICE OR SACRIFICE OF OTHER LIVING BEINGS. PLEASE DO NOT SACRIFICE HUMANS OR OTHER LIVING BEINGS. EXCEPT MAYBE FLIES AND COCKROACHES. BUT EVEN THEN I DO NOT CONDONE OR ADVOCATE RITUAL SACRIFICE. I just thought it might be an interesting topic, and maybe an interesting discussion. Maybe something to think about as we write and/or as we read. It’s a “generic” topic, in that it’s not really inspired by any particular event (at least not in the writing world). It is, I admit, a *tad* inspired by someone I saw on a totally nothing-to-do-with-writing-or-books-at-all website. This person was claiming, with breathtaking…uh, well, ignorance…that “Ancient Wiccans” used to be PROUD when their child was chosen to be the “spring sacrifice,” killed, and its body stuffed into a tree trunk.

No, I am not joking.

But we’ll leave aside the idea of “Ancient Wiccans,” because frankly that’s not a subject I want to get into. We won’t even really get into the idea of babies stuffed in tree trunks, which is just immensely disturbing.

What we will talk about is sacrifice, because I’ve heard and seen far too many things about this, for years, where the idea of “sacrifice” is taken incorrectly. IMO. (But I’m right.) (And note that this doesn’t relate to the type of sacrifice that is literally just about death, as in several books I’ve written and many, many others other people have written. Those were not religious sacrifices.)

The thing is, a sacrifice is supposed to be–should be–a sacrifice. This is why although I love the original film THE WICKER MAN–and I do–the “sacrifice” depicted doesn’t count. It’s not a sacrifice. The residents of Summer Isle deserve to have their crops die, because they may be obeying the letter of the law but they are certainly not obeying the spirit.

Why, you say? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Because a sacrifice is supposed to be a sacrifice. It’s supposed to be giving up something of value to you, to your community. It’s supposed to be causing yourself pain and suffering to prove your loyalty or worthiness or love/adoration for your deity, to acknowledge their godhood. A sacrifice is supposed to be you giving something up.

The residents of Summer Island did NOT sacrifice anything. They gave nothing up. A sacrifice is supposed to be personal, not a good reason to grab a stranger, murder him, and walk away whistling without a second thought. A sacrifice is supposed to be one of your own, one of your community. When you sacrifice a human being (and again I am NOT advocating such in any way, shape, or form), you’re proving your love for your God is higher than any human love. You’re giving up not just a person you love but another hand in the fields, or another pair of eyes to watch the children. (You’re also confirming your belief that this life is less important than the next, and that the sacrificed soul will live in eternity with the God and all of that etc.)

If you believe such things, God didn’t ask Abraham to sacrifice some guy off the street. He asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, and he did that because a sacrifice is supposed to be a sacrifice. (That he stopped Abraham before the knife came down doesn’t change that proof, although I frankly wonder how comfortable family dinners could have been after that.) For that matter, if you believe such things, God sacrificed His son Jesus to prove His love for humanity. He didn’t do it because he thought it would be a hoot. He didn’t grab somebody at random or just strike Jesus with lightning while Jesus walked down the street minding his own business. He didn’t do that because that is not a sacrifice. He sacrificed his son, and he did it (or had it done) in a very big public way, because THAT is a sacrifice, and THAT proves/proved (again, if you believe such things) his love for/devotion to humanity. That sacrifice was a covenant.

And not only is a sacrifice supposed to be personal, a sacrifice is supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to hurt. If you stand around beaming while your baby is taken from your arms and stuffed into a tree, you haven’t just made a sacrifice (and you’re a really cold bitch, frankly. Like, so cold I shudder thinking of you). You’ve just handed over something that means nothing to you, is what you’ve done. Because if it meant something to you you wouldn’t be grinning with pride; if it was truly a sacrifice you wouldn’t be happy. Or even calm and resigned. You might be understanding. You might be dully accepting. You might, if you’re very devout, be sort of pleased, in a, I-still-feel-sick way, that you’ve had a chance to prove your devotion. But you’re not going to feel good and happy, brush off your hands, and say, “Awesome! That’s done. Let’s go have some pie.”

What devotion does it prove, to hand over something you didn’t give a damn about to begin with? What is the point of sacrifice if after it’s done you shrug and go about your business?

The idea that understanding why a sacrifice needs to be made means it’s okay or right or normal to feel nothing about the sacrifice is ridiculous. The idea that, for example, there’s any way a woman could sacrifice her baby and feel nothing but pride and/or satisfaction is ridiculous. Animals–even cats, who are often called “bad mothers”–don’t just hand over their defenseless babies to predators with nary a qualm.

Anyone remember ROSEMARY’S BABY? Wherein Rosemary was drugged and raped–and thus impregnated–by Satan, in order to birth the half-devil child who would bring about the apocalypse? Anybody remember how Rosemary discovered this plan, and went into the nursery with a knife to kill the abomination, but then she saw him, and biological instinct or whatever kicked in and she thought, “Well, he’s half me. Half human. Maybe I can raise him right, and teach him. Maybe he doesn’t have to be evil.”

Guys, that baby had a tail and horns, if memory serves. But his MOTHER couldn’t bring herself to kill him. His mother wanted to try to save him. I’m not going to say you’re a terrible mother if you do actually kill the horned, spike-tailed baby that you know for an indisputable fact is born directly of Satan, but I will say that if you can do it without even blinking an eye or feeling the slightest qualm, I wonder about you a whole, whole lot.

And if you can do it without blinking an eye or feeling the slightest qualm–even a purely selfish one, as in, “I wasted nine months being pregnant and I have nothing to show for it”–then you have not made a sacrifice.

It is a myth that people stood around grinning when it was their turn to be or make a sacrifice. No, they didn’t. If they did it wasn’t a sacrifice, it was just murder.

Sacrifice is supposed to hurt. It is supposed to elicit an emotional reaction. It is supposed to be painful. It is supposed to be…a sacrifice.

If you’re writing, your characters need to have actual feelings about things. If you’re reading, you should expect characters to have actual feelings about things. “Sacrifice” does not mean “easy.” It should at least be a complex decision.

4 comments to “On Sacrifice”

  1. Jessie
    · May 30th, 2012 at 1:07 pm · Link

    Very well put. “Sacrifice” is a much over used and misused word in fiction. I’ve always thought of it this way. When the villagers stake out the young virgin for the local dragon, her parents are making the “sacrifice,” the rest of the village is making an “offering”.
    The Dragon however, probably doesn’t care about the distinction.

  2. Miss Bliss
    · May 30th, 2012 at 4:25 pm · Link

    YES! This is something that has always confused me about Lent and the Catholics. Now I am not Catholic, but I do understand that there is power in deciding to give something up, even if it’s only for a period of time, to focus your spirit, to remind you to pay attention to something beyond yourself. If what you give up means nothing to you, if you do not, in any real way, experience discomfort or loss…then what have you really done? Nothing it seems. Sacrifice is the extreme or full measure of this concept. As you said, if nothing is really GIVEN up, voluntarily and with full knowledge of the loss…then how can there be any sacrifice? I appreciate that you point out the difference between murder and sacrifice…they are not the same thing. Even if you murder someone to achieve something…that isn’t sacrifice, it’s just murder with a specific purpose. It seems to me that there must be conscious loss and choice for there to be any power in a sacrifice.

    • Stace
      · May 30th, 2012 at 4:51 pm · Link

      Lenten sacrifices are supposed to be hard. Among Catholics it’s considered lame and a bit facetious to, frex, give up rock-climbing or cigar smoking (assuming one does not participate in those activities; if you do, those are okay sacrifices) or eating foods to which one is allergic. If you’re the one running around bragging that you’ve given up burning your fingers with hot coals for Lent, people may smile wanly, but nobody takes you seriously (and no one who believes thinks God does either). You’re obviously poking fun.

      An even bigger and more admirable Lenten sacrifice is sacrificing time, in the manner of devoting X minutes or hours per day to charity work or cleaning local streets or parks. Or, especially, praying. Someone who promises to say a rosary every day during Lent is pretty serious. Someone who promises to do, say, a novena every day…that’s crazy serious, lol, because that’s nine rosaries a day; that’s hours of prayer.

      Obviously charity work and prayer aren’t intended to make the faithful *suffer,* but it is them giving up a leisure activity they would have otherwise enjoyed, or maybe some sleep, or whatever else. So it’s still a sacrifice. (And Lenten sacrifice isn’t supposed to really prove faith so much as it is about penitence and commemorating Jesus’s own fast; Lent is about preparing oneself, praying, contemplating, etc. and being cleansed through those acts.)

      So yeah…someone who makes the “Oh, I’m giving up waking up early for Lent” joke isn’t serious, they’re just being silly. :)

      • Miss Bliss
        · May 31st, 2012 at 9:42 am · Link

        Exactly! Thanks for clarifying the Lenten sacrifice. I know only a few Catholics who take it seriously enough that they truly consider what they give up. Though I have known quite a few drunks who gave up booze for the month attempting to prove they were not alcoholics. Considering that it seems like only alcoholics do that I’d say it was quite a large sacrifice for them. I’m glad you posted about this concept because I think it’s very interesting.

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