Ritual Use of Blood, Yesterday and Today

by Anna

Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Aaron Leitch, author of several books, including Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, The Angelical Language Volume I and Volume II, and Essential Enochian Grimoire.

The subject of the use of blood in magickal rituals arises every so often in modern occult discussions. And, as you might expect, it tends to be a rather polarizing force. Some are willing to use blood—either their own or that of an animal—in their sacred rituals, while others consider it animal cruelty and are vehemently against the practice. Sadly, these discussions usually get off on the wrong foot from the very beginning, thanks to a very distorted view of ritual sacrifice held by Western culture. Most often, I see the assertion that ritual sacrifice is a method of “powering your magick via the death of a living creature.” And, even more unfortunate, it is sometimes said the magick is powered specifically by the terror and pain suffered by the creature.

I have addressed the subject of ritual sacrifice in many places—see Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires chapter four (Llewellyn), my introduction to Ritual Offerings (Nephillim Press), and a few other places on blogs and forums. I will briefly summarize here what I had to say on the subject elsewhere:

First and foremost, there are no cultures in history (at least that I have been able to find) who engaged in ritual sacrifice because their magick was fueled by fear, pain, or even death. At least, no more than your intent is to “kill another life-form” every time you sit down to eat—even though that is exactly what you are doing. You see, those ancient cultures were feeding their spirits, and they lived at a time when there were no supermarkets to buy meat in nice clean packages and pretend they weren’t killing anything. No, they had to raise their own livestock, and look them directly in the eye every time they slaughtered one to make dinner. Preparing a meal for your ancestors, patrons, or familiar spirits was no different—except there was a lot more ritual involved in the preparation and slaughter of the animal (along with a metric ton of rules and warnings about how to offer the blood safely).

This doesn’t mean you can’t have moral objections with engaging in sacrifice yourself. Let’s say you are an ethical vegetarian or vegan—meaning you disagree entirely with the enslavement of animals for any reason. (A stance I can’t sincerely refute.) Then it would be downright silly for you to feed them to your spirits. As for myself, I couldn’t even bring myself to have blood drawn humanely from my own black cat in order to consecrate the Solomonic Black-hilted Knife! And that was before I knew better than to use blood of any kind for any reason.

Speaking of which—I in fact do not use blood in my magick. Ever. Not mine, not an animal’s. Even when I offer meat, I cook it well done with no pink in the middle. My spirits don’t get blood because I don’t come from a religion that still performs ritual sacrifice. I’ve had no training in how to offer blood safely, I have no experienced priest to stand by my side and make sure I do things right, I have no community support whatsoever for the practice. And, without all of that, it’s a very dangerous practice. (What you offer to a spirit will affect how the spirit acts, and blood engages the most base and bestial aspects of a spirit’s nature—potentially turning your friendly familiar into a ravenous beast.)

And, frankly, for nearly anything you could ever need, blood is overkill. Give them a cooked meal, some candles, drink (water and booze) and some incense, and—trust me—you will have friends in the spirit world who will work for you!

Meanwhile, there are still religions and practices that use blood and have all of the community support in place; such as Santeria, Palo Mayombe, Voodoo, etc. It is unfortunate to see modern Western occultists attack practitioners of religions (or even Western systems like the Solomonic grimoires) that include sacrifice. There is no problem with being against the practice (see below), but we shouldn’t judge others based on a faulty understanding. That is to say, you can’t declare someone is sacrificing an animal to cause “pain and terror” when all they are really doing is preparing a meal. And, unless you are vegan yourself, you can’t condemn the use of animals for food (or clothing, or parchment, etc.)—either for people or for spirits.

However, this post isn’t just a defense of ritual sacrifice in old religions. There is also good news out there for those of you who choose not to engage in the practice: believe it or not, the decision to not use blood is a growing trend, even in traditions like Santeria!

You see, even in those old hard-core shamanic systems, blood is considered overkill for most things. If your entire tribe or village was in immediate danger, then perhaps the sacrifice of a four-footed animal would be appropriate. However, most of the day-to-day things you might need or desire—even big ones—simply don’t require blood. (As I said above, a cooked meal with some nice amenities does the job.) Thus, there is not very much pressure to even use blood in these systems most of the time. (In Santeria they are mostly relegated to important religious festivals or when a new Orisha or spirit is born.)

Even in cases where a particular spell requires blood, it is possible to make substitutions, such as the Solomonic Herbal Holy Water I describe here and here. Properly made, such waters are as powerful (or even moreso) than blood.

So blood isn’t as important in those systems as you likely think. Now add to that our modern Western sensibilities, and our (hopefully growing) realization that we are doing horribly nightmarish things to our food animals, and you find more and more people are just rejecting the use of blood entirely—and I’m talking about within lines of Santeria, Palo Mayombe, etc. These systems are already developing vegetarian lineages.

And it’s not being entirely forced upon the spirits by humans, either. The spirits actually seem to recognize the growing trend, and are not very upset by it. (Surely they are aware of how our food industry treats animals, and they likely want little to do with it. Something similar happened with sexual practices in Santeria after the AIDS epidemic hit.) Contrary to popular belief, Gods and spirits can grow and change with the times just like anyone else.

If you haven’t got your copy of Ritual Offerings yet, I strongly urge you to get one and check out Jason Miller’s essay on Tibetan Buddhism. Therein, he discusses the arrival of Buddhism (which does not tolerate harm to animals for any reason) in Tibet, and how the native Tibetan spirits had to be introduced to bloodless offerings. At first the spirits rebelled, but after a time they discovered the blood wasn’t necessary and settled down into the new offering practices. Apparently, this same process is going on in modern occultism as well—except this time the spirits already seem to know what is happening and are willing to go along. I don’t think this means the African Traditional Religions are ever going to abandon ritual sacrifice completely. However, it does mean individuals will have an option to avoid blood entirely, where that option didn’t previously exist.

Ultimately, the decision to make use of blood in your magick is up to you and your spirits. I will offer you the advice to avoid it entirely unless you join one of those religions that has been practicing it for thousands of years. Yet, even if you are staunchly against the practice, you can at least better understand it when you do encounter it. It’s not about death and pain. It’s about life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to the grill…

Our thanks to Aaron for his guest post! Visit Aaron Leitch’s author page for more information, including articles and his books.

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