Friday, September 8, 2017

Taboo

It's dangerous ground.

Writers sometimes find ourselves in territory that is upsetting, criminal, perverse, perilous. We address not merely human behavior, but the least-traveled corners of our minds, many of them deep in shadow. Sometimes, the shadow is time itself: an historical author, writing about a period with scant or no primary resources to research. Sometimes, the shadow is more elusive, and all the darker: those places we don't want to look.

Sometimes, the shadows are simply what we cannot bring ourselves to understand, because what lies outside the light we have is too disturbing.

You can't get to civilization except through human sacrifice.

I come from a family of teachers - scientists and historians, both vocational and avocational. My brother is an anthropologist and archaeologist. I obviously have a strong affinity for the study of history, even as I avow strenuously that this makes me no expert. With me, it's the difference between learning and interpreting.

With me, it's the realm of feeling.

Writing is a striving to understand.

And so (and yes, being dried up and childless undoubtedly affects this), having recently had a conversation in which the quote above played a thematic part, I have of late been trying to understand human sacrifice. Child sacrifice.

That I have a character from (post-sacrificial era) Carthage plays in, but the more immediate dynamics of her life are unrelated to this practice.

That no reading on the subject you can find with casual ease seems able to address it without the use of the word "bloodthirsty" - and why that frustrates me - is much more the crux.



We've lost much of the concept of "SACRIFICE", in modern America. The word is bandied about, and people even give of themselves; I don't mean to say the practice, the impulse, is dead.

But the sacred tenet of SACRIFICE - the actual blood, and giving-up and giving-over - this is something we all but revile.

Americans today, meat-eating or not, consider the idea of killing an animal and offering it to G-d antiquated beyond all propriety. It is offensive to such a degree we unthinkingly find it actually immoral - pagan - barbaric - every word of which I choose carefully, and y'all can see with an easy click what I think of "barbaric" in particular, and any cursory reader must be able to guess what I think of "pagan". The judgment is so deep even the words we've loaded up with pejorative meaning are only tools to load the concepts we apply them to.

It's all denial. The need to distance and to Other a thing, so that we may prove our credentials in fitting the current definition of morality, or rectitude, or just fitting in.

The very idea of understanding taboos has become outre' - to understand barbarity is to know it, and to know it is to be guilty of it. And we don't like to claim, to admit, culpability.



There's a screed in there on contemporary politics, but that is not today's text.



And so, we have avidly removed ourselves from the deeply human impulse to (blood) sacrifice.

It's cruel.

It's ignorant.

It's extraneous (and not merely in secularists' minds).

It's GROSS.



But the lightest gloss of real study of human sacrifice - of child sacrifice - is not one of BLOODTHIRST: it is the revelation of what a society, what an individual, values most highly.

One of my recent readings of Carthaginian child sacrifice stated that parents gave up their children as lightly as if it were nothing. Even provided the queasy observation that child sacrifice worked for the city as population control, and actually conferred benefits on the society there over time.

The fact is, population control may have been some sort of benefit of child sacrifice.

But no society kills off its young without any greater justification than that ... even if it does factor into wider dynamics, to kill our fellow citizens, to kill our offspring is no light matter - no matter of logistics, especially in a city known for centuries for its wealth and culture. A parent might expose a child for many reasons, or sell into bondage, or abort, or kill with their own hands, in desperation and penury. But the development of ritual and sacrifice are not matters of immediate need, and centuries of religious practice are not explained by civic planning, by mere bloodthirst.

Religion is developed in OFFERING, not murder. Sacrifice is transactional, but with the Divine, not with mankind, not with our neighbors. We develop faith and religion with our neighbors, but its practice is pointed elsewhere.



The simple idea of giving up what means the most to us is washed out at the time we live in now. And not the objects we think we love, and imbue with emotion, but things more ineffable, more genuinely powerful.

Things with life. Things with souls.

Sacrifice is the commitment to our god(s) to give up a part of our hearts, perhaps something that grew from the deepest loves we have known. In the case of a child, the very living fruit of consummation, which itself means so much to us, in all its good and ill and hardship.

The sacrifice is TREASURE.





The seed germinating in a shadow, in this writer, in the dark loam of my mind and my own heart - is a story of sacrifice.

Of what it means to consign love itself, and life itself, in worship.

Of - not the thirst for, but the *price*, the bone-deep value, the cost we set on giving to that we adore. Of the dust on the fingers, the stones on the ground, the orange, windy sky, and the young eyes ... of giving.

And how that is forgotten. And those fingers will be remembered only for barbarity. Bloodthirst.

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