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Learning Paganism in the Modern Age

By Frater Barrabbas Tiresius

[Snip] If we review what ancient paganism was like in the European Mediterranean arena, at least according to Walter Berkert, then we can see that there were actually three domains through which the overall pagan religion was performed and celebrated. The first and highest level was the domain of the polis or the city-state, which was basically the state sponsored religious practices. This would also have included the mystery schools, even though they functioned outside of the bounds of the polis. The next level would have been the family tradition, headed up by the pater familias or head of household, and it would have included family based deities and practices associated with the household, including the lares and penates, threshold deities, hearth deities and a host of other entities. The lowest level was that of the individual, who could have their own private and personal relationship with a specific deity or deities as well as membership in one of the mystery colleges (as a participant). So, these are the three levels that broadly represented the sphere of pagan religious activity in antiquity.

Regarding animal sacrifice, this rite was typically performed at the level of the state religion of the polis, but it could also be found in the family tradition and the religious activities of the individual. Animal sacrifice at the state level consisted of large animals, such as cattle, oxen and the like. Family traditions typically would sacrifice smaller animals, such as goats and rams, and individuals might sacrifice doves or other smaller, less expensive animals. Mystery colleges sometimes employed large or small sacrifices, depending on the cult and level of social engagement. We will examine animal sacrifice and try to determine if modern paganism needs to adopt it or if other surrogates can be used instead.

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