Our modern food industry is lacking in a lot of ways. Animals are raised wholesale, and dispatched in slaughter-houses which more accurately resemble torture chambers. I've seen video of Texas Longhorn having their horns knocked off with sledgehammers and hacksaws because they wouldn't fit through the chutes intact (Note: Horns have living tissue in the middle). I've seen heifers past their prime being manipulated with fork-lifts and electrified prods because they simply refused to stand. I've seen chickens thrown from rather large distances into holding pens. Chickens that, due to weight and breeding, cannot break their fall with flight.
But most people don't change anything. They sort of shrug and say "Well, it's for food, I can't do anything about that." And yet, when a pagan is found to have practiced animal sacrifice in their home, suddenly the death of an animal becomes 'disgusting'.
I think the problem is that people think sacrifice must, by necessity, be something horrific, something that is done for cheap thrills. That could not be further from the truth.
I grew up on a farm where we raised rabbits. We used the most humane method we knew of (breaking the neck), and used as much of the animals as possible. They didn't struggle, they didn't cry out and they didn't suffer. We also thanked the animals for dying for our food, and we thanked whatever god helped us to eat that day. That was a sacrifice, though most people would never notice.
I feel that if it's done correctly, with knowledge and a sense of reverence, that it's a damned sight more respectful to the dying creature than a tazer up the butt, and being wrapped in plastic. In sacrifice they are being thanked, honored, and live a king's life before being send off to the pasture-in-the-sky (or back into flesh).
Sacrifice is not something one does for kicks. It is as solemn and reverent as (and I hate to use this example, being that this is a pagan blog) a Passion play. Someone/thing is being sacrificed for the greater good. It does not mean that some people do not feel positive emotions, but these are overlaid with sadness and solemnity for the sacrifice.
For me, personally, the idea of sacrifice is not divorced from butchering livestock. To me, when an animal dies for the table it should be ritually honored. When something dies for ritual, it's body should be honored with consumption and use. The animal HAS to be raised well, and killed humanely (otherwise it is not fair to the animal, fit for the gods, or fit for consumption.) To do otherwise disrespects just about every part of the process, and divorces us from the cycles of life.
Some Pagans feel that animal sacrifice is needless, that one should (instead) offer the meal they're eating (or a portion) to the gods in thanks. While that may work for some, one needs to step back and think about the conditions that food has been raised and handled in.
Does one know -how- the animal was raised, and died? Is it fit to offer meat to the gods from an animal that was kept in a feed-lot, herded into a slaughterhouse and basically ran through a sawmill? Is it fit to offer the gods meat that has an "Acceptable fecal content"?
To me, for my plate and my paton... that meat is not fit.
A sort of "bargain" can be struck by having local farmers or co-op members to butcher one's dinner-meat, and provide a more fit alternative. You're just not the one taking the life. This, IMO, is still preferable to a slaughterhouse, but still not right for me.
On a forum I frequent someone asked "Why would killing an animal be magically or mystically useful? The gods don't eat food, what purpose is being served?"
I cannot speak for all pagans, but I can speak for myself and those of my Tradition: In my faith all living things have an energy of body, and spirit (the mutable bit of life). This energy is highly important, because it's basically the stuff that makes the world go 'round. We raise it from our bodies, in ritual, to perform spellwork and to sustain the gods. My tradition's gods aren't Big Bada-Bad Sky-Emperors. My gods are tribal, and without remaining in the memory and worship of their people, they simply fade into the background, and have to be "recovered" in new minds... which takes an awful lot of work (imagine for a moment trying to telepathically contact someone you've never met and instructing them on how to erect a temple fit for worship).
They give their power to us, so that we have good, happy, fruitful lives, because they love us. We give our power to them so that they continue to exist, because we love them... and so that we continue to live good, happy, fruitful lives. They give their power to our gardens, and our animals so that they are fruitful and fill our stomachs. In return, we should give (what we can) of that power back. That means directing the body-energy (life energy) of a felled animal back to where it started, perhaps with interest. The purpose? All that we have in life comes from Them, and to Them it should return. Because if it doesn't go back to where it came from it cannot come back, and be useful.
To use a modern metaphor: We're recycling iron. Iron is drawn from the earth, used in a useful way, and eventually rusts. You can either melt it down, and send it off to the blacksmith on credit or throw it in a landfill. However, if you do that, the effort required to reclaim that substance (when you eventually NEED it) into a useful form is exponentially more than simply melting down the iron into an ingot and one day asking the blacksmith to give you a new blade from that ingot you gave them.
The same person also asked "Does it work?"
I'm a Witch in the most practical sense of the word. If it doesn't work, I don't do it. If I did not see an improvement in my land, myself, my life, my Work and my spirit? It has no point, and my time's better spent on something that -does-.
If "Crystal power" didn't at least give me a return on my investment those shiny tumbled rocks would get turned in at the Witchy-store for books, candles and herbal tea. I don't invest as heavily in the "power" of stones as I used to, but I damned well experience a difference when they're around. That's good enough for me.
Sacrifice is unpleasant, and that's part of the point. No matter how many times I dispatched a rabbit to fill my stomach, the sound of metal in flesh/sinew is nasty to me. It takes a very hardy act of WILL for me to look Mr. Twitchynose in the eye, break his neck, and cut him apart. I do it not because it is easy, but because it is the correct thing for me to do.
Will is something that I think a lot of pagans forget about. A fictional author once described Will as "I tell energy that it is something, and if I mean it hard enough, the energy becomes what I tell it to." Without Will, magic doesn't work well (if at all).
I know that for most people, living the life of a Shaman or Priest is beyond them. Living "in the shit" is beyond most people. They are unprepared, mentally, physically, and emotionally to be in a relationship with Power. However, I am still annoyed by the rampant fear (fear leads to hatred) some have for lives of power, and those who live them.
There are people who cry from proverbial mountain-tops that the modern world kills their spirit, and that they want to return to the Old Religion, and Nature and Mother Earth, but balk at sacrifice and slaughter. I just think that, by and large, they're ignoring the same nature they claim to want to get back in tune with.
Nature is red in tooth, and claw. It subsists by the unending consumption of itself. It is the serpent devouring it's own tail. It's night and day chasing each-other, it's death and rebirth, it's winter and summer. The gods are real, magic is afoot. The Wheel isn't going to just turn itself, ya know.