Killed a Goat Today...
by Wren Walker
killed a goat today. And it was quite messy. For some reason, this year's goat put up quite a fight. It was hard to get a real good grip on it. The little beastie is wilier than you might think. When I did finally back it into a corner, the creature pathetically bleated and whined and for just a moment there, I even felt a little bit sorry for it. But no matter. A ritual is a ritual. The goat has to go.
Twice a year, at Beltaine and at Samhain, I sacrifice a goat. The actual killing of it is always a difficult thing for me to do and I experience some serious qualms over it each time. But the sense of release that follows the deed is well worth the effort expended. I guess that is why it is called a sacrifice. It's not supposed to be easy. So, I sucked up and I did it. So long, goat. Now, if only I knew where that other one has wandered off to...
Well, yes. There are two goats involved in this time-honored tradition. Goat #1 gets the proverbial ax. The other goat (Goat #2) is released into the wilderness. You have probably heard about that one. It is usually called the scapegoat.
As represented in the biblical tales of the Jewish and Christian belief systems, the scapegoat is "a goat that was driven off into the wilderness as part of the ceremonies of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in Judaism. The rite is described in Leviticus XVI . Two male goats were to be brought to the place of sacrifice along with a bull. The high priest then cast lots for the two goats. One goat was offered as a burnt offering, as was the bull. The second goat was the scapegoat. The high priest placed his hands on the head of the goat and confessed the sins of the people of Israel. The goat was then led away into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people with it, to be claimed by Azazel." *
Evidence of such sacrifices being performed on behalf of a tribe, group or religious sect is found throughout history and across cultures . Sort of like a primitive version of an AA meeting. Theological differences aside, the rituals of expulsion serve a common goal: to cleanse the tribe or religious sect of undesirable elements, collective shortcomings or 'sins'. As a psychological device, it was -- and is -- a very effective way of purging the lingering self-esteem bashers of past mistakes and unresolved guilt from our psyche.
Jungian-school psychologists link this type of 'sacrifice' to humankind's struggle with its "shadow" self.
"The Shadow is the easiest of the archetypes for most persons to experience. We tend to see it in "others." That is to say, we project our dark side onto others and thus interpret them as "enemies" or as "exotic" presences that fascinate. We see the Shadow everywhere in popular culture. He is Batman. She is Spider Woman. It is the Ninja Turtles. We see it in popular prejudice as well. We "imagine" that the Black Man is our enemy; that Communists are devils.. Of course, Satan is the great Shadow image of popular religion.. The Shadow is the personification of that part of human, psychic possibility that we deny in ourselves and project on to others." **
Goat #1 then -- the one that is actually sacrificed to 'God', the Gods or the tribal elementals of choice -- perhaps represents those shortcomings, fears, prejudices, hatreds and guilt that we can publicly acknowledge or privately come to grips with. This goat carries the realized errors of thought, belief and/or practice that we have chosen first to admit and then to integrate, resolve or to heal within ourselves.
And so every year at Beltaine and at Samhain, I do a little introspective psychic housecleaning, select a Goat #1 and give it the emotional ax. There is an actual ritual involved. I make it an actual ritual because this 'sacrifice' is important. It marks a point in time wherein I have resolved to make a change in the way I think about something. (Or a someone.) And whenever I might be tempted to fall back into that bad habit, the ritual serves to remind me that this is no longer how I have chosen to address the situation or relationship. That old goat is dead and gone.
How do I know which goat to sacrifice? What is a Goat #1? I generally have a 'feeling' about it. In other words, if something or someone elicits an emotional response within me that is disproportional to my actual experience with that thing or person, I start to look there. While my 'goat' is a personal one -- and undoubtedly of no real interest to anyone other than to myself and my Ancestors -- there are several categories (and more not mentioned here) where you might search if you are interested in pursuing a little bit of 'Ritual Goat Sacrificing 101' yourself.
Religion: Religious systems are open for critique and debate. Every one of them. If they can't stand up to scrutiny or criticism, they are doomed to fail as viable avenues for spiritual edification or enlightenment. However whenever all of the people who follow any religion are vilified, demonized or berated for the failures, inconsistencies or theologically just-plain-unworkable tenets of the system -- or for the failings of a few of its adherents -- you may have found your number-one goat.
Criticize the system. Blame the actual individual victimizer. But sacrifice the phrases that lump all sincere practitioners in with the hypocrites and the opportunistic. Not all Christians are close-minded. Not all Pagans are tolerant. It is difficult to remember to use those qualifying phrases like 'some' and 'a few' or 'the system'. It takes more time. You may have to type in a few more words when writing your opinions. It's a sacrifice. It's not supposed to be easy.
Politics: Whether conservative, moderate or liberal, Republican, Democrat, Green or Libertarian, politics seems to have more goats running around the world these days than the tax-trolls under the bridges can count. Are all liberals pantywaist idiots? Are all conservatives wild-eyed warmongers? Are all Americans apathetic? Are all the French cowards? All of the Arabs terrorists?
I am not saying that we shouldn't discuss politics or differences in political theories or platforms. We should discuss these things and the more discussion, the better. But name-calling and nasty personal attacks do not foster communication. See the individual and not the political party standing before you. Or could that be a goat that you've been yelling at for all of this time?
Witches and Wiccans and Heathens: Ah, our favorite little homegrown goats. Will the real Witches please stand up? "You..over there! Yeah, you. Sit down! You're not a real Witch!" Ooo...lots of goats to choose from here. And quite a few bunnies, too, I see!
We don't have to agree. And we don't have to look the other way when differences arise either. (See Religion above.) But is that knee-jerk emotional reaction that you feel when someone mentions 'Wicca" or 'Reconstructionist' really in proportion to your actual experiences? Or is there a goat running around in your coven, chat room or message board?
Goats are found everywhere. We can usually spot the goat in someone else's yard easily enough. It's the one in our own living room -- in our own psyche -- that is harder to track down. It is harder to corner. It is more difficult to kill. It is hard to give up the easy and reactive rhetoric that we so easily fall into when we are dealing with someone who is not like us. And some people do not want to give it up. And that is why there are two goats.
Goat #1 represents those things and emotions and habits and guilt that we are willing and are ready to sacrifice. We recognize that these things are not healthy for us to haul around anymore. These things don't work. We don't want to do these things, say these things, feel these things any longer. So we do it. Buh-bye, you old Goat!
But Goat #2 is still wandering around out there in the wilderness. The wilderness of unconscious thought. The wilderness of unrealized hatreds and insecurities and fears. It is tempting indeed to place the shortcomings of others upon the horns of Goat #2.
"If only Christians would... If only Pagans could...If only liberals could or conservatives would...If only Bush would or Blair would or the Americans would or the French could..." Anyone else smell a goat in here?
Oh, you tempting and so easily named goats, you! What would we do without you?
We may never know. You see, the scapegoat never actually died. Oh, it was driven out into the wilderness to die, but it didn't. In fact, it came back. So far, throughout our collective human history, it has always come back.
We might not recognize it as that same old goat from last year or the year before that, but it is. As long as there is one scapegoat left in the world, it will keep finding its way home to haunt us. Again and again, we will seek to drive it out. But until we recognize it for what it is -- that shadow part of ourselves that cannot bear to look upon itself and so projects itself unto others who are not like us -- it will just keep coming back.
So, I killed a goat today. And while I had my will focused upon that, Goat #2 got spooked and took off for the wilderness. But it will be back. And at Samhain, I will try again. That is all that I can do. That is all that any of us can do. It's a starting point anyway.
For if we want to change ourselves, we have to shine light upon the shadows -- upon our shadows -- so that we can see the hates, the fears, the partisanships and yes, the evils that we hide from ourselves and place upon others. But perhaps, if we are willing to begin with our own small and personal sacrifices, we can together eventually make a difference in the world.
One old scapegoat at a time. Wren Walker Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, April 14th., 2003
Note: No actual goats were harmed during the writing of this editorial.
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