Sacrifice

Sandra Dodd, 2003:

I think it's human nature to perform a sacrifice. People do it in way more subtle fashion than killing their best lamb and leaving the meat on an altar.

If a mom can feel like a good mom by sacrificing something, then she can perform that sacrifice and kick back, feeling successful.

For some families the sacrifice is paying for Catholic school instead of letting their kids go to public school. They buy God's approval, and some vague guarantee concerning morals and souls. (It doesn't seem to work in practice, but they have receipts, and there their kids are in uniforms, as proof and all.)

And for some families it's not so much a sacrifice as it is just a magical spell, woven of bedtimes and rules and of saying "NO" as an incantation to produce "good children."

Who's the childrearing advisor/expert someone told us about here who says parents need to say no 3 out of 5 times? Vitamin N? That was CLEARLY a magical formula for good parenting.

Sandra Dodd, at Unschooling Discussion,
superstition, sacrifices and magical incantations in parenting

(It was John Rosamund, "Vitamin N.")


In the absence of religion, it seems people invent their own (or borrow what's seeming to "save" someone else). And religions need devils, and angels, and religions need martyrdom"...
Magical thinking, and sacrifice to guarantee health
Same page, different day:
When food is given the status of a religion (the place where sacrifices are made to ensure a positive outcome and long/eternal life), then there IS the necessity of a devil/Satan/"the dark side." When food is just another casual part of life, kids will choose melons over biscuits/cookies and chocolate eggs sometimes.


This doesn't use the word "sacrifice," but it's the same hope:
When unschoolers discuss limits they're often discussing arbitrary limits, trumped up to make the parents feel good, or used as magical talismans to guarantee that their children will be creative, healthy and safe. What creates much more magic is to help children discover and do and be.
—Sandra Dodd
Limits and Influence


CHEERIER discovery of the idea of sacrifice:

The first thing on my site about "sacrifice" was this account, of something from 1994, when my boys were 8 and 6.
Okay—here's the first report from Spartacus. We're still in the first tape, and we watch it the way we live the rest of our lives, with frequent re-winds and pauses, breaks to eat, and at the moment Kirby is fast-forwarding to the next fight scene while I come and post my press release. (I started taking notes on the back of an envelope as soon as I saw it was getting good!)

The senate has decided to put one of their members in charge of quashing the slave revolt. One of the leaders of the senate bought a live chicken from a passing chicken-wagon and said to a younger senator, "Let's have an old-time sacrifice for [what's-his-name's] success" or something, and Kirby was looking at a book so I said, "Look, Kirby, they're going to sacrifice a chicken!" (K=Kirby, 8; M= Marty, 6; S=me)

K: What's a chicken?

S: You know—a chicken!

K: You mean a scared guy?

S: No, a bird with feathers—buck, buck, buck. They're going to kill it.

K: Kill a chicken!?!

M: That's really EASY!

(this followed on some discussion of how hard it would be for the guards of a villa to stop fifty trained gladiators, since they had no guns, only hand-to-hand combat.)
S: They're not doing it because it's hard, but to ask a god to help the guy.

M: What, are they killing a SPECIAL chicken!?

(we put the show on pause, and I told them to come where I could explain it to them)
S: You know how Jesus died on the cross?

M (impatiently, like I was changing the subject): Yeah, yeah, yeah.

S: Well that was a human sacrifice. They used to do that a long time ago. If we believed in a god we were afraid of and wanted this god to do something for us and we had a bunch of chickens, we might take the best chicken and kill it, offering its life to that god in exchange for him doing something for us. So you kill the chicken and kind of say a prayer or make a wish."

(They were nodding with recognition, and Marty was headed to turn the show back on,
and then...)
S: It's kind of like when you throw a penny into a fountain or blow out your birthday candle to make a wish.
(Marty just had his birthday on the 14th, and had a single numeral "6" candle.)
K: Oh! Sacrificing a penny, or sacrificing fire.
Wow! When he said that I got a chill. I have had for ten years a theory (one of my collected masters' thesis ideas) of cakes as sacrifices—wedding cakes, birthday cakes, graduation cakes—I'll tell you that one later. I had thought of birthday cakes as "burnt offerings" but had NEVER until Kirby beat me to it had the notion of "sacrificing fire," but sure enough—think about it. What's more valuable to mankind than fire and light? And kids make a secret wish and blow out a fire. I STILL have that creepy, exciting feeling that I just learned something mysterious and wonderful, and I'm 41. Kirby will have known that for 33 years by the time he's my age. Cool!!

That one is ceremonial, and "make-a-wish" benign. It became the "Cake as Sacrifice" page, which is one of my favorites, and has more about the role of cakes in ceremonies.

There are other sacrifices, though, that can cause harm to relationships, to clarity, and to unschooling, to greater or lesser degrees.


As with other magical sacrifices some people make to become "good parents," some parents prohibit sugar. I've seen very bad things come of that. And as magic, it doesn't work any better than the magical sacrifice of plastic toys, or of TV, or of video games, or of wearing clothes with logos on them. Those are lame attempts at magically assuring that a child will be peaceful or healthy or creative. What they tend more often to do is give children reason to be sneaky, and depending on the parental presentation or justification of the restrictions, can help the child learn early on that the parents aren't as bright as they would like.
Food Choices (and lots of them)

I think forbidding toy guns is another instance of superstitious magic practiced unwittingly by parents.

The idea that one can make a sacrifice to assure future success is ancient among humans, isn't it?

Deprivation doesn't create appreciation. It creates some or all of desire, neediness, curiosity, fascination, resentment, obsession, anger...

Unfortunately the real sacrifice parents make too often is their child's happiness and their own hope of a full and healthy relationship with that child and future adult.

Quoted at the bottom of Magical Thinking and Spoiled Children, and originally/still at the page on Toy Guns

In 2016, I wrote something Schuyler Waynforth shared back out again:
Sandra Dodd wrote this in a discussion about food. It was preceded by a comment about gluten sensitivity. It is beautiful.

(Sandra:) It's the new religion.

People walk to a little church in northen New Mexico every year, the Sanctuario de Chimayo, near where I grew up. Some go on their knees the last part. Some walk 100 miles. Thousands walk five or fifteen miles. They want to be blessed in that church, and get some of the holy, healing dirt to take home to others who couldn't come. When I was a kid, the room with the dirt floor, where people could go in and scoop some up to take home, was miraculous. There was always more dirt, and the walls were covered with crutches and leg braces from people who had been cured of polio and other afflictions.

Making sacrifices to obtain better health and a longer life has been known to help people since before history was recorded.

The belief that giving something up will have sudden and measurable effects might be what causes the effects. Hope and a feeling of being more in control, of finally having help or an answer might be part of what makes people feel better. If they feel successful and powerful, they might continue to feel good about their sacrifice. If they fear the substance they have sacrificed, then eating it might stress them and stress is known to trigger problems.

People seem to have an instinct to look for angels and devils (of one sort or another) and even in a person who rejects what they consider superstition or religion, they might need to know what is holy and beneficial, and what is evil and destructive, and many people are characterizing foods in those ways now. If there is a biological imperative to have villians and blessings, people can find them.

Some villify plastic and worship wood.

Some praise bicycles and hate motorcycles/cars/trucks.

Some worship books and revile movies or electronics.

Some even reject the use of electronic versions of the same books they worship in paper form; some don't, and that is why religions have sects and denominations, because one person gets VERY attached to one aspect as the strongest element. The head covering, the dates, the method of baptism and the age of the subject, pork or shellfish, Saturday or Sunday sabbath, beard or no beard, hair cut or not cut, hair showing or not showing, skirts long or short, foreskin cut or not cut (there's a sacrifice BIGtime—to please God or to prevent disease).

People swear by these things, or against these things. And swearing is a magical sacrifice. It is "I will state this as truth and will put my life/freedom up as surety." Swearing an oath has magic and dangerous risk. Perjury is a crime.

Belief is powerful. When mothers swear that their children get hyper from sugar and don't want to consider that it might be excitement over finally getting something they longed for that was forbidden, they act as though their children are possessed by a devil. They laugh at their kids, and tell neighbors and strangers how "hyper" they are, and the mothers feel absolutely justified in controlling their children further, protecting them from that devil. It will make the children sneak and lie, but that will be seen as proof of evil and the power of sugar.

There is so much fear and nonsense, it's hard to see what actually is plain truth. And people get pretty het up when someone says "fear and nonsense." They get hostile, defensive, hyper. It's like someone whose religion has been criticized, especially if they feel that holy dirt cured their mother, or child.

Where Schuyler shared that, on her own facebook page, some people came and defended their own sacrifices of gluten or whatever, not understanding that they were making my point.

(I can't find the original, in 2022.)