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Animal sacrifice: Key to spiritual harmony

Published:Sunday | June 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Dr Glenville Ashby, Contributor

Having witnessed animals ritualistically sacrificed by Afrocentric religions, I can attest that it is a mesmerising experience.

The practice is as popular in the West Indian diaspora as it is on the islands. Accompanied by singing, drumming and convulsions, sacrificing animals to African 'gods' remains a contentious and spurned practice - an affront to Christianity.

It is deemed tortuous, primitive and atavistic. But is this just another excuse to malign any form of African expression? After all, it is accepted when practised by mainstream faiths, such as Judaism and Islam.

Surely, animals found mutilated among religious paraphernalia are revolting, but is this really the purpose of animal sacrifice in the purely religious sense? Recently, I spoke to Bishop-elect Donna Faria, who works for a key city agency at day, but is an adept spiritualist as dusk shrouds the light.

Faria is a solidly built woman in her 50s. Soft-spoken, articulate and affable, she defies the stereotype of the threatening, aloof and feared 'obeah woman'. Her words were lucid as she answered dissenters, calling her faith a "complete religion that has healed the sick and brought practitioners closer to their African roots".

Faria is a Shouter Baptist, a syncretic faith that fuses Yoruba traditions religion and Roman Catholicism. And while animal sacrifice is not officially condoned, some have added this spiritual practice to their repertoire, thereby creating a Caribbean brand of spirituality, called Orisa, Vodu, Santeria and Candomble, depending on the country of origin.

Faria, a Trinidad native who has resided in the United States for three decades, celebrates sacrificial feasts annually, as a means of paying obeisance to Oludumare or God, "and only after permission is sought from the Orishas".

justify argument

She believed that the practice is essential, even citing scripture to justify her argument. She clarified misconceptions, using the Yoruba term 'Ebbo', for sacrifice.

"Although the Levis offered animals to their God in the Old Testament, it was not the only type of offering," said Faria.

She saw no inherent contradiction in accepting the doctrine of Jesus' blood as a purification for humankind and that of animal sacrifice today. "Blood in itself has a spiritual component. It represents renewal, purification, and life. Whatever seeming contradiction is due to lack of understanding and knowledge."

She moved to elucidate that animals are slaughtered by a highly adept mambo or priest to ensure that there is no suffering to the creature. The blood is then poured into the earth in accordance with oral tradition.

"We then prepare the food under strict guidelines for devotees to partake," added Faria, as she argued that "it would be foolhardy to think that gods need to eat". She introduced the concept of 'ashe', an energy that permeates all things. "Sacrifice of all types brings us into attunement with that energy so we can live in harmony with ourselves, with others, and nature."

Faria stated that the Orishas are not 'African gods', but divine spirits, analogous to the angels of Christianity.

She detailed the characteristics of several of these angels, and the appropriate animal sacrifice each is offered. The Orishas were many, some more familiar than others: Shango, Ogun, Osaine, Obatala, Shakpana, Yemoya, Eshu, to whom a range of animals are sacrificed. These include sheep, ducks, male and female goats, and hens.

In an era of sycophants and charlatans, Faria has plied her craft with dignity. And amid a community that can be spiritually divisive, none has pointed a damning finger at her. Indeed, a rare feat in the competitive and cryptic world of spirit.

Dr Ashby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council, NYC. Send feedback to glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.