O is for Offerings

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Making an offering is a time honored tradition of giving up some kind of tribute or general sacrifice of your own goods to establish someone else’s power and authority over you or to right a wrong between individuals. The religious role of offerings have a strong ritualistic emphasis. Ritual has a powerful place in role playing games. From rituals that invoke power on behalf of the player characters to enemies using rituals to draw the attention of dark beings; forms and structures of ritual are fairly common in the medieval fantasy genre. Ritual plays an enormous role in the Christian faith as well. Today is Maundy Thursday, which in the Christian tradition is the day of celebrating the Last Supper when Jesus celebrated the Passover Seder with His disciples. The Seder was a piece of the Passover tradition that celebrated the rescued of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. It also includes a meal of lamb to honor and highlight the sacrificial offering to provide blood covering over the sins of the people of Israel. At the Last Supper, Jesus claims that His own broken body and poured out blood will be the ritual covering over sin as the perfect Passover lamb. With that sentiment, Jesus appropriates the traditions and understandings of ritual offerings and requirements of the books of the law with a very different resolution. 

The rules around offering and worship are codified in the Hebrew Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Specifically these rules are found in the middle book, Leviticus, which in the narrative of the Torah is while the people of Israel are on Mt. Sinai with God in worship. It’s the apex of their experience as a people and is specific about their practices of sacrifice and the rituals surrounding how the worship of God should look. These details determined their practices for thousands of years.

“The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.’ If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. You are to slaughter the young bull before the Lord, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. If the offering is a burnt offering from the flock, from either the sheep or the goats, you are to offer a male without defect. You are to slaughter it at the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall splash its blood against the sides of the altar. You are to cut it into pieces, and the priest shall arrange them, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to bring all of them and burn them on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. If the offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, you are to offer a dove or a young pigeon. The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He is to remove the crop and the feathers and throw them down east of the altar where the ashes are. He shall tear it open by the wings, not dividing it completely, and then the priest shall burn it on the wood that is burning on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.” (Leviticus 1:1-17 NIV)

I promise not to quote entire chapters all the time, but this one was so comprehensive. It’s a practical how-to manual on making an offering, full of specific sensory details that create a visual image for the reader. The multiple tiers of offering (bull, sheep, and dove) were all an offering to do the same thing, but for different economic scales, the poor couldn’t afford a whole cow to offer so an accommodating sacrifice could be made as a gift to God and a reminder of the dependence that the giver had on God in the first place.

In games, offerings are often a hand waved element that if done right can lend credence and gravity to the divine and the arcane as you see what elements and properties make for an appropriate offering. The nature of offering and the materials used in an offering can make for an adventure in and of itself. The fact that all three ritualistic offerings were considered appropriate for the same effect, but were tailored based on the participant is also interesting. What if a ritual’s requirements scaled with the person trying to accomplish it? 13th Age did this with the resurrection ritual and it creates a more challenging set of circumstances to accomplish the same effect over time.

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