Divine Magic: Sacrifice and Prayer

Some continuing notes as I explore Gloranthan magic and religion for several projects. Today’s notes are on sacrifice and prayer, and are heavily cribbed from M.L. West’s magisterial “The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth” (1999).

Sacrifice and prayer are the defining features of rune magic in Glorantha. Through these rites, the god is worshiped by its cult, enabling its initiates to wield some part of the god’s power. The following are notes that could apply to most cults among the Orlanthi and Pelorians, and certain cults in Prax and Pent.


Sacrifice may be made at regular fixed times, as part of a daily, weekly, seasonal, or annual routine, or occasionally in response to a special event or need. The basic types of sacrificial offerings are:

  1. Bloodless food offerings: wine, milk, honey, oil, bread, cakes, fruit, vegetables, etc.
  2. Hair: a personal offering of locks shorn for sacrifice.
  3. Burning of incense to produce aromatic smoke.
  4. Gifts: these are typical tools intended for the god’s (or cult’s) use or from the giver’s personal life: weapons from warriors, spindles from women, etc.
  5. Killing without eating (this typical includes human sacrifice). The corpse is disposed of by burning or being thrown into a special pit or being eaten by animals, monsters, or even trolls.
  6. Killing and eating. This is the most central and social of cultic activity. The sacrifice becomes a public feast  – in fact, it is the only occasion for a public feast, as any killing of stock animals is a sacrifice. Besides the meat there is bread and wine, singing and dancing, for once the solemn moment of slaughter is past, the mood is festive.
  • Oxen and sheep are preferred animals by many cults. A typical requirement is that the animal be perfect, and never been brought under the yoke (or otherwise work).
  • Sacrificers prepare by bathing and wear clean or special clothes.
  • The sacrificial ceremony begins with a procession of the victim to the altar, accompanied by music and singing.
  • The sacrificial meat must be consumed at the feast or destroyed. No takeaway!

Many cults permit and even encourage symbolic representations of sacrifice such as terra-cotta representations of food, animals, worshipers, and even the divinities themselves. These can be replacements for the sacrifices or even the worshiper, or they might be a record reminding the god that sacrifice or devotion had already been made by the worshiper.  It is common for pilgrims to distant shrines to leave votive images of themselves to remind the god of their journey or for leaders to commission visual reminders of sacrifices made by their community.


A prayer is a recital of specially crafted words with the appropriate rhetorical gestures as one undertakes a ritual.The words are marked linguistically as special and formal, either by archaic diction and syntax or by metrical and rhetorical form, and are performed in a special manner and place, often with musical accompaniment or dance. Many prayers are sung as hymns.

When praying to a deity, one typically raises one’s arms to the deity with the hands apart and palms open. The deity is addressed and praised by means of epithets and whole sentences. A prayer often provides a laudatory description of the deity, first in terms of its place within the divine community and then in terms of its relationship to the mundane and human world. This descriptive praise, particularly the description of the deity’s relationship to humanity, provides the backdrop and jumping-off point for the supplication to the god to listen to and help the petitioner. Prayers are often ended with a promise of praise should the petition be granted.

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