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A Goat for God; a Goat for Azazel

A Goat for God; a Goat for Azazel

Monday, May 7, 2012 — Week of 5 Easter

Harriet Starr Cannon, Religious, 1896

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 963)

Psalms 56, 57, [58] (morning) // 64, 65 (evening)

Leviticus 16:1-19

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today in Leviticus we read Moses instructions about the liturgy of the atonement, a complicated rite of purification involving diverse sacrifices, incense, blood, vestments, curtains, altar, drama and ritual. One of the most interesting parts of the liturgy is the role of the goat for Azazel. After Aaron has made atonement for himself and his house, Aaron takes two goats and casts lots over them. One goat is sacrificed to God as a sin offering for the people, but the other goat is left alive and sent into the wilderness to Azazel.

It may be that Azazel is the name of a goat-demon who was thought to inhabit desolate places. The second goat is driven into the remote wilderness, far from the community, into the wild and dangerous regions.

One goat for God. One goat for Azazel.

There is something powerful about making offering to the dark and wild places. We have emotional and psychological energies that are deep and dangerous. At one point Jesus speaks sharply and dismissively about these urges, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” There is some danger in becoming fascinated with the dark side and it’s deathly urges. It is not good to dabble with evil.

But many people find spiritual richness when they allow their dreams and subconscious material to rise into consciousness where it can be recognized and acknowledged in order to give our conscious self some power over it. There is a reality and freedom that comes when we outgrow mere repression and gain awareness of the destructive patterns of our thoughts and behavior.

We can recognize that each of us has the potential for terrible acts. We can confess our sins to God and be forgiven. We can also acknowledge our potential for the evil that we have not acted upon. Maybe it is helpful to give those energies to something like Azazel, to the demons in the wilderness where the wild and dangerous things are. We are not to act upon our most primitive urges, but it may be helpful to acknowledge their reality in us, and to give them their due. May thay always remain in the wilderness, away from community.


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