Human Sacrifice

20 July 2019

Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Regeneration
  3. Propitiation
  4. Servants in the Afterlife
  5. Prophesy
  6. Tradition and Ceremony

I was inspired to write an article on human sacrifice after reading a first-hand account of the bloodthirsty Khond ritual of southern India. I decided I would try to find other first-hand accounts of sacrificial rituals. I chose the accounts below to describe the different justifications for human sacrifice, though there is some overlap between such titles. Where I've been able to I have include the entire reference to the account.

Overview

The ancient peoples of the world believed all things were inhabited by gods and spirits. Favours could be curried with these gods but they had to be pleased and supplied with earthly offerings. Rarely was there a happy god and those who failed to sate their gods could expect to see repercussions in the form of earthquakes, famine and war. Priests were therefore held in awe and great esteem with direct but temporary connections to these gods.

Favours were asked of the gods in exchange for offerings that were of importance to the practitioner. This could range from the more token offerings of a sheath of corn for a good harvest, to the sacrifice of a king after several years famine. Sacrifices would also be offered in good times as an appreciation to the gods, and to prevent the bad times from returning. The type of offering would be representative of the god, for example; corn to a fertility god. The style of offering would be matched to the domain of the god; for example a sky god would be given a burnt offering as the smoke would reach upwards to the sky, or a burial given for an earth god. The practice of the sacrifice would be very specific and codified. Deviation from the specifications was considered a very serious malpractice and would render the whole affair a pointless endeavour and the deviant was likely to face a grave punishment.

Egyption Offering Formula
"An Egyption offering formula"

In the following text the German Chatti tribe have used the promise of a sacrifice to gain favour in war. It shows the great mystery of the world they lived in and the terrible wrath of the gods.

The same summer a great battle was fought between the Hermunduri and the Chatti, both forcibly claiming a river which produced salt in plenty, and bounded their territories. They had not only a passion for settling every question by arms, but also a deep-rooted superstition that such localities are specially near to heaven, and that mortal prayers are nowhere more attentively heard by the gods. It is, they think, through the bounty of divine power, that in that river and in those forests salt is produced, not, as in other countries, by the drying up of an overflow of the sea, but by the combination of two opposite elements, fire and water, when the latter had been poured over a burning pile of wood. The war was a success for the Hermunduri, and the more disastrous to the Chatti because they had devoted, in the event of victory, the enemy’s army to Mars and Mercury, a vow which consigns horses, men, everything indeed on the vanquished side to destruction. And so the hostile threat recoiled on themselves. Meanwhile, a state in alliance with us, that of the Ubii, suffered grievously from an unexpected calamity. Fires suddenly bursting from the earth seized everywhere on country houses, crops, and villages, and were rushing on to the very walls of the newly founded colony. Nor could they be extinguished by the fall of rain, or by river-water, or by any other moisture, till some countrymen, in despair of a remedy and in fury at the disaster, flung stones from a distance, and then, approaching nearer, as the flames began to sink, tried to scare them away, like so many wild beasts, with the blows of clubs and other weapons.

Annals of Imperial Rome, Book XIII, Tacitus, (The annals describe the period AD 14–68)
1 2 3 4 5 6 H