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Human Sacrifices
article [ Culture ]

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by [wind ]

2004-01-14  |     | 

We often say I succeeded because I had done a lot of sacrifices. We all sacrifice time, friends, family and money for an idea or for a dream. Sacrifices existed in all centuries and societies. Modern societies have their own types of sacrifices, too. It is true that the objects of the sacrifice are different but the mentality is the same. The perspective of human sacrifices is unacceptable, a crime against morality and humanity but we have to be aware that we can not judge the Past according to the values and norms of the Present. What we consider to be immoral has been a sacred form of sacrifice, a communion with Divinity.
The human sacrifice reestablishes the primordial sacrifice of Creation, providing the word’s continuity in a living form, fertile and harmonious structures. All the things exist because of it: the origin and the essence of the Gods, the sacred power, the plenty and knowledge, the goodness from this world and from eternity.
The sacrificer transcends the world and time, gets a new body, goes in the heaven where he gets another life being privileged by the Gods.
The gods have to die in order to rebirth and get creative abilities. In the Indian culture, legends speak about this kind of sacrifices: the giant Parusa (the Man) is sacrificed by Gods. Mircea Eliade quoted in his book, "Istoria credintelor si ideilor religioase", a fragment from Parusanikta, which said that “ his mouth became Brahman, the Fighter was born from his arms, the Handicraftsman was born from his thighs and the Slave was born from his legs ” (142).
The sacrifice is usually used in order to achieve a goal. The violent death of a God eliminates the “interest”. All the realities of the world will take birth from his body.
According to the purpose there are different types of sacrifices:
•General- based on the protection of the whole community. The death of the victim can be caused by different methods :
3.Burning ( in this case the smoke becomes a kind of food for the Gods)
4.Locking into a room or wall
5.Dropping from a high place (in this case the victim is sacrificed for the evil spirits and Gods).

Marcel Mauss and Heneri Hubert speak in "Essai sur la nature et la function du sacrifice" about the sacrifices in terms of a “devotion” which implies several elements:
1.the sacrificer is the one who gets the benefices of the sacrifice or supports its effects
2.the sacrifice object: different kinds of objects for which the sacrifice takes place
3.the devoted thing: it is an intermediary between the sacrificer and the Divinity(qtd. in Gavriluta 1998:148).
The religious energy is very strong during the sacrifice and each step of the ceremony has to be very well established. No mistake is allowed. If the sacrifice takes place in an improper way, it is considered murder.
The ceremony begins with some rituals in order to obtain the purification of victim and sacrificer. They can not be disturbed in any way in this period because they do not belong any more to humans.
Some scientist consider that the sacrifice is valid only if the victim is identified with Divinity. Others agree that the victim is only a way, a method to reach the sacred happiness, while the communication with Divinity is the goal of the sacrifice.

The Celts formed a complex society made up of 40 different groups that shared the same language and cultural values. There are several sorts of data regarding human sacrifices:
•Classical and Roman writers
•Some Irish Medieval texts
•archaeological data
According to Strobo in his "Geography" “The Romans put a stop both to these customs and to the ones connected with sacrifice and divination, as they were in conflict with our own ways: for example, they would strike a man who had been consecrated for sacrifice in the back with a sword, and make prophecies based on his death-spasms; and they would not sacrifice without the presence of the Druids. Other kinds of human sacrifices have been reported as well: some men they would shoot dead with arrows and impale in the temples; or they would construct a huge figure of straw and wood, and having thrown cattle and all manner of wild animals and humans into it, they would make a burnt offering of the whole thing” (qtd. in Spangenberg 1997).
According to Julius Caesar in "De Bello Gallico" “All the people of Gaul are completely devoted to religion, and for this reason those who are greatly affected by diseases and in the dangers of battle either sacrifice human victims or vow to do so using the Druids as administrators to these sacrifices, since it is judged that unless for a man's life a man's life is given back, the will of the immortal gods cannot be placated. In public affairs they have instituted the same kind of sacrifice” (qtd. in Spangenberg 1997).
Some scientists consider that because Romans were in the midst of conquering these people some of the recordings may have been fabricated in order to present a false image of Celts—barbaric groups that should be suppressed.
On the other hand, different elements conserved in modern culture make us consider the myth of human sacrifices to be real in certain periods of the Celtic history.
They believed in Gods and demons, in witchcraft and life after death. So, to kill or to be killed in the name of these believes was not a negative act since it would give honour to victims in front of men and Gods. They understood the forces of nature as something that could be controlled by different Gods. If the community had problems it was possible to offer Gods or nature itself human blood to placate them, hoping that in return they would have a positive turn of events to ensure the health and fortune of the community.
The human sacrifices were a way of sending messages to the Otherworld, to placate spirits and Gods. If they wanted to gain the victory in a battle, they brought human sacrifices to Teutates 1. Most of the bloody ceremonies were correlated to some fertility myths.
Condemned criminals were conserved in order to be sacrificed at a great festival, which took place once in every 5 years. The much more victims, the greatest was believed to be the fertility of the land. If there were not enough criminals to furnish victims, captives taken in wars were immolated to supply the deficiency. When the time came, the Druids sacrificed the victims. They shot down some of them, others were burned alive in the manner described by Sir James George Frazer in "The Golden Bough":
“ Colossal images of wicker-work or of wood and grass were constructed; these were filled with live men, cattle and animals of other kinds; fire was then applied to the images and they were burnt with their contents”.

The Maya civilization believed that offering sacrifices to different Gods they could establish a connection with the world of supernatural. The sacrifices could be just simple offerings of food or human blood. These sacrifices were not only for the Gods but marked special occasions like the ascendance to the throne of a new king, a very important visit or different commemorations of important events. Not any people could be sacrificed. Usually they were war prisoners and before the ceremony they had to be treated with consideration and purified. It was believed that even the Gods sacrificed themselves in order to create the world.
In “Maya Human Sacrifices…Say it isn’t so” Herman Smith describes the steps of a human sacrifice:
“The intended victim was stripped and painted blue before being led to a courtyard or temple where the victim would be placed face-up over a convex altar-like stone also painted blue. The arms and legs of the victim were held by specially designated priests while a fourth, called the nacom, would penetrate the victim's chest with a flint knife just below the left breast. Reaching inside the chest cavity, the nacom would pull out the still beating heart and hand it to another priest, who would then smear the blood on that idol to which the sacrifice had been made. If the sacrifice had taken place on the top of a pyramid, the corpse would be thrown to the courtyard below where priests of lower rank would skin the victim except for the hands and feet. The skin would then be worn by the officiating priest who would solemnly dance among the spectators “.
Cannibalism forms often joined the human sacrifices. If the victim was a brave warrior, his body could be butchered and eaten by the participants.
According to a 16th century account " The foul priest in vestments went up and wounded the victims in parts of shame, whether it was a man or woman, and drew blood and came down and anointed the face of the idol with it " (qtd. in
The famous Sacred Cenote, a natural well, contains numerous human skeletons provided by the sacrifices. Bishop de Landa, in the 16th century reported: "Into this well they have the custom of throwing Men alive as a sacrifice to the gods in times of drought, and they believed they did not die though they never saw them " (
“The blood sacrifice was necessary for the survival of both Gods and people, sending human energy skyward and receiving divine power in return. The kings used an obsidian knife or stingray spine to cut his penis, allowing the blood to a paper. Kings’ wives also took part in this ritual by pulling a rope with thorns attached through their tongues. The blood-stained paper was burned; the rising smoke communicating with the Skyworld ”(

The Inca people offered human sacrifices to their Gods at special occasions: wars, starvation, dryness, earthquakes, and epidemics. There was a tradition called Capacocha, which involved sacrificing children twice a year. Father Cobo, a priest from the 17th century provided details:
“They were killed by strangulation with a cord, or by a blow with club and then they were buried and sometimes they got them drunk before they were killed”.
Children were selected for their physical perfection, a very important thing because they believed that children were a kind of emissaries. The Deified child was supposed to appease the Gods and assure rain, plentiful harvest and protection for the whole community.
The child could be the son or the daughter of the local chieftains. This ceremony established a closer link between the Emperor of the Incas, who was considered a relative of the Sun God and the local leader. The child was meant to be an escort for the Emperor on his journey to the Afterworld.
For the Inca civilization, the blood was the most important element of the organic world. It represented the magic Principle of Life, capable to give fertility, health, and a perfect balance between Man and the Gods.
“ The captives were subsequently sacrificed in a bloody ritual and their bodies--or part of them—scattered. We have scenes of the killer of the captive and priest and priestesses drinking his blood …. The significance of this practice isn’t known, but it may have been part of the ritual associated with agricultural productivity. Even today, in Andes associate the spilling of blood with the fertility of Earth, and staged—but not lethal—fights still occur in parts of the region” (Ben Harder: National Geographic News, April 29, 2002).

In South America, mummies and skeletons are discovered quite often and this is an evidence of the existence of the human sacrifices but all these testimonies are not enough to revel us the whole truth. Probably their expertise would tell more about the ceremonies and purposes of these bloody customs.

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