Human Sacrifice in the Ancient World
As many modern folk embrace ancient, Earth Based religions, they imagine a past much like James Cameron’s Avatar, full of peace, love, orgies and a flower power commune with nature. How horrified these folk would be if they were teleported to the real ancient world – if they were to ascend Aztec steps and witness a priest ripping out the still beating heart of a sacrificial victim, if they were to see a druid reading human entrails for portents of the future, or if they were to see a Norse slave killed and set ablaze in a ship alongside her master.
Are these tales of human sacrifice fact or fiction? It is true that Christian critics probably exaggerated the horrors of human sacrifice in order to justify the conquest of the Pagan World. There is much we don’t know about the ancient past, so it is hard to paint an absolute picture of the practice.
However, there is plenty of evidence for the practice in some shape or form in many cultures around the world. The most gruesome tales come from the Aztecs, but there is some archaeological evidence that this practice may have also taken place among the Vikings and the Celts. This has been a matter of much debate after two recent episodes of The History Channel’s “Vikings” series depicted human sacrifice as a normal part of Norse culture.
Why did Ancient Cultures Practice Human Sacrifice?
Creation and destruction were not separate realities for our ancestors, they were one in the same. There is no creation without destruction, and no destruction without creation. Our ancestors lived by the brutal realities of nature everyday. They did not see Nature like we do, as a Disney Magic Fairy Tale. They saw Nature as a harbinger of life and death.
Sacrifice was a way to appease the Gods and to effect this cycle of life and death. The more valuable the gift, the more appeased the Gods would be. The most precious gift a community could give was one of their own, a gift of human blood. This gift of blood would replenish the land, bring fertility, luck in battle and banish disease.
Even today, being “self sacrificing” is a form of noble behavior. It is the idea of putting the welfare of the land or community above one’s self. While selfishness, in almost all world Religions and Cultures, is a negative trait.
Christianity even is built around this idea. After all, the crucifixion of Jesus is often celebrated by Christians as the ultimate sacrifice – A god sacrificing himself for the benefit of mankind. This was preceded by the reverence of the Egyptian Osiris, the merciful judge of the dead who also died and came back to life. Catholics today continue to drink the blood and eat the body of their God. The celebration of “The Passion of the Christ,” is the glorification of pain and suffering exchanged for a greater purpose.
Does This Mean That Modern Day Pagans Must Practice Human Sacrifice?
No. There are many Pagans today who seek to mimic the lives and practices of their ancestors. Some simply say the same prayers, but others go as far to embrace every detail down to the hair styles and garb of the ancient ones. Yet in learning from the past, we don’t always need to repeat it exactly. For example, it is possible to respect your parents without being exactly like them. We too, can respect and understand the practices of our ancestors, but do things a little differently.
As modern day people, we will never live exactly like our ancient ancestors did. Also, the lives of our ancestors were not static. They had their own traditions that changed and evolved over time.
So, instead of slicing the neck of a human sacrifice and creating a fountain of blood, maybe you can simply offer up your life and service to the Gods. Offer yourself as a sacrifice through your actions, improve the lives of others around you, put the Gods, your family and the natural world before your self. That is a noble sacrifice on its own – and no, you won’t need to hold up a still beating heart to the sun to ensure happiness and health in the year to come.