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Sacrifice

Sacrifice is the practice of offering food, or the lives of animals or people to the gods, as an act of propitiation or worship. The term is also used metaphorically to describe selfless good deeds for others.

The theology of sacrifice, at least as it regards animal sacrifice and human sacrifice, remains an issue, not only for religions that continue to practice rituals of sacrifice, but also for those religions that have animal sacrifice in their scriptures, traditions, or histories, even if sacrifice is no longer made. It is not immediately obvious why a powerful supernatural being needs followers to offer the lives of lesser creatures on its behalf. Some explanations that have been ventured include:

  • Gods need sacrifice to sustain themselves and their power, without which they are diminished.
  • Sacrificed goods are used to make a bargain with the god, who has promised some favour in return for the sacrifice.
  • The lives or blood of sacrificial victims contains mana or some other supernatural power whose offering pleases the god.
  • The sacrificial victim is offered as a scapegoat, a target for the wrath of a god, which otherwise would be visited on the followers.
  • Sacrifice deprives the followers of food and other useful commodities, and as such constitutes an ascetic discipline.
  • Sacrificed goods actually become part of a religious organisation's revenue; it is a part of the economic base of support that compensates priests and supports temples.
  • The sacrifice is actually a part of a festival and is ultimately consumed by the followers themselves.

Human sacrifice was practiced by many ancient cultures. People would be ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease some god or spirit.

Some occasions for human sacrifice found in multiple cultures on multiple continents include:

  • Human sacrifice to accompany the dedication of a new temple or bridge.
  • Sacrifice of people upon the death of a king, high priest or great leader; the sacrified were supposed to serve or accompany the deceased leader in the next life.
  • Human sacrifice in times of natural disaster. Droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc were seen as a sign of anger or displeasure by deities, and sacrifices were supposed to lessen the divine ire.

Some of the best known ancient human sacrifice was that practiced by various Pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica. The Aztec were particularly noted for practicing this on an unusually large scale; a human sacrifice would be made every day to aid the Sun in rising, the dedication of the great temple at Tenochtitlan was reportedly marked with the sacrificing of thousands, and there are multiple accounts of captured Conquistadores being sacrificed during the wars of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.

Human sacrifice still happens today as an underground practice in some traditional religions, for example in muti killings. Human sacrifice is no longer officially condoned in any country, and these cases are regarded as murder.

Human sacrifice is a common theme in the religions and mythology of many cultures.

Christians believe that the death of Jesus Christ was a self-sacrifice for mankind's sins.

See also:

Further Reading

  • Human Sacrifice: In History and Today, by Nigel Davies; Dorset Press, 1981 ISBN: 0-88029-211-3

External links:



All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

 
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