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Author Topic: Historical human and animal sacrifice  (Read 17901 times)
Gwiwer
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« Topic Start: March 26, 2011, 04:16:54 am »

One thing I often come across in researching historical pagan religions is the frequent use of animal, and occasionally human, sacrifices. For instance, sacrifice appears to have been the primary method of worship during a large part of ancient Greek history. To give a specific example, Hecate was strongly associated with dogs and dogs were occasionally sacrificed to her. Within Germanic paganism, human and animal sacrifices seem to have been a fairly frequent practice. Accounts of the major temple that existed in Uppsala in modern day Sweden were particularly gruesome as the sacrifices would be left to hang and rot in the trees surrounding the temple such that the trees around the area were completely covered in the rotting corpses of animals and, potentially, humans. Of the Celts it is hard to say for sure what many of their specific beliefs and practices were since much of what we know about Celtic practices, particularly in continental Europe, is considered rather dubious since much of it was written by the Romans and others who were often at war with the Celts and portrayed them in a negative light for propaganda purposes. Still, it's almost certain that druids officiated over some sort of sacrifices, though scholars seem torn about whether or not this included humans.

This is one aspect of paganism that I have a little bit of a hard time figuring out. Obviously, the vast majority of pagans in the modern world do not engage in any kind of murder or animal cruelty, and those that do are usually found to be mentally ill and drawn to these practices for that reason rather than for any particular religious reasons. What I'm curious about is how modern pagans reconcile their current religious practices with historical evidence of human and animal sacrifices, though.

I mean, I could reconcile some of it to an extent. For example, most people in the ancient world either worked in agriculture or were closely tied to agriculture. If we take the meaning of the word sacrifice to mean the giving up of something meaningful to one's self to a deity, it makes a little more sense. If you were a shepherd, your flock was your life and sacrificing a sheep to a god would be somewhat equivalent to someone in the modern world giving up a week's pay in order to donate it to some cause tied to the worship of a particular deity. That still doesn't help to justify the sacrificial practices amongst the ancient Greeks, the Germanic peoples, and others for whom sacrifice appears to have played a fundamental role in their worship. I'm just kind of curious to hear people's thoughts on this and how they reconcile their modern beliefs and practices with the historical practices.

Where I personally stand on the matter currently is that most pagan religions appear to have been a fundamentally different than religions like Judaism which codified specific laws and guidelines concerning the proper manner of worship in a way that explicitly asserted the unchanging and unalterable nature of these laws and guidelines. As such, practices in the ancient world can, and did, change over time as people progressively came to experience deeper aspects of the divine which altered the ways in which they thought it proper to honer and connect with their deities. Probably the most famous example would be Hinduism which still considers the ancient Vedic texts to be sacred even though they contain references to animal sacrifices. This, of course, seems quite strange since most modern Hindus are so opposed to killing animals that most are fairly strictly vegetarian and don't even accept the slaughter of animals for the purpose of using them as food. Many Hindus would probably insist that there isn't a disconnect between their modern beliefs and the beliefs contained in the Vedic texts, but that they have progressed to a deeper spiritual understanding of divinity and ways to connect with it. On the other hand, I suppose it's important to keep in mind that there are still some very conservative movements within Hinduism that still practice animal sacrifices on certain occasions.

Anyway, to avoid rambling on much further, I suppose my current belief is that our knowledge of the divine, just like our knowledge of more mundane things like physics or algebra, is constantly growing and evolving. As such, I suppose there isn't a disconnect there since we're not throwing out primitive ideas and replacing them with new ideas, but simply expanding upon the primitive ideas to grow into a deeper understanding of the topic. I'm not really sure how much sense that makes, but you probably know what I mean. Regardless, I would be keenly interested in hearing other people's thoughts are on this topic. Assuming, that is, that I haven't completely put you to sleep already by my massive wall of text. Cheesy
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Darkhawk
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« Reply #1: March 26, 2011, 11:22:32 am »

What I'm curious about is how modern pagans reconcile their current religious practices with historical evidence of human and animal sacrifices, though.

I eat meat.

The only way ordinary people would generally have much meat in their diets was if they got to partake in the sacrificial offerings.

What's to reconcile?
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« Reply #2: March 26, 2011, 05:58:52 pm »

. Cheesy

To me, this question is about the same as asking, "Marriages once involved unions based on both political maneuvering and one's station in society.  This meant that girls were forced to marry often against their will, meaning that in some cases, parents sent these girls to wedding beds of acceptable rape... often girls who were, in our eyes, still children... thirteen, fourteen years old. How can you reconcile that in your modern practice of matrimony?"

Times and practices change. What is acceptable for one generation isnot necessarily acceptable for the next.  Doesn't mean the structure of my religious inner temple is shaky just becaise the foundation is made of different materials than what we use today.
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« Reply #3: March 26, 2011, 06:21:28 pm »

Times and practices change. What is acceptable for one generation isnot necessarily acceptable for the next.  Doesn't mean the structure of my religious inner temple is shaky just becaise the foundation is made of different materials than what we use today.

This is true of all religions (and cultures) for which we have records over a long period of time. Even religions that try hard to be unchanging (like the Catholic Church) change quite noticeably over time.
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« Reply #4: March 26, 2011, 06:23:56 pm »

To me, this question is about the same as asking, "Marriages once involved unions based on both political maneuvering and one's station in society.  This meant that girls were forced to marry often against their will, meaning that in some cases, parents sent these girls to wedding beds of acceptable rape... often girls who were, in our eyes, still children... thirteen, fourteen years old. How can you reconcile that in your modern practice of matrimony?"

Times and practices change. What is acceptable for one generation isnot necessarily acceptable for the next.  Doesn't mean the structure of my religious inner temple is shaky just becaise the foundation is made of different materials than what we use today.

Fully agree.

Legion.
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Gwiwer
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« Reply #5: March 26, 2011, 07:49:08 pm »


While perusing the "Human sacrifice" thread listed under related topics, someone, possibly Collinsky but forgive me if I'm wrong as it was a very long thread and it's a little hard to track down the specific post, brought up an interesting question. If the gods back then required sacrifices, but no longer require them, what has changed? Have humans simply grown in their understanding of the nature of these deities and ways to connect with them and have changed their culture to reflect that new understanding, or have the gods themselves changed thus accounting for the shift in culture as human beings have adapted to the changes in the gods?

I eat meat.

The only way ordinary people would generally have much meat in their diets was if they got to partake in the sacrificial offerings.

What's to reconcile?

I don't really see how that's related unless you happen to own your own farm and butcher your own animals. I mean, even if you dedicate a part of every meal to members of your particular pantheon, the person who slaughtered the animal you're eating probably never intended the animal to be used as an offering. It's like you're at the mall and someone accidentally drops one of their coins in the fountain while counting their change and you figure, "Oh well, no sense in letting it go to waste. I might as well make a wish for good luck." The person who dropped the coin wasn't intending it to be used in such a way. You're just kind of taking advantage of an unrelated situation. Not that there'd be anything necessarily wrong with that, why squander a fortuitous opportunity, but it's not the same as you deliberately throwing one of your own coins into the fountain with the direct intention of making a wish after doing so.
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Darkhawk
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« Reply #6: March 26, 2011, 08:24:48 pm »

I don't really see how that's related unless you happen to own your own farm and butcher your own animals. I mean, even if you dedicate a part of every meal to members of your particular pantheon, the person who slaughtered the animal you're eating probably never intended the animal to be used as an offering. It's like you're at the mall and someone accidentally drops one of their coins in the fountain while counting their change and you figure, "Oh well, no sense in letting it go to waste. I might as well make a wish for good luck." The person who dropped the coin wasn't intending it to be used in such a way. You're just kind of taking advantage of an unrelated situation. Not that there'd be anything necessarily wrong with that, why squander a fortuitous opportunity, but it's not the same as you deliberately throwing one of your own coins into the fountain with the direct intention of making a wish after doing so.

It completely removes any possible logic to objecting to animal sacrifice.
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Gwiwer
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« Reply #7: March 26, 2011, 09:05:50 pm »

It completely removes any possible logic to objecting to animal sacrifice.

No it doesn't. Some groups may have used the sacrificed animal as food, but that was far from being universal. You're telling me that if I were to start gathering up animals just to slice their throats open so I could hang them from trees around my house to let them bleed out and rot there as offerings to the gods and spirits people would think, "Hmm, I certainly don't approve of this, but who am I to criticize? I just ate a cheeseburger..." I agree with you that making use to the sacrificed animal for food and whatnot is considerably less problematic. I wouldn't care if my neighbor was sacrificing chickens or something as long as they were treating them humanely before hand, killing them in a way that minimized cruelty, pain, and suffering, and making use of all of the meat afterwards, but this very often wasn't the case in the ancient world.
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« Reply #8: March 26, 2011, 09:37:56 pm »

No it doesn't. Some groups may have used the sacrificed animal as food, but that was far from being universal.

So?  I'm a recon of a culture for which eating sacrifices and offerings was normal.  What other peoples did is as irrelevant to me as Holy Communion.
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« Reply #9: March 26, 2011, 10:28:45 pm »

So?  I'm a recon of a culture for which eating sacrifices and offerings was normal.  What other peoples did is as irrelevant to me as Holy Communion.

The Greek gods generally got the bones, entrails, and the like. The priests ate the good parts. I suspect there were more ancient culture like this than otherwise.
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« Reply #10: March 26, 2011, 10:53:30 pm »

So?  I'm a recon of a culture for which eating sacrifices and offerings was normal.  What other peoples did is as irrelevant to me as Holy Communion.

Fair enough. It seemed like you were speaking in general so I was talking in general as well. Now that I know you were being specific to one particular tradition, I could pretty much agree with what you're saying.
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« Reply #11: March 27, 2011, 12:43:30 am »

One thing I often come across in researching historical pagan religions is the frequent use of animal, and occasionally human, sacrifices. For instance, sacrifice appears to have been the primary method of worship during a large part of ancient Greek history. To give a specific example, Hecate was strongly associated with dogs and dogs were occasionally sacrificed to her. Within Germanic paganism, human and animal sacrifices seem to have been a fairly frequent practice. Accounts of the major temple that existed in Uppsala in modern day Sweden were particularly gruesome as the sacrifices would be left to hang and rot in the trees surrounding the temple such that the trees around the area were completely covered in the rotting corpses of animals and, potentially, humans. Of the Celts it is hard to say for sure what many of their specific beliefs and practices were since much of what we know about Celtic practices, particularly in continental Europe, is considered rather dubious since much of it was written by the Romans and others who were often at war with the Celts and portrayed them in a negative light for propaganda purposes. Still, it's almost certain that druids officiated over some sort of sacrifices, though scholars seem torn about whether or not this included humans.

This is one aspect of paganism that I have a little bit of a hard time figuring out. Obviously, the vast majority of pagans in the modern world do not engage in any kind of murder or animal cruelty, and those that do are usually found to be mentally ill and drawn to these practices for that reason rather than for any particular religious reasons. What I'm curious about is how modern pagans reconcile their current religious practices with historical evidence of human and animal sacrifices, though.

Quite easily in my case. There is some evidence indicating that the people sacrificed in the past that were related to or touched upon my path in some way were treated as royalty beforehand and may have been if not volunteers then at least willing. But just as much lore and information about Druids and ancient Celtic religions are derived from educated speculation based on archeology etc my path is a *very* loose reconstruction thereof and as such is tailored to a modern life. Therefore blood sacrifices are not only not required but forbidden in most cases. I can take the lessons from the past and apply them to my current life and worship without having to embrace any type of blood sacrifice. There's nothing to reconcile.
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« Reply #12: March 27, 2011, 01:14:03 am »


Obviously, the vast majority of pagans in the modern world do not engage in any kind of murder or animal cruelty, and those that do are usually found to be mentally ill and drawn to these practices for that reason rather than for any particular religious reasons. What I'm curious about is how modern pagans reconcile their current religious practices with historical evidence of human and animal sacrifices, though.

...........

As such, I suppose there isn't a disconnect there since we're not throwing out primitive ideas and replacing them with new ideas, but simply expanding upon the primitive ideas to grow into a deeper understanding of the topic.

I find these statements of yours rather offensive and, in fact, fringing (if not breaking) the sites rules on flaming other people's religious beliefs. What evidence are you drawing these conclusions  that people who practice religious systems that currently engage in sacrifice are mentally ill or are drawn to those systems primarily because of that component?

I also find it pretty presumptuous of you to make such a generalized statement of sacrifice being a primitive idea to be replaced with progressive ideas as if this is a concept we all should and do adopt.

You claim that you have done your research, but it seems pretty clear to me that your research is faulting on modern religions that practice animal sacrifice.

I'm sorry if it appears as if I am attacking you, but I really can't stand being judged (or statements that result in my being judged) because my practices are different from what some consider to be the norm. This is a pagan forum after all. I thought anti-norm was kind of mainstream around here.
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« Reply #13: March 27, 2011, 01:32:30 am »

I personally believe anyone  who kills an animal for the pure purpose of an offering, and not consumption is sick. And while I preach religious freedom, i believe animal rights are more important.
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« Reply #14: March 27, 2011, 01:36:13 am »

I personally believe anyone  who kills an animal for the pure purpose of an offering, and not consumption is sick. And while I preach religious freedom, i believe animal rights are more important.
That's fine of you believe it and I have no problem with that, but to call out someone's faith as "sick" as you put it, is religious flaming which is against the rules of this forum. I would ask that you cease making such offensive statements.
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