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Author Topic: Historical human and animal sacrifice  (Read 23844 times)
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« Reply #45: March 28, 2011, 06:10:55 pm »

As a semi-atheist I find offerings silly, period. It's not the offering that bothers me. I have no problem with food in general being offered, it's the fact that one is consciously taking an animal's life and giving it to something I believe its only in our head.

We won't get very far arguing over whether or not there are Gods to recieve offerings. My point is, the only real argument is whether or not it is wasteful. I personally know that nothing that dies really goes to waste (it becomes food one way or another.) and I also personally believe that sacrifice is "eaten" or enriches others on another level as well.


but doing it a please a god (a concept that might not even be real) plants the seed of 'extending your religions actions beyond yourself'. What if instead of animals offerings we were doing human sacrifices?
Now, someone argued what if you consume the animal afterward. That's when the gray area comes in. 
 

For me, there is a very sharp divide between the two, and it's as simple as basic ownership. You do not own someone else's life, so you cannot give it. This, in my opinion, is why human sacrifice was often consentual, or done with slaves or captives- because to the ancient way of thinking, this meant that the sacrificers did feel they had been given some ownership over the lives of these victims. Today, obviously, we tend to reject the idea of owning another's life altogether. It would be like stealing someone else's possessions for an offering. However since we as humans do purchase, feed, breed, and eat our livestock, they are effectively our posessions.

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« Reply #46: March 28, 2011, 06:40:41 pm »

We won't get very far arguing over whether or not there are Gods to recieve offerings. My point is, the only real argument is whether or not it is wasteful. I personally know that nothing that dies really goes to waste (it becomes food one way or another.) and I also personally believe that sacrifice is "eaten" or enriches others on another level as well.

For me, there is a very sharp divide between the two, and it's as simple as basic ownership. You do not own someone else's life, so you cannot give it. This, in my opinion, is why human sacrifice was often consentual, or done with slaves or captives- because to the ancient way of thinking, this meant that the sacrificers did feel they had been given some ownership over the lives of these victims. Today, obviously, we tend to reject the idea of owning another's life altogether. It would be like stealing someone else's possessions for an offering. However since we as humans do purchase, feed, breed, and eat our livestock, they are effectively our posessions.



I think you have to look at the rationale behind the human sacrifice as well. I know some groups in Central America, for instance, believed their gods needed blood to be fed to remain strong, but it's my understanding that many people believe that groups like the Celts probably practiced human sacrifice in times of drought, famine, and other desperate periods when they felt that the gods just weren't hearing their prayers or receiving standard offerings. In that way, the human wasn't a sacrifice, but more of a messenger who would be able to go into the spirit world and directly carry the message and prayers straight to the gods. To me, that's more of an assisted suicide than a sacrifice. The intention wouldn't be to offer a human being to the gods as much as it would be a way to more directly send someone to the spiritual world with a particular message and mission. As such, it's kind of similar to shamanistic practices of the shaman entering the spirit world to interact with the gods and spirits directly, albeit taken to a very extreme level. Not to say that excuses the practice, but it does make it a fundamentally different situation than if the gods required killing just for killing's sake and raises more philosophical and theological issues such as whether or not a similar practice could be recreated in modern practice while completely avoiding the taking of human life by using more conventional shamanistic practices of interacting with the spirit world by way of things like meditation, trance states, magical incantations, projecting, or possibly even psychoactive drugs (though that would also open up a whole other debate about the ethics, legality, practicality, and usefulness of using mind altering substances).
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« Reply #47: March 28, 2011, 09:13:45 pm »

My point is, the only real argument is whether or not it is wasteful. I personally know that nothing that dies really goes to waste (it becomes food one way or another.) and I also personally believe that sacrifice is "eaten" or enriches others on another level as well.
If you kill it, make it an offering, and then eat it, then that's not wasteful, assuming that the animal was gonna get killed anyways, as in let's say you raise chickens for consumption. But I wouldn't compare a human hunger to the Earth getting enriched by it. My only issue is killing in the name of religion.
Killing an animal in the name of religion might have a very spiritual connotation to that person, I'm sure, but that's of course from the killer's point of view. If you take away the religious connotation, it's nothing more than pointless killing.
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« Reply #48: March 28, 2011, 10:08:40 pm »

If you kill it, make it an offering, and then eat it, then that's not wasteful, assuming that the animal was gonna get killed anyways, as in let's say you raise chickens for consumption. But I wouldn't compare a human hunger to the Earth getting enriched by it. My only issue is killing in the name of religion.

In other words, by your definition of "wasteful", killing an animal for sacrifice to gods is "wasteful"?
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« Reply #49: March 29, 2011, 12:00:39 am »

In other words, by your definition of "wasteful", killing an animal for sacrifice to gods is "wasteful"?
Not only wasteful, but unethical, unmoral, and a pointless loss of life. Same as I feel about hunting as a sport.
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« Reply #50: March 29, 2011, 12:46:08 am »

One thing I often come across in researching historical pagan religions is the frequent use of animal, and occasionally human, sacrifices...

I've been following the thread for a while and have decided there are some things I'd like to contribute, so I thought I'd start here at the beginning and build from there. I'm going to try and avoid the issue of human sacrifice for two reasons; firstly, it is well-covered in a thread of its own (which is linked near the start of the thread), and secondly, because I see no fundamental difference between it and animal sacrifice that are not based in personal value judgements relating to the relative worth of individual lives. While these are important, I'm not sure that they are relevant, as the original questions seems to centre around how do modern pagans rationalise the sacrifice of any life.

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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.


I suspect that this is true for some definitions of 'murder' and 'cruelty', but I have seen no figures on it. Regardless, it really doesn't seem relevant to me if we're discussing sacrifice. Sacrifice is not murder (generally recognised as the taking of human life in a manner not legally recognised and sanctioned) because it is recognised as legitimate and sanctioned within the dogma/practice of a religion or philosophy that has the right to define the meaning of the life-taking for its adherants. Generally, sacrifice is (at worst) a merely positive act within this context and can at times be a mandatory one.

The terms can also lead (or should that be have lead?) to the introduction of emotive positions that conflate all ending of life by human agency with either  murder (which I touched on already), or with some undefined/nebulous concept labelled as 'cruelty'. Cruelty seems to me to be defined and applied in so many ways as to render it almost useless outside of quite specific circumstances, such as ones that identify both the behaviour and the species of the subject. It seems hard to imagine a discussion in which the definition is explicit and agreed by all participants. Otherwise, it simply acts to define one side of the discussion (several sides of the discussion?) out of any rational debate and lead to name calling and aspertions about the participant's moral character (whatever that may be).

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

If by this you mean, how do we map our pagan belief systems to the values of the belief system of a largely judeo-christian society with strong individualist and capitalist assumptions and public values, then I think the more important question is "why should we?". The beliefs of current western societies are not by definition more advanced, better, more 'right', or even inherrently secular. In many ways it near-completely fails to deal with death, regardless of its meaning. It certainly draws the short straw on valuing anything other than 'life at any cost'. That's OK, but it's not some sort of absolute truth.

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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.

Or, perhaps, shallower and less scary ways that help to hide the inconvenient fact of death and conform to a broader authority with a very different worldview.

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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....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. 

IIRC they also provide a religiously contextual explanation for the discontinuation of animal sacrifice as being acceptable to the gods (I believe it relates to the defeat of Agni by a river goddess). It has nothing to do with 'progression' of some sort. I suspect that conservatives would also reject the animal sacrifice on the basis of the later religious texts, as well.

Quote
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

Given the regularity with which people come here with wild misconceptions of sacrifice as a concept, I suspect it may not be anywhere near as primitive as you propose.
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« Reply #51: March 29, 2011, 08:20:01 am »

Not only wasteful, but unethical, unmoral, and a pointless loss of life. Same as I feel about hunting as a sport.

And it's certainly your right to feel that way. However, it's also the right of others to feel the opposite about animal sacrifice (and hunting). And their opinions are just as valid as yours.

What you seem to be doing -- in this thread at least -- is considering your opinions on these issues "more correct" than those of others and therefore expecting others to adopt yours or be labeled some type of "evil". It doesn't work for this argument any more than it does for some Christian fundies who consider everyone not believing as they do to be servants of their Satan.
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« Reply #52: March 29, 2011, 09:04:44 am »

And it's certainly your right to feel that way. However, it's also the right of others to feel the opposite about animal sacrifice (and hunting). And their opinions are just as valid as yours.

What you seem to be doing -- in this thread at least -- is considering your opinions on these issues "more correct" than those of others and therefore expecting others to adopt yours or be labeled some type of "evil". It doesn't work for this argument any more than it does for some Christian fundies who consider everyone not believing as they do to be servants of their Satan.

+1

Also how i don't agree with human sacrifice (as that would be downright wierd) in the northlands (scandinavia / germany) animal sacrifice for a long time was sharing the bounty with the gods, it wasn't an entire animal being "wasted" most of the animal was actually eaten, and the remains were then given to the gods, part to also allow the animals soul to ascend. So it wasn't like... man finds say a sheep, man kills sheep... sheep rots away.

Still in this day and age animal sacrifice is obsolete. As you can really just buy yummy animal parts at your local general stores. But think about it for a second, is there honestly that much of a difference between the days of old and now... animals still get slaugtered, and the majority of the animal still gets "thrown away" I mean there's certain parts us people just don't want to eat. We still waste parts of an animal. Our eyes just no longer have to see it.

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« Reply #53: March 29, 2011, 10:51:48 am »

What you seem to be doing -- in this thread at least -- is considering your opinions on these issues "more correct" than those of others and therefore expecting others to adopt yours or be labeled some type of "evil".
You are exactly right.
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« Reply #54: March 29, 2011, 10:59:43 am »

You are exactly right.

I see no reason why you should expect others to accept your ideas as more valid then their ideas on this issue. You haven't presented any compelling evidence to support your position as more valid.
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« Reply #55: March 29, 2011, 11:04:45 am »

I see no reason why you should expect others to accept your ideas as more valid then their ideas on this issue. You haven't presented any compelling evidence to support your position as more valid.
Because there isn't. It's an ethical thing more me. Anybody who actively sacrifices animals obviously has a different ethic than me, and the simple argument that 'I believe it's wrong' is not a valid point.
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« Reply #56: March 29, 2011, 11:29:52 am »

Thanks, others, for saying some of the things I was going to say. I'm a santero and most of the animals sacrificed are those that were going to be sacrificed eaten anyway.

Omoyemaya,
First, let me say that I have no problem with ritual animal sacrifice even though it isn't required by my gods. So, I'm not trying to set you up for judgment or ridicule. Personally, I find it to be a perfectly valid practice based on the conversations I've had with people who's paths do require it. However, not being part of one of those traditions, I don't feel comfortable repeating what I was told.

What I'm wondering is, would it be possible for you to explain a little about animal sacrifice and why it's so important in your tradition and similar traditions? I think it would go a long way towards people's understanding of the practice.

I know that the practice takes a lot of heat from those outside, so I can understand if you're reluctant.
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« Reply #57: March 29, 2011, 01:11:16 pm »



Still in this day and age animal sacrifice is obsolete. As you can really just buy yummy animal parts at your local general stores. But think about it for a second, is there honestly that much of a difference between the days of old and now... animals still get slaugtered, and the majority of the animal still gets "thrown away" I mean there's certain parts us people just don't want to eat. We still waste parts of an animal. Our eyes just no longer have to see it.

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A slightly irrelevant aside, just a little...coming from "inside the industry", as it were...

If it at least makes anyone feel any better, if nothing else... a lot of the bits we don't want to eat get turned into dog treats. Such as the ears, noses, penises, neck and leg tendons, tails, hooves and feet, etc. Smiley So not so wasteful as we would think.
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« Reply #58: March 29, 2011, 03:18:33 pm »

If it at least makes anyone feel any better, if nothing else... a lot of the bits we don't want to eat get turned into dog treats.
or taco bell Smiley
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« Reply #59: March 29, 2011, 07:37:16 pm »

+1

Also how i don't agree with human sacrifice (as that would be downright wierd) in the northlands (scandinavia / germany) animal sacrifice for a long time was sharing the bounty with the gods, it wasn't an entire animal being "wasted" most of the animal was actually eaten, and the remains were then given to the gods, part to also allow the animals soul to ascend. So it wasn't like... man finds say a sheep, man kills sheep... sheep rots away.

Still in this day and age animal sacrifice is obsolete. As you can really just buy yummy animal parts at your local general stores. But think about it for a second, is there honestly that much of a difference between the days of old and now... animals still get slaugtered, and the majority of the animal still gets "thrown away" I mean there's certain parts us people just don't want to eat. We still waste parts of an animal. Our eyes just no longer have to see it.

Honor and Wisdom.
Legion.

You're on to something there that I think actually hasn't been considered in this thread yet now that I think about it. Religion in the ancient world was much more complex than I think people realize in modern times. When you're talking about Germanic paganism, or Celtic paganism, or even Greco-Roman paganism, it's inaccurate to think of just A Germanic religion, or A Celtic religion, or A Greek religion and so on. They were umbrellas under which numerous different systems, cults, and religions flourished. For instance, there was no one united Celtic religion even in Britain. Every tribe seems to have had their own modified pantheon and practices. When it comes to Germanic paganism, there was, as I mentioned, the temple at Uppsala where sacrifices were conducted on a relatively massive scale that many would consider rather wasteful, and perhaps even cruel, but there were also many groups that seemed to actually prefer setting up large banquets for themselves and the gods in lieu of sacrifices. Also, Greco-Roman religions were hugely varied. There were cults that practiced things like temple prostitution while there were also cults that practiced strict celibacy. There were cults that believed everything from polytheism, monalatry, monotheism, animism, henotheism, pantheism, dualism, to even agnosticism and atheism and practically every other variation in between. That was even before the expansion of the Roman empire began to bring in all sorts of mystery cults and other belief systems from all over Europe, the Middle-East, and Asia. These religious groups didn't always play nicely with one another either. They frequently wrote scathing polemics against one another mocking the beliefs of groups they disagreed with and tearing apart the beliefs of those groups with scathing satire and other rhetorical attacks. So, I suppose it's incredibly difficult to speak of a single Celtic religion, or a single Greco-Roman religion, or a single Germanic religion. In each case, there were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of related religions all grouped under these wider groups. I suppose it would be practically impossible to do all of these different religions justice. You could probably do an entire multi-volume encyclopedia just on ancient Greco-Roman religions alone. Likewise, while the Celtic and Germanic religions showed somewhat more uniformity, there probably never existed a single pan-Celtic or pan-Germanic religion in any real way.
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