Topics: Sacrifice, Human sacrifice, Ritual Pages: 7 (2968 words) Published: May 25, 2014
António Machuco
The practice of sacrifices is one of the oldest and most universal human institutions. It is closely connected with the equally universal religious phenomenon and the mythical thought. The explanation of its universality always represented an enigma and only recently became clear that its function resides in the social cohesion it guarantees. We may even admit that such a destructive practice originated most part of human cultural forms. A result of the substitution of spontaneous violence, sacrifice is a type of self-domestication, where agriculture, animal domestication and criminal law had their origins. Keywords: Lévi-Strauss ; totem ; René Girard ; hunting ; myth; religion The practice of sacrifices was, for thousands of years, the most invariable – probably the most invariable of them all – aspects of all human cultures. During that period of time, sacrifice was intimately related with religion and, in fact, the modern word “sacrifice” comes from the Latin word sacer, meaning sacred. It’s perfectly clear that sacrifice is coupled by religion and shares its universality. Despite the ambiguities in the interpretation of fossil records, the presence of sacrifices in pre-historical societies is fairly well documented. It’s very possible that the practice of sacrifices existed in the Neanderthal man, and the sacrifice of animals seems unquestionable. Many of the pre-historical rock paintings depict what seem to be activities related with sacrifice. Its practice is more well documented from the Neolithic (around 10 000 B.C). In regions such as the Far and Middle East, temples of gigantic proportions were erected, which were sacrificial sites. In Ancient Egypt, slaves who would accompany the Pharaoh or other personalities in the afterlife were also sacrificed; in Mesopotamia, many animal species were also considered sacred and were sacrificed. In Phoenicia, in Cartago, in Crete, even in Greece, the human sacrifice is perfectly proved. In Rome, as late as 230 AD, human beings were being sacrificed, and the origins of the circus games are also known to be sacrificial. The habit of sacrificing several animal species (human beings and domesticated species, such as the bull, lambs or goats) existed among the Celtic. Where today is the Scandinavia, thieves, murderers and assassins were carefully picked to be sacrificed. In India, in 2003 there were still human sacrifices, despite the legal prohibition. In China, in Polynesia, in Africa, sacrifices, in the form of human sacrifice and in the form of animal sacrifice, were a common practice up to very recently. We may even consider that human sacrifice was prior to the sacrifice of animals, given the account of the Bible (Genesis 22), where Abraham replaces the sacrifice of his son with the sacrifice of a sheep. In the last century before Christ, human sacrifice was officially banned in Rome. However, whether in the human form, whether in the animal form (and in the vegetal form as well), the fact is that all human societies have had in their pasts sacrifice as their central institution. Another example of a society where sacrifice is particularly well documented is given by the Aztecs, such as they were found by the Spanish conquerors in the XVI century. The intensity with which human sacrifices were performed by the Aztecs is impressive – and repugnant - and it’s estimated that in a single year more than 20 000 people were sacrifice. The Aztecs believed the profusion of blood and burning fires guaranteed the Sun continued to shine in its normal course. In the absence of sacrifice, the world would end. To avoid that end, the Aztecs maintained continuous wars with their neighbours, thus obtaining prisoners who, in the proper moment, were offered to the gods. An example of this was the sacrifice to the God Tezcatlipoca, which we will describe in some detail in order to illustrate a theory of sacrifice that will be presented further ahead....
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