Religion And The History Of Blood Sacrifice

There seems to be something in the human psyche which assumes sacrifice in general and blood sacrifice in particular is somehow magical and has the power to change the universe. In particular, those cultures which worship a malicious or angry god seem to assume it is mollified, even pleased by the sacrifice of an animal rather than a plant and especially if it involves blood.

Cultures in which sexual activity is regarded as sinful or frowned upon by one of more of their gods often include virginity in the ritual so the best and most powerful effect is obtained by the blood sacrifice of a virgin, and best of all a human virgin.

This has lead to the notion that a god made angry by transgressing one of it’s rules, or simply by not worshipping it enough, or in exactly the right way, or even by just being born and existing, can be persuaded to forgive that ‘sin’ by a blood sacrifice.

The earliest accounts of human sacrifice cannot be distinguished from myth with any certainty but the existence of those myths in the first place with their assumption that human sacrifice to appease or simply to please gods, is indicative of a cultural assumption and a vestigial belief.


The Hindu Vedas refer to purushamedha, a symbolic human sacrifice which is clearly derivative of an earlier actual sacrificial ritual. Actual human sacrifice was probably practised in Bengal until the late 19th century and by the Khond tribe in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh as late as 1835. The Thuggee cult dedicated to the Hindu god of death and destruction, Khali, probably accounted for some 2 million deaths.

According to Roman historians, the Celts of Europe, including the British Isles practised human sacrifice. This is supported by archaeological evidence. It has also been suggested that the ‘sacred groves’ of Druids, rather then places of natural beauty where one could be as one with nature, as is romantically assumed, may have been fearful places of human sacrifice where human body parts were hung up as offerings; a grotesque tradition which may have an echo in dressing the Christmas tree. See Kingdom Of The Celts by John King. 

There is evidence of human sacrifice during early Greco-Roman times. The god Artemis saving Iphigeneia, who was about to be sacrificed by her father Agamemnon, by replacing her with a deer, may be a version of the Abraham and Isaac myth of the Hebrews where the deer has become a ram.




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