As stated elsewhere on this site, human sacrifices are of all ages and all places. In principle, this site focuses on ritualistic activities including killings and murders on the African continent but without pretending that these cruel and superstitious acts are only happening or being committed by Africans in African countries.
The article presented below amply illustrates the foregoing. It goes without saying that a topic such as ‘human sacrifices in historical perspective’ covers a vast area and cannot be treated in one short and simple article. Nevertheless, I have thought it useful and informative to include the following article on this site.
Warning: some readers may find the following text shocking because of its graphic contents.
Countless Centuries of Human Sacrifice
Live Science recently published a list of 25 cultures that employed human sacrifice “from prehistory to the 21st century.”
Published: December 25, 2022
By: James A. Haught – ‘The Good Men Project’
In the history of religion, uncountable centuries of human sacrifice present a gory stunner.
It’s astounding that parents around the world sent their children and unwed daughters to be stabbed, burned, skinned, strangled, beheaded, drowned, crushed, clubbed or otherwise killed to please absurd gods and goddesses now known to be imaginary. Men – especially prisoners of war – also were sacrificed.
Live Science recently published a list of 25 cultures that employed human sacrifice “from prehistory to the 21stcentury.” It included China, the city of Ur (in today’s Iraq), Mound 72 near St. Louis, the Incas of Peru, the Mayas of Mexico, the Philistines of the Mideast, Aztecs of Mexico, ancient Egypt, Stonehenge, medieval Japan, Hawaii, early Romans, ancient Greeks, the Moche tribe of Peru, the Dahomey of Africa, Celts of Europe, Nazca of Peru, Vikings, Carthage, Mongols, hunter-gatherers of early Europe, the Indus Valley, ancient Korea, India, Tanzania.
Encyclopedia Britannica says:
“Sacrifice is not a phenomenon that can be reduced to rational terms; it is fundamentally a religious act that has been of profound significance to individuals and social groups throughout history, a symbolic act that establishes a relationship between man and the sacred order. For many peoples of the world, throughout time, sacrifice has been the very heart of their religious life.”
Here’s a section from my book, Holy Horrors, reprinted with permission from Prometheus Books and Rowman & Littlefield:
Over the centuries, sacrifice had many varieties. In ancient Phoenicia, boys were burned to satisfy Adonis and other gods – and the fall of Carthage was blamed on the faithlessness of nobles who substituted children of slaves for their own on the altars. In ancient Gaul, the Druids allegedly put victims into large wicker figures of men and set them afire. In Tibet, Bon shamans performed ritual killing. In Africa, the Ashanti offered about 100 victims each September to assure a good yam harvest. In Borneo, builders of pile-houses drove the first pile through the body of a maiden to satisfy the earth goddess.
The golden age of sacrifice came with the highly organized theocracies of Central America. After the Mayans amalgamated with fierce neighbor tribes in the 11th century, ritual killings proliferated to appease the plumed serpent Kukulcan (later called Quetzacoatl by the Aztecs) and sundry other gods. Maidens were drowned in sacred wells, and other victims were beheaded, shot with arrows, or had their hearts cut out.
In Peru, pre-Inca tribes killed children in “houses of the moon.” Beginning in the 1200s, the Incas built a complex theocracy dominated by priests who read daily magical signs and offered sacrifices to many gods. At major ceremonies, up to 200 children were burned as offerings. Mothers brought their darlings dressed in finery and flowers to be put to death. Special “chosen women” – comely virgins without blemish – sometimes were removed from their temple duties and strangled. Local rulers sent choice daughters to the capital at Cuzco as chosen women. Later they were sent back to be buried alive.
The ultimate murder religion was that of the Aztecs, which demanded about 20,000 victims per year. The chief deity was the sun, which might disappear, priests warned, without daily sustenance of hearts and blood. Multitudes of victims, mostly prisoners of war, were held on stone altars by clergy who ripped out their hearts with obsidian knives. Flesh from their arms was eaten ritually, and their skulls were preserved on racks holding as many as 10,000 heads. Raids called “wars of the flowers” were conducted to seize plentiful sacrifice candidates.
Priests also killed many Aztecs. Weeping children were sacrificed so that their tears might induce the rain god to water the crops. To please the maize goddess, dancing virgins were seized, decapitated, and skinned – and their skins were worn by priests in continued dancing.
In 1487, when the great Aztec temple in Tenochtitlan was dedicated, eight teams of priests worked four days sacrificing 20,000 prisoners, the entire manpower of three captured tribes….
In the Far East, five different types of human sacrifice were halted by British rulers in the 1800s. One was the yearly meriah by the Khonds of Bengal, who cut a victim into small pieces and buried the fragments in many fields to assure a good harvest. Another was a weekly rite by certain followers of the bloodthirsty Hindu goddess Kali who sacrificed a male child every Friday evening at a shrine in Tanjore, India.
A third was the Hindu code of suttee, which required a widow to leap onto her dead husband’s funeral pyre, willingly or unwillingly. The British banned it in 1829, but it persisted. (When Brahmans of Sind protested that suttee was their holy custom, Governor Charles Napier replied: “My nation also has a custom When men burn women alive, we hang them. Let us all act according to national customs.”)
In Burma, the Buddhist king moved the capital to Mandalay in 1854 and sanctified the new city walls by burying scores of “spotless” men alive in vats under the gates and bastions. In 1861, two of the vats were discovered to be empty – whereupon royal astrologers declared that 500 men, women, boys and girls must be killed and buried at once, or the capital must be abandoned. About 100 actually were buried before British authorities stopped the ceremonies.
The worst holy slaughter halted by the British was the infamous Thuggee strangling in India. For generations, certain secretive followers of Kali, the goddess of destruction, had been ritually dispatching an estimated 20,000 victims a year. The toll since the 1500s was estimated as high as two million. Thug theology held that Brahma the Creator produced lives faster than Shiva the Destroyer could end them, so Shiva’s wife Kali commanded believers to hunt humans and garrote them with sashes.
Thugs usually preyed upon travelers in unpopulated places. Victims were seized, strangled, ceremonially gashed, and buried, then the Thugs ate a ritual meal over the burial spot. (They also plundered the victim’s possessions – another motive for their religious fervor.) British officers finally broke Thuggee by ferreting out 3,689 cultists and hanging or imprisoning them, or branding them with “Thug” as a public warning. At a trial in 1840, one Thug was accused of strangling 931 people.
Other sacrifices lingered. In the 1800s an Ashanti king in Africa, wishing to make his new palace impregnable, sacrificed 200 girls and mixed their blood in the mortar of the walls. In 1838 a Pawnee American Indian girl was cut to pieces to fertilize newly sown crops. During the late 1800s, bodies of sacrificed children occasionally were found at Kali shrines in India.
Among those thousands of priests, I wonder if any realized that their gods were purely imaginary. Whether they did or not, their careers consisted of senseless, pointless, horrifying murder.