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Sacrifice

SACRIFICE

Prayer is a form of communication with a deity or other spiritual being. Words addressed to a deity usually offer praise or seek guidance, blessing, forgiveness, fertility, victory, or protection. Like prayer, sacrifice is a form of communication with a deity for similar purposes. The word itself means "to make holy." As distinct from prayer, sacrificial offerings include objects of value and symbolic significance that are given to the gods to earn their favor. The gifts can take many forms, becoming sacred themselves through ritual consecration. The gods might be offered the most desirable foods or provided with the finest vessels, carvings, tools, and weapons. Historians, however, have often regarded blood sacrifice as the most powerful way to appease the gods. It was not unusual for societies to engage in both animal and human sacrifice, although the historical trend has been toward a sharp reduction in the latter.

Participants in blood sacrifice rituals experience a sense of awe, danger, or exaltation because they are daring to approach the gods who create, sustain, and destroy life. The buildup of tension prior to the blood sacrifice gives way to a festive sense of triumph and relief. Morale is strengthened by the ritual killing because the group has itself performed the godlike act of destruction and is now capable of renewing its own existence. The underlying philosophical assumption is that life must pass through death.

According to ancient rites of sacrifice, the sacrificial animal or human should be of high value. The gods would be offended by a sickly or inferior offering. In Old Testament tradition, Abel was obeying what was already an ancient tradition when he sacrificed the firstborn of his herds to God. Bulls were sacred to Egyptians more than 5,000 years ago, being associated with Taurus, a god with both animal and human features. For the Egyptians, then, the sacrifice of a bull was the gift of a demigod to the gods. In the years immediately preceding the emergence of Christianity some mystery cults switched from bull to human sacrifices, using the same ceremonies in which the victim was first honored as a god, then put to bloody death. Osiris, the legendary Egyptian ruler who, murdered, became the god of fertility, cast a long shadow over these proceedings. Biblical scholars have often commented that the death of Jesus had been prefigured by other events in which a person was raised to the status of a god and then sacrificed for the good of the people. The significance of blood as a link between Jesus and his followers is consistent with that tradition.

Sacrifice and Society

Human sacrifice is sometimes regarded as a bizarre practice carried out by a few scattered societies who either were uncivilized or exceptionally cruel and violent. However, there is persuasive evidence that the sacrificial impulse has been common throughout history and has played an important role in society.

The origins of blood sacrifice are lost in the mist of prehistory. Nevertheless, inferences can be drawn from archaeological research and from the practices and beliefs of people whose rituals continued into the historical period. The same societies usually performed other types of sacrifices as well, but these examples demonstrate the widespread use of ritual murder as an approved component of social policy.

Foundation and passage sacrifices. There is abundant archaeological evidence that many societies practiced both animal and human sacrifice to persuade the gods to protect their buildings and ensure safe passage through dangerous areas where their own gods might lack jurisdiction. Burials suggestive of sacrifice have been found in the sites of ancient bridges and buildings throughout Asia, Europe, and North Africa. It was widely believed that territories were under the control of local gods who might be angered by intrusions. Blood sacrifice at border crossings (often marked by rivers) and within buildings were thought to be prudent offerings. Sacrificial victims were also interred beneath city gates.

Children were often selected as the sacrificial offerings. Excavation of the Bridge Gate in Bremen, Germany, and several ancient fortresses in Wales are among the many examples of this practice. According to the Book of Kings, when Joshua destroyed Jericho he prophesized that the man who rebuilds Jericho "shall lay the foundation stones thereof upon the body of his first born and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates thereof." In rebuilding the city, Hiel later sacrificed his oldest and youngest sons in precisely this manner. The historian Nigel Davies observes that biblical accounts of foundation sacrifices have been supported by archaeological investigations:

In the sanctuary in Gezer were found two burnt skeletons of six-year-old children and the skulls of two adolescents that had been sawn in two. At Meggido a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure. Excavations show that the practice of interring children under new buildings was widespread and some were evidently buried alive. (Davies 1981, p. 61)

Foundation sacrifices dedicated to fertility (as, for example, in storage buildings) often involved infant and child victims. Captives, slaves, and criminals have also been selected as sacrificial victims on many occasions. That foundation sacrifices belong only to the remote past could be an erroneous assumption. In early twentieth-century Borneo an eyewitness testified that a criminal was buried alive in every posthole for a new building so that he might become a guardian spirit.

Attempts to Explain Blood Sacrifice

No one attempt to explain blood sacrifice seems adequate for the variety of forms and purposes associated with this practice in many societies over many years. Nevertheless, it is useful to consider the following accounts as informed attempts to explain the relationship between blood sacrifice and society.

Male bonding and collective killing. Hunters learned to cooperate with each other to improve their chances of success. This common purpose led to a sense of brotherhood, what is often called "male bonding" in the twenty-first century. Their mutual allegiances and rituals set them apart from others as they swore their oaths on blood and became the specialists in killing. Some theorists suggest that the basic forms of society were derived from the distribution of roles within the hunting group and their codes of loyalty. The structure of society in general has been modeled on male-bonded groups who relied on blood sacrifices to achieve their own survival and successor so upholds this theory that seems to seriously underestimate the contribution of women to the shaping of society.

Sacrifice reduces violence. It may seem peculiar to suggest that sacrifice reduces violence, but some anthropologists and historians have drawn this inference. Aggressive tensions within a society can lead toward violence against fellow members. Ritual sacrifices provide a relatively safe framework to keep violence within bounds while at the same time offering emotional release through killing substitute victims. This theory suggests that, at least in some circumstances, ritual killing of a designated victim can restrain the larger group from tearing itself apart.

Sacrificial companions to the next life. Many societies have considered their leaders as representative of their people both in this life and the next. It was important, then, to make sure that the ruler of the land (be it a king or otherwise) was accompanied to the afterlife with a retinue of loyal attendants. Rulers often had their concubines and servants (as well as household animals) entombed with them. Even distinguished ministers might be among the companions who were either entombed or immolated in order to serve their ruler after death. Examples include major archaeological finds in Egypt and China where the bodies of numerous attendants were discovered in chambers adjoining the royal coffin. There is evidence that elaborate ceremonies were conducted to honor the chosen companions prior to their deaths. It appears that the sacrificial victims often were given libations that provided a drug-induced insensitivity prior to their deaths.

The practice of burying the living with the dead encountered increasing criticism through the centuries. Eventually many societies shifted to symbolic sacrifices; for example, the later Egyptian practice of placing figurines (Shabti ) in the royal tombs. China, Japan, the Greek states, and other ancient civilizations also moved toward symbolic rather than actual sacrifice of companions upon the death of their rulers. Furthermore, with the development of Christianity and Islam, a life after death appeared more likely to be within reach of individuals other than royalty, therefore making voluntary sacrifice a less attractive proposition.

Sacrifice keeps the world going. The most sweeping theory is based on an interpretation of history that pictures the human condition as fearful and perilous, beset with threats to survival from starvation, attack, and events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods that were taken to be the work of angry gods. Possessing limited knowledge and technology, societies tried to find a way of negotiating with rival, demanding, and frequently unpredictable gods if the world and their own lives were to continue. Sacrifice soon became a significant form of exchange with the gods, a sort of currency in an age before the establishment of a monetary system. In modern parlance, sacrifice was a way of doing business.

Human sacrifice was considered so crucial a measure that it persisted for some time even in societies that had become more complex and sophisticated. For example, the practice of sacrificing the eldest son was a salient feature of Mediterranean cults 5,000 years ago and still a powerful theme in Judaism and early Christianity. Sacrifice would be tamed slowly as societies developed more effective ways to manage their needs and cope with their environments. The gradual and still incomplete abolition of slavery throughout the world also reduced the supply of potential victims. And, again, the slow and still incomplete movement toward according full human rights to females eventually spared many the death of a sacrificial victim.

Controversies and Unsettled Questions

Many questions and differences of opinion continue to exist around the issue of human sacrifice. This situation is not surprising, considering the limits and ambiguity of some of the evidence and the strong emotions aroused by the subject.

Death does not always signify sacrifice. Bodies dating from the first and second centuries B.C.E. have been recovered from bogs in England, Denmark, Wales, and other Northern European sites. These have often been considered sacrificial victims because the bodies showed many signs of having been subjected to ritualistic treatment. More sophisticated examination of the remains, however, indicates that at least some of the bodies had been accorded high honors, not put to death by sacrifice or punishment. It is probable that other errors have been made in identifying sacrifice victims, although enough clear and substantial data are available to demonstrate that sacrifice has been a common practice throughout much of the world.

Why child sacrifice? One of the most dramatic episodes in Judeo-Christian Scripture begins with God's command that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, his son. Abraham sorrowfully prepares to obey, but God intervenes and provides a ram as a sacrificial substitute. The meaning of this episode has been the subject of intense discussion through the centuries, although it is most often interpreted as a celebration of faith on Abraham's part and mercy on the part of God. Another human sacrifice reported in the Bible has remained more difficult to interpret in a favorable light and, therefore, has received less attention. Jepthah pledged he would sacrifice the first living creature that he saw when returning home if God would grant him victory in an upcoming battle. The victorious Jepthah was greeted by his daughter upon returning home. True to his pledge, Jepthah made a burnt offering of his daughter (who is not given a name in the biblical account). Why would God intervene for Isaac but not for Jepthah's daughter? Was Jepthah pious or callous in carrying through with the execution? These questions continue to haunt scholars and ethicists.

How many people were sacrificed by the Incas and Aztecs? This question can now be answered with confidence. Yes, the Incas of Peru and the Aztec of Mexico put a great many people to ritualistic death. This proposition was doubted for some years, in part because this kind of mass slaughter was difficult to imagine. Evidence has become increasingly clear, however, that human sacrifice was a core feature of the Inca and Aztec cultures.

Remains of Inca sacrifices have been dated from as long ago as 5000 B.C.E., sometimes on the towering peaks of the Andes, sometimes in the coastal desert. Archaeological investigations have found evidence of human sacrifice into the sixteenth century, and this practice is thought to have continued for some time afterward. Tenochtitlan (predecessor to Mexico City) is known to have been the active site of human sacrifices long before Spanish forces arrived to witness these events firsthand: There were already huge collections of skulls on display.

Twenty-first-century historians tend to agree that human sacrifice was both a unifying event and an intense demonstration of religious beliefs for these powerful empires. The Aztecs believed that the "vital energies" of one person could be transferred to another person through drinking the blood and eating the flesh. The gods also craved flesh and blood, so human sacrifice benefited both Aztecs and their ever-hungry deities. Sacrifice was an integral part of their worldview in which the threat of death was ever present, a threat that had to be countered by extreme and relentless measures that would magically transform death into life. Discoveries since the mid-twentieth century confirm that many women were sacrificed in special rituals intended to renew the fertility cycle.

Peruvian sacrifices were also concerned with encouraging the gods to bless their fertility. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the priests appear to have sacrificed an extraordinary number of children. Also somewhat obscure are the reasons for their practice of decapitating their victims. Having left no written records, the Incas and other Peruvian cultures have also taken with them their secrets and mysteries.

Do human sacrifices still exist? A few scattered reports of ritualistic murders believed to be sacrificial appear in print occasionally, usually in American and European newspapers. The reports are brief and inconclusive; for example, one October 1999 Irish Times article read, "Police in the eastern Indian state of Bihar yesterday dug up the remains of two teenage girls allegedly killed by their father in a ritual human sacrifice this week." It is probable that at least some such killings are the work of deranged individuals rather than religious celebrants. It is also possible, however, that credible evidence of contemporary human sacrifice may come to light.

A controversial theory suggests that patriotism, war, and adherence to the flag are incitements to a disguised form of sacrifice. Generally, the homicide rate decreases when a nation is involved in a popular war. Although there are other ways to interpret this fact, it is a challenging thought that patriotism might be regarded as "a civil religion of blood sacrifice, which periodically kills its children to keep the group together" (Marvin and Ingle 1999, p. 315).

See also: Aztec Religion; Cannibalism; Children, Murder of; Gods and Goddesses of Life and Death; Hunting; Incan Religion; Osiris

Bibliography

Benson, Elizabeth P., and Anita G. Cook. Ritual Sacrifice in Ancient Peru: New Discoveries and Interpretations. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

Brown Burkett, Walter. Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Carrasco, David L. City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilization. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.

Davies, Nigel. Human Sacrifice in History and Today. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1981.

Eliade, Mircea. A History of Religious Ideas, 3 vols., translated by Willard R. Trask. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Foss, Martin. Death, Sacrifice, and Tragedy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.

Gennep, Arnold van. The Rites of Passage. 1900. Reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Girard, René. Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.

"Girls Killed in 'Sacrifice.'" Irish Times, 23 October 1999, 14.

Green, Miranda Aldhouse. Dying for the Gods: Human Sacrifice in Iron Age and Roman Europe. Charleston, SC: Tempus, 2001.

Harris, Marvin. Our Kind. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.

Hughes, Dennis D. Human Sacrifice in Ancient Greece. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Levenson, Jon D. The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.

Marvin, Carolyn, and David W. Ingle. Blood Sacrifice and the Nation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Peires, J. B. The Dead Will Arise. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Read, Kay Almere. Time and Sacrifice in the Aztec Cosmos. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Ulansey, David. The Origin of the Mithrac Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Westermarck, Edward. The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas. London: Macmillan, 1906.

Young, Dudley. Origins of the Sacred. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

ROBERT KASTENBAUM

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Sacrifice

SACRIFICE

SACRIFICE. Sacrifice is the ritualistic and reverential slaughter, cooking, and distribution of meat. Conventional accounts of sacrifice stress the colorful and religious aspects of slaying an animal for the benefit of the participants' relationships with the gods. This understanding leads to the generalized use of the word "sacrifice" to mean giving up somethingincluding other foodsin anticipation of more valuable rewards.

From the viewpoint of a cultural outsider, sacrifice may seem a brutal or incomprehensible practice. Yet historically, sacrifice has been a common practice in many tribal and agrarian societies, as have food offerings, in a more general sense. Sacrifices serve various functions: the ancient Chinese text Li chi describes ceremonies that summon spirits from above to restore social harmony. Maintaining environmental balance is also a common sacrificial motive. Sacrifices are important in the doctrines of Hindus, Jews, Christians, and Muslims: they enable participants to share a table with their deity, give thanks, atone for sins, or appease angry forces. For example, Muslims believe that the animal slaughtered at the Id al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) at the conclusion of their pilgrimage to Mecca will carry them to Paradise.

Social scientists have explained that dramatic rituals encourage group solidarity. The act of coming together to present gifts helps to bind members of a group together as well as any blood oath can. According to Scottish anthropologist W. Robertson Smith in The Religion of the Semites (1889), sacrifice originated in a meal shared between people and their god. French sociologist Émile Durkheim and his associates asserted that sacrifice constantly renews group consciousness of the sacred and that the all-powerful god which society worships is itself.

Ceremony promotes social cohesion, but such theories are incomplete because they do not explain why cohesion important in the first place. As stated earlier, the underlying action of a sacrifice is the coming together for the slaughter and distribution of meat. This core social action is elaborated on cultural and religious levels. The animal is not lost but is allocated to the group according to precise rules. In groups that perform sacrifices, animals are valuable enough food to warrant special attention, typically at a festival, and often the animals are large enough to warrant wider dispersal than within an immediate household. This dispersal typically takes place at some central place such as a temple.

Early Jewish celebrations of Passover traditionally required the sacrifice of one lamb for each household or for distribution among several small households; the lamb was then eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:128). This ritual is a seasonal festival that, on one level, recalls the nomadic origins of the Hebrews, who would annually gather to celebrate increased flocks. On another level, however, Passover recalls the escape from Egypt after Moses had cursed the Egyptians to suffer the death of their first-born males. To avoid this curse, the Hebrews placed on their door posts a sign made from the blood of sacrificial lambs.

Gods have traditionally played key roles in food distribution. Each temple-state in ancient Mesopotamia had its own deities who lived in the ziggurat and who were fed offerings from the surrounding farms. This tribute not only supported the temple bureaucracy and artisans but also fed the poor of the region. In other places, this type of food redistribution also took place in kingdoms that were under the leadership of warrior rulers. For example, the ancient leader King Solomon oversaw the apportioning of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep at the dedication of his temple. These sacrifices served as a vast round of public meals, which were shared by "all Israel . . . a great assembly" from distant places. These meals also lasted for quite some time, as Solomon dismissed the crowd on the eighth day (1 Kings 8:6266).

The role of the mageiros in ancient Greece also illustrates the social centrality of sacrifice. This same word was used for priest, cook, and butcher (which might bewilder the modern mind). Nevertheless, the common link among these individuals was that each of them was responsible for the cutting up of meat, the priest wielding his cleaver (or machaira ) ritualistically, the butcher commercially, and the cook artistically.

Aztec priests gained notoriety for sacrificing human victims. In The Sacred Cow and Abominable Pig, the anthropologist Marvin Harris argues that such "warfare cannibalism" occurs when captives have greater value as meat than as slaves (pp. 199234). Yet many claims of human sacrifice are often suspect, as they can be misrepresentations of others as "less civilized." For example, some people in the ancient world mistook Christians for cannibals because they spoke of their savior as a sacrificial lamb and of their eucharistic bread and wine as his flesh and blood.

Because the acquisition and distribution of meat are so fundamental in society, they have been surrounded by many different relationships, rituals, and meanings. The allocation can become so formalized, the portion of food "lost" to the gods so large, and sacramental feelings so profound that the process may no longer resemble sharing. In addition, many accounts have overemphasized religious meanings at the expense of focusing on the sacrificial process of cooking offerings. However, a gastronomic interpretation of sacrifices need not diminish the importance of the ties among people, natural forces, and gods that sacrifices represent. On the contrary, taking the sharing of food under serious consideration arguably grounds the religious aspects of sacrifice and increases their relevance.

In much of the world, the act of slaughtering meat has been removed from plain view to the city outskirts. It has shifted from the butcher's shop to behind a supermarket wall. The final carving of joints now tends to be kept to the kitchen, and the image of cattle is separate from that of hamburgers. Greater sympathy with ceremonial sacrifice may help reconnect meat-eaters with their metabolic universe. A keener sense of the sacred when eating meat might help counterbalance tendencies toward instant gratification, conspicuous consumption, viewing animals as commodities, and the increasingly unbalanced distribution of the world's resources. If animal-devouring gourmets do not entirely embrace such religious impulses as atonement, propitiation, divine commensalism, and thanksgiving, they might nevertheless remember that to "immolate"from the Latin for 'sacrifice'is to sprinkle with a condiment.

Arguing for a more materialist reverence that brings the sacred back into the kitchen, Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon advises cooks to remember that they inhabit "bloody ground and holy ground at once." In his recipe book and "culinary reflection," The Supper of the Lamb, he confronts the dilemma of the "bloody, unobliging reciprocity in which life lives by death, but still insists that death is robbery" (pp. 4552).

See also Anthropology and Food ; Aversion to Food ; Christianity ; Disgust ; Fasting and Abstinence ; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts ; Hinduism ; Islam ; Judaism ; Meat ; Pig ; Religion and Food ; Sheep ; Sin and Food ; Taboos .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Capon, Robert Farrar. The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969.

Detienne, Marcel, and Jean-Pierre Vernant. The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Harris, Marvin. The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig: Riddles of Food and Culture. New York: Touchstone, 1987. Originally entitled Good to Eat, 1985.

Symons, Michael. "Cutting Up Cultures." Journal of Historical Sociology 15, no. 4 (December 2002).

Symons, Michael. "The Kitchen of the Gods." Australian Religion Studies Review 11, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 114125.

Michael Symons

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Sacrifice

Sacrifice (Lat., ‘that which is made sacred’). The offering of something, animate or inanimate, in a ritual procedure which establishes, or mobilizes, a relationship of mutuality between the one who sacrifices (whether individual or group) and the recipient—who may be human but more often is of another order, e.g. God or spirit. Sacrifice pervades virtually all religions, but it is extremely difficult to say precisely what the meanings of sacrifice are—perhaps because the meanings are so many. Sacrifice is clearly much more than technique: it involves drama, ritual, and action, transforming whatever it is that is sacrificed beyond its mundane role: in general, nothing that is sacrificed has intrinsic worth or holiness before it is set apart; it is the sacrifice that gives it added value. Sacrifice has been understood as expiation of fault or sin; as propitiation of an angry deity; as apotropaic (turning away punishment, disaster, etc.); as purgation; as an expression of gratitude; as substitutionary (offering to God a substitute for what is rightly his, e.g. the first-born); as commensal, establishing union with God or with others in a community; as do ut des (‘I give in order that you may give’, an offering in order to evoke a gift in return); as maintaining cosmic order (especially in Hindu sacrifices); as celebration; as a means of coping with violence in a community; as catharsis; as a surrogate offering at the level of power and its distribution.

Amongst many particular theories, that of H. Hubert and M. Mauss, Sacrifice, Its Nature and Function (1898), has been influential. The purpose of sacrifice can be discerned, not in the analysis of beliefs, but in the social function served by sacrifice, i.e. the connection made between the sacred and profane worlds. Through sacrifice they interpenetrate and yet remain distinct, thereby allowing (or requiring) self-interest to be subordinated to the service of the social group. The methodology was extended by Mauss in the even more influential The Gift (1924; Eng. tr. 1954): gift-giving practices (especially potlatch: see ALMSGIVING), including extravagant feasts, seem at first to work against self-interest, but they establish social bonding and stability.

Judaism

The general Heb. term, qorbān, has been taken to mean ‘bringing close’, sc., of humans and God. In ancient Israel, sacrifices were of various kinds. Sin-offerings (ḥatat) could be made by individuals, or collectively at the sacred festivals, and were offered in propitiation for sin; guilt offerings (asham) were a particular kind of sin-offering, to be made when, e.g., someone had defrauded another or when lepers were cleansed. Dedicatory offerings expressed dedication to God. Burnt offerings (ʿolah) were offered twice daily in the Jerusalem Temple as part of the regular ritual, with two additional lambs offered each Sabbath. Besides animal sacrifices, offerings of grain or loaves (meal offerings) accompanied burnt offerings and a libation was also poured out. In addition there were extra free-will offerings and peace offerings at Shavuʿot. Full details of the Temple ritual are preserved in the Talmud, tractates Tamid and Zevaḥim. After the Temple was destroyed by the Romans on 9 Av, 70 CE, the sacrificial system came to an end. Prayer took its place.

Christianity

Ideas of sacrifice are attached primarily to Jesus' death, probably going back to his own words at least at the Last Supper. The writer to the Hebrews gives an elaborate treatment of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice as superior to the Old Testament cult. The fathers took up the biblical theme, stressing that Christ was a voluntary victim; a victim of infinite value; and also himself the priest. (See also ATONEMENT.)

Islam

The Arabic words aḍḥā, dhabaḥa, and naḥara refer to the slaughter of animals; qurbān (cf. Heb., qorbān) comes from the verb meaning ‘to draw near’ and implies an offering without slaughter. The major Muslim sacrifice occurs at al-ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā (‘the feast of the sacrifice’, also known as ʿĪd al-Kabīr, ‘the great feast’) which commemorates the offering by Ibrāhīm (Abraham) of a ram instead of his son. In addition, sacrifice may be performed at any time with the intention of drawing closer to God, and is particularly expected when a child is born (al-ʿaqīqah).

Hinduism

Sacrifice (yajña) is deeply involved among Hindus in the maintenance of cosmic order, and although it obviously has reference to the gods, it is distinct from the approach to God in pūjā (worship). In the early Vedic age, sacrifice was relatively simple, a way of bringing the power inherent in the natural order to bear in relevant ways. Hence there were also sacrifices at regular moments, such as morning and evening, new and full moon, etc. For these ceremonies, the gṛhapati (householder) is usually the officient, though he could call on a purohita if necessary. These offerings are known as gṛhyakarmāṇi, and are usually performed by the casting of milk, ghī (ghṛta), grain, etc., into the fire. In the later Vedic period, sacrifices became elaborately detailed, and a distinction was made between gṛhya sacrifices (which rested on smārta, i.e. oral tradition and memory) and śrauta sacrifices (those based on śruti). The Sāma Veda and Yajur Veda were composed for the purposes of sacrifice, and the Brāhmaṇas were compiled with a major purpose of explaining the meaning of the sacrifices. Whereas in the earlier sacrifices there had been a strong element of do ut des (see introductory paragraph), there now developed a sense that the gods were dependent on sacrifices and to an extent under the control of humans (or more specifically, of priests). The śrauta sacrifices are traditionally divided into two groups of seven, Haviryajñas (including Agnihotra, animal sacrifices, and Piṇḍapitṛyajña) and Somayajñas. Four groups of priests were required (headed by four chief priests): (i) Hotṛ, who invokes the gods by reciting verses from the Ṛg Veda; (ii) Udgātṛ, the chanter of sāmans; (iii) Adhvaryu, the performer of the sacrifice; (iv) the brahman, who supervises the whole procedure, making sure that no errors are made. Śrauta sacrifices also became prohibitively expensive, and only vestigial remains of them survive in practice, confined to symbolic acts like the pouring of a glass of water or the giving of a handful of rice. Occasionally, a larger sacrifice is organized (e.g. against the menace of nuclear war in 1957), but only a few brahmans now maintain the daily ritual and study which underlie the larger occasions.

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sacrifice

sacrifice The Greek myth of the origin of sacrifice links it with the aftermath of Prometheus' attempt to trick Zeus by dividing the meat of an ox into two packages and trying to persuade Zeus to pick the one that had the tempting exterior, but that contained only the bones of the beast. In animal sacrifice, it was to be these bones which were burned on the altar as the divine share: the human sacrificers and onlookers then divided out the meat according to their degree of participation in the ritual. In the classical world, animal sacrifice was a daily necessity, reminding people of a lost past in which they had once shared food with the gods, but simultaneously acting to keep up communication between the human and the divine worlds. The Christian innovation of the ‘one, true, pure, immortal sacrifice’ of the son of God thus built on classical notions of the necessity of sacrifice, but also completely overthrew them by its insistence that no further animal sacrifices were necessary.

Not all sacrifice takes the form of animal sacrifice. Bloodless offerings of cakes, fruit, and bread were also common in antiquity. In all sacrifices fire was used to consume the parts which were being dedicated to the gods; a holocaust is a sacrifice in which the chosen offering is entirely consumed by the flames.

In the late nineteenth century, scholars of religion and sociologists tried to find a general theory of sacrifice. In his Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (1894), W. Robertson Smith proposed that totemism was the basic form of sacrifice, in which the clan shed the blood of its totem animal, then consumed it in a communal meal. The great French sociologist Émile Durkheim went further, arguing that sacrifice not only bonded the members of a social group, but acted to make the group aware of its common identity and thus, in a sense, to create the group. The anthropologist René Girard saw sacrificial violence as the basis of human culture; the classical scholar Walter Burkert links it to man the hunter who, by hedging around the slaughter of animals with the observation of strict ritual practices, attempted to allay his unease about whether the animal kingdom permitted him to take the lives of its members.

The problem with all such ‘grand theories’ of sacrifice is that they cannot always take account of individual societies' different myths and practices. However, a comparative approach can be illuminating; for example, the Greek myth of the Bouphonia (Ox-slaying) suggests that the beast to be sacrificed must agree to its role, and the story of the sacrifice of Christ also makes much of the need for the sacrificial victim to be aware of his role and willing to take it on. In classical Greek sacrificial ritual, the ox was even supposed to nod its head in consent, although this was often achieved by sprinkling water on its head to make it shiver.

Human sacrifice, like cannibalism, tends to be an accusation levelled by a society against its most feared enemies, or a marginal group within it. The Romans accused the Carthaginians of sacrificing children; Christian communities from the Roman Empire onwards have accused Jewish communities of it, while Roman pagans accused the Christians of exactly the same offence. But, as the ultimate victims, human beings make perfect sense in extremis. In the biblical story, when God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac, the command did not seem unreasonable, and the last-minute substitution of a ram became evidence that ‘The Lord will provide’. In myth and drama, the Greek leader Agamemnon thought his daughter Iphigenia was an appropriate sacrifice to ensure a good wind for the fleet sailing to Troy; in many versions of the myth, the goddess Artemis substituted an animal for Iphigenia. In ancient Rome, the burial alive of two Gauls and two Greeks was performed when the city was believed to be in serious danger.

Helen King

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sacrifice

sacrifice [Lat. sacrificare=to make holy], a type of religious offering, or gift to a superior or supreme being, in which the offering is consecrated through its destruction.

The Nature of Sacrifice

Sacrifices may be performed on a regular basis, according to established patterns of daily, monthly, or seasonal acts, or on special occasions, notably at important times in an individual's life (birth, puberty, marriage, death), and in the face of extraordinary conditions. The purpose of the act is either to establish or sustain a proper relationship with the god or gods. Sacrifices may simply express homage and veneration, or they may give thanks for good fortune. Sacrifices of supplication are intended to provoke good fortune, and sacrifices of expiation are offered to appease the divine wrath kindled by humanity's transgression of other arrangements. Humans have been known to sacrifice anything that they have ever used or produced; the oblation may be left exposed; poured, if liquid, into the ground; or burned.

History

The Paleolithic evidence for sacrifice is unclear, and it has not been observed in contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. It has been observed, however, in pastoral and agricultural societies. In simpler societies, anyone is usually permitted to offer a sacrifice, but in more complex societies, this right is generally reserved for either a religious specialist or a person of high political rank. Often, the sacrificial cult is linked to the legitimacy of a king or emperor, as in classical Japan, China, Sumeria, Egypt, and Rome; sometimes, struggles for control over this cult lead to conflict between priests and kings.

Biblical accounts of sacrifice begin with Cain's sacrifice of the fruit of the ground, not acceptable to God, and Abel's rightful sacrifice of the firstlings of his flock. The release of Abraham from the vow to sacrifice Isaac has been read as an argument against human sacrifice in Hebrew tradition, evidenced elsewhere in the story of Jephthah's daughter. After their Temple was destroyed by Romans in AD 70, the Jewish sacrificial cult was replaced by other activities; among present-day Samaritans, however, the paschal lamb is still sacrificed at the time of the Passover. In the New Testament, the symbolization of Jesus by the sacrificial lamb is frequent. In the ancient liturgies, the Eucharist is regarded as a real continuation of this sacrifice of Calvary; hence Roman Catholics call the Mass "the holy sacrifice."

Other ancient cultures of the Middle East, Asia, and Europe also had religions with sacrificial rituals. Perhaps the most fully developed was that of the Vedic religion in India, as worked out in great detail in the Brahmanic texts (see Hinduism). The Maya and the Aztec developed a particularly bloody and elaborate ritual of human sacrifice. Human sacrifice in simpler forms (e.g., cannibalism, head-hunting, killing of prisoners) has also been widespread. The practice of human sacrifice is rare in recent years, although survivals do exist in some parts of the world, and even animal sacrifice has become widely reviled. In the United States, practitioners of Afro-Caribbean religions such as voodoo and Santería have been subject to law enforcement restrictions on animal sacrifice, but in 1993 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was a constitutionally protected practice as a religious rite.

Bibliography

See R. J. Daly, Christian Sacrifice (1978); H. Hubert and M. Mauss, Sacrifice (tr. 1964, repr. 1981); M. I. Siddiqui, Animal Sacrifice in Islam (1981); W. Burkert, Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (1983); U. M. Vesci, Heat and Sacrifice in the Vedas (1986); N. Davies, Human Sacrifice in History and Today (1988); P. Tierney, The Highest Altar: The Story of Human Sacrifice (1989).

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sacrifice

sac·ri·fice / ˈsakrəˌfīs/ • n. an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure: they offer sacrifices to the spirits. ∎  an animal, person, or object offered in this way. ∎  an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy: we must all be prepared to make sacrifices. ∎ Christian Church Christ's offering of himself in the Crucifixion. ∎ Christian Church the Eucharist regarded either (in Catholic terms) as a propitiatory offering of the body and blood of Christ or (in Protestant terms) as an act of thanksgiving. ∎  Chess a move intended to allow the opponent to win a pawn or piece, for strategic or tactical reasons. ∎  (also sac·ri·fice bunt or sac·ri·fice hit) Baseball a bunted ball that puts the batter out but allows a base runner or runners to advance. ∎  (also sac·ri·fice bid) Bridge a bid made in the belief that it will be less costly to be defeated in the contract than to allow the opponents to make a contract. • v. [tr.] offer or kill as a religious sacrifice: the goat was sacrificed at the shrine. ∎  give up (something important or valued) for the sake of other considerations: working hard doesn't mean sacrificing your social life. ∎  Chess deliberately allow one's opponent to win (a pawn or piece). ∎  Baseball advance (a base runner) by a sacrifice. ∎  [intr.] Bridge make a sacrifice bid.

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Sacrifice

571. Sacrifice (See also Martyrdom, Self-Sacrifice.)

  1. Adrammelech and Anammelech Sepharvaite gods to whom children were immolated. [O.T.: II Kings 17:31]
  2. Akedah biblical account of God commanding Abrahams offerings. [Jewish Hist.: Wigoder, 17]
  3. Burghers of Calais they sacrificed themselves to save city from British siege after Battle of Crécy (1346). [Fr. Hist.: EB, II: 447]
  4. Idomeneus Cretan king sacrifices his son to fulfill a vow. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 492]
  5. Iphigenia slain to appease Artemis wrath. [Gk. Myth.: Walsh Classical, 156]
  6. Moloch god to whom idolatrous Israelites immolated children. [O.T.: II Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:3132, 32:35]
  7. Moriah site intended for Abrahams offering up of Isaac. [O.T.: Genesis 22:2]
  8. Norma priestess betrays her vows and sacrifices herself in atonement. [Ital. Opera: Bellini Norma in Benét, 720]
  9. Tophet site of propitiatory immolations to god, Moloch. [O.T.: II Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:3132]
  10. suttee former practice of self-immolation by widow on husbands pyre. [Hinduism: Brewer Dictionary, 1049]

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Sacrifice

Sacrifice

Many religious ceremonies have included sacrifice, the act of giving up something of value and offering it to a deity. Worshipers may make a sacrifice to win the favor of the deity, to give thanks, or to maintain a good relationship with the god. Myths from around the world contain many examples of sacrifices in which animals, humans, and even gods shed blood or die. Sometimes the sacrifice is linked with creation or with the continuation of life on earth. People also make offerings of precious items such as flowers, wine, and incense or a portion of the fruit or grain collected during a harvest.


deity god or goddess

Meaning and Methods of Sacrifice. One type of sacrifice involves the offering of blood or life. According to one theory, the

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

practice of blood sacrifice was based on the belief that life is precious, even divine. When freed from an earthly body, life returned to its sacred source. In ancient Rome, a person performing a sacrifice said to the god, "Be thou increased by this offering." The idea behind this type of sacrifice was not pain, suffering, or death. Rather, life was being returned to the divine world so that the gods, in turn, would continue to give life to the human world.

Other theories provide different explanations for blood sacrifice. One suggests that it began as a form of magic. Another says that sacrifice may have been viewed as a symbolic meal that the community shared with its deity or as a reenactment of creation myths. Still another tells that sacrifice may have been seen as a way of focusing and controlling aggression within the community.

Hunting peoples generally sacrificed game animals, while herding and farming peoples used domestic animals such as sheep, goats, chickens, and cattle. Certain types of animals were regarded as the most appropriate sacrifices for particular purposes or for particular deities. Dark-colored animals, for example, might be offered to deities of the underworld, while an all-white animal might be seen as the best gift for a sky god.

The sacrifice of humans has been known in many parts of the world. There is also evidence that in some communities animals were eventually substituted for human victims. The method of slaughter generally involved either blood (flowing freely or offered in a ceremonial vessel), fire (to carry the sacrifice to the god), or both. Sometimes, however, the person to be sacrificed was strangled, hanged, or drowned.

A special person, such as a ruler, priest, head of household, or older member of the community, usually supervised or carried out the sacrifice. The sacrifice was made in front of a groupit was too important an act to be performed privately Special rites, such as ceremonial bathing or fasting, often accompanied the sacrifice. The sacrificial offering might be placed on an altar or before a statue of a deity or burned in a sacred fire so that the smoke would carry its scent to the heavens.


underworld land of the dead

rite ceremony or formal procedure

primal earliest; existing before other things

cosmos the universe, especially as an orderly and harmonious system

Mythic Sacrifices. Many creation myths involve self-sacrifice by gods or primal beings. In an early Hindu myth, Purusha is the primal being who allows himself to be dismembered so that creation can take place. His eye becomes the sun, his head the sky, his breath the wind, and so on. Purusha became a symbol of the acts of sacrifice that kept the cosmos stable. The mythology of the Aztecs of central Mexico told how two of the gods formed the universe by splitting a goddess in half, so that one part of her became the sky and the other part became the earth. The Aztecs performed large-scale, violent rites of human sacrifice as a way of repaying the goddess and the other deities for the violence and sacrifice of creation. In Norse* mythology, Odin, the chief of the gods, made a kind of self-sacrifice by hanging on the World Tree Yggdrasill for nine days to gain magical knowledge. For this reason, the Norse sometimes sacrificed war captives to Odin by hanging them, and Odin became known as the god of the hanged.

Sacrifice is often an act of worship or obedience. In the book of Genesis in the Bible, God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac to the top of a mountain and sacrifice him. Abraham builds an altar and prepares to sacrifice his son when a voice from heaven tells him to stop, saying, "Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Turning around, Abraham notices a ram caught by its horns in a bush. He releases Isaac and sacrifices the ram instead.

Some myths present sacrifice as a way of setting right the relationship between people and gods. The Kikuyu people of Kenya in eastern Africa tell of a time when no rain fell for three years. The crops dried up, and the people asked their magician what they should do. After performing a magical ceremony, he told them to bring goats to buy a maiden named Wanjiru. The next day everyone gathered around Wanjiru, who began to sink into the ground. When her family tried to help her, those around gave them goats, so the family let her sink. As Wanjiru sank inch by inch into the ground, rain began to fall. By the time she disappeared into the ground, the rain was pouring down. Afterwards, a young warrior who loved Wanjiru went to the place where she had disappeared. Letting himself sink into the underworld, he found Wanjiru, brought her back to the surface, and married her.

prophecy foretelling of what is to come; also something that is predicted

Sacrifice may be linked to divination, or foretelling the future. The Druids* of ancient Britain sacrificed both animals and humans in the belief that they could read the future in the victims' dying movements or in the patterns of their intestines. In the story of Sunjata, told by the Mandingo people of Mali in West Africa, a king sacrificed a bull to acknowledge a prophecy. A hunter predicted that if the king agreed to marry a hideous young woman, their child would become a great ruler. In Central America, the Mayan Vision Serpent ceremonyheld to consult with the dead and determine the futureincluded offerings of blood drawn from the king.

See also Aztec Mythology ; Druids ; Odin ; Sunjata ; Yggdrasill.

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sacrifice

sacrifice an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure; also, the offering itself. In its primary use, a sacrifice implies an altar on which the victim is placed, an association often retained in figurative and metaphorical use.

In the Christian Church, the term is used for Christ's offering of himself in the Crucifixion, or for the Eucharist regarded either (in Catholic terms) as a propitiatory offering of the body and blood of Christ or (in Protestant terms) as an act of thanksgiving. The word is recorded from Middle English, and comes ultimately from Latin sacer ‘holy’.

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sacrifice

sacrifice Offering or destruction of precious objects – food and drink, flowers and incense, animals and human beings – for religious purposes. Sacrifices are made in order to maintain a relationship with a god or in the hope of winning divine favour or to atone for guilt.

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sacrifice

sacrificeadvice, bice, Brice, choc ice, concise, dice, entice, gneiss, ice, imprecise, lice, mice, nice, precise, price, rice, sice, slice, speiss, spice, splice, suffice, syce, thrice, trice, twice, underprice, vice, Zeiss •merchandise • paradise • sacrifice •packice • woodlice • fieldmice •titmice • dormice • allspice •cockatrice • edelweiss

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