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Marcus Aurelius and members of the Imperial family offer sacrifice in gratitude for success against Germanic tribes: contemporary bas-relief, Capitoline Museum, Rome

Sacrifice (from a Middle English verb meaning "to make sacred", from Old French, from Latin sacrificium: sacr, "sacred" + facere, "to make") is commonly known as the practice of offering food, objects (typically valuables), or the lives of animals or people to the gods as an act of propitiation or worship. The term is also used metaphorically to describe selfless good deeds for others or a short term loss in return for a greater gain, such as in a game of chess. Recently it has also come into use as meaning doing without something or giving something up.[1][2][3]


Historical polytheism

The practice of sacrifice is found in the oldest human records. The archaeological record contains human and animal corpses with sacrificial marks long before any written records of the practice. Sacrifices are a common theme in most religions, though the frequency of animal, and especially human, sacrifices are rare today.

Literally anything of some value may be a sacrifice in some religion's practices. The more valuable the offering, generally, the more highly the sacrifice is regarded but the more difficult to make. On a day-to-day basis, offerings may be quite simple indeed: flowers, candles, incense, spilling some of the drink from a cup before drinking.

Commonly, the most valuable sacrifices have been that of lives, animal or human.

Bloodless sacrifices

Animal sacrifice

Animal sacrifice offered together with libation in Ancient Greece. Attic red-figure oinochoe, ca. 430-425 BC (Louvre).

Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practiced by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature. It also served a social or economic function in those cultures where the edible portions of the animal were distributed among those attending the sacrifice for consumption. Animal sacrifice has turned up in almost all cultures, from the Hebrews to the Greeks and Romans (particularly the purifying ceremony Lustratio) , Ancient Egyptians (for example in the cult of Apis )and from the Aztecs to the Yoruba. Animal sacrifice is still practiced today by the followers of Santería and other lineages of Orisa as a means of curing the sick and giving thanks to the Orisa (gods). However in Santeria, such animal offerings constitute an extremely small portion of what are termed ebos—ritual activities that include offerings, prayer and deeds. Christians from some villages in Greece also sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints in a practice known as kourbània. The practice, while publicly condemned, is often tolerated for the benefits it provides to the church and the sense of community it engenders.

Karl Meuli's Theory on Origins of Greek Sacrifice According to Karl Meuli (1891-1968), a scholar in animal sacrifice, Greek sacrifices derived from hunting practices. Hunters, feeling guilty for having killed another living being so they could eat and survive, tried to repudiate their responsibility in these rituals. The primary evidence used to suggest this theory is the Dipolieia, which is an Athenian festival, in limited circulation, during which an ox was sacrificed. The protagonist of the ritual was a plough ox, which it had, at one point, been a crime to kill in Athens. According to his theory, the killer of the ox eased his conscience by suggesting that everybody should participate in the killing of the sacrificial victim.

In the expansion of the Athenian state, numerous oxen were needed to feed the people at the banquets and were accompanied by state festivals. The hecatomb (“hundred oxen”) became the general designation for the great sacrifices offered by the state. These sacrificial processions of hundreds of oxen remove the original ties, which the farmers of an earlier and smaller Athens will have felt with their one ox.

Human sacrifice

Human sacrifice was practiced by many ancient cultures. People would be ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease a god or spirit. While not widely known, human sacrifices for religious reasons still exist today in a number of nations.

Some occasions for human sacrifice found in multiple cultures on multiple continents include:

  • Human sacrifice to accompany the dedication of a new temple or bridge.
  • Sacrifice of people upon the death of a king, high priest or great leader; the sacrificed were supposed to serve or accompany the deceased leader in the next life.
  • Human sacrifice in times of natural disaster. Droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. were seen as a sign of anger or displeasure by deities, and sacrifices were supposed to lessen the divine ire.

Some of the best known ancient human sacrifices were those practiced by various Pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica. The Aztec were particularly noted for practicing this on an unusually large scale; a human sacrifice would be made every day to aid the sun in rising, the dedication of the great temple at Tenochtitlán was reportedly marked with the sacrificing of thousands, and there are multiple accounts of captured Conquistadores being sacrificed during the wars of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

In Scandinavia, the old Scandinavian religion contained human sacrifice, and both the Norse sagas and German historians relate of this, see e.g. Temple at Uppsala and Blót.

There is evidence to suggest Pre-Hellenic Minoan cultures practised human sacrifice. Sacrificed corpses were found at a number of sites in the citadel of Knossos in Crete. The north house at Knossos contained the bones of children who appeared to have been butchered. It is possible they may have been for human consumption as was the tradition with sacrificial offerings made in Pre-Hellenic Civilization. [1] The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (set in the labyrinth at Knossos) provides evidence that human sacrifice was commonplace. In the myth, we are told that Athens sent seven young men and seven young women to Crete as human sacrifices to the Minotaur. This ties up well with the archaeological evidence that most sacrifices were of young adults or children.

Human sacrifice still happens today as an underground practice in some traditional religions, for example in muti killings. Human sacrifice is no longer officially condoned in any country, and these cases are regarded as murder.

In Hindu narratives, practising human sacrifice and eating human meat was a work of the demons (see Demon).

In the Aeneid by Virgil, the character Sinon claims (falsely) that he was going to be a human sacrifice to Poseidon to calm the seas.

Abrahamic religions


Stained glass window at Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral depicting Abel's sacrifice of a lamb

In Judaism, a sacrifice is known as a Korban, from the Hebrew root karov, meaning "to [come] close [to God]".

The centrality of sacrifices in Judaism is clear, with much of the Bible, particularly the opening chapters of the book Leviticus, detailing the exact method of bringing sacrifices. Sacrifices were either bloody (animals) or unbloody (grain and wine). Bloody sacrifices were divided into holocausts (burnt offerings, in which the whole animal was burnt), guilt offerings (in which part was burnt and part left for the priest) and peace offerings (in which similarly only part of the animal was burnt). Yet the prophets point out that sacrifices are only a part of serving God and need to be accompanied by inner morality and goodness.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, ritual sacrifice ceased except among the Samaritans (see [2]). Maimonides, a medieval Jewish rationalist, argued that God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation. However, God understood that the Israelites were used to the animal sacrifices that the surrounding pagan tribes used as the primary way to commune with their gods. As such, in Maimonides' view, it was only natural that Israelites would believe that sacrifice was a necessary part of the relationship between God and man. Maimonides concludes that God's decision to allow sacrifices was a concession to human psychological limitations. It would have been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step. In the Guide for the Perplexed, he writes:

"But the custom which was in those days general among men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up consisted in sacrificing animals... It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God...that God did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service. For to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present [the 12th Century] if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to God nor fast, nor seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action." (Book III, Chapter 32. Translated by M. Friedlander, 1904, The Guide for the Perplexed, Dover Publications, 1956 edition.)

In contrast, many others such as Nachmanides (in his Torah commentary on Leviticus 1:9) disagreed, contending that sacrifices are an ideal in Judaism, completely central.

The teachings of the Torah and Tanakh reveal the Israelites's familiarity with human sacrifices, as exemplified by the near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham (Genesis 22:1-24) and the actual sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11:31-40). The king of Moab gives his firstborn son and heir as a whole burnt offering (olah, as used of the Temple sacrifice). It is apparently effective, as his enemy is promptly repelled by a 'great wrath' (2 Kings 3:27). In the book of Micah, one asks, 'Shall I give my firstborn for my sin, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' (Micah 6:7), and receives a response, 'It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.' (Micah 6:8) Abhorrance of the practice of child sacrifice is emphasised by Jeremiah. See Jeremiah 7:30-32.


In Christian teaching, God became incarnate in Jesus Christ (trinitarian view) or sacrificed his first-born son (divine yet distinct from God for non-trinitarians) to accomplish the reconciliation of God and humanity, which had separated itself from God through sin (see the concept of original sin). According to a view that has featured prominently in Western theology since early in the 2nd millennium, God's justice required an atonement for sin from humanity if human beings were to be restored to their place in creation and saved from damnation. However, God knew limited human beings could not make sufficient atonement, for humanity's offense to God was infinite, so God sent his only Son to become the sacrifice of the everlasting covenant. In Christian theology, this sacrifice replaced the insufficient animal sacrifice of the Old Covenant; Christ the "Lamb of God" replaced the lambs' sacrifice of the ancient Korban Todah (the Rite of Thanksgiving), chief of which is the Passover in the Mosaic law.

Geza Vermes writes that the title "Lamb of God" does not necessarily refer to the metaphor of a sacrificial animal. He points out that in Galilean Aramaic, the word talya, literally "lamb", had the common meaning of "male child". This is akin to kid meaning "child" in modern colloquial English. The female equivalent of talya was talitha, literally "ewe lamb" and figuratively "girl" (the word is found in the narrative of the daughter of Jairus). Thus, "Lamb of God" could have been a slang means of saying "Son of God" or "God's Kid". This view differs from the traditional understanding of the phrase as it is used in reference to the acts of Jesus, and not merely his status as the Son of God.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, as well as among some High Church Anglicans, the Eucharist or Mass, and the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox Church, is seen as a sacrifice. It is however, not a separate or additional sacrifice to that Christ on the cross; it is rather the exact same sacrifice, which transcends time and space ("the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world") (Rev. 13:8), renewed and made present, the only distinction being that it is offered in an unbloody manner. The sacrifice is made present without Christ dying or being crucified again; it is a re-presentation to God, of the "once and for all" sacrifice of Calvary by the now risen Christ, who continues to offer himself and what he has done on the cross as an oblation to the Father. The complete identification of the Mass with the sacrifice of the cross is found in Christ's words at the last supper over the bread and wine: "This is my body, which is given up for you," and "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed...unto the forgiveness of sins." The bread and wine, offered by Melchizedek in sacrifice in the old covenant (Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110:4), are transformed through the Mass into the body and blood of Christ (see transubstantiation; note: the Orthodox Church does not hold as dogma, as do Catholics, the doctrine of transubstantiation, preferring rather to not make an assertion regarding the "how" of the sacraments), and the offering becomes one with that of Christ on the cross. In the Mass as on the cross, Christ is both priest (offering the sacrifice) and victim (the sacrifice he offers is himself), though in the Mass in the former capacity he works through a solely human priest who is joined to him through the sacrament of Holy Orders and thus shares in Christ's priesthood. Through the Mass, the merits of the one sacrifice of the cross can be applied to the redemption of those present, to their specific intentions and prayers, and to the redemption of the souls in purgatory. A prophecy of the sacrifice of the Mass, offered in every corner of the world, is found in the Book of Malachi in the Old Testament: "from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles" (Mal. 1:10-11).

The concept of self-sacrifice and martyrs are central to Christianity. Often found in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity is the idea of joining one's own sufferings to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Thus one can offer up involuntary suffering, such as illness, or purposefully embrace suffering in acts of penance, such as fasting. Some Protestants criticize this as a denial of the all-sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice, but it finds support in St. Paul: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). Pope John Paul II explained in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris (11 February 1984):

"In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed...Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished...In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ...The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering" (Salvifici Doloris 19; 24).

Some Protestants reject the idea of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, inclining to see it as merely a holy meal (even if they believe in a form of the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, as Lutherans do). The more recent the origin of a particular tradition, the less emphasis is placed on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. The Catholic/Orthodox response is that the sacrifice of the Mass in the New Covenant is that one sacrifice for sins on the cross which transcends time offered in an unbloody manner, as discussed above, and that Christ is the real priest at every Mass working through mere human beings to whom he has granted the grace of a share in his priesthood. Since the word priest carries heavy connotations of "one who offers sacrifice", Protestants usually do not use it for their clergy. Evangelical Protestantism emphasizes the importance of a decision to accept Christ's sacrifice on the Cross consciously and personally as atonement for one's individual sins if one is to be saved—this is known as "accepting Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior".

The Orthodox Church sees the celebration of the Eucharist as a continuation, rather than a reenactment, of the Last Supper, as Fr. John Matusiak (of the OCA) says: "The Liturgy is not so much a reenactment of the Mystical Supper or these events as it is a continuation of these events, which are beyond time and space. Unlike many of the Protestant bodies, the Orthodox also see the Eucharistic Liturgy as a bloodless sacrifice, during which the bread and wine we offer to God become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the descent and operation of the Holy Spirit, Who effects the change." This view is witnessed to by the prayers of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, when the priest says: "Accept, O God, our supplications, make us to be worthy to offer unto thee supplications and prayers and bloodless sacrifices for all thy people," and "Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which came to pass for us: the cross, the grave, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting down at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again, Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all," and "… Thou didst become man and didst take the name of our High Priest, and deliver unto us the priestly rite of this liturgical and bloodless sacrifice…"


An animal sacrifice in Arabic is called ḏabiḥa (ذَبِيْحَة) or Qurban (قُرْبَان) . The term may have roots from the Jewish term Korban'; in some places such as in India/Pakistan, qurbani is always used for Islamic animal sacrifice. In the Islamic context, an animal sacrifice referred to as ḏabiḥa (ذَبِيْحَة) meaning "sacrifice as a ritual" is offered only in Eid ul-Adha. ..."Therefor to the Lord turn in Prayer and Sacrifice. " (al-kawthar)-Al Quran, 108.2 Qurbani is an Islamic prescription for the affluent to share their good fortune with the needy in the community. On the occasion of Eid ul Adhaa, affluent Muslims all over the world perform the Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) by sacrificing a goat or sheep. The meat is then divided into three equal parts. One part is retained by the person who performs the Qurbani. The second is given to his relatives. The third part is distributed to the poor. The Muslims say that this has nothing to do with blood and gore (Qur'an 22:37: "It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches God. It is your piety that reaches Him..."). The sacrifice is done to help the poor and in remembrance of Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command. The sacrificial animal may be a lamb, a sheep, a goat, a camel or a cow. The animal must be healthy and conscious. an Animal sacrifice is also make in order to stop something such as if somebody is possessed by jinn or sytan. it sometimes be a white lamb or cheep both of them are acceptable in terms of making the jinn to leave the body.

Indian religions


The Sanskrit Yajna is often translated as "sacrifice" but also means worship, devotion, offering, love, and oblation.[4] It is especially used to describe the offering of ghee (clarified butter), grains, spices, and wood into a fire along with the chanting of sacred mantras. The fire represents Agni, the divine messenger who carries offerings to the Devas.[5] The offerings can represent devotion, aspiration, and seeds of past karma. In Vedic times, Yajna commonly included the sacrifice of milk, ghee, curd, grains, and the soma plant—animal offerings were less common.[6] In modern times, Yajna is often performed at weddings and funerals, and in personal worship. Sacrifice in Hinduism can also refer to personal surrender through acts of inner and outer worship.[7]

Figurative use

The term is also used figuratively, in the general meaning "to give up something valuable for a higher purpose".

Self sacrifice

Self-sacrifice, the act of deliberately following a course of action that has a high risk or certainty of suffering, personal loss or death (which could otherwise be avoided), in order to achieve a perceived benefit for self or others, is a powerful theme with a well-established place in many cultures, myths, and societies. Self-sacrifice may also be more broadly defined as selflessness, or the readiness to inflict pain upon yourself to save others; it is this definition which, for example, Leo Tolstoy embraced and espoused.

Sacrifice and Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand, in her Virtue of Selfishness explains the term "sacrifice" as the exchanging of that which is valued highly, for that which is valued less, or not at all. Ms. Rand's philosophical thought, Objectivism, is based on the principle that the highest good is the pursuit of one's own rational self-interest and is contrasted with altruism, which revolves around the notion of self-sacrifice and selflessness. Her understanding of the sacrificial concept, a foundation of objectivism, concludes that sacrifice is always altruistic and, therefore, that one must never sacrifice. What Ms. Rand argues is that no rational person must allow her or himself to be victimized. That, according to Rand, is irrational. She gives many examples of personal sacrifice, including giving one's life to save one's spouse or other loved ones. These, she says, are rationally and egotistically motivated and are therefore not considered sacrifice.

Sacrifice in games

Sacrifice is also used metaphorically to describe a number of plays in games. Sacrifices, in this sense, are plays that lose pieces or opportunities in order to obtain a more important advantage.

In chess, a number of exchanges are described as sacrifices: these typically involve losing a piece or a pawn to disrupt the opponent's formation and open up an attack. Chess openings that involve sacrifices are usually called "gambits" by chess players; in these gambits, usually a pawn is deliberately lost; gambits that lose a piece are rare and risky.

In contract bridge, a sacrifice is a deliberate higher level bid of a contract which is likely to fail, in the hope that the adverse cost of the failure will still be less than the opponents' likely successful scores would have been.

In baseball, a sacrifice fly is a play in which a batter hits a fly ball deep into the outfield for an out so as to enable a runner on any base, depending on the runner's speed, to score. Likewise, a sacrifice bunt in baseball is one in which a batter deliberately allows himself to be put out while advancing a teammate to second and/or third base, from where he has a greater chance to score. Players who commit either a sacrifice fly or bunt are not charged with a "time at bat," thus the out that they sacrificed is not charged against their batting average.

In some role-playing games certain characters have the ability to give up their hit points for the benefit of their allies. In the game World of Warcraft a player of the paladin class may sacrifice the life of their character in order to provide temporary invulnerability to another player.

See also

Further reading

  • Davies, Nigel (1981). Human Sacrifice: In History and Today. Dorset Press. ISBN 0-88029-211-3.  
  • Lancaster, John (29 November 2003). "In India, case links mysticism, murder". Washington Post.  
  • Heinsohn, Gunnar: "The Rise of Blood Sacrifice and Priest Kingship in Mesopotamia: A Cosmic Decree?" [3] (also published in: Religion, Vol. 22, 1992)
  • Sacrifice (Catholic Encyclopedia)
  • Bataille, Georges (1992). Theory of Religion. Zone Books. ISBN 0-942299-09-4.  
  • Carter, Jeffrey (2003). Understanding Religious Sacrifice. Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-4880-1.  
  • Hubert, Henri; Marcel Mauss (1981). Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function. U of Chicago Press(reprint, orig 1898). ISBN 0226356795.  


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "act of worship or devotion, offering, oblation, sacrifice (the former meanings prevailing in Veda, the latter in post-Vedic literature", Monier-Williams.
  5. ^ Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya (2003). Dancing With Siva: Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism. Himalayan Academy Publications. ISBN 0945497962.   p. 849.
  6. ^ "Indeed the offering of milk into the fire was more common than animal offerings."Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521438780.   p. 359.
  7. ^ Subramuniyaswami, p. 849.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SACRIFICE (from Lat. sacrificium; sacer, holy, and facere, to make), the ritual destruction of an object, or, more commonly, the slaughter of a victim by effusion of blood, suffocation, fire or other means. While the Hebrew for sacrifice, rnr, makes the killing of the victim the central feature of the ceremony, the Latin word brings out the fact that an act of sacralization (see Taboo) is an essential element in many cases. The sacrifice of desacralization is, however, also found; hence MM.

Hubert. and Mauss describe a sacrifice as "a religious act, which, by the consecration of a victim, modifies the moral state of the sacrificer or of certain material objects which he has in view," i.e. it either confers sanctity or removes it and its analogue, impurity. It is, in fact, "a procedure whereby communication is established between the sacred and profane spheres by a victim, that is to say by an object destroyed in the course of the ceremony." By this definition the term sacrifice is extended to cover the inanimate offering which is consumed by fire, broken or otherwise rendered useless for the purpose of human life.

Theories of Sacrifice. - Explanations of sacrifice, as of other rites, are naturally not wanting among the peoples who have practised or still practise it; but they are often of the nature of aetiological myths and give no clue to the original meaning. Scientific theories date from the second half of the last century, and were originated in the first instance by the English anthropological school.

(a) According to the view put forward by Dr Tylor, the sacrifice is originally a gift, offered to supernatural beings by man for the purpose of securing their favour or minimizing their hostility. By a natural series of transitions the gift theory became transformed, in the minds of the sacrificers, into the homage theory, which again passed by an easy transition into the renunciation theory. These were, in fact, simply the popular theories of sacrifice put on an evidential basis by facts drawn from various stages of culture.

(h) With W. Robertson Smith, on the other hand, a new era was reached, in which the recently recognized existence of Totemism was made the basis of an attempt to give a 1 Scipione de Ricci, bishop of Pistoia from 1780 to 1791, on the ex-Jesuits requesting him to consecrate a bell dedicated to this object, issued a pastoral letter (3rd June 1784) in which he pointed out that the spirit of true religion was "far removed from fetichism," and warned his flock against "cardiolatry." This pastoral was subsequently in 1786 annexed to the resolutions passed by the reforming synod of Pistoia, and was condemned with eighty-four other propositions by papal bull in 1794. - ED.

theory of origins. The first form of his theory distinguishes (i.) honorific, (ii.) piacular and (iii.) mystical or sacramental sacrifices; but the latter type is traced back to the same cycle of ideas as that in which the piacular sacrifice originated. (i.) The essential feature of this type was that the god and his worshippers shared the sacrifice and might thus be regarded as commensals, or table companions. The human commensals were the totem-kin, whom Robertson Smith conceived to have been in the habit of sharing a common meal in daily life, or at least of not mixing with other kins. The object of sharing the meal with the god was to renew the blood bond.

The victim was the animal of a hostile totem-kin or an animal commonly offered to the god. The god was originally a stranger, taken into the kin by a rite of blood brotherhood, and this constitutes the dark point of the theory; for Robertson Smith regards the blood bond as relatively late; hence we do not see how the god became associated with the kin. (ii.) The piacular sacrifice arose from the need of atoning for bloodshed within the kinship group; properly speaking, the culprit himself should suffer: should he be unknown or beyond the reach of vengeance, a substitute had to be found. This was naturally found in the non-human member of the totem-kin - the totem animal; in a sense, therefore, the god died for his people.

(iii.) In the mystical sacrifice the god is himself slain and eaten by his worshippers. In the Religion of the Semites (2nd ed., 1894) the theory was remodelled so as to overcome the difficulty pointed out above. The god, the victim and the human group are regarded as of the same kin; the animal (totem) is the earlier form of the god; the deity was originally female, for under matrilineal rules the mother alone is of kin to her children, but, with the rise of descent in the male line, the god was transformed into a male. The sacrifice is in its origin a communion; god and worshippers have a bond of kinship between them; but it is liable to be interrupted or its strength diminished.

Ceremonies of initiation are the means by which the alliance is established between the deity and the young man, when the latter enters upon the rights of manhood; and the supposed bond of kinship is thus regarded as an artificial union from the outset, so far as the individual is concerned, although Robertson Smith still maintains the theory of the fatherhood of the god, where it is a question of the origin of the totem-kin.

From the communion sacrifice sprang the piaculum, which here becomes a subsidiary form and finds its full explanation in the ideas connected with the mystic union of god and worshippers. For the object of the piaculum is the re-establishment of the broken alliance, which was precisely that of the communion sacrifice. With the decline of totemism arose the need for human sacrifice - the only means of re-establishing the broken tie of kinship when the animal species was no longer akin to man.

This theory of Robertson Smith's has been attacked from two sides. In the first place, L. Marillier (Rev. de l'hist. des religions, xxxvi. 243) argues that if there was an original bond of kinship between the god and the kin, there is no need to maintain it by sacrificial rites, and cites against Smith's view the practice of totemic groups.

To this it might be replied that the real significance of initiation ceremonies is still obscure; it is a plausible argument that the child does not form part of the kin till after initiation, but this argument seems inconclusive, for in West Australia there is solidarity, according to Grey (Journals, ii. 239), between the whole of the kinship group, whether adult or not; and, moreover, nowhere are rites found which are intended to strengthen the union between a man and his totem by means of the blood bond, unless we include the aberrant totemism of the Arunta (Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, 167), who eat their totems in order to gain magical powers of increasing the stock of the totem animal.

Marillier further argues that if, on the other hand, there was no bond between god and people but that of the common meal, it does not appear that the god is a totem god; there is no reason why the animal should have been a totem; and in any case this idea of sacrifice can hardly have been anything but a slow growth and consequently not the origin of the practice.

In the second place, MM. Hubert and Mauss point out that Robertson Smith is far from having established either the historical or the logical connexion between the common meal and the other types of sacrifice; the simplest Semitic forms known to us are the most recently recorded; further their simplicity may mean no more than documentary insufficiency, and in any case does not imply any priority; the piaculum is found side by side with the communion at all times. Moreover, under piaculum are confused purification, propitiations and expiations; Smith's contention that purifications, whose magical character he recognizes but interprets as late, are not sacrificial, is far from conclusive.

(c) Building in part on the foundation laid by Robertson Smith, Dr J. G. Frazer has put forward the view that while the sacrifice of the god may have been piacular, it was also intended to preserve his divine life against the inroads of old age. This theory he exemplifies by two orders of cases, (i.) the putting to death of the man-god, who is often also the king, on whose health is held to depend the safety of his people, of the world, or even of the universe; and (ii.) the annual killing of the representative of the spirit of vegetation or of the Corn-spirit (see Demonolog Y).

(d) For L. Marillier sacrifice was, at its origin, essentially a magical rite - the liberation by the effusion of a victim's blood of a magical force which was to bend the gods to the will of man; from this arose, under the influence of cult of the dead, the gift theory of sacrifice. Adopting the theory of W. R. Smith, Marillier also maintained, but without clearly explaining the relation of this part of his theory to the preceding, that a human kinship group conceived the idea of allying itself with one god in particular. This they did by sacrificing a victim and effecting communion with the god by the application of its blood to the altar; or, more directly, by the sacrifice of the animal-god and the contact of the sacrificer with its blood.

(e) Dr Westermarck takes the view that human sacrifice is as a rule an act of substitution, in that men offer a victim in the hope of saving themselves; but he also recognizes funeral sacrifices of various kinds. Certain sacrifices of animals he explains as intended to transfer a conditional curse.

(f) The preceding theories are attempts, in the main, to derive from one source all the forms of sacrifice. MM. Hubert and Mauss, while admitting that in all sacrifices is found some idea of purchase or substitution, decline to admit that all have issued from one primitive form. In their view, based on an analysis of Hebrew and Hindu forms of sacrifice, the unity of sacrifice consists in the immediate aim of the ritual, not in the ultimate end to be attained; for we rarely find a rite other than complex and by the same sacrifice more than one result may be sought or attained. The unity of procedure consists in the fact that every sacrifice involves putting the divine in communication with the profane by an intermediary - the victim - which may be piacular or honorific, a messenger or a means of divination, a means of alimenting the eternal life of the species or a source of magical energy which the rite diffuses over objects in its neighbourhood.

(g) Our knowledge of primitive forms of sacrifice is meagre; even were it more extensive, it would probably be impossible to determine the origin or origins of sacrifice; for no ritual has necessarily survived unchanged in form and meaning since its inception, and even permanence of form cannot be taken to imply a corresponding permanence of meaning for the worshippers. If, however, we turn to Australia, where sacrifice is unknown, we find more than ' one class of rites in which we can trace an idea akin to some forms of sacrifice. Just as the German reaper leaves the last ears of corn as an offering to Wodan, so the Australian black offers a portion of a find of honey; in New South Wales a pebble is said to have been offered or a number of spears, in Queensland the skin removed in forming the body-scars.

Thus it appears that the gift theory may after all be primitive; the worship of, or care for, the dead may have supplied in other areas the motive for the transition from offering to sacrifice or the evolution may have been due to the spiritualization of the gods. In Australia, among the Hottentots, in the Malay Peninsula and elsewhere, blood ceremonies are in use which are unconnected with the slaughter of a victim; in this blood ritual we may see another possible source of sacrifice. The Arunta hold that the spirits of kangaroos are expelled by human blood from certain rocks. By parity of reasoning a blood ritual may have been adopted by peoples who practise the expulsion of evils, conceiving them either animistically or as powers; catharsis, in the sense of removal of uncleanness, is not necessarily primitive.

Table of contents

Principles of Classification

It is possible to classify sacrifices according to (a) the occasion of the rite, (b) the end to be achieved, (c) the material object to be affected or (d) the form of the rite.

(a) The division into periodical and occasional is important in Hindu and other higher religions, and the sutras constantly draw the distinction; the former class is obligatory, the latter facultative. In less developed creeds the difference tends to remain in the background; but where sacrifices are found, solemn annual rites, communal, purificatory or expiatory, are celebrated, and these are held to be in like manner obligatory.

(b) The end to be achieved is, as has been shown by Hubert and Mauss, sometimes sacralization, sometimes desacralization. In the former case the sacrificer is raised to a higher level; he enters into closer communion with the gods. In the latter either some material object, not necessarily animate, is deprived of a portion of its sanctity and made fit for human use, or the sacrificer himself loses a portion of his sanctity or impurity. In the sacrifice of sacralization the sanctity passes from the victim to the object; in that of desacralization, from the object to the victim. (c) Sacrifices may be classified into (i.) subjective or personal, where the sacrificer himself gains or loses sanctity or impurity; (ii.) objective, where the current of man y (see Taboo) is directed upon some other person or object, and only a secondary effect is produced on the sacrificer himself. (d) The form of the sacrifice is discussed in the next section.


For Hinduism and later Judaism we possess a wealth of material on which to base a comparative study of the forms of sacrifice; a form of this - animal sacrifice in the Vedas - has been analysed by MM. Hubert and Mauss. For Greece and Rome, where the instructions as to ritual were not embodied in the elaborate codes handed down in Hinduism or Judaism, our material is far less complete. For other areas we have often no description of the procedure at all, but merely the briefest outline of the actual process of slaughter, and we are ignorant whether the form of the rite is in reality simple (either from a loss of primitive elements or from never having advanced beyond the stage at which we find it), or whether the absence of detail is due to the inattention or lack of interest of the observer.

It must therefore be understood that the following analysis of ritual, based on the most elaborate codes known to us, is by no means conclusive as to the primitive form or forms of sacrifice. The necessary elements of a Hindu sacrifice are: (I) the sacrificer, who provides the victim, and is affected, directly or indirectly, by the sacrifice; he may or may not be identical with (2) the officiant, who performs the rite; we have further (3) the place, (4) the instruments of sacrifice and (5) the victim; where the sacrificer enjoys only the secondary results, the direct influence of the sacrifice is directed towards (6) the object; finally, we may distinguish (7) three moments of the rite - (a) the entry, (b) the slaughter, (c) the exit.

The sacrifices of sacralization and desacralization mentioned above find their analogues in the Hindu scheme of the rite; sacralization and desacralization, sometimes performed by means of subsidiary sacrifices, are the essential elements of the preparation for sacrifice and the subsequent lustration. In the most developed forms, such as the offering of soma, they assumed a great importance; (r) the sacrificer had to pass from the world of man into a world of the gods; consequently he was separated from the common herd of mankind and purified; he underwent ceremonies emblematic of rebirth and was then subject to numberless taboos imposed for the purpose of maintaining his ceremonial purity.

In like manner (2) the officiant prepared himself for his task; but in his case the natural sanctity of the priest relieved him of the necessity of undergoing all that the common man had to pass through; in fact, this was one of the causes which brought him into existence, the other being the need of a. functionary familiar with the ritual, who would avoid disastrous. errors of procedure, destructive of the efficacy of the sacrifice.

(3) Where there was an appointed place of sacrifice - the Temple at Jerusalem, according to later Jewish prescription - there was. no need of preparation of a place of sacrifice; but the Hindu chose, each for himself, the site of his altar. (4) The necessary rites included (a) the establishment of the fires, friction being. the only permitted method of kindling it, (b) the tracing on the ground of the vedi, or magical circle, to destroy impurities, (c) the digging of the hole which constituted the real altar, (d) the preparation of the post which represented the sacrificer and to which the victim was tied, and other minor details. (5) The victim might be naturally sacred or might have to undergo sanctification. In the former case (a) individual animals might be distinguished by certain marks, or (b) the whole species. might be allied to the god; in the latter case the victim had to be without blemish; (c) the age, colour or sex of the victim might differ according to the purpose of the sacrifice.

It was. first cleansed; then plied with laudatory epithets; and, thirdly,. soothed, so that it might be more acceptable to the gods and less likely to do an injury after its death, when its spirit was set free. It had now reached a degree of sanctity and only the priest might touch it; it was sprinkled with water, and anointed with butter; finally, the priest made three turns round it with a lighted torch in his hand, which finally separated it from the world and fitted it for its high purpose. The object of the sacrifice being to bridge the gulf between the sacred and profane worlds, the sacrificer had to remain in contact with the victim, either personally, or, to avoid ritual perils, by the intermediary of the priest. After excuses made to the animal or to the species in general, the victim was placed in position, and silence observed by all who were present.

The cord was drawn tight and the victim ceased to breathe; its spirit passed into the world of the gods. But this did not conclude the ceremony, even as far as the victim was concerned; it remained to dispose of the corpse. After a rite intended to secure its perfect ceremonial purity, a part of the victim, the vapa, was removed, held over the fire and finally cast into it.

The remainder, divided into eighteen portions, was cooked; seven fell to the sacrificer, after an invocation, which made them sacred by calling the deity to descend into the offering and thus sanctify the sacrificer. (6) Then followed the rites of desacralization, including burning of certain of the instruments, lustration of the post, destruction of the butter, &c. Finally the priest, the sacrificer and his wife performed a lustration, found in an exaggerated form in the "bath" which concluded the soma sacrifice, and the ceremonies were at an end.

How far this scheme of sacrifice holds good for other areas, and in particular for more primitive peoples, is an open question. Our data are nowhere so full as for India; where they are comparatively abundant they refer either to a civilized or semicivilized people, or to an area, like West Africa, where the influence of Islam has introduced a disturbing element. Though the moralization of gods has only proceeded pari passu with the moralization of mankind, the deities of the more advanced nations are perhaps felt by them to be more terrible and more difficult of access than the divinities of lower races; herein lies one explanation of the power of the priesthood. Even if the conception of the relative sanctity of gods and men remained unaltered, it by no means follows that in primitive times the same precautions were necessary in approaching the former as were demanded by the consciousness of later generations. With our present knowledge the problem of the original form of sacrifice, if there be a single primary form, is insoluble.

No general survey of sacrificial ritual is possible here, but a. few details as to the mode of slaying the victim and disposing of the body may be given. The head of the animal or man may be cut off (and custom often requires that a single blow shall suffice), its spine broken or its heart torn out; it may be stoned, beaten to death or shot, torn in pieces, drowned or buried, burned to death or hung, thrown down a precipice, strangled or squeezed to death. The sacrificer may aim at causing a speedy death or a slow one.

The corpse may be burnt, in part or as a whole; portions may be assigned to the priest, the sacrificer and the gods; the skull, bones, &c., may receive special treatment; the fat or blood may be set aside, and they or the ashes may be singled out as the share of the god, to be offered upon the altar; the skin of the victim may be employed as a covering for the idol or material representative of the god, either permanently or till the next annual sacrifice. The blood of the victim may be drunk by the priest as a means of inducing inspiration, its entrails may be employed in divination, its flesh consumed in a common meal, exposed to the birds and beasts of prey or buried in the earth.

It is equally impossible to give a general survey of the purposes of sacrifice; not only are they too numerous but it is rare to find any but mixed forms; the scapegoat, for example, is also a messenger to the dead, and its flesh is eaten by the sacrificers. Certain main types may, however, be enumerated.

Cathartic Sacrifice

In primitive cults the distinction between sacred and unclean is far from complete or well defined (see Taboo); consequently we find two types of cathartic sacrifice - (i.) one to cleanse of impurity and make fit for common use, (ii.) the other to rid of sanctity and in like manner render suitable for human use or intercourse.

(i.) The most conspicuous example of the first class is the scapegoat. Two goats were provided by the ancient Hebrews on the Day of Atonement; the high priest sent one into the desert, after confessing on it the sins of Israel; it was not permitted to run free but was probably cast over a precipice; the other was sacrificed as a sin-offering. In like manner in the purification of lepers two birds were used; the throat of one was cut, the living bird dipped in the blood mingled with water and the leper sprinkled; then the bird was set free to carry away the leprosy. In both these rites we seem to have a duplication of ritual, and the parallelism of sacrifice and liberation is clear.

(ii.) As an example of the second class may be taken the sacrifice of the bull to Rudra. MM. Hubert and Mauss interpret this to mean that the sanctity of the remainder of the herd was concentrated on a single animal; the god, incarnate in the herd, was eliminated by the sacrifice, and the cattle saved from the dangers to which their association with the god exposed them. In the Feast of Firstfruits we have another example of the same sort; comparable with this concentration of holiness is the respect or veneration shown to a single animal as representative of its species (see Animal Worship).

In both these cases the object of the rite is the elimination of impurity or of a source of danger. But the Nazarite was equally bound to lay aside his holiness before mixing with common folk and returning to ordinary life; this he did by a sacrifice, which, with the offering of his hair upon the altar, freed him from his vow and reduced him to the same level of sanctity as ordinary men.

With regard to the scapegoat, it must be noted that we also meet with a more concrete idea of expulsion of evil (see Demonology, Exorcism), which is present among the most primitive peoples, such as the Australians. This raises the problem of how far the catharsis dealt with above is in its original form an elimination of impurity, and how far something more definite - a spirit or other principle of evil - is held to be expelled by scapegoat and allied ceremonies.

Communal Sacrifice

In spite of the importance attached to the idea of the common meal by Robertson Smith, it is not a primitive rite of adoption. The custom of eating the body of the victim does not necessarily spring from any idea of communion with the god; it may also arise from a desire to incorporate the sanctity which has been imparted to it - an idea on a level with many other food customs (see CouvADE), and based on the idea that eating anything causes its qualities to pass into the eater. Where the victim is an animal specially associated with a god (the most conspicuous case is perhaps that of the corn spirit), it may be granted that the god is eaten; but precisely in these cases there is no custom of giving a portion of the victim to the god.

Deificatory Sacrifice

The object of certain sacrifices is to provide a tutelary deity of a house, town or frontier. (a) In Burma, as in many other countries, those who die a violent death are held to haunt the place where they met their fate; consequently when a town is built living men are interred beneath the ramparts and the pillars of the gates. (b) In parts of North America the nagual or manitu animal, of which the Indian dreams during the initiation fast and which is to be his tutelary spirit, is killed with certain rites.

(c) Human representatives of the corn or vegetation spirits are killed; in these, as in other cases of the sacrifice of the man-god cited by Dr Frazer, the killing of the old god is at the same time the making of a new god. (d) Suicide is treated as a means of raising a human being to the rank of a god. (e) Gods may be sacrificed (in theriomorphic form) to themselves as a means of renewing the life of the god. (f) The method of creating a fetish (see Fetishism) on the Congo resembles deificatory sacrifice; but here there is no actual slaughter of a human being; magical means are alone relied upon.

Honorific Sacrifices

Whatever their origin, sacrifices tend to be interpreted as gifts to the god. Man seeks to influence his fellow men in various ways, by intimidation, by deceit, by bribery; and it is quite natural to find the same ideas in the sphere of religion. Food is often given to a god because he is believed to take pleasure in eating; the germ of this idea may have been identical with that of some funerary sacrifices - to nourish the divine life. At a later period, pari passe with the spiritualization of the god, comes a refinement of the tastes attributed to him, and the finer parts of the sacrifice, finally it may be only its savour, are alone regarded as acceptable offerings.

Just as attendants are provided for the dead, so the god receives sacrifices intended to put slaves at his disposal. This latter idea was the more likely to arise, as the gift theory of sacrifice is closely associated with that of the god as the ruler or king to whom man brings a tribute, just as he had to appear before his earthly king bearing gifts in his hands. The honorific sacrifice is essentially a propitiation; it must be distinguished from the piaculum (see below), to which in some aspects it is allied.

Mortuary Sacrifice. - Sacrifices, especially of human beings, are offered immediately after a death or at a longer interval. Their object may be (a) to provide a guide to the other world; (b) to provide the dead with servants or a retinue suitable to his rank; (c) to send messengers to keep the dead informed of the things of this world; (d) to strengthen the dead by the blood or life of a living being, in the same way that food is offered to them or blood rituals enjoined on mourners.

Piacular Sacrifice

Whereas the god receives a gift in the honorific sacrifice, he demands a life in the piacular. This, according to Westermarck, is the central idea of human sacrifice: the victim is substituted for the sacrificer, to deliver him from perils by disease, famine or, more indefinitely, from the wrath of the god in general. The essential feature of the piaculum is that it is an expiation for wrong-doing, and the victim is often human.

Human Sacrifice

Many theories of the relation of human to animal sacrifice have been put forward, most of them on an insufficient basis of facts. It has been held that animal sacrifice is the primitive form and that the decay of totemism or lack of domestic animals has brought about the substitution of a human victim; but it has also been urged that in many cases animal victims are treated like human beings and must consequently have replaced them, that human beings are smeared with the blood of sacrifice, and must therefore have themselves been sacrificed before a milder regime allowed an animal to replace them.

If tradition is any guide, human sacrifice seems in many important areas to be of secondary character; in spite of the great development of the rite among the Aztecs, tradition says that it was unknown till two hundred years before the conquest; in Polynesia human sacrifices seem to be comparatively modern; and in India they appear to have been rare among the Vedic peoples.

On the whole, human sacrifice is far commoner among the semi-civilized and barbarous races than in still lower stages of culture. In Australia, however, where sacrifice of the ordinary type is unknown, the ritual killing of a child is practised in connexion with the initiation of a magician; it is therefore by no means axiomatic that animals were offered before human beings; the problem of priority is one to be solved for each area separately, but probably no solution is possible; in the absence of Aztec traditions it would hardly have seemed probable that two centuries had seen so great a transformation.

Among the forms of human sacrifice must be reckoned religious suicide. This is perhaps mainly found in India but is not unknown in Africa and other parts of the world. Human sacrifices were known in ancient India and survived till late in the 19th century (see below); both Greeks and Romans practised them, no less than the wilder races of ancient Europe. Semites and Egyptians, Peruvians and Aztecs, slew human victims; Africa, especially the West Coast, till recently saw thousands of human victims perish annually; in Polynesia, Tahiti and Fiji were great centres of the rite - in fact, it is not easy to name an area where it has not been known.

No general survey of sacrifice on geographical lines is possible, but some of the more important features in each area may be noticed.

Sacrifice and Rome

Both the mainland of Greece and the Greek colonies practised human sacrifice, usually as a means towards expulsion of evil. Thus, the Athenians maintained a number of outcasts, from whom in times of national calamity two were selected, one for the men, one for the women, and stoned to death outside the city; at the Thargelia two victims were annually put to death in the same way. Many animal sacrifices were known; of especial importance is the annual sacrifice of a goat on the Acropolis, though at other times the animal was not permitted to enter the temple.

Important features of Greek sacrifice, though not necessarily found in every rite, were the putting of wreaths and pieces of wool on the victim, the gilding of its horns, the lustration of the officiant and the sprinkling of those present with holy water. It was held inauspicious if the animal were unwilling; if it nodded all was well. Barley meal 1 was strewn on its neck, and a lock of hair cut from its forehead and burned. The animal was then clubbed, its throat cut and the altar sprinkled with its blood. Finally the body was skinned and cut up and the god's share burned on the altar.

The important Attic sacrifice of the Dipolia, known as Ta f30vOovia, demands some notice. Cakes were laid on the altar of Zeus Polieus and oxen driven round; the one which touched the cakes was the victim. An officiant at once struck it with his axe and another cut its throat; then all save the one who struck the first blow partook of its flesh. Then the hide was stuffed with grass and yoked to a plough; the participants were charged with ox murder and each laid the blame on the other; finally the axe was thrown into the sea. The interpretation of the rite is uncertain; it may perhaps be connected with agrarian rites.

At Rome the scapegoat did not suffer death; but in the Saturnalia a human victim seems to have been slain till the 4th century A.D. Many forms of animal sacrifice were found; the generalized account given above for Greece is true also for the Romans.

Sacrifice in Egypt

Of Egyptian ritual little is known; our knowledge rests mainly on the evidence of pictures. At Deir el Bahri we see that the animal had its throat cut in Mahommedan fashion; it lay on its side, the legs tied together; the heart was taken out, then the liver; the burnt sacrifice was hardly known.

Sacrifice in India

An account of animal sacrifice has been given above. Among human sacrifices may be mentioned the suttee, or custom of immolating a widow on the funeral pyre of the husband, and the Khond sacrifice of the Meriah, who was either purchased or the son of a victim father. Some days before 1 This sprinkling of the victims with sacrificial meal (Lat. mola) is the origin of the word immolare, to sacrifice, slaughter; Eng. "immolate," "immolation." the sacrifice, the victim, who was often kept in captivity for long periods, was devoted by the cutting of his hair, previously unshorn, and his sanctity was increased later by various ceremonies of anointing. Finally he was taken in procession, stupefied or otherwise rendered incapable of resistance, and put to death by strangulation or pressure. The remains were dismembered and carried to the fields, excepting the portion offered to the earth goddess, which was buried.

Sacrifice Africa. - Especially in West Africa many forms of sacrifice are found. In the annual "customs" of Dahomey, now abolished, hundreds of human victims were offered. Three main forms of human sacrifice existed in this area: (I) the scapegoat; (2) the messenger; and (3) the expiation, but combinations were not infrequent. The victim was often kept in captivity and well fed; to transfer their sins people laid their hands upon him as he was led in procession, his head covered with ashes; on the way to the place of sacrifice were three enclosures, the second open to chiefs and priest only, the third to the officiant and his helper alone; the blood of the victim was offered to the gods.

At the present day the animal victim may be burned or drowned, buried in the earth or simply exposed. Sometimes the sacrificer's hands are laid on the victim before it is slain, or he may be smeared with its blood; in other cases the blood is smeared on the door posts, or the sacrificer is touched on every part of the body with the victim's body. On the Congo, if a man commits a murder, the community votes whether he shall die or be expelled; if the latter, a victim is killed, of which all must partake; but this is not, as might be imagined, a case of Robertson Smith's piaculum for the re-establishment of the tribal bond; for the criminal is driven out of the community.

Sacrifice in America

Sacrifice was relatively infrequent and undeveloped among the Red Indians. The Pawnees, however, had an elaborate ritual, in which a human victim was sacrificed to the Morning Star; the blood of the victims was sprinkled on the fields, and the details of the rite are not unlike those of the Khond custom. The Iroquois sacrifice of the white dog bore in later times the character of a scapegoat festival; but it is doubtful how far this was an original feature.

The animals were decorated with wampum and strangled, and then the sins of the people were transferred to them; then the remains were burned and the ashes gathered up, taken through the village and sprinkled before every house. In Mexico human sacrifices were very common; the lowest estimate is 20,000 annually. The victims were often feted for a whole year and treated as divine; the heart was an offering to the god, the body was eaten by the priests and nobles and the head was preserved with those of previous victims.

Bibliography.-H. Hubert and M. Mauss in Annee sociologique, ii.; J. G. Frazer, Golden Bough, ii., iii.; W. R. Smith, Religion of Semites; L. Marillier, Revue de l'h. des religions, xxxvi. 208 seq.; E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture; Ed. Westermarck, Origin of Moral Ideas (esp. vol. i. for Human Sacrifice). For Greece and Rome see L. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, especially i. 56, 88 seq.; W. W. Fowler, Festivals; and Pauly, Realencyclopeidie, s.v. " Sacrificia." For West Africa, J. Johnson, Yoruba Heathenism (1899, reprinted in R. E. Dennett, At the Back of the Black Man's Mind); and the work of A. B. Ellis. For America see the works of Frazer and Westermarck and the references there given. On religious suicide see Lasch in Globus, lxxv. 69, and Westermarck vol. ii. See also articles "Sacrifice" in Ency. Bibl., Jewish Encyclopaedia, &c.

(N. W. T.) The Idea of Sacrifice in the Christian Church. There can be no doubt that the idea of sacrifice occupied an important place in early Christianity. It had been a fundamental element of both Jewish and Gentile religions, and Christianity tended rather to absorb and modify such elements than to abolish them. To a great extent the idea had been modified already. Among the Jews the preaching of the prophets had been a constant protest against the grosser forms of sacrifice, and there are indications that when Christianity arose bloody sacrifices were already beginning to fall into disuse; a saying which was attributed by the Ebionites to Christ repeats this protest in a strong form, "I. have come to abolish the sacrifices; and if ye do not cease from sacrificing the wrath of God will not cease from you" (Epiph. xxx. 16).

Among the Greeks the philosophers had come to use both argument and ridicule against the idea that the offering of material things could be needed by or acceptable to the Maker of them all. Among both Jews and Greeks the earlier forms of the idea had been rationalized into the belief that the most appropriate offering to God is that of a pure and penitent heart, and among them both was the idea that the vocal expression of contrition in prayer or of gratitude in praise is also acceptable. The best instances of these ideas in the Old Testament are in Psalms 1. and li., and in Greek literature the striking words which Porphyry quotes from an earlier writer, "We ought, then, having been united and made like to God, to offer our own conduct as a holy sacrifice to Him, the same being also a hymn and our salvation in passionless excellence of soul" (Euseb. Dem. ev. 3).

The ideas are also found both in the New Testament and in early Christian literature: "Let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to His name" (Heb. xiii. 15); "That prayers and thanksgivings, made by worthy persons, are the only perfect and acceptable sacrifices I also admit" (Just. Mart. Trypho, c. 117); "We honour God in prayer, and offer this as the best and holiest sacrifice with righteousness to the righteous Word" (Clem. Alex. Strom. vii. 6).

But among the Jews two other forms of the idea expressed themselves in usages which have been perpetuated in Christianity, and one of which has had a singular importance for the Christian world. The one form, which probably arose from the conception of Yahweh as in an especial sense the protector of the poor, was that gifts to God may properly be bestowed on the needy, and that consequently alms have the virtue of a sacrifice. Biblical instances of this idea are - "He who doeth alms is offering a sacrifice of praise" (Ecclus. xxxii. 2); "To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. xiii. 16); so the offerings sent by the Philippians to Paul when a prisoner at Rome are "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God" (Phil. iv. 18).

The other form, which was probably a relic of the conception of Yahweh as the author of natural fertility, was that part of the fruits of the earth should be offered to God in acknowledgment of His bounty, and that what was so offered was especially blessed and brought a blessing upon both those who offered it and those who afterwards partook of it. The persistence of this form of the idea of sacrifice constitutes so marked a feature of the history of Christianity as to require a detailed account of it.

In the first instance it is probable that among Christians, as among Jews, every meal, and especially every social meal, was regarded as being in some sense a thank-offering. Thanksgiving, blessing and offering were co-ordinate terms. Hence the Talmudic rule, "A man shall not taste anything before blessing it" (Tosephta Berachoth, c. 4), and hence St Paul's words, "He that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks" (Rom. xiv. 6; cp. 1 Tim. iv. 4). But the most important offering was the solemn oblation in the assembly on the Lord's day.

A precedent for making such oblations elsewhere than in the temple had been afforded by the Essenes, who had endeavoured in that way to avoid the contact with unclean persons and things which a resort to the temple might have involved (Jos. Antiq. xviii. 1.5), and a justification for it was found in the prophecy of Malachi, "In every place incense is offered unto my name and a pure offering; for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts" (Mal. i. r i, repeatedly quoted in early Christian writings, e.g. Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, c. 14; Just. Mart. Trypho, c. 28, 41, 116; Irenaeus iv. 1 7.5).

The points in relation to this offering which are clearly demonstrable from the Christian writers of the first two centuries, but which subsequent theories have tended to confuse, are these. (I) It was regarded as a true offering or sacrifice; for in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, in Justin Martyr and in Irenaeus it is designated by each of the terms which are used to designate sacrifices in the Old Testament. (2) It was primarily an offering of the fruits of the earth to the Creator; this is clear from both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, the latter of whom not only explicitly states that such oblations are continued among Christians, but also meets the current objection to them by arguing that they are offered to God not as though He needed anything but to show the gratitude of the offerer (Iren. iv. 17, 18).

(3) It was offered as a thanksgiving partly for creation and preservation and partly for redemption: the latter is the special purpose mentioned (e.g.) in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles; the former is that upon which Irenaeus chiefly dwells; both are mentioned together in Justin Martyr (Trypho, c. 41).

(4) Those who offered it were required to be not only baptized Christians but also "in' love and charity one with another"; there is an indication of this latter requirement in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. v. 23, 24, where the word translated "gift" is the usual LXX. word for a sacrificial offering, and is so used elsewhere in the same Gospel, viz. Matt. viii. 4, xxiii. 19), and still more explicitly in the Teaching, c. 14, "Let not any one who has a dispute with his fellow come together with you (i.e. on the Lord's day) until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice be not defiled." This brotherly unity was symbolized by the kiss of peace. (5) It was offered in the assembly by the hands of the president; this is stated by Justin Martyr (Apol. i. 65, 67), and implied by Clement of Rome (Ep. i. 44.4).

Combined with this sacrifice of the fruits of the earth to the Creator in memory of creation and redemption, and probably always immediately following it, was the sacred meal at which part of the offerings was eaten. Such a sacred meal had always, or almost always, formed part of the rites of sacrifice. "There was the idea that what had been solemnly offered to God was especially hallowed by Him, and that the partaking of it united the partakers in a special bond both to Him and to one another.

In the case of the bread and wine of the Christian sacrifice, it was believed that, after having been offered and blessed, they became to those who partook of them the body and blood of Christ. This" communion of the body and blood of Christ,"which in early writings is clearly distinguished from the thankoffering which preceded it, and which furnished the materials for it, gradually came to supersede the thank-offering in importance, and to exercise a reflex influence upon it.

In the time of Cyprian, though not before, we begin to find the idea that the body and blood of Christ were not merely partaken of by the worshippers but also offered in sacrifice, and that the Eucharist was not so much a thank-offering for creation and redemption as a repetition or a showing forth anew of the self-sacrifice of Christ. This idea is repeated in Ambrose and Augustine, and has since been a dominant idea of both Eastern and Western Christendom. But, though dominant, it has not been universal; nor did it become dominant until several centuries after its first promulgation.

The history of it has yet to be written. For, in spite ofthe important controversies to which it has given birth, no one has been at the pains to distinguish between (i.) the theories which have been from time to time put forth by eminent writers, and which, though they have in some cases ultimately won a general acceptance, have for a long period remained as merely individual opinions, and (ii.) the current beliefs of the great body of Christians which are expressed in recognized formularies. A catena of opinions may be produced in favour of almost any theory; but formularies express the collective or average belief of any given period, and changes in them are a sure indication that there has been a general change in ideas.

It is clear from the evidence of the early Western liturgies that, for at least six centuries, the primitive conception of the nature of the Christian sacrifice remained. There is a clear distinction between the sacrifice and the communion which followed it, and that which is offered consists of the fruits of the earth and not of the body and blood of Christ. Other ideas no doubt attached themselves to the primitive conception, of which there is no certain evidence in primitive times, e.g. the idea of the propitiatory character of the offering, but these ideas rather confirm than disprove the persistence of those primitive conceptions themselves.

All Eastern liturgies, in their present form, are of later date than the surviving fragments of the earlier Western liturgies, and cannot form the basis of so sure an induction; but they entirely confirm the conclusions to which the Western liturgies lead. The main points in which the pre-medieval formularies of both the Eastern and the Western Churches agree in relation to the Christian sacrifice are the following. (I) It was an offering of the fruits of the earth to the Creator, in the belief that a special blessing would descend upon the offerers, and sometimes also in the belief that God would be propitiated by the offerings.

The bread and wine are designated by all the names by which sacrifices are designated (sacrificia, hostiae, libamina, and at least once sacrificium placationis), and the act of offering them by the ordinary term for offering a sacrifice (immolatio). (2) The offering of bread and wine was originally brought to the altar by the person who offered it, and placed by him in the hands of the presiding officer. In course of time there were two important changes in this respect: (a) the offerings of bread and wine were commuted for money, with which bread and wine were purchased by the church-officers; (b) the offerings were sometimes handed to the deacons and by them taken to the bishop at the altar, and sometimes, as at Rome, the bishop and deacons went round the church to collect them.'

(3) In offering the bread and wine the offerer offered, as in the ancient sacrifices, primarily for himself, but inasmuch as the offering was regarded as having a general propitiatory value he mentioned also the names of others in whom he was interested, and especially the departed, that they might rest in peace. Hence, after all the offerings had been collected, and before they were solemnly offered to God, it became a custom to recite the names both of the offerers and of those for whom they offered, the names being arranged in two lists, which were known as diptychs. Almost all the old rituals have prayers to be said" before the names," after the names." It was a further and perhaps much later development of the same idea that the good works of those who had previously enjoyed the favour of God were invoked to give additional weight to the prayer of the offerer.

In the later series of Western rituals, beginning with that which is known as the Leonine Sacramentary, this practice is almost universal. (4) The placing of the bread and wine upon the altar was followed by the kiss of peace. (5) Then followed the actual offering of the gifts to God (immolatio missae). It was an act of adoration or thanksgiving, much longer in Eastern than in Western rituals, but in both classes of rituals beginning with the form" Lift up your hearts,"and ending with the Ter Sanctus or Trisagion.

2 The early MSS. of Western rituals indicate the importance which was attached to this part of the liturgy by the fact of its being written in a much more ornate way than the other parts, e.g. in gold uncial letters upon a purple ground, as distinguished from the vermilion cursive letters of the rest of the MS. With this the sacrifice proper was concluded.

(6) But, since the divine injunction had been" Do this in remembrance of me,"the sacrifice was immediately followed by a commemoration of the passion of Christ, and that again by an invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) that He would make the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ. Of this invocation, which is constant in all Eastern rituals, there are few, though sufficient, surviving traces in Western rituals.' Then after a prayer for sanctification, or for worthy reception, followed the Lord's Prayer, and after the Lord's Prayer the communion.

In the course of the 8th and 9th centuries, by the operation 1 Of this proceeding an elaborate account exists in the very interesting document printed by Mabillon in his Museum Italicum as" Ordo Romanus I.; the small phials of wine which were brought were emptied into a large bowl, and the loaves of bread were collected in a bag.

2 The elements of the form are preserved exactly in the liturgy of the Church of England.

3 It is found, e.g., in the second of Mone's masses from the Reichenau palimpsest, and in Mabillon's Missale Gothicum, No. it is expressly mentioned by Isidore of Seville as the sixth element in the Eucharistic service, De offic. eccles. i. 15.

of causes which have not yet been fully investigated, the theory which is first found in Cyprian became the dominant belief of Western Christendom. The central point of the sacrificial idea. was shifted from the offering of the fruits of the earth to the offering of the body and blood of Christ. The change is marked in the rituals by the duplication of the liturgical forms. The prayers of intercession and oblation, which in earlier times are found only in connexion with the former offering, are repeated in the course of the same service in connexion with the latter. The designations and epithets which are in earlier times applied. to the fruits of the earth are applied to the body and blood.

From that time until the Reformation the Christian sacrifice was all but universally regarded as the offering of the body and blood of Christ. The innumerable theories which were framed as to the precise nature of the offering and as to the precise change in the elements all implied that conception of it. It still remains as the accepted doctrine of the Church of Rome. For, although the council of Trent recognized fully the distinction which has been mentioned above between the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the mass, and treated of them in separate sessions (the former in Session xiii., the latter in Session xxii.), it continued the medieval theory of the nature of the latter.

The reaction against the medieval theory at the time of the Reformation took the form of a return to what had no doubt been an early belief, - the idea that the Christian sacrifice consists in the offering of a pure heart and of vocal thanksgiving. Luther at one period (in his treatise De captivitate Babylonica) maintained, though not on historical grounds, that the offering of the oblations of the people was the real origin of the conception of the sacrifice of the mass; but he directed all the force of his vehement polemic against the idea that any other sacrifice could be efficacious besides the sacrifice of Christ.

In the majority of Protestant. communities the idea of a sacrifice has almost lapsed. That which among Catholics is most commonly regarded in its aspect as an offering and spoken of as the "mass" is usually regarded in its aspect as a participation in the symbols of Christ's death and spoken of as the "communion." But it may be inferred. from the considerable progress of the Anglo-Catholic revival in most English-speaking countries that the idea of sacrifice has not yet ceased to be an important element in the general conception of religion. (E. HA.)

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From BibleWiki

The offering up of sacrifices is to be regarded as a divine institution. It did not originate with man. God himself appointed it as the mode in which acceptable worship was to be offered to him by guilty man. The language and the idea of sacrifice pervade the whole Bible.

Sacrifices were offered in the ante-diluvian age. The Lord clothed Adam and Eve with the skins of animals, which in all probability had been offered in sacrifice (Gen 3:21). Abel offered a sacrifice "of the firstlings of his flock" (Gen 4:4; Heb 11:4). A distinction also was made between clean and unclean animals, which there is every reason to believe had reference to the offering up of sacrifices (Gen 7:2, Gen 7:8), because animals were not given to man as food till after the Flood.

The same practice is continued down through the patriarchal age (Gen 8:20; Gen 12:7; Gen 13:4, Gen 13:18; Gen 15:9ff; Gen 22:1-Gen 22:18, etc.). In the Mosaic period of Old Testament history definite laws were prescribed by God regarding the different kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered and the manner in which the offering was to be made. The offering of stated sacrifices became indeed a prominent and distinctive feature of the whole period (Ex 12:3-Ex 12:27; Lev 23:5ff; Num 9:2-Num 9:14). (See Altar.)

We learn from the Epistle to the Hebrews that sacrifices had in themselves no value or efficacy. They were only the "shadow of good things to come," and pointed the worshippers forward to the coming of the great High Priest, who, in the fullness of the time, "was offered once for all to bear the sin of many." Sacrifices belonged to a temporary economy, to a system of types and emblems which served their purposes and have now passed away. The "one sacrifice for sins" hath "perfected for ever them that are sanctified."

Sacrifices were of two kinds:

  1. Unbloody, such as
    1. first-fruits and tithes;
    2. meat and drink-offerings; and
    3. incense.
  2. Bloody, such as
    1. burnt-offerings;
    2. peace-offerings; and
    3. sin and trespass offerings. (See Offerings.)
This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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