Blood Rituals; Religion or Realism Part VII

In the previous posts, we established that crop fertilization is one dreadful reason for a society to practice blood sacrifice.  Yet, these bloody rituals also influenced social cohesion and increased fearful submission to kings and priests. Most organized religions require the priest or king to perform some type of bloody ritual for the deity. The priest or king who slices the throat of the victim, or in the case of the Aztecs, tears a beating heart from the victim’s chest, must surely have invoked a sense of fear and awe from the onlookers. After all, no one wanted to be the next sacrificial victim. Consequently, instead of the commoners revolting and killing the king or the priests, the ceremony redirected the violence onto the victim (Ehrenreich,1997, p.29).

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For instance, an 1800’s Ashanti king once stated openly: “If I were to abolish human sacrifice, I should deprive myself of one of the most effective means of keeping the people in subjection” (Quoted in Jay, Throughout Your Generations Forever, p.66; Ehrenreich, p.67). Rene Girard suggested the same coercive social cohesion and elite domination concept in Violence and the Sacred: “Sacrifice may have been used to quench aggressive energies which could tear a community apart and redirect the energy towards an ‘external’ focus—the sacrificial victim” (Ehrenreich, 1997).


For the Aztecs and the Jewish, the temple was the place of sacrifice which confirmed the deity’s supremacy and facilitated the integration of religious beliefs. The Aztecs four districts had temples dedicated to specific gods which were presided over by High priests, and in the center of these districts was the Great Temple; a man-made mountain with two shrines at the apex which were dedicated to Tlaloc the storm god, and Huitzilopochtli the war-god (Pohl, 2003). The temple was considered to be the literal home of the god, and the temple entrance granted access to the spiritual world (Quipoloa, 2007). Similarly, the Jewish temple was also the only place that sacrificial rituals could be performed. Once again, these rituals were performed exclusively by the priests and could not be performed by anyone else or in any other place (




The ritual of blood sacrifice, whether human or animal, most likely began with the prehistoric human’s instinctual will to survive among predatory animals. The powerful carnivorous predator became the god who either allowed the group to live, after accepting a bloody offering of the group’s weakest member, or the satiated god who gifted the remains of its prey as sustenance for the group. In either case, butchery for food has been made sacred and stems from an “anxiety far older than religion” (Ehrenreich, 1997.Pg.24).

Furthermore, the religious ritual of slitting throats, slicing beating hearts from humans chests, spilling and splattering blood, pulling the entrails from animals and humans, can be found somewhere in the roots of every religion worldwide; from the Aztec sun-god, who’s life depended on the offerings of sacrificial blood, to the Hebrew god who “literally consumes the flesh lying upon the altar” (Hubert and Mauss, Sacrifice; Ehnreichpg.37), as well as the Christian Jehovah who sent his own son Jesus as a blood sacrifice. The spilling of blood has been used as a psychological weapon for empirical domination, population control, social cohesion, as well as for more pragmatic reasons, such as crop fertilizer and free food for the elites.

Burkert, W. (1979). Structure and history in Greek mythology and ritual. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Beaton, J. Dr. (n.d.) The history of fertilizer, Retrieved from http://www.back-to-
Bower, B. (2010) Butcher may be the world’s oldest profession. Science News, 178(6),8. Retrieved from EBSCOhost
Encyclopedia Judaica. (2010). Jewish virtual library. Retrieved from (Encyclopedia Judaica, 2010)
Lambert, T. (n.d.) The Olmec civilization. Retrieved from
Pohl, J. M.D. (2003). John Pohl’s Mesoamerica. Retrieved from, 2003)
Quipoloa, J. (2007). The Aztec gateway. Retrieved from;oa, 2007)
Rodriguez, A.(2001) What happened to the blood? Retrieved from
Scott, M. (2004), Mayan mysteries: global hydrology resource center. Retrieved from
Winkelman, M. (1998) Aztec human sacrifice: Cross-cultural assessment of the ecological hypothesis. Ethnology, 37(3), 285. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.


Posted on June 25, 2013, in Anthropology, Anthropology of Religion, Blood Sacrifice, Religion, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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