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Blood Rituals; Religion or Realism Part II

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Nearly everywhere in the modern world, the first Homo sapiens are depicted as robust and fearless hunters, heaving spears at wild mammoths or roasting freshly killed animal flesh over an open fire.

One need look no further than the Holy Bible to realize where this image may have originated. The Jewish, Muslim, and Judeo-Christian creation myth in the book of Genesis clearly states that since the beginning of time, God gave mankind dominion over all of the beasts of the earth.

"The Garden of Eden" by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, a 16th century German depiction of Eden


“The Garden of Eden” by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, a 16th century German depiction of Eden

Yet, while the earliest humans adapted to the elements of wind, rain, fire, and harsh temperatures, they were also regarded as prey by certain carnivorous predators. It is possible that the earliest weapons were not created for hunting, but for defense against the carnivorous predators who viewed the humans as food.

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Darwin reasoned that hominid’s evolution into a social animal “might not have happened if they had been strong enough to withstand predators one-on-one” (Ehrenreich, 1997. p.53). In addition, Dutch biologist Adriaan Kortlandt, concluded that “for early hominids, breaking a leg would have been fatal due to carnivore predation” (Kortlandt, “How Might Early Hominids Have Defended Themselves?”; Ehrenreich, 1997). Clearly, Homo sapiens must have learned from these horrendous encounters that not only was there safety in numbers, but that the gods were insatiably hungry for blood.

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Walter Burkart illustrates what may have been the first sacrificial offerings, in Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual:

“[Imagine] a group surrounded by predators: men chased by wolves…or in the presence of leopards. The utmost danger is met with excitement and anxiety. Usually there will be but one way of salvation: one member of the group must fall prey to hungry carnivores, and then the rest will be safe for the time being. An outsider, an invalid, or a young animal will most likely become the victim. This situation of pursuit by predators must have played a momentous role in the evolution of civilizations, while man, as a hunter, became a predator himself” (Ehrenreich, 1997)

Burkart’s story is compellingly synonymous with the classic ethical dilemma of the lifeboat scenario. Who should be thrown over the side to lighten the load and save the rest; the mother, the lawyer, the child?  Once again we see the sacrificial victim being thrown to the predator, the sea (Ehrenreich, 1997. p.59).

It also stands to reason that Homo sapiens initially tasted blood not as hunters themselves, but as scavengers who tread warily, waiting for the prevailing predator to leave the carcass of his last kill. “Careful examination of archaeological evidence in a number of sites, has led to the conclusion that hominids and even early Homo sapiens…likely obtained the meat they did eat by scavenging the kills left by more effective predators…”(Ehrenreich,1997.p.39).

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Blood sacrifice may well have originated from Homo sapiens justified fear of a bloody death by predator, however, Homo sapiens must also have had a desire to placate the carnivore, after all, it was his provider of life-giving scavenged meat.

Bruce Bower, in a 2010 article from Science News explained that fossilized bones, dated over 3 million years old, show marks from stone tools that had been used to scrape the meat and marrow from the bones. And although Lucy’s species does not show evidence for hunting or fire, “her kind must have competed with other scavengers to salvage meat from animal carcasses” (Bower, 2010).

Homo sapiens finally elevated themselves to a higher position on the food chain, they were no longer hunted scavengers but they held the position of the dominating hunters. However, the stories, myths, and cultural adaptations, which revolved around Homo sapiens season of being the prey, appear to have caused these people to retain the desire to make flesh offerings to the devouring predators of the past, in a mythical effort to save the rest of the group from harm. It is no wonder that the “universal attribute of the archaic deity is [that of] being a carnivore”(Ehrenreich, 1997. p.31).

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Sources:

Bower, B. (2010) Butcher may be the world’s oldest profession. Science News, 178(6),8.

Ehrenreich, B. (1997). Blood rites: Origins and history of the passions of war . New York, NY: Henry Holt & Company LLC