Sacrifice (religion)

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Sacrificial candles in a catholic church
Offerings in La Paz : llama embryos , sweets and clay figures

In religion, a sacrifice is the offering of material objects, animate or inanimate, to a superior metaphysical power presented to the person making the sacrifice. Ancestors , spirits or deities can be endowed with this power, depending on the imagination .

Sacrifice is a process that is usually associated with a ritual and, as a festival of sacrifice, can be an elementary part of a religion. Rituals play an important role in human coexistence and can be found in every collective . Sacrifice rituals represent social actions with which people often consciously and intentionally seek to influence their environment.

In religious studies , sacrifices can be classified into atonement , supplication, thanks , cleansing, and praise . The first and dead sacrifices are among the historically oldest sacrifices .

When animals are sacrificed , their flesh and blood are consumed in a cult-bound meal according to most rules. Depending on the custom, the entire community of victims takes part or the victim leader in charge of them. This can be a priest , shaman or other agent of cultic-religious acts, who is assigned a mediator role between humans and the respective deity. In religions that advocate human sacrifice , this is considered the highest quality form of sacrifice.

The object of a religious act of sacrifice is to be conceptually or semantically differentiated from the object of an act of exchange .


The noun sacrifice is a regression from the verb sacrifice . This verb (opfarōn) , which is already documented in Old High German , is derived from the Latin verb operari (“to perform”, “to perform”) or to Latin offerre (“to offer”, “to give”), meaning “to serve the deity”, “alms give". According to the Etymological Dictionary of the German Language (Kluge / Seebold), the Latin offerre ("to present"), which became English offer ("offer") via Old Saxon , also influenced the meaning . In 1889, Grimm's dictionary had assumed a direct derivation of offerre and was based on the Chronicle of Johannes Aventinus . In addition, the word “victim” can be used in three different ways in the German language. It denotes both the act of sacrifice and the object of the sacrifice as well as the offering.

Introduction and basics

Religions are based on corresponding (religious) ideas which are expressed in the respective belief in certain transcendent (supernatural, supernatural, supernatural) forces. According to Voland (2010), ideas that integrate the almighty and the supernatural create and consolidate into religious rituals , human communities that go beyond the family or clan. Rituals are human actions and complexes of action. A distinction can be made between ritual in the narrower sense and possible routine everyday actions or ritualizations. Formal, repetitive, performative patterns of action are also present in everyday actions, but there are no certain cultural signs that indicate an exaggeration of actions and normativity. Cultural signs of order are, for example, (priestly) symbols of rule, metaphors and media of the traditions of traditional (religious) ideas whose supra-personal values ​​are referred to in the ritual. In the sense of symbolic interactionism, rituals are primarily seen as actions, i.e. as forms of conscious, goal-oriented ( intentional ) action by humans on their environment. Rituals, including sacrificial rituals, are performed in a formal, stylized, sometimes stereotypical performance . Thus, sacrificial rituals consist of predominantly repeated and repeatable, imitable actions.

Religious rituals are the means of communication in a cohesion strategy. The more complex the sacrifice for the individual group member, the stronger and safer the community. It is not uncommon for ritual performance to be rigid, redundant, compulsive and aimed at useless behavioral goals, since here the synchronizing, emotional alignment in the religious rite, which goes hand in hand with the delimitation of the ego, has the function of strengthening the community of the group. Taboos and ceremonies protected the group and its external borders.

According to Heinsohn (2012), survivors of global natural disasters founded the sacrificial cults, he sees human sacrifice and killing rituals as a formative element of the Bronze Age civilizations, an epoch from the end of the 3rd millennium and the end of the 1st millennium BC. Chr. That would apply not only in Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, the Mediterranean, North Africa and Europe, but also for Central Asia, India and China.

According to Seiwert (1998), the victim can be defined in a narrower and a broader sense:

  • Sacrifice as a ritual act, i. e. S. would be a religious act that would consist in the ritual alienation of a material object.
    • Here religious action stands in opposition to profane action;
    • Material objects can be living beings (animals, humans, plants) and also inanimate objects (food, utensils, etc.);
    • Act of alienation means that the object, the victim, is initially in the sphere of influence or control of the actor, of the victim, in order to then be released from his control; this can be in whole or in part, final or temporary;
    • The ritual character of alienation implies a stylized course of action in which the act has symbolic meaning. The symbolic meaning of this can only be determined from the context of the overall ritual complex and the associated ideas.
  • Sacrifice as a ritual complex, i. w. S. is a complex of ritual courses of action in which at least one act of ritual alienation of a material object occurs and takes a more or less central position in it.

Certain religions knew the sacrifice of fruits, which, like the slaughtered animal sacrifice, were burned or eaten in whole or in part, and sometimes passed into the possession of the priesthood . During the libation , beverages, especially water , wine and oil , are placed in or in front of graves or temples or poured out at the cult site . The sacrifice is sometimes swung (swinging offering) or lifted up (lifting offering) in order to make it visible to God. In addition, there are also fragrant smoke offerings in which fragrant incense such as frankincense and myrrh are offered.

Bloody victims are already known from the hunters and gatherers of the Paleolithic , where the animals were deposited on the ground or weighed down with stones in the water. From the finds of such sacrificial sites it can be concluded that at this time there must have been a personalized idea of ​​a world beyond. Later on, animal sacrifices were mainly taken over by cultures practicing shifting agriculture. The sacrifice practice of ancient cultures also included human sacrifice , in historical times mostly by prisoners of war to the war, tribal or national god, and sometimes also the sacrifice of firstborn children.

Precious metals , household items , weapons, jewelry , statues were also sacrificed , for example by being immersed in rivers, lakes, swamps or the sea or by setting up or spending them in places of worship (for example on sacred groves or mountains, in sacred caves), in temples by gods or on or in graves of ancestors. What is not meant is the giving away of parts of the deceased's property as equipment for the assumed life after death as so-called grave goods . For, according to the understanding of the relatives, the deceased kept what belongs to him personally in death; he does not receive any sacrifice from the survivors, even if there were also frequent sacrifices.

Sacrifices to ancestors are not only made to weigh them up, but also to care for them in the hereafter or to question them ( mantic ).

In some cases, activities such as laborious and long pilgrimages , the establishment of a cult site, for example the erection of a sacrificial altar itself, a temple, a chapel or church , the erection of a monastery , the foundation of a work of art for such a place, such as pictures or statues, were also included , understood as a victim. A monk , a prince or a king or even a community, a village or a city, for example, sacrifices to a god by building a church, be it through physical labor or be it by giving money for this purpose. As a result of this behavior, temples or churches were often elaborately built, often very richly furnished with magnificent works of art and the most expensive materials such as precious stones and precious metals, and large temple or church treasures were often amassed.

The mere infliction of agony and pain, such as walking long distances on the knees or being flagellated, are rarely seen as victims.

Theoretical approaches

The history of the theories on the term “victim” can be roughly structured; the 19th and early 20th centuries were characterized by evolutionist approaches; the question of the most original forms of sacrifice was in the foreground, but around the same time an attempt was made to differentiate between types of victims. These theoretical considerations were followed by questions about the structure of the sacrificial ritual and the symbolism it expresses. Seiwert worked out five aspects of the classical victim theory:

  • the sacrifice as a gift or offering to a deity, this creates a relationship of dependence and mutual obligation between man and deity (representatives: Edward Burnett Tylor , Marcel Mauss )
  • the sacrifice as a ritual performance of communion between man and god; document yourself in the community and the sacrificial meal (representative: William Robertson Smith )
  • the sacrifice as a ritual form of communication between the sphere of the sacred and the world of the profane , whereby the sacrifice serves as a medium of contact between the two (representatives: Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss)
  • the sacrifice as a ritual means to ensure the cycle of impersonal life force (representatives: Gerardus van der Leeuw and Marcel Mauss)
  • the sacrifice as a ritual recognition of God's power over life and human dependence (representative: Wilhelm Schmidt ).

For Tylor (1871) and Frazer (1890) the “word” stood, the myth as a narrative cosmological designer of the world, with which the meaning of the sensual execution and the dramatic representation of the story in the cult should be assigned to the ritual. If, on the other hand, the “deed”, the ritual, was at the beginning, the myth should combine the process of action with exegetical explanation and dogmatic interpretation, according to Smith (1889). be it to react to a presumed influence of these beings in the human realm, or to cause a desired influence ( theurgy ). Acts of sacrifice can be found in almost all human cultures.

Extensive research on the theory of the victim was carried out by the English anthropologist Tylor in his work Primitive Culture of 1871 and by the French sociologists. In their Essais sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice (1898–1899) they elaborated, among other things, the four basic elements of sacrifice:

  • the victim
  • The victim
  • the addressee of the victim and
  • the lord of the sacrifice, for and on whose account the sacrifice is made.

René Girard (1972) also developed a theory of the victim in his reflections on the mimetic theory, which establishes a connection between imitation and violence. The central assumption of mimetic theory is the statement that human societies can only survive if they are able to successfully counter the spread of violence within the group. The cause of interpersonal conflicts is the imitation behavior of people who live in close contact with one another: this behavior creates rivalry, envy and jealousy, is contagious, is supported by all members of the group and leads to rapid escalations of violence in which the original object no longer plays a role : they are only kept going by imitating the other. The development of religious thinking in the earlier archaic societies would go hand in hand with the processing of norms that prevented or controlled the spread of violence within the group. For archaic societies, the awareness that mimesis and violence are the same phenomenon is of central importance. Violence is prevented by prohibiting mimetic duplication / mirroring between individuals in the same group. Prohibitions set up by archaic religions are to be interpreted from this perspective and are all the more informative the more absurd they appear to us (e.g. the prohibition of twins, mirrors, etc.).

Girard postulated the existence of a well-founded experience that the spiral of violence would be interrupted by the sacrifice of a scapegoat in a scapegoat mechanism, also directly referred to as the "victim mechanism" (French mécanisme victimaire ). If mimetic violence in a group has reached a point where everyone imitates everyone's violence and the object that triggered the rivalry is "forgotten", the appearance of an individual who is unanimously perceived as guilty represents a unifying polarization of violence: The killing or expulsion of the “guilty” cleanse the group from the epidemic of violence, because this last - jointly accomplished - use of violence would not involve a mimetic process (revenge). Since the object that triggered the crisis is also forgotten, the purification through this sacrifice is complete. In so far as the choice of the scapegoat is deliberate or accidental, the scapegoat is interchangeable: its significance for the group would be the unanimity it re-established. At the same time, however, the murdered / cast out scapegoat is unique and irreplaceable in its salvific absence.

This event, with its “miraculous” effect, is the revelation of the sacred that enables the group to survive: the veneration offered to the victim after his killing is tantamount to the invention of divinity, and the repetition of the scapegoat process is the ritual visualization of the sacred along with it Expulsion from human society.

Particular attention should be paid to the fact that the repeatability of the process and the interchangeability of the victim - that which makes a cult possible - are based on the a priori malevolence of the scapegoat, i.e. in his innocence.

The totality of the commandments and rules that encourage the repetition of this process and monitor its outcome make up the actual inventory of rites and positive norms of behavior in every archaic society.

According to Michaels (1998 and 1997), ritual acts can be divided into five categories of everyday acts:

  • Causal changes, causa transitionis
  • Formal resolution, solemnis intentio
  • Formal criteria for action, actiones formaliter ritorum , formality (repetition), publicity, irrevocability, limininality
  • Modal criteria for action, actiones modaliter ritorum , subjective effect, impressio , Vergemeinschaftung, societas , transcendence, religio
  • Changes in identity, role, status, competence, novae clasificationes , transitio vitae .

First of all, every ritual is related to a change; it is carried out in the context of a border crossing. However, not every change is a ritual, as ritualized changes are usually characterized by the transition between different dichotomies such as old - new, impure - pure. In addition, a formal resolution must be given, which is characterized, for example, by a verdict, oath or oath. Rituals are consequently never arbitrary and spontaneous, but are always carried out consciously and with intent, i.e. intentionally. The third component of rituals is the fulfillment of formal criteria for action. Ritual acts are stereotypical, formal, repetitive, public, irrevocable and often also liminal. Furthermore, they are also characterized by modal action criteria: rituals are always related to the community, so they represent it. In addition, a ritual relates to something transcendental and has a very subjective effect on each participant. The last criterion according to Michaels is the “change of identity, role, status and competence”, which is necessarily brought about by rituals. If one of the components mentioned is not given, it is not a ritual.

Prehistoric and early historical victims

The sparse archaeological finds from prehistoric times do not allow any more detailed statements about beliefs in the different ethnic groups and historical periods and epochs . During this time, dumps can be observed again and again , which are to be understood as gifts for deities or as deposited afterlife equipment for the deceased. Landfills that were apparently irrevocably deposited are seen as victims in particular.

Sacrifice among Celtic and Germanic tribes

The sacrificial moor near Niederdorla with a stylized god figure

Archaeological finds as well as philological evidence give the picture of a polytheistic view of the Celtic tribes with numerous local and regional, but also some nationally widespread Celtic deities . The names of the deities of mainland Celtic cultures have been handed down through inscriptions and the works of ancient Greek and Roman authors. The religious practice of the Celts encompasses the holy place, the holy time, the cultic and magical activities - sacrifice, prayer and mantic (prophecy) - the head cult , dying and remembering the dead, the cult personnel and the ideas on which these customs are based. It is documented somewhat better by reports from ancient authors and, above all, by the large number of archaeological finds than the Celtic world of gods and Celtic mythology. However, since beliefs and the associated rituals can only be determined uncertainly or not at all from found objects and texts written much later, the Celtic religion can also only be partially reconstructed. Different Celtic gods made different sacrifices. The sacrifices for Esus were hanged, those burned for Taranis , and those for Teutates drowned. Celts and Teutons sometimes chose a moor as a place of sacrifice. Examples of this are bog bodies like the Lindow man in Great Britain or the Grauballe man in Denmark. In the case of the former, voluntary acceptance of the sacrifice is presumed. There is evidence in Irish mythology that killing an individual could conform to these rules in several ways.

The "sacrifice" was made by the Teutons at natural sanctuaries and personified deities as well as so-called pole idols. It was an elementary component in the religious cult of the respective social community.

The special term for the act of sacrifice is germ. * Blætan "sacrifice" and is a copy of germ. * Blæstra- , * blæstram "sacrifice". In Old Norse variation, the term is blót (variants in the Gothic, Old English and Old High German) with the meaning of “strengthen”, “swell” - there is no linguistic connection to the term blood and, in the figurative sense, to a bloody victim. Other semantic terms for victims are related to different cult and sacrificial practices. Essentially, the sacrifice was designed as a supplication and thanksgiving offering according to the principle do ut des - "I give so that you (deity) give". Sacrifice was individually organized in private cult, but also collectively, then also for festivals during the year such as in spring, in midsummer or in autumn and midwinter.

Since prehistoric times, the Roman imperial era, locations for sacrificial acts have been next to tree sanctuaries or groves, especially landmarks in the moist terrain and soil context of moors ( sacrificial moors ), lakes, springs or rivers. Archaeological sites in Germany and Denmark in particular give a comprehensive insight into cult and sacrificial practice.

In the case of the sacrifice, which was specifically intended for a deity, on the one hand the idol was symbolically "fed" (if archaeologically confirmed locally), on the other hand, through the consumption of the sacrificial meal - consisting of the animals previously sacrificed and then cooked - the sacrificial community had a share. Significantly, the designation of the sacrificial animal is germ. * Saudi-, * saudiz, * sauþi-, * sauþiz in New High German rendering: the sacrifice in figurative form, and as a generic name of the common sheep , as well as in the extension and actual root "boiled". Another conceptual category is the noun germ. * Tibra-, * tibram, * tifra-, * tifram for nhd. Sacrificial animal, sacrifice. The derivation of pests , or vermin from the Old High German intermediate stage, differentiates animals from the basic meaning into those suitable or unsuitable for the victim. The pagan sacrificial activity was therefore a focus of the Carolingian mission in Lower Germany from the 8th to 9th centuries and is reflected in ecclesiastical prohibitions ( indiculia ).

Other significant offerings are weapons and other military equipment (presumably from defeated enemies), these were also offered at the sites. It is noticeable that sacrificed weapons were previously made unusable. Some of these objects are of high material and ideal value (swords, but also jewelry, fibulae ), which reveals the cultic-ritual reference (fountain sacrifice of Bad Pyrmont). Human sacrifice has been documented in writing since historical time, such as the sacrifice of a slave in the Nerthus cult , as described by Tacitus . The archaeological find evaluations, however, show that, statistically, human sacrifices were practiced very rarely.

For the bog corpses found in northern Germany and Denmark, which are often associated with human sacrifice, only a small part of the approximately 500 finds definitely indicate a cultic background. In connection with human sacrifice, a conditional cultic anthropophagy is proven, which also indicate the animistic traits of the Germanic religion .

Ancient oriental sacrificial rites and imaginations

The ancient oriental ideas interpreted the world as a permanent conflict between order, thought of as 'cosmos' and disorder, as 'chaos'. All life-promoting forces and powers, order, truth, rule, rules, norms showed up for the ancient oriental people in the recurring, in temporal structures, such as the course of the year, health, birth and death in the expected framework. Interruptions of the regular represented the onset of chaos. They manifested themselves in celestial phenomena such as a solar and lunar eclipse , in earthquakes, droughts, weather disasters, epidemics and diseases. Order emerged when the chaotic phenomena remained at a distance from the existing one and did not affect the ordered structures. The highest guarantee for an orderly world is God or the gods. Although the phenomena of chaos also have their gods, the existence of these deities would be the prerequisite for the (regulating) deities to be able to establish an order at all.

A divine world order can be experienced by humans and its consequences must be implemented by them. For this purpose, ritual specialists are called upon to come into contact with the highest god or deities, through rituals, cult acts, prayers and sacrifices mostly in a main temple.

The purpose pursued by people with sacrifices can be traced in the Gilgamesh epic , which can be found on cuneiform tablets . It is only as such from the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. Occupied; the title “He who saw the deep” (ša naqba īmuru). A presumably older version of the epic was known under the title “He who surpassed all other kings” (Šūtur eli šarrī) since the ancient Babylonian period (1800 to 1595 BC, during the Middle Bronze Age ).

Sacrifice in ancient Mesopotamia

Here the gods commission the plague god Namtar to destroy the people. He started killing them with the plague . But a god who had compassion for people, namely Enki , revealed to the priest Atraḫasis a ritual with which the epidemic was to be contained. The people should only worship the plague god Namtar and sacrifice to him alone until he, showered with sacrifices, gave up his deadly activities. Thanks to the sacrifices, the plague god felt flattered and let go of his anger, and people continue to multiply. Now the gods decided that the rain god Adad should stop raining and the grain goddess Nisaba should stop growing grain. Again the god Enki revealed the ritual counter-recipe to the atrachasis: Now the people worshiped and sacrificed Adad and Nisaba alone, until rain fell and the vegetation revived (see also the Atraḫasis epic ).

For the Babylonian god Ea , who emerged from Enki, the Sumerian god of wisdom, a special priesthood called kalu sacrificed a black bull, with whose skin the sacred drum lilissu was strung in the sacrificial ritual .

The ancient Mesopotamian ritual expertise had differentiated and developed both its techniques and the actors involved in order to interpret the signs of the warnings and messages announced. A distinction can be made between ritual experts who received the divine messages directly and those who interpreted signs on the basis of standardized interpretations. The actors of the first group include prophets ( Akkadian raggimu, ragintu ), ecstatics (Akkadian muḫḫû or maḫḫû ) and those mantics who dreamed of the will of the gods during an incubation ritual ( incubation or enkoimesis ). Another, second group of actors formed the literate (Akkadian ṭupšarru "scribe", ummânu "wise man"), the ritual experts for the sacrifice or entrails (Akkadian bārû "seer", actually "the one who inspects") and the experts for magical acts (Akkadian āšipu incantation ").

Sacrifice in Judaism

Since Abraham did not have to sacrifice his son, it is also true in Judaism that YHWH does not want human sacrifices. The Old Testament of the Bible reports of Abraham that God had in principle also required the sacrifice of his son Isaac (human sacrifices were known from neighboring religions), but ordered the replacement by a sacrificial animal. In Judaism , animal sacrifices were performed centrally in the temple of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus . These were offered by slaughter . The main actor in the Jewish sacrificial cult was the high priest . He wore symbolic robes and insignia . His main task was to offer the daily animal sacrifices, and only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur . He sprinkled the ark of the covenant with the blood of two sacrificial animals, in which God met his people Israel symbolically.

Once a year there was a sin sacrifice for the sanctuary itself and the priesthood: the Day of Atonement (see Wajikra (3rd Book of Moses), chapter 16).

A sacrificial ritual, as indicated by the shechitah a selected animal , was an event in which two groups, in general the spectator ( "Israel") and the operators ( "High Priest"), with each other in interaction occurred. The temple visitors took part in the cult act in a specific way, in that their physical presence, perception, reception and specific reaction had an influence on the experience of the sacrifice. One must assume, for example, that the olfactory perception of the burning animal carcasses was just as important as the (shocking) arrangement of killing an animal in front of the visitors.

The different forms of sacrifice show that the understanding of the sacrifice in the Torah was complex; the motif of feeding the deity can be found as well ( Ex 25.23–30  EU , Ps 50.8–13 EU ) as well as the renunciation of valuable things  . A sacrifice can worship the deity or quench their anger; it can express gratitude or repentance. In addition, when the sacrificial animal is eaten, there is the idea of ​​a healing meal community between God and the sacrificers.

After the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in AD 70, the rabbis discussed which actions could now take the place of animal sacrifices. They came to three results:

  • the prayer (this means the amida )
  • Fulfillment of the mitzvot
  • the study of the Torah

Underpinned by prophetic texts such as Hosea 14.3 or Psalm 51.17–19, prayer finally prevailed as a liturgical sacrificial substitute for the daily Olah . In Judaism, prayer therefore became a religious duty which, like the ancient sacrifice, is fulfilled at fixed times (morning and afternoon) with a fixed canon of requests.

The Old Testament also knows spiritual sacrifices, for example in Psalm 51:19: The sacrifice that pleases God is a contrite spirit, you, God, will not despise a broken and bruised heart.

The prophets sometimes criticized the hypocritical sacrifice practice: “I enjoy love and not sacrifice” ( Hosea 6 : 6), or Isa 1: 11-17  EU . In the name of God, instead of animal sacrifices that God does not need, they demanded mercy towards socially disadvantaged people such as widows and orphans .

Replica of the Golden Incense Altar , Timna, Israel

The meaning of smoking or the ritual smoke offering among the Jews is already evident in the Hebrew word ( rûaḥ רוּחַ), which can be translated with spirit, wind, breath or breath of God, but also with fragrance, fire air or fire mist. Scent and smoke are semantically seen here in a close connection with the divine. In addition, the smoke from burned incense is interpreted as a sign of the presence of God. He guarantees his presence in his sanctuary and is at the same time the high priest's means of protection from the presence of God in the tent of revelation ( Lev 16,12f.  EU ) so that he does not die. In Jewish sacrificial theology, contact with God is established by burning incense. The smoke of the ascending victim connects above and below. In this way the connection between God and man is made visible in a symbolic way. A description of the various sacrifices and their rituals and reasons can be found in various places in the Torah, but above all in Wajikra ( Leviticus 1–8  EU ). In Old Testament times there were five offerings: The Torah (five books of Moses) knows five types of offerings , which differed in their rituals and their occasions.

  • Olah (עלה) [translated with: ascent sacrifice, whole sacrifice, burnt offering, holocaust]
  • Mincha (מנחה) [translated with: food offering, grain offering]
  • Sebach Schlamim (זבח שלמים) [translated with: Heilsopfer, Mahlopfer, Friedensopfer]
  • Chattat (חטאת) [translated with: sin offering, failure offering, cleansing offering]
  • Ascham (אשם) [translated with: guilt offering]

There was also the opportunity to give voluntary gifts to the temple in gratitude or to fulfill a vow .

Olah (עלה) ("burnt offering")

The Olah (e.g. Ex 24.5) consisted of the complete burning ( altar of burnt offering ) of a cattle, sheep or ram, and occasionally also a dove (if someone was poor). In Bemidbar ( Num 28,3–8  elb ) the whole sacrifice of two sheep - one in the morning and one in the late afternoon - is offered as a daily sacrifice. An additional sheep should be sacrificed on feast days, the time of the sacrifice is not specified. A goat was never sacrificed because it was reserved for the Chattat sacrifice . Also as a so-called whole sacrifice, kalîl (כָּלִיל) ( Dtn 33.10  EU ). The whole animal, without skin and unclean parts, was burned on the altar for the deity. This acknowledges the power of God ( Gen 8.20  EU ). Sacrificial animals were goats, sheep, cattle and pigeons. In later times, burnt offerings are offered as tamid sacrifices (a fixed, permanent sacrifice) every morning and evening in front of the temple.

Mincha (מנחה) ("food offering")

The mincha is the offering of a flat cake made of flour mixed with oil and incense and salt. It is mainly used to support the priests at the temple. The Jews in Israel participated in a religious concept common in the ancient Orient that the deity should be provided with food. (Salted) bread cakes and oil cakes, which are put into the fire by the priest, were offered, along with wine and water as libations .

Sebach Schlamim (זבח שלמים) ("peace offering")

The Sebach Schlamim is a festive meal for a group of people. The fat and kidneys of the animal are burned on the altar hearth, the rest is prepared and consumed by the sacrificers. It is z. B. mentioned on Sinai in Ex 24,5.

Chattat (חטאת) ("sin offering")

The chattat serves as a means of renunciation after an accidental violation of the commandment. The high priest takes a goat, puts his hands on the goat's head, and transfers man's sin to the goat. The goat is slaughtered and its blood is sprinkled on the altar and on the curtain in the temple. (This curtain separated the holy of holies with the ark of the covenant from the holy, the normal interior of the temple.) Sin and guilt offerings ( Lev 4–5,26  EU ) were more rites of atonement than sacrifice. God relieved man of sin by transferring it to the animal to be sacrificed. The animal was then killed and its blood was scattered, and the remains were burned outside the temple.

Ascham (אשם) ( "guilt offering")

The asham serves to declare a gross and willful violation of the law. The ritual is similar to that of chattat . However, there is also the obligation that the victim has to compensate for the damage caused.

Sacrifice and cult in ancient Greece, Rome and the Mediterranean region

Greek gods and cult

The names of some Greek gods were already known from written evidence in linear B from around 1200 BC. BC (see Late Helladic ), but the real world of the Greek gods was first formed literarily by the poets Homer and Hesiod . The stories were not published before the 8th century BC. Written in BC.

After the dark age in the 9th century BC The Greek religion seemed sinister, its gods dangerous, cruel and despotic. In the Greek world of gods there was no benevolent creator god or a divine order in view of the times, but merciless hatred and strife, for example the two primal forces chaos and Gaia were already in conflict.

Typical of the Greek world of gods and thus determining the relationship of the gods to the world of interpersonal behavior is that Zeus and the other polytheistic gods guaranteed the order structures of the world, but just like humans did not create them. The one presented to the world of the ancient Greeks was not an expression of the divine creative power and its intended design, it was the dwelling place of the gods and men. Gods and humans led a parallel existence in a common cosmos . But the gods had creative potential and were infinitely superior to the possibilities of human action. They controlled the forces in nature just as much as they could influence society deeply with their actions. In this imagined asymmetry and the deep feeling of dependence on the benevolence of the divine powers. there was a need for people to honor the gods in cult. Turning to the gods was an important prerequisite for their benevolence. Greek gods were not available to humans, there was an aspect of distance surrounding them. They showed their presence through actions, natural events or symbolic signs, but individual people could appear in dreams or psychological limit states. The ability of the gods to influence human activity made their worship the fundamental basis of human existence. the central ritual of the Greek religion was sacrifice, it was the medium to establish a relationship with the sacred powers. There were cyclical, i.e. annually recurring acts of sacrifice and acts of sacrifice on special occasions and in emergency and crisis situations.

Presentation: Hermes leading a goat to sacrifice. Painting on a Campanian red-figure vase, c. 360-350 BC Chr.

Bremmer (1996) sees animal sacrifice as the central point in the ritual of the ancient Greek religion. A deity was only honorable through a bloody sacrifice made. The selection of the right sacrificial animal was of great importance. They were domestic animals like domestic cattle and of them the bulls were the most valued sacrificial animals. But other farm animals such as sheep, goats and poultry were also used. In contrast, wild animals were rarely used as sacrificial animals. For some gods, certain animals were apparently intended, for example for Hestia , Demeter and Dionysus, to which domestic pigs were traditionally sacrificed. The goddess Eileithyia, considered impure, or the cruel god of war Ares or Hecate , on the other hand, were sacrificed to dogs. By contrast, brought to Aphrodite or Asklepios birds as a sacrifice animals. The Priapus were exceptionally sacrificed fish. The color of the fur of the sacrificed animals also had a symbolic meaning in their selection, so the gods of the underworld were sacrificed predominantly dark or black animals and Olympic gods animals with lighter fur. There were no binding regulations for selection, in general the animal had to meet the requirements of purity, for example a stain on the fur was considered unclean. The animal sacrifice was almost always combined with a subsequent feast, during which the meat had to be consumed in its entirety by the sacrificial community, as it was not allowed to leave the temenos ( Greek τέμενος temenos for sanctuary).

The slaughtered animals were burned completely, one spoke of Holokauston ( ancient Greek ὁλόκαυστον holókauston that as the associated noun ὁλοκαύτωμα holokautoma of ὅλος holos , "whole, complete", and καῦσις kausis is, "fire, combustion" derived). It is first handed down by the Greek historian Xenophon (approx. 426–355 BC) for an animal sacrifice. The sacrificial animal is used to cleanse the individual or even entire communities. Anyone who had come into contact with “birth” or “death” or who had himself killed a person was considered unclean. One could only approach a cult or the divine in a purified manner.

Some terms from the sacrificial cults found access to everyday Greek in a modified form . Such is the term “ tragedy ” as it was used in the theater of ancient Greece . He came from the "Bocksgesang" or "Singing around the Bockpreis" ( ancient Greek τραγῳδία tragōdía ). This was a Dionysian cult or ritual in which a " Komos " ( κῶμος kōmos ) was held, a festive procession or a procession with singing, in which some protagonists were disguised with mask and goat skin ( τράγος tragos ). They should represent the god himself or the satyrs accompanying him .

The form of the tragedy developed from a myth sung in the choir , the poetry of a mostly heroic past. The choral parts of the surviving dramas are rudiments of this original form, the dialogue and the plot represented are later developments, secondary from a historical perspective. The carrier of the action in the drama was originally a single actor, a speaker who could represent several characters by taking over their speeches. Only Aeschylus introduced a second actor. The choir song developed its own choral lyric, special forms with their own names, hymn , paian , dithyramb , epinikion , epithalamium , and others emerged.

Various forms of sacrificial rituals were practiced in the ancient and late ancient syncretistic mystery cults.

Roman gods and cult

Rituals were an integral part of public, social life in Rome. Although the rituals were repeatedly assigned new meaning, the extremely strict adherence to the traditional rites was, as a typical peculiarity of orthopractic religions, also a characteristic of the Roman religion and resulted in a barely overlooked abundance of commands and prohibitions for all areas of the cult. Even the slightest deviations from the traditional holy procedure forced it to be repeated in order not to provoke divine anger. Comparative religious studies differentiate orthopraxe from orthodox religions. Orthopractic religions (“getting it right”), to which the Roman religion belongs as a polytheistic folk and tribal religion, are based on the do-ut-des principle (“I give so that you give”), that is, there is a contractual agreement between gods and humans. In return for their cultic veneration, the gods grant people help and assistance and maintain natural and public order. The important thing is not what the person believes in the practice of the cult, but that the cult is properly performed. A cultic act can e.g. B. consist in the offering of a sacrifice, therefore one speaks of a "sacrificial religion".

In contrast, in general, with an orthodox religion (“believe correctly”) the focus is on belief or confession (confessional religion ).

The meticulous rules for sacrificing animals - one of the most important cult acts of the Roman religion - are listed here as an example of the “attention to detail” of a ritual. The sacrificial animals, mostly domestic animals such as sheep, pigs or cattle, were differentiated according to sex, age, skin color, whether they were neutered or not, were still suckled (lactentes) or not (maiores). Two-year-old animals (then called bidentes : "two-toothed") were considered particularly suitable . Different types of wood were prescribed for the sacrificial fire for different animals; a. lucky trees (arbores felices) and ominous trees (arbores infelices). The chosen animal was festively decorated and led to the altar in a solemn procession . To the accompaniment of flute music, the sacrificial lord pulled the toga over his head, then repeated the sometimes complicated formula of the offering exactly. Then he smeared the animal's forehead with salt and meal (mola salsa) and ran the knife across the animal's back from neck to tail, after which the killing took place. The examination of the animal's entrails ( hieroscopy and here again the hepatomanty ), which in turn had to conform to certain rules in their form, decided whether the god had accepted the sacrifice, i.e. whether the sacrifice was valid or had to be repeated.

Sacrificial cult of the Phoenicians

The religious ideas and practices of the Phoenicians cannot be fully reconstructed due to a lack of data. In addition to inscriptions and personal names , the Phoenician story of Herennios Philon is an important but also problematic source. The myths contained therein are similar to those of the religion in Ugarit . There the creator and main god El rules over a pantheon , to which deities such as Dagān , Anat and Aschera belonged.

In addition to these ideas, which are common in Syria and Canaan, the religion of the Phoenician city-states is characterized by the veneration of a triad that stood at the head of the respective pantheon. The exact composition of the triad differed from town to town, but it always consisted of a gentleman, a lady and a young son. Despite their different names, the Phoenician gods hardly differed in function and character. They were presented as less individual than the deities of Greek and Roman mythology . This can be seen in the fact that the deities were often referred to as Lord ( Ba'al ) and Mistress ( Baalat ).

The Punians, with their center Carthage, also worshiped a Phoenician pantheon, although it differed from that of the mother city of Tire. So Melkart was not the highest god, but probably Baal shamim ("Lord of Heavens"). The most important goddess was Tanit , the consort of Baal-Hammon . Tanit was virgin and mother at the same time, and was responsible for fertility and the protection of the dead. In Carthage she was clearly distinguished from Astarte. Other deities of the Punic religion , which can only be partially reconstructed, were Baal Sapon , Eschmun and Sardus Pater .

From the excavations of the Astarte temple in Kition (Cyprus), where animal sacrifices were carried out, 1328 teeth and animal bones were found, which were analyzed by the archaeozoologist Günter Nobis. They date around 950 BC. BC, about 25 percent were determined by animal species.

Proportions of the body parts of the sheep in Temple 1 of Kition

The bones of the sacrificed animals were deposited in pits on the temple grounds ( bothroi ). The most common sacrificial animal was the sheep (many lambs), followed by the cattle. Four complete sheep skeletons in the forecourt of Temple 1 are interpreted by Nobis as building victims . Near the altar were 15 cattle skulls, mostly from bulls that were not yet fully grown (under two years of age). The skulls were perhaps also used in the cult, which is indicated by traces of processing on the skulls. Some shoulder blades are notched, perhaps they were used in oracles. Of sheep and cattle, however, the different body parts are present in quite different proportions, so that it can be doubted that whole animals were always sacrificed or remained in the temple area.

The sacrificed donkeys correspond in size to the recent house donkeys . Among the twelve Damhirschresten are also antler fragments, but Nobis does not specify whether it's skull real concerns or antlers - (the importance of fallow deer as a sacrificial animal Dionysus ?) Is so so perhaps overrated. Apart from the antlers, only leg bones are present. The bird bones were not determined by animal species, so that the question of pigeon sacrifices to be expected in an Astarte temple according to the written documents cannot be clarified. There is also a single pig humerus from a sacrificial pit at Temple 4 in the Holy District of Kition .

Sacrifice in Christianity

Architectural highlighting of the Mass: Altar of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
The sacrifices of Cain and Abel on the Stone Bible by Schöngrabern , Lower Austria (around 1220)
Votive pictures in the tour of the Chapel of Grace in Altötting

Christianity questions the previously practiced religious sacrifice. Again with reference to Abraham, Jesus' death on the cross is interpreted as a sacrifice of God himself ( Rom. 8:32  EU to Genesis 22:12), with this the violence of evil is defeated. According to other statements, Jesus sacrificed himself for the sins of men; further sacrifices are superfluous ( Heb 7.27  EU ). Neither human nor animal sacrifice is required. In the New Testament , God offered himself up as the final and definitive sacrifice through his incarnation up to the ultimate consequence of his death on the cross . Here, in terms of religious history, there is a turning point in that the human sacrifice no longer contributes to salvation; that happened in Jesus' sacrificial death. However, a Christian is involved in the death of Jesus through baptism (Romans 6: 1–11) and is asked to implement this in life, which Paul can definitely describe as a sacrifice of the body (Romans 12: 2). A person's sacrifice for salvation is therefore not constitutive, but only consecutive. This dedication is evident in the words of institution of the Last Supper and continues in the celebration of the Eucharist . According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the Holy Mass , which is also known as the sacrifice of the Mass , is the bloodless visualization of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and the anticipation of the heavenly wedding feast. Since the chant for the preparation of gifts before the prayer is called the Latin Offertorium (from offerre = to present), the German translation became sacrifice .

Even if the Holy Mass predominates in the concept of sacrifice, the theological and emotional significance of Old Testament sacrifices is appreciated and often depicted in art, especially on Gothic winged altars or the stone Bibles of the Romanesque.

See also : Atonement

Last Supper as a sacred meal

For Gerd Theißen (2007) the (Christian) Lord's Supper ended and thus replaced traditional (Jewish) sacrifices . If you compare, according to Theißen, a traditional Jewish sacrifice with the Lord's Supper, two irregularities become clear:

  • Though an Atonement, it was consumed like a community offering.
  • Blood was (symbolically) consumed.

Atonement and community sacrifice differ in their description, however, precisely here. Meat from the community sacrifice is consumed by the participating sacrificial community after the lead ritual specialist (priest) has received his share. In the case of a sin offering, however, the sacrificial meat was only eaten by the priest. The rest of the sacrificial animal was cremated outside the ritual site. The Atonement is excluded from the community; it is meant to remove what is a burden to the human community. A community sacrifice intends to bring the people participating in the ritual together, it should bind the members. The sacrificial animal is consumed collectively. While the Atonement is the expression of a disturbed community from which evil and disturbance are removed, the community sacrifice is the symbolic representation of a functioning group. As a rule of exclusion in the Atonement ritual, there must be no communal eating of the taboo remains of the Atonement. This rule of exclusion is broken in the ritual context of early Christianity. Because the participants at the Lord's Supper consume what has taken the traditional place of the sacrificial matter, namely bread and wine, which are seen as the body and blood of Christ. The Lord's Supper thus unites the Atonement, the elimination of a disturbance in the community, with the community sacrifice, the representation of a successful union within the group.

Different interpretations of the concept of victim

Active neighborly love
Since Christianity counts active neighborly love (for example in the parable of the Good Samaritan ) among its commandments and duties, in addition to the temporal also the material expenditure and donation in
kind for the benefit of a person other than God is a pleasing sacrifice.

Church building and wayside shrines
Contributions to the creation of church buildings and their maintenance, furnishing and decoration are also considered sacrifices, since churches are viewed not only as meeting places, but as places of worship. Such contributions are offered both as praise offerings to show love and reverence and as atonement offerings to show repentance . Similar motives - or gratitude for salvation from danger and illness - go back to the Marterln (shrines) and the erection of crossroads in the Alpine countries .

Votive offerings and candles Votive
offerings are objects of a vow ("ex voto"), which in some denominations are placed on altars and in front of portraits of saints as thanks or supplication and are donated (popularly: "sacrificed") in pilgrimage churches . One implores salvation, protection, blessings and health for people and livestock or thanks for them. Votive offerings can be made from a wide variety of materials (metals, wood, clay or wax, textiles). The symbolic motifs are human figures, organs or limbs, animals and, more recently, cars. The most widespread votive offerings include votive tablets or pictures that show the saints called for protection , the voters and the occasions and usually carry written information, at least a year.

Those who, in the case of religious persecution, would rather endure death than fall away from faith, revoke it or do the required evil, suffer martyrdom . It is considered to be particularly meritorious and a special expression of love for God and for neighbor: “No one has greater love than he who gives his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). As martys ex voto , this also included the early Christian confessors who suffered in prison because of their faith but were not executed. The Church also sees bloodless martyrdom in the chaste life of the celibate , in virginity and celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

Sacrifice in Islam

There are sacrificial rituals in almost all Islamic denominations. The most important festival of the Islamic annual calendar is the festival of sacrifice Eid al-Adha ("festival of sacrifice"), also called Eid el Kebir ("great festival"), which commemorates the oldest sacrifice of the prophet Ibrahim and takes place at the same time as the pilgrimage to Mecca . Participation in the festival of sacrifice is a religious obligation, provided the financial situation allows, and a solemn occasion that is connected with going to the mosque and visiting relatives. Traditionally, a sacrificial animal ( Uḍḥīya denotes the animal and the sacrifice ) is slaughtered in front of one's own house, in the courtyard of the mosque or in a central place. The meat is distributed according to established rules. Ideally, the victim's family, the neighbors and the poor receive one third each.

In Sufism and in popular Islam of other faiths, holy men (there are very few holy women) at graves or other places of worship make smaller sacrifices all year round as thanks or with the request for assistance. Every saint has an anniversary when his grave can become a pilgrimage destination. In some areas animal sacrifices are also carried out on this day. The aim of the visit is to gain some of the powerful blessing power ( baraka ) of the saint.

According to local Islamic traditions, other sacrifices are made for various reasons: as thanks for the firstborn son, who is considered a “great gift”, on the day of the death of a deceased person or as the fulfillment of a vow through a votive offering . There are possessive spirits to whom sacrifices must be made , as in the cult of tsar in Egypt and Sudan. The Berti people in Darfur are an example of an Islamic community that believes it has to keep the threatening misfortune at bay by means of animal sacrifices .

A basic distinction is made between ideal and material sacrifices. The ideal sacrifices, which must include a special service that is normally not performed, include voluntary fasting outside of Islamic Lent ( Ramadan ), and as in other religions there are forms of self-humiliation during the pilgrimage. The pilgrim wants to reach his destination barefoot, kisses the ground on the way or licks the steps at the entrance to the sanctuary. In addition to animal sacrifices, other material sacrifices are also made. This includes the voluntary donation of the poor (Ṣadaqa) , as well as the donation of money and equipment for grave sites. The decisive factor is not the size of the sacrifice, but the sincerity with which it is offered.

The animal sacrifice is justified mythologically with the intended sacrifice of Isaac , which is mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 22, 1–19) and in the Koran ( Sura 37 , 99–113). While for Christians it depends on the aspect of putting to the test, Muslims interpret the encounter of Abraham with the angel Gabriel as a model for unconditional devotion to God, as a turning away from the human sacrifices previously made and the beginning of the Islamic tradition of sacrifice. There are strict rules to be observed for ritual slaughter. The animal must be treated with respect, it must be healthy and well fed and it must not see the knife before it is slaughtered . The blood that gushes out when the neck is cut is the material symbol for the life force or soul ( Rūḥ, plural Arwāḥ ) of the animal, which is sacrificed in return for the fact that God has protected the human body of the victim. Therefore, the hands are held in the bloodstream and an imprint is left with the right hand on a place of the sacrificial site. This creates a personal relationship with the holy place, and the handprint should also protect against the evil eye .

Sacrifice in Hinduism

The basic texts form the four Samhitas (Sanskrit: संहिता saṃhitā for connection; compilation, collection) or Vedas. The four Vedas include the Rigveda , the Samaveda , the Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda . All Hindu religions accept the inviolability of these four Vedas, but individual beliefs often add other scriptures to them. Other texts were added to the Samhitas, such as the Brahmanas . The Brahmanas (Sanskrit, n., ब्राह्मण, Brāhmaṇa, "that which belongs to the priest") are ritual and sacrificial texts of early Hinduism. The date of origin is 800 BC. Until 500 BC BC.

In the various Hindu religious systems, the term sacrifice (Sanskrit, m., यज्ञ yajña, sacrifice, devotion) is understood to mean a special spiritual attitude and devotion in addition to ritual and material sacrifice.

Vedic period

In the Vedic period (from 1200 BC) sacrifice was the most important religious ceremony. In the Rigveda it says: "The sacrifice is the center of the world". A Vedic offering consisted of the fire offering of grain, milk, butter etc. and soma juice on an altar. It was believed that material and spiritual prosperity could be achieved through sacrifice. According to the Purusha-Sukta, creation emerged from the self-sacrifice of the primordial giant Purusha , which people now have to repeat again and again so that the world remains.

Brahamanic time

At the time of the Brahmanas (800–500 BC) great importance was attached to the correct execution of the sacrifice. For this purpose an extensive ritual literature, the Brahmanas, was created. The exposed position of the Brahmins arose during this time. The complicated rites required three priests, the reciter (Hotri), the singer (Udgatri) and the sacrificer (Adhvaryu). The inner attitude played no role, the effectiveness of the victim was seen as guaranteed by the meticulous observance of the rules. It was believed that the god in question had to grant what was requested if the ritual rules were observed. The fear of ritual errors was the reason that the conception of the sacrificial ceremony or cult fundamentally changed. The observance of the correct form was of the utmost importance, so that the sacrificial lord placed the entertainment of the gods in the hands of a specialist. The specialists who, due to the correct execution and the associated knowledge of the formalities and magically effective words (Brahmanas Sanskrit, n., ब्राह्मण, Brāhmaṇa, "that which belongs to the priest") took over the execution of the sacrifice on behalf, received the later as ritual experts Caste names of the Brahmins.

After Weber (1915-1919), the Brahmanentätigkeit victims and teaching was, while they took the Dakshina ( Sanskrit दक्षिण dakṣiṇa ) not as payment, but as gifts and presents. The minimum amount of gifts was tariffed.

Period of the Upanishads

During the Upanishads period (700–200 BC), doubts arose about the sacrifice, especially its mechanical execution. In the Katha Upanishad the boy Nachiketas says : "Joyless are certainly the worlds into which those who receive cows as gifts can no longer drink, eat, give milk and give birth to calves." His father had in the Hope for a reward in heaven made the Vishvajit sacrifice in which he gave away all his possessions to Brahmins. The father was very angry about his son's remark and sent him to see Yama, the god of death . He taught Nachiketas that the soul ( Atman ) is immortal. These metaphysical and philosophical speculations pushed the pure ritual of sacrifice more and more into the background.

In the Bhagavadgita the various forms of the sacrifice of Krishna are mentioned above all in the 4th chapter and his evaluation of the sacrifice culminates in the statement that a real sacrifice is good, but a spiritual sacrifice weighs more heavily (v. 4.33).

With the emergence of Bhakti Yoga , which placed the loving devotion to a personal God in the foreground, the sacrifice became even less important. In religious practice, however, it has been preserved in the form of temple donations. Large pilgrimage centers such as Tirumala Tirupati are impressive , where the many small monetary and other donations from the numerous pilgrims add up to considerable donations. Also, flower offerings in front of an idol or hair donations (in connection with vows) testify that this tradition lives on.

Sacrifice in Buddhism

A common ritual held in temples is puja , a devotion in honor of the Buddha . Smoke, flowers, food and the like are sacrificed, but Buddha rejected (large) sacrifices as "pointless". In this respect, this ritual is to be understood as a transfer of merit in which one earns merit through good works (for example, by giving gifts to monks) that are supposed to affect one's own happiness. Here the thought of karma is in the foreground. Buddhists realize that they cannot attain nirvana through this practice . Another aspect of sacrifice in Buddhism is the practice of generosity. It is one of the six actions of a bodhisattva ( pāramitā ) that lead to enlightenment . The offering of external and internal objects is part of a mind training.

In Daoism , the Chinese current of Buddhism, burnt offerings in the form of the burning of hell money at burials and in honor of the ancestors are common. These have been known in East Asia for around 1,000 years. Burnt offerings were incorporated into this stream of Buddhism through Confucianism .

Sacrifice in Mesoamerican Indigenous Cultures

Cenote in Chichén Itzá , in addition to numerous offerings, over fifty skeletons were recovered from the bottom of this

The Mayan religion was polytheistic , imagining the Mayan gods as mortal, human, or animal-like beings. With the Aztecs and other Central American religions as well, sacrifices were used not only to weigh the gods, but also to keep the gods alive in a certain way . The Aztecs' cult of sacrifice was a central element of their religion . Like that of other Central American cultures, this demanded human sacrifices in order to secure the course of the sun and the continued existence of the world. The Aztecs believed that the universe emerged from the struggle between light and darkness.

Despite the multitude of gods, the Mayan religion has a dualistic orientation: Above all, the "world parents" (as with most farmers) have an important meaning, which is formed from the old sun god and the young moon goddess. Life is seen as a (arduous) way from the east (dual symbols: moonrise, life, color red) to the west (sunset, death, color black). This makes it possible to understand the very common way of representation in Maya art, which shows us kings who carry a god as an infant in their arms. At the same time, the gods were presented as beings who could be ancient.

As with other cultures in Central America , the (red, life-sustaining) human blood also plays a special role in the Maya. High-ranking personalities won the blood by pulling thorny threads through their lips or tongues or by pricking the penis with sea urchin spines. Images from classical times also often combine the depicted blood sacrifice with the depiction of a so-called vision snake . Whether this is an indication that the blood loss led to religious inspiration is still unclear. From the Maya's point of view, blood was the seat of the soul and life force, but the soul itself was imagined as air or smoke ( breathing soul ). Therefore, the blood obtained was caught by paper strips, which were then burned.

In the Mayan religion, human sacrifice was quite common. The types of ritual executions ranged from beheading, drowning (e.g. in cenotes ), hanging, stoning, poisoning, mutilating to burying the abdomen alive or slashing open the abdomen and tearing out the still beating heart. The latter can be verified indirectly (via cult objects, see Chak Mo'ol ) , especially for the post-classical period . Both prisoners of war and members of their own group, including those from the upper class, were sacrificed. The conditions of who was sacrificed when, how and where are still being researched. What is certain - and well documented by representations - is the killing of prisoners of war on a larger scale, perhaps from the upper class of the opposing state.

Although the Mayan culture was very belligerent, it is rather unlikely that the Maya even came close to that of the Aztecs in terms of the extent and number of human sacrifices. The earlier image, however, that the Maya, in contrast to the Aztecs, were characterized by peacefulness and only very rare sacrifices, has been put into perspective by more recent research results (especially since the writing was partially deciphered in 1973). The difference in the perception of the Aztecs and Maya has historical causes: When the Spanish arrived in Central America, they were still eyewitnesses of the Aztec religious practice, while the classical Maya culture had long since perished. In the post-classical cities in northern Yucatán, however, the culture had changed significantly. For example, it can be seen from the buildings of today's ruined cities from the time of the Spanish conquest that religion obviously no longer played the prominent role it did in the classical era.

Many of the outstanding cultural achievements of the Maya are closely related to their religion, including calendars, writing and construction.

Sacrifice cult in the South American indigenous cultures

In the advanced cultures of South American ethnic groups in the Andes, each community, each tribe , had its own tradition, with which it derived its origin from a sacred place, a sacred star or a sacred animal. Every place in the Andes has its mythological counterpart in a celestial star. But all Andean peoples revered the sun and moon as a fertilizing couple.

In this transcendental context, the Incas claimed to be the sons of the sun. The Inca enforced the sun cult as the official cult of their empire: sun idols stood in all parts of the country of the Inca empire next to a large number of worshiped (tribal) deities. The sun cult served primarily to legitimize the ruling elite. To use this cult, the Incas built temples all over their empire, which they dedicated to the sun. The best known and most important of them is the central sun temple in Cuzco, the Coricancha or Qurikancha ("Golden Court", sun district). This main temple of the empire also served the cult of other deities, such as Mama Killa (the moon) and Illapa , the god of lightning and thunder, the cult of Venus and a series of stars, the weather gods and that of K'uychi , the rainbow, were put aside. But the temple of the sun in Cuzco was the most holy shrine in the empire.

The most important festival was the Inti Raymi , the winter solstice and the shortest day in the southern hemisphere on June 23 of each year. This festival was combined with thanks for all the best in the past year and at the same time with the request for the protection of the sun for the seeds, which soon began. At these festivals, the 14 royal mummies (mallki) were carried in public procession next to the current regent. The mummies were ritually entertained with chicha and meals. There was a widespread ancestor cult throughout the Andes . The cult of the royal mummies, however, was more than just ancestor worship. First and foremost, it was a fertility ceremony, because with processions and toasts, the dead kings as Illapa were asked for rain without devastating storms. In addition, they were the materialized legitimation of a dynastic-theocratic claim to rule by the Inca elite. At the same time, the cult also strengthened the ritual and social solidarity within the ten Panaqas or Panacas , the royal ayllus.

There are numerous descriptions of ofrendas , sacrifices and offerings which were offered to the gods or wak'as and which belonged to the rhythm of life of the people. The Incas sacrificed certain things that they considered worthy in the eyes of the gods, especially Pachamama , mother earth. These offerings could u. a. in the form of chicha (quechua: aqha , corn beer), corn pods, spondylus clams or coca leaves.

A sacrifice was made on every important occasion. The most common animal sacrifice was a llama. At the end of the celebration of the sun cult, many animal sacrifices were reported.

In La Paz , the seat of government in Bolivia, there are still markets today where countless mummified lama embryos are offered. The buyers are primarily indigenous women, very rarely tourists, from whom the embryos are usually kept hidden. In the mountainous region, when a house is being built, a parched lama embryo is still walled in to protect and bless the house and residents.

During periods of great difficulty, for example droughts, epidemics or to help the Inca ruler recover, there was human sacrifice . Compared to the Aztecs, the number of human sacrifices in Tawantinsuyu was low.

The people who were sacrificed, whether men, women or children, were in good physical condition and in perfect constitution. The human sacrifices were often taken among the defeated people and viewed as part of the tribute. Preference was given to boys and girls around the age of ten who should happily sacrifice their lives.

The "chosen women" called themselves aklla ( akllay = "choose, choose"; vestal virgin or for the Spaniards "virgins of the sun") and were in the service of the sun god ( Intip akllan ) or the Inca ( Inkap akllan ). Only the most qualified were selected at the age of five and received very special training. They lived in the Akllawasi (House of the Chosen) on Calle Loreto in Cuzco, learned housekeeping, cooking, preparing drinks, singing and music under the supervision of an "abbess". They devoted most of their time to weaving the finest luxury textiles for the Sapa Inca and priests. At the age of ten and thirteen they had to make another selection. If they had not convinced the Panap Apun ("master of the sister"), they returned to their family.

The rest learned the prayers and rituals of the sun cult, lived in strict chastity and were given away by the Sapa Inca at sexual maturity to nobles, warriors, dignitaries and engineers, whom they had to serve with their housewife and manual skills. Only those who committed themselves to complete chastity and were called Intip Chinan wore a white religious robe and a veil called a pampacune and assisted in religious ceremonies. Her virginity was one of the highest taboos of the Inca, the violation of which resulted in the death of the seducer and the seduced, including the relatives, the home village and its curaca, even all plants and animals.

Only the Inca himself was allowed to “love” these virgins. Some authors regard the Aclla as a kind of native South American harem and the virgins as a kind of concubine of the Inca, which completed the number of concubines of the Inca.

Ethnic religions

All oral or be called to the ethnic religions, traditional or animist rituals traditional belief systems counted that no writing fixed teachings know and whose followers only one ethnic group belong. The most important starting point for ethnic religiosity is the direct experience of the transcendent . In addition to prayer and various sacrificial rituals, people have various options available to them, depending on tradition.

The cult acts are extremely diverse; however, rotate among all ethnic groups among other things

  • for thanks and humility towards creation,
  • for forgiveness for human intervention in the natural balance and
  • about respect and reverence for life, ancestors and traditions.

Almost everywhere, cultic acts consist of individual and collective rituals. The latter are often expressed in music (e.g. in Sámi joik ) and in dance . Moreover, the ritual of sacrifice is known in some form to a great many ethnic groups; if not with all.

In the case of the ethnic cults of the dead , it can also be determined that in the external process and with regard to their meaning all over the world they are divided into three stages: separation (detachment from the deceased), liminal phase (unqualified intermediate state) and integration (rebirth, admission into the realm of the dead, incarnation of spirit etc.) are structured. The goals are always to act out the grief for the individual and to protect against instability in the community that can result from the loss of people.

Secularized concept of victim

The use of the term victim in colloquial language reflects ideas that have entered everyday consciousness and that originate from a religious context and have been conveyed through the tradition of Christianity and the Enlightenment. This use of the term emphasizes the innocence of an individual in relation to the suffering he has suffered (disaster victim , drug victim , etc.) or the offense of an offender ( victim in the sense of criminology ) or even victims of collective guilt ( Holocaust , pogroms , persecutions in general) . Derived from the same tradition - albeit with a strong romantic character - is the use of the term “sacrifice” to denote actions that are performed exclusively for the benefit of others or for that of the general public (... to sacrifice oneself for).

See also


  • Miranda Aldhouse Green: Human Sacrifice - Ritual Murder from the Iron Age to the End of Antiquity. Magnus, Essen 2003, ISBN 3-88400-009-8 .
  • Jean Baudrillard : The symbolic exchange and death. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 1982, ISBN 3-88221-215-2 ( batteries 14).
  • Georges Bataille : Theory of Religion. Munich 1997, ISBN 3-88221-277-2 ( The theoretical work in individual volumes ), ( Batteries 59), Sacrifice as a key term.
  • Ulrich Enderwitz: Wealth and Religion. Second book: The religious cult. Ça-Ira-Verlag, Freiburg (Breisgau) 1991, ISBN 3-924627-27-4 [18] .
  • Kurt Friedrichs (translator): The Katha Upanishad. From the immortality of the self. With the comments of the sage Shankara from the 9th century and explanations of the modern meditation master Swami Nikhilananda . Otto Wilhelm Barth, Bern 1989, ISBN 3-502-65345-3 .
  • Gunnar Heinsohn : The Creation of the Gods. The sacrifice as the origin of religion. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1996, ISBN 3-498-02937-1 .
  • Henri Hubert, Marcel Mauss : Essais sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice. In: l'Année sociologique. Vol. 2, 1897/1898, ISSN  0066-2399 , pp. 29-138 (also special reprint: Alcan, Paris 1899; again: Sacrifice. Its nature and function. Cohen & West, London 1964).
  • Ralf Miggelbrink : Victim. Systematic theology and the reception of a key concept in the history of religion. In: Trier theological journal. 112, 2003, ISSN  0041-2945 , pp. 97-112.
  • Victim. In: Hans Bonnet: Lexicon of the Egyptian religious history. 3rd unchanged edition. Nikol Verlag, Hamburg 2000, ISBN 3-937872-08-6 , pp. 547-550.
  • Victim. In: Wolfgang Helck , Eberhard Otto : Small Lexicon of Egyptology. 4th revised edition. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1999, ISBN 3-447-04027-0 , p. 210.
  • Guido Telscher: Sacrifice out of mercy. Heb 9: 11-28 in the context of biblical atonement theology. Echter, Würzburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-429-02891-6 ( Research on the Bible 112), (also: Freiburg i.Br., Univ., Diss., 2005).
  • Edward Burnett Tylor : Primitive Culture. 2 volumes. Murray, London 1871 (German: The beginnings of culture. Studies on the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art and custom. 2 volumes. Winter, Leipzig 1873; reprint: Olms, Hildesheim et al. 2005, ISBN 3-487-12096- 8 (Vol. 1), ISBN 3-487-12097-6 (Vol. 2)).
  • Burkhardt Wolf: The sovereign's concern. A discourse story of the victim. Diaphanes Verlag, Zurich a. a. 2004, ISBN 3-935300-68-9 (also: Berlin, Humboldt-Univ., Diss., 2002).
  • Franz Josef Stendebach : The sacrifice in the religions of mankind. Published on, 2015. [19]
  • Hubert Seiwert: Sacrifice. In: Hubert von Cancik (ed.): Handbook of basic concepts for religious studies. Vol. 4. Cult image - role. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne 1998, ISBN 3-17-010531-0 , pp. 268–284 [20]
  • Franjo Vidović: victim. Disputatio philosophica, pp. 59–69 [21]
  • Samson Eitrem : sacrificial rite and pre-sacrifice of the Greeks and Romans. AW Broggers Boktrykkeri, Kristiana, on commission from Jacob Dybwad 1915 [22]


Andrei Tarkowski created a significant film artistic implementation of the subject with his film Sacrifice .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Christiane Brosius Axel Michaels Paula Schrode (ed.): Ritual and ritual dynamics. Keywords, theories, discussions. UTB band no. 3854, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2013, ISBN 978-3-8252-3854-4 , p. 13
  2. Jan AM Snoeck: Classification and Typology. P. 54–61 In: Christiane Brosius, Axel Michaels, Paula Schrode (eds.): Ritual and ritual dynamics. UTB 3854, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2013, ISBN 978-3-8252-3854-4
  3. ^ Matthias Sellmann: Religion and social order: socio-theoretical analyzes. Vol. 917 Campus Research, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 200, ISBN 978-3-59338-367-5 , p. 56 f.
  4. Veronika Hoffmann: Sketches for a theology of the gift. Justification - sacrifice - Eucharist - love of God and neighbor. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau / Stuttgart / Basel 2013, ISBN 978-3-451-30696-9
  5. Duden: The dictionary of origin. Etymology of the German language. 3rd edition, Mannheim 2001, p. 573; see also Duden online .
  6. ^ Kluge / Seebold: Etymological Dictionary of the German Language, 23rd edition, 1995.
  7. Volume 13, entry sacrifice .
  8. Wolfgang Palaver : End or Transformation of the Victim? René Girard's struggle for a victim theory. Bible and Church 3/2009, pp. 173–178 [1]
  9. see Gert Pickel: Sociology of Religion: An Introduction to Central Subject Areas. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 2011, ISBN 978-3-531-92823-4 , p. 111
  10. Georg Simmel : Die Religion (1906, revised 1912) - full text at DigBib.Org ( Memento from February 6, 2006 in the Internet Archive )
  11. Eckart Voland: Does God have natural history? On the evolution of religiosity. Biology in Our Time 40 (1): 29-35, 2010
  12. Ervin Goffman : Interaction Ritual. Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York, German interaction rituals. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1980
  13. ^ Christiane Brosius, Axel Michaels, Paula Schrode: Ritual research today - an overview. P. 9–24 In: Christiane Brosius, Axel Michaels, Paula Schrode (eds.): Ritual and ritual dynamics. UTB 3854, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2013, ISBN 978-3-8252-3854-4
  14. See the terminology of symbolic interactionism . After Herbert Blumer : Social Psychology. In: EP Schmidt (Ed.): Man and Society. A noun introduction to the social science. New York 1937, pp. 144–198, people act towards objects in their environment on the basis of the meanings they have for them. The meaning of these objects arises in special interactions that people enter into. These meanings of the objects are used and also changed by people in the context of their engagement with these objects in an interpretative process. Werner Stangl : Keyword: 'symbolic interactionism'. Online encyclopedia for psychology and education. July 27, 2020 ( [2] on and Herbert Blumer: The methodological location of symbolic interactionism. (1973) In the Bielefeld sociologists' group (ed.): Everyday knowledge, interaction and social reality. Vol. 1, Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg (excerpt from [3] on
  15. Gunnar Heinsohn : The creation of the gods: The sacrifice as the origin of religion. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-498-02937-1
  16. Hubert Seiwert: Sacrifice. In: Hubert von Cancik (ed.): Handbook of basic concepts for religious studies. Vol. 4. Cult image - role. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne 1998, ISBN 3-17-010531-0 , pp. 268–284 [4]
  17. Franz Josef Stendebach : The sacrifice in the religions of mankind. Published on, 2015. [5]
  18. ^ Edward Tylor : Primitive Culture (1871) / dt. The beginnings of culture: Investigations into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art and custom. Leipzig 1873 - Digitized I , II
  19. James George Frazer: The Golden Bough. First Edition (1890, in 2 volumes) (1894 edition: Vol. 1 Vol. 2 )http: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D~IA%3Dgoldenboughstudy01fraz~MDZ%3D%0A~SZ%3D~doppelseiten%3D~LT%3DBd.%201~PUR%3D http: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D~IA%3Dgoldenboughstudy02fraz~MDZ%3D%0A~SZ%3D~doppelseiten%3D~LT%3DBd.%202~PUR%3D
  20. ^ William Robertson Smith : The Religion of the Semites. Mohr, Freiburg im Breisgau 1899 ( digitized version ).
  21. Christiane Brosius, Axel Michaelis, Paula Schrode (eds.): Ritual and ritual dynamics. UTB 3854, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2013, ISBN 978-3-8252-3854-4 , p. 110
  22. ^ René Girard : La Violence et le sacré. 1972, ISBN 3491694302 . German edition: The Holy and Violence. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 1994
  23. Thomas Assheuer : When the devil falls from the sky. Imitation, rivalry, violence: on the death of the great cultural anthropologist René Girard . In: Die Zeit from November 12, 2015.
  24. René Girard: The end of violence. Analyzes of the doom of mankind. Herder Verlag, Freiburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-4512-9385-6 , p. 125
  25. ^ Andreas Hetzel: Victims and violence. René Girard's cultural anthropology of the scapegoat. In: Wilhelm Gräb, Martin Laube (ed.): The human blemish. To the speechless return of sin. Loccumer protocols 11/2008.
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  28. Axel Michaels: Le rituel pour le rituel? unipressedienst - Press Office of the University of Zurich Nicolas Jene, Last update: May 13, 1998 [7]
  29. Axel Michaels: “Le rituel pour le rituel” or how senseless are rituals? In Corinna Caduff, Johanna Pfaff-Czarnecka: Rituals Today: Theories - Controversies - Drafts. Reimer, Berlin 1999
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  31. Bernhard Maier: The religion of the Celts. Gods - myths - worldview. P. 108 ff.
  32. ^ Rudolf Simek : Lexicon of Germanic Mythology (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 368). 3rd, completely revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-520-36803-X , pp. 328-330.
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  34. Jan Bemmann, Güde Hahne: Iron Age sanctuaries in northern Europe according to archaeological sources. In: Germanic religious history, sources and source problems Heinrich Beck, Detlef Elmers, Kurt Schier (eds.). de Gruyter, Berlin - New York 1992, p. 29ff.
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