ON THE CHOICE OF A HUMAN SACRIFICE
By way of film trivia you’ll never, ever, ever get to use, September 2019 is now the month with three different movies about ritual human sacrifice in theaters. As far as trends go, this is less disturbing than the rash of live-action remakes, so fine.
Chelsea Stardust’s recently released horror-comedy leans into the Hollywood trope of Satanic ritual human sacrifice so hard that it’s actually just called Satanic Panic. You might think I’d complain, but again, it’s not a live-action remake, so I’m still fine.
Naturally, real Satanists are the least likely people to kill you for religious reasons. And it turns out there are particular reasons for this beyond just, ya know, nobody really wanting to.
Peering for a moment at the real history of sacrificial rites, it turns out they’re committed for the most decisively un-Satanic of motivations.
Historically speaking, you’ve got lower odds of being ritually murdered today than at almost any time.
Apparently it wasn’t kosher to mention this in my valedictorian speech all those years ago, but I dunno, seemed like encouraging news at the time.
In latter days, ritual murder went down with shocking regularity. On Big Think, Phillip Perry writes that evidence for such practices manifest in “the South Pacific, ancient Japan, early Southeast Asian societies, ancient Europe, certain Native American cultures, in Mesoamerica, Babylon, Egypt, China, Greece, and even the precursor to the Romans.”
So you really didn’t fuck around when it came to travel advisories back then.
Supposedly, the Aztecs bumped off so many people this way that they had to start upcycling the remains. Writing for History.com, Dave Roos describes how “Andrés de Tapia, a conquistador, described two rounded towers flanking the Templo Mayor made entirely of human skulls, and a towering wooden rack displaying thousands more skulls with bored holes to slide onto the wooden poles.”
Of course, these reports sound like wildly exaggerated propaganda to justify the murder of the Aztec emperor and the ruthless destruction of Tenochtitlán.
And Roos says right here, “many historians dismissed these reports as wildly exaggerated propaganda meant to justify the murder of Aztec emperor [and] the ruthless destruction of Tenochtitlán,” so there.
But then in 2015 and in 2018 archaeologists actually dug up those skull towers in Mexico City. I’ll just show myself out then.
On Nova, back in the ’90s, Liesl Clark described the ritual sacrifice of a young girl in the Incan empire:
“Tanta Carhua was taken to a high Andean mountain, placed in a shaft-tomb and walled in alive. Alcohol was fed to her both before and after her death. This ten-year old child became a goddess, speaking to her people as an oracle from the mountain, which was reconsecrated in her name.”
I don’t know if there’s a statute of limitations on making jokes about a murdered ten-year-old, so I’m going to let the readers make their own crack about oracles and Magic 8-Balls, and then you’ve all got to live with the consequences.
Probably my favorite tale of a ritual rubbing out was in 216 BCE, when Hannibal kicked Rome’s ass so bad at the Battle of Cannae that the Romans responded by briefly readopting previously gauche sacrificial practices. Which I think is like a historical example of when your Pokemon hurts itself in its confusion.
“[Consul] Fabius Pictor was sent to the oracle at Delphi to ascertain by what prayers and supplications the Romans might placate the gods, and what end would there be to such calamities. Meanwhile, some unusual sacrifices were ordered, among which a Gallic man and woman and a Greek man and woman were sent down alive into an underground room walled with rock, a place that had already been tainted before by human victims.”
Yes, Seven Minutes In Heaven was much more intense, once upon a time. Also lasted much longer than seven minutes, as it turned out.
An ancient corpse pulled from a bog in Cheshire, England dubbed the Lindow Man probably got it worse than anybody else on this list.
According to medievalist Lisa L. Spangenberg, “Lindow Man was almost certainly a ritual sacrifice; He was strangled, hit on the head, and had his throat cut, in quick order, then surrendered to the bog. This pattern fits the ‘three-fold’ death referred to in medieval Irish tales. What’s more, the man seems to have been of high social rank, and a willing victim.”
So why did people do all of this? I mean, I’m sure everyone at some point has wanted to strangle a rich guy and throw him in a bog, so maybe we don’t need any greater rationale than that.
Usually though we imagine our ancestors conducted these rites as acts of propitiation for various gods. The Greek King Agamemnon even sacrificed his own daughter to Diana to placate her anger on the eve of the Trojan War.
Don’t feel too bad for her, she probably never really existed. Also her mother later stabbed Agamemnon in the bathtub, but he probably never existed either. History is weird.
However, in 2016 researchers at the University of Auckland suggested a competing hypothesis. Science Vibe explains:
“A new religious evolutionary theory called the ‘social control hypothesis,’ suggests that social elites may have used human sacrifice to elevate their status.There is anecdotal evidence from other areas of the world that human sacrifice was used to maintain and control populations.”
Well that adds up, the rich had to find some way to control people before the advent of adjustable-rate mortgages.
So it seems the reason that Satanic human sacrifice mostly fails to manifest outside of the movies is simple: there’s no motivation for it.
I don’t believe in any gods that need to satisfied, through sacrifice or anything else. And when it comes to the social control hypothesis–well, I’d much rather cut out the middleman and just eat the rich myself, if it came down to it.