Human sacrifice Full Documentary Films

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Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings, usually as an offering to a deity, as part of a ritual. Human sacrifice has been practiced in various cultures throughout history. Victims were typically ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease gods, spirits or the deceased, for example as a propitiatory offering or as a retainer sacrifice when a king's servants are killed in order for them to continue to serve their master in the next life. Closely related practices found in some tribal societies are cannibalism and headhunting.

By the Iron Age, with the associated developments in religion (the Axial Age), human sacrifice was becoming less common throughout the Old World, and came to be looked down upon as barbaric in classical antiquity. In the New World, however, human sacrifice continued to be widespread to varying degrees until the European colonization of the Americas.

In modern times, even the practice of animal sacrifice has virtually disappeared from all major religions (or has been re-cast in terms of ritual slaughter), and human sacrifice has become extremely rare. Most religions condemn the practice, and modern secular laws treat it as murder. In a society which condemns human sacrifice, the term ritual murder is used.

Human sacrifice is distinguished from infanticide. Infanticide is deliberately causing the death of an unwanted infant or young child, but without a ritualistic or religious purpose.

For the re-consecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they killed about 80,400 prisoners over the course of four days. According to Ross Hassig, author of Aztec Warfare, "between 10,000 and 80,400 persons" were sacrificed in the ceremony.

Human sacrifice can also have the intention of winning the gods' favour in warfare. In Homeric legend, Iphigeneia was to be sacrificed by her father Agamemnon to appease Artemis so she would allow the Greeks to wage the Trojan War. According to the Bible, Jephthah vowed to devote to God the first creature to come out of his house to meet him if he won the battle against the Ammonites. Judges 11:30-31; "And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will Him a burnt offering." His daughter was the first to come out and meet him. Judges 11:34; "And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter." Although there is some uncertainty as to whether this was human sacrifice or consecration, academia discusses this in the context of human sacrifice, drawing parallels to Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac.

In some notions of an afterlife, the deceased will benefit from victims killed at his funeral. Mongols, Scythians, early Egyptians and various Mesoamerican chiefs could take most of their household, including servants and concubines, with them to the next world. This is sometimes called a "retainer sacrifice", as the leader's retainers would be sacrificed along with their master, so that they could continue to serve him in the afterlife.


Hawaiian sacrifice, from Jacques Arago's account of Freycinet's travels around the world from 1817 to 1820.
Another purpose is divination from the body parts of the victim. According to Strabo, Celts stabbed a victim with a sword and divined the future from his death spasms.

Headhunting is the practice of taking the head of a killed adversary, for ceremonial or magical purposes, or for reasons of prestige. It was found in many pre-modern tribal societies.
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