Sacrifice to Bribe Gods
The previous chapters narrated how ancient humans invented many scientific techniques, and built myths about the inexplicable phenomena. Approximately five thousand years ago, the concept of farming founded several civilizations in different regions of the world; gradually, a major population adopted it. Cultivation provided enough facilities to people, but at the same time posed quite a few challenges to them.
The most devastating was famine that occurred frequently due to droughts and floods. Nomadic people had the choice of shifting to another forest during scarcity of food. On the contrary, farmers could not move their settlements during famine, since they had to cultivate the same land every year.
Priests of farmers discovered, through trial and error, that they must sow seeds in a particular season each year. They also learnt the importance of rain for the crops. With the passing of time, priests noticed that crops were dependent upon certain unseen forces of nature too. They devised several techniques of worship, rituals and sacrifices to seek a favourable weather for a good crop. Moreover, this was not a local concept: it was a global phenomenon. Subsequent to the beginning of farming, all over the globe, a new breed of priests appeared.
These priests of early farmers developed the rituals to induce rain. These rituals were mostly in the form of sacrifices, prayers, dances and mimicries of the sky god—the god of rain. For example, Aztec was one of the Meso-American tribal groups, and Tlaloc was their rain god. Aztecs propitiated it, several times in a year, with the help of child sacrifice. Each time, they appealed Tlaloc to provide optimum rain and crops for them. In central Mexico, in order to seek rain, the local priests took a ceremonial bath in a lake. During the bath, they imitated the croaking of frogs. Mexican priests had heard the croaking during rain; therefore, they believed that the call of frogs summoned rain.
Similarly, Hindus also worshipped the sky god during droughts. Hindu priests sacrificed a male goat to the sky god. Ancient priests were clever enough to perform such rituals when rain was expected; therefore, most of the time, rain followed the rituals. The onset of rain established the efficacy of the rituals and the performing priest.
Apart from rituals, priests devised several different ways to control the forces of nature such as magic, hunting dances, rain dances and so on. For example, the ancient inhabitants of the island of Cyprus, near Greece, frequently performed a rain dance to induce rain. After the dance, people spat onto the back of a turtle, and henceforth it became popular as a spit turtle.
A sacrifice was a ritual in which people offered some physical object to their gods under the guidance of priests. People believed that these offering pleased their gods. In other words, sacrifice was a kind of bribe to the gods to seek their favour. The earliest practice of sacrifice began with human sacrifice. There is enough evidence of human sacrifice in history too.
With the domestication of animals, farmers began to sacrifice animals in place of humans. They reserved human sacrifice for special occasions only. At one point in time, people completely replaced humans by animals for sacrifices. It was a logical modification of the ritual.
Why did people suppose that some offering or sacrificial killing could please gods, while it was obvious that none of these reached gods? Why did people develop a notion that human or animal sacrifice would appease gods? How did this concept begin?
In fact, humans had always conceived gods similar to themselves. Whatever could make them happy was supposed to appease their gods too. Therefore, priests advised people to offer the foods of their own choices to gods, and claimed that this would please gods. However, all such offering enriched only priests.
Today, believers argue that sacrifices were an exhibition of human devotions to gods. This is a great fallacy; people killed the innocent animals to show their devotions. First, let us consider, what gods would have achieved by the killings. Did gods themselves eat the flesh of the victims? Did gods wish to see such a killing sport being simultaneously performed by millions of devotees all over the world? Did gods have some enmity with the animals of sacrifice? Quite unlikely, because none of the gods were believed to be barbaric or sadistic.
In fact, humans performed sacrifices merely to satisfy their needs; they killed animals in order to eat them. They simply fooled gods and killed innocents in their name. Gods have nothing to do with devotees and their easy prey.
Since time immemorial, humanity has been practising sacrifices, rituals, prayers, devotions, fasting and many other methods to appease their gods and seek their favours. Today, people consider the service to humanity to be the best kind of worship. Many philanthropists, all over the world, have built charitable hospitals, schools and other institutions to serve humanity and thus appease gods.
From the above discussion, it is obvious that animal sacrifices gradually replaced ritual cannibalism. After the advent of the concept of non-violence, ritual fasting took the place of sacrifices, and people expressed their devotion to gods through flattery. All over the world, priests composed countless hymns, poems, songs and epics to glorify gods. People chanted these prayers loudly to procure blessing of their imaginary gods. Innocent humans believed that gods would shower them with blessing after listening to their glory and that too from several million people simultaneously. Later, wiser human beings arrived at the conclusion that love and service to humanity were the best way to appease gods. These changes in the forms of worship from ritual cannibalism to humanitarian methods were the stages of human development. The next chapter will discuss the most serious problem faced by humankind.