Animal sacrifice

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Sacrifice of a young boar in ancient Greece (tondo from an Attic red-figure cup, 510–500 BC, by the Epidromos Painter, collections of the Louvre)

Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing and offering of an animal to appease or maintain favour with a divine agency. Such forms of sacrifice are practised within many religions around the world and have appeared historically in almost all cultures, including those of the Sumerians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Germanics, Celts, Aztecs, and Mayans.

All or only part of a sacrificial animal may be offered, especially in the context of ritual slaughter.

Remnants of ancient animal sacrifice can also be found in various contemporary practices, the kapparos and shechita of Judaism and ḏabīḥah of Islam, for example.

Ancient world[edit]

Further information: Homo Necans, Holocaust (sacrifice) and Hecatomb
Preparation of an animal sacrifice; marble, fragment of an architectural relief, first quarter of the 2nd century AD; from Rome, Italy

Animal sacrifices were common throughout Europe and the Ancient Near East until Late Antiquity.

The Minoan settlement of Phaistos in ancient Crete reveals basins for animal sacrifice dating to the period 2000 to 1700 BC.[1]

Ancient Europe[edit]

Ancient India[edit]

Abrahamic traditions[edit]


See main article: Korban

Many Jewish sources discuss the deeper meaning behind korbanot. For example, Sefer Hachinuch explains that an individual bringing an animal sacrifice for a sin understands that he personally should have been sacrificed as punishment for the rebellion against God inherent in his sin, but God mercifully accepts the sacrifice in his or her place. Furthermore, it is considered fitting that an animal is used as a sacrifice because at the moment of sin, the individual in question disregarded his elevated human soul, effectively acting as an animal.

In Kapparot, a rooster literally becomes a religious and sacred vessel and is sacrificed on the afternoon before Yom Kippur. The purpose of the sacrifice being the expiation of the sins of the man as the chicken symbolically receives the man's sins, which is based on the reconciliation of Isaiah 1:18 in the Hebrew Bible.

The Samaritans, a group historically related to the Jews, practice animal sacrifice in accordance with the Law of Moses.


Matagh of a rooster at the entrance of a monastery church (Alaverdi, Armenia, 2009), with inset of bloody steps.
Further information: Lamb of God

References to animal sacrifice appear in the New Testament, such as the parents of Jesus sacrificing two doves (Luke 2:24) and the Apostle Paul performing a Nazirite vow even after the death of Christ (Acts 21:23-26).

Christ is referred to by his apostles as "the Lamb of God", the one to whom all sacrifices pointed (Hebrews 10). Christ's crucifixion is comparable to animal sacrifice on a large scale as His death serves as atonement for all of man's sins.

Some villages in Greece also sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints in a practice known as kourbània. Sacrifice of a lamb, or less commonly a rooster, is a common practice in Armenian Church and Tewahedo Church. This tradition, called matagh, is believed to stem from pre-Christian pagan rituals. Additionally, some Mayans following a form of Folk Catholicism in Mexico today still sacrifice animals in conjunction with church practices, a ritual practiced in past religions before the arrival of the Spaniards.[2]


Main articles: Qurban and Dhabihah

Muslims engaged in the Hajj (pilgrimage) are obligated to sacrifice a lamb or a goat or join others in sacrificing a cow or a camel during the celebration of the Eid al-Adha.[3][4] by other Muslims not on the Hajj to Mecca are also encouraged to participate in this sacrifice to share in the sanctity of the occasion. It is understood as a symbolic re-enactment of Abraham's sacrifice of a ram in place of his son, a narrative present throughout Abrahamism. Meat from this occasion is divided into three parts:

  • For personal nourishment
  • For distribution among friends
  • And, as charity for the indigent

Other occasions where the lamb is sacrificed include the celebration of the birth of a child, reaching the final stages of building a house, the acquisition of a valuable commodity, and even the visit of a dear or honourable guest. For Muslims, the sacrifice of lamb is and is associated with celebrations, feasts, generosity, and the seeking of blessings. Most schools of fiqh hold the animal must be killed according to the prohibitions of halal sacrifice.

Strangite Latter Day Saints[edit]

Animal sacrifice was instituted in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), a minor Latter Day Saint faction founded by James J. Strang in 1844. Strang's Book of the Law of the Lord (1851) deals with the topic of animal sacrifice in chapters 7 and 40.

Given the prohibition on sacrifices for sin contained in III Nephi 9:19-20 (Book of Mormon), Strang did not require sin offerings. Rather, he focused on sacrifice as an element of religious celebrations,[5] especially the commemoration of his own coronation as king over his church, which occurred on July 8, 1850.[6] The head of every house, from the king to his lowest subject, was to offer "a heifer, or a lamb, or a dove. Every man a clean beast, or a clean fowl, according to his household."[7]

While the killing of sacrifices was a prerogative of Strangite priests,[8] female priests were specifically barred from participating in this aspect of the priestly office.[9] "Firstfruits" offerings were also demanded of all Strangite agricultural harvests.[10] Animal sacrifices are no longer practiced by the Strangite organization, though belief in their correctness is still required.

Neither The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nor the Community of Christ, the two largest Latter Day Saint factions, ever accepted Strang's teachings on this (or any other) subject.


Further information: Ashvamedha and Animal sacrifice in Hinduism

Hindu sects such as Vaishnavism forbid animal sacrifice,[11][12][13][14] and indeed any meat processing, based on the doctrine of ahimsa.[13] Although animal sacrifices practices as are still current are mostly associated with either Shaktism or with local tribal traditions.

Mahabharata contains description of an Ashvamedha performed by king Uparichara Vasu, however, no animals were sacrificed.[15] In the Vedas, there are mention of animal sacrifices, such as mantras for the sacrifice of a Goat in the Rig,[16] the Horse sacrifice (Ashvamedha) in the Yajur,[17] whilst in the Jyotistoma sacrifice three animal-sacrifices are performed, namely, Agnisomiya, Savaniya and Anubandhya.[18][19] The Yajurveda is considered the Veda of sacrifices and rituals,[20][21] and consists of a number of animal sacrifices, such as mantras and procedures for the sacrifices of a white goat to Vayu,[22] a calf to Sarasvati, a speckled Ox to Savitr, a Bull to Indra, a castrated Ox to Varuna and so on.[23][24] Although these rituals didn't focused on the killing of animal,[25] and Vedas themselves defined them only for earlier age.[26] Such rituals, including Ashvamedha are one of the prohibited rite for current age.[27]

A buffalo about to be sacrificed by a priest in the Durga Puja festival
1652 illustration of the Ashvamedha of Kaushalya in the Ramayana epic

There are Hindu temples in Assam and West Bengal India and Nepal where goats, chickens and sometimes Water buffalos are sacrificed. These sacrifices are performed mainly at temples following the Shakti school of Hinduism where the female nature of Brahman is worshipped in the form of Kali and Durga. There are many village temples in Tamil Nadu where this kind of sacrifice takes place.[28]

In some Sacred groves of India, particularly in Western Maharashtra, animal sacrifice is practiced to pacify female deities that are supposed to rule the Groves.[29]

The three methods used by Hindus to kill an animal are Jhatka (decapitation with a single blow), piercing the heart with a spike and asphyxiation.

Animal sacrifice en masse occurs during the three day long Gadhimai festival in Nepal. In 2009 it was speculated that more than 250,000 animals were killed[30] while 5 million devotees attended the festival.[31]

In India ritual of animal sacrifice is practised in many villages before local deities. For instance, Kandhen Budhi is the reigning deity of Kantamal in Boudh district of Orissa, India. Every year, animals like goat and fowl are sacrificed before the deity on the occasion of her annual Yatra/Jatra (festival) held in the month of Aswina (September–October). The main attraction of Kandhen Budhi Yatra is Ghusuri Puja. Ghusuri means pig, which is sacrificed once in every three years. Kandhen Budhi is also worshipped at Lather village under Mohangiri GP in Kalahandi district of Orissa, India(Pasayat, 2009:20-24).

Bali Jatra of Sonepur in Orissa, India is also an annual festival celebrated in the month of Aswina (September–October) when animal sacrifice is an integral part of the ritual worship of deities namely Samaleswari, Sureswari and Khambeswari. Bali refers to animal sacrifice and hence this annual festival is called Bali Jatra (Barik, 2009:160-162).

The religious belief of Tabuh Rah, a form of animal sacrifice of Balinese Hinduism includes a religious cockfight where a rooster is used in religious custom by allowing him to fight against another rooster in a religious and spiritual cockfight, a spiritual appeasement exercise of Tabuh Rah.[32] The spilling of blood is necessary as purification to appease the evil spirits, and ritual fights follow an ancient and complex ritual as set out in the sacred lontar manuscripts.[33]

Sacrifices as metaphorical[edit]

In the Buddhist Suttanipata section of Vinaya Pitaka,[34] the "Brahmana Dhammika Sutta" (II,7)[35] portion confirms that the ancient Brahmins did not commit any animal sacrifice as one excerpt from it reads "they made sacrifices of rice, butter, etc and never killed the cows, the best friends of man, the giver of medicines"[36] Also in the Buddhist Mahasupina Jataka[37] and Lohakumbhi Jataka[38] declares that Brahmin Sariputra in a previous life was a Brahmin that prevented animal sacrifice by declaring that animal sacrifice was actually against the Vedas.

A Jain sage interprets the Vedic sacrifices as metaphorical:

"Body is the altar, mind is the fire blazing with the ghee of knowledge and burning the sacrificial sticks of impurities produced from the tree of karma;..."[39]


The Buddha condemned ritual animal sacrifice.[40] The First Precept of Buddhism prohibits any type of killing. More specifically, Brahmanism, the dominant religion in northern India at the time of the Buddha included sacrifice (Yajna) including animal slaughter. The Tipiṭaka records one sacrifice where ’five hundred bulls, five hundred steers and numerous heifers, goats and rams were brought to the sacrificial post for slaughter’ (A.IV,41). The Buddha criticized these bloody rituals as being "wasteful, ineffective and cruel" (A.II,42).[41]

Far East[edit]

Many people, especially the emperor Wang Mang of the Xin Dynasty, offered animal products in ancestor worship. Confucius approved of such practices, without actually mandating them.

Buddhism and Taoism generally prohibit killing of animals;[42][43][44] some animal offerings, such as fowl, pigs, goats, fish, or other livestock, are accepted in some Taoism sects and beliefs in Chinese folk religion.[45][46][47]

In Kaohsiung, animal sacrifices are banned in Taoist temples.[48]

Traditional African religion[edit]

Animal sacrifice is regularly practiced in traditional African religions. In New World versions of these religions, such as or Lucmi, such animal offerings constitute a portion of what are termed ebos – ritual activities that include offerings, prayer and deeds. The blood of the animals is thought to hold aché, or life force.

Animal sacrifice is also found in the Cuban religion called Palo, which derives from African religion of the Congo, and in Haitian Vodou, a religion that derives from the Vodou religion of Dahomey.[49]

Animal sacrifice is also found in the Talensi tribe from Ghana, Africa. Their animal sacrifice ritual is practiced for their ancestors, with each family having their own sacrificial pit. The more sacrificial skull remains on top of a pit signifies the more respected families. Once a sacrifice has taken place, the family of the ancestor receives the majority of the sacrificed animal to eat. The size, color, and type of animal all have different meanings and some are valued more than others. For example, the color white is seen as purity, the color black as darkness or evil, and the color red as danger. The species of animals they sacrifice are solely domesticates. They do not sacrifice pigs, not because of religious reasons, but because their behavior mimics that of a wild animal. Each shrine differs in the animals it accepts and does not. Most shrines accept sheep, goat, cattle, donkey, cat, dog, fowl and dove, while some also accept duck and turtle. The value of each depends on the specific shrine. If the shrine has received only a few different types of animals in the past, the Talensi try to continue the tradition. For example, some shrines are built for large animals such as donkeys and cattle, while others do not have an entrance big enough for them.[50]

The landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah in 1993 upheld the right of Santeria adherents to practice ritual animal sacrifice in the United States of America. Likewise in Texas in 2009, legal and religious issues that related to animal sacrifice, animal rights and freedom of religion were taken to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Jose Merced, President Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha Texas, Inc., v. City of Euless. The court ruling that the Merced case of the freedom of exercise of religion was meritorious and prevailing and that Merced was entitled under the Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (TRFRA) to an injunction preventing the city of Euless, Texas from enforcing its ordinances that burdened his religious practices relating to the use of animals,[51] (see Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 110.005(a)(2)).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ C.Michael Hogan, Knossos Fieldnotes, The Modern Antiquarian (2007)
  2. ^ "Maya and Catholic Religious Syncretism at Chamula, Mexico". 2011-11-26. Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  3. ^ Traditional festivals. 2. M - Z. ABC-CLIO. p. 132. ISBN 9781576070895. 
  4. ^ Bongmba, Elias Kifon. The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to African Religions. p. 327. 
  5. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 293-97. See also
  6. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 293.
  7. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 293-94.
  8. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 199, note 2.
  9. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 199. Unlike other Latter Day Saint organizations at this time, Strang permitted women to serve as Priests and Teachers in his priesthood.
  10. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 295-97.
  11. ^ Rod Preece (2001). Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities. UBC Press. p. 202. ISBN 9780774807241. 
  12. ^ Lisa Kemmerer, Anthony J. Nocella (2011). Call to Compassion: Reflections on Animal Advocacy from the World's Religions. Lantern Books. p. 60. ISBN 9781590562819. 
  13. ^ a b Alan Andrew Stephens, Raphael Walden (2006). For the Sake of Humanity. BRILL. p. 69. ISBN 9004141251. 
  14. ^ David Whitten Smith, Elizabeth Geraldine Bur (January 2007). Understanding World Religions: A Road Map for Justice and Peace. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 13. ISBN 9780742550551. 
  15. ^ Dalal, Roshen. Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin. p. 44. 
  16. ^ Rig 1.162.2
  17. ^ Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith (2003). The Vedas: With Illustrative Extracts, p.56-66. Book Tree. ISBN 1585092231 [1]
  18. ^ A. B. Gajendragadkar and R. D. Karmarkar (editors). The Arthasamgraha of Laugaksi Bhaskara, p.34 [2]
  19. ^ AB Keith. The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads, p.324-326 [3]
  20. ^ Ramanuj Prasad. Vedas A Way Of Life, p.32
  21. ^ Arthur Berriedale Keith and Ralph T.H. Griffith. The Yajur Veda, iii.2.2 - iii.2.3 [4]
  22. ^ Wout Jac. van Bekkum, Jan Houben, Ineke Sluiter and Kees Versteegh, (1997). The Emergence of Semantics in Four Linguistic Traditions: Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, Arabic, p.77 [5]
  23. ^ The texts of the White Yajurveda, p.212-223
  24. ^ Arthur Berriedale Keith and Ralph T.H. Griffith. The Yajur Veda, i.8.17 [6]
  25. ^ Regan, Tom. Animal Sacrifices. Temple University. p. 201. 
  26. ^ Rosen, Steve (2004). Holy Cow: The Hare Krishna Contribution to Vegetarianism and Animal Rights. Lantern Books. p. 24. 
  27. ^ Hotchkin Griffith, Ralph Thomas (January 2003). The Vedas: With Illustrative Extracts. Book Tree. p. 62. ISBN 9781585092239. 
  28. ^ Times of India, Chennai Edition, 4 May 2008[dead link]
  29. ^ Gadgil, M; VD Vartak (1975). "Sacred Groves of India". Journal of the Bombay Natural History 72 (2): 314. 
  30. ^ Olivia Lang in Bariyapur (2009-11-24). "Hindu sacrifice of 250,000 animals begins | World news |". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  31. ^ "Ritual animal slaughter begins in Nepal -". 2009-11-24. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  32. ^ Bali Today: Love and social life By Jean Couteau, Jean Couteau et al - p.129 [7]
  33. ^ Indonesia Handbook, 3rd, Joshua Eliot, Liz Capaldi, & Jane Bickersteth, (Footprint - Travel Guides) 2001 p.450 [8]
  34. ^ P. 45-46 The legends and theories of the Buddhists, compared with history and science By Robert Spence Hardy
  35. ^ P. 94 A history of Indian literature, Volume 2 by Moriz Winternitz
  36. ^ P. 128 The Popular Life of Buddha: Containing an Answer to the "Hibbert Lectures" of 1881, By Arthur Lillie
  37. ^ P. 577 Dictionary of Pali Proper Names: Pali-English By G.P. Malalasekera
  38. ^ P. 30 The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha's Former Births By E. B. Cowell
  39. ^ P. 92 Studies in Jain literature by Vaman Mahadeo Kulkarni, Śreshṭhī Kastūrabhāī Lālabhāī Smāraka Nidhi
  40. ^ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, James Hastings, p. 7, Sacrifice (Buddhism)
  41. ^ [9] Guide to Buddhism A to Z - Bhante Shravasti Dhammika
  42. ^ 办丧事或祭祀祖先可以杀生吗
  43. ^ 齋醮略談
  44. ^ 符籙齋醮[dead link]
  45. ^ 林真虎年運氣書- 觀音借庫
  46. ^ 衣紙2
  47. ^ 道教拜神用品
  48. ^ 高雄地名知多少
  49. ^ Marie-Jose Alcide Saint-Lot (2003). Vodou, a Sacred Theatre: The African Heritage in Haiti. Educa Vision Inc. p. 14. ISBN 9781584321774. 
  50. ^ Insoll, T. Talensi Animal Sacrifice and its Archaeological Implications, p. 231-234
  51. ^ ". Full text of the opinion courtesy of


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