Human sacrifice

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Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings as part of a religious ritual (ritual killing). Its typology closely parallels the various practices of ritual slaughter of animals (animal sacrifice) and of religious sacrifice in general. 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 the 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 widely looked down upon as barbaric already in pre-modern times (Classical Antiquity). Blood libel is a false charge of ritual killing.

Even if not ostensibly connected with religion, infliction of capital punishment is often highly ritualised and thus difficult to distinguish from human sacrifice. Death by burning historically has aspects of both human sacrifice (Wicker Man, Tophet) and capital punishment (Brazen bull, Tamar, tunica molesta). Detractors of the death penalty may consider all forms of capital punishment as secularised variants of human sacrifice.[1] Similarly, lynching, pogroms and genocides are sometimes interpreted as human sacrifice following Theodor W. Adorno.[2]

In modern times, even the once ubiquitous 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 present-day secular laws treat it as murder. In the context of a society which condemns human sacrifice, the term ritual murder is used.

Similar killings for the purpose of ritual are still occasionally seen, with reports from the 2000s from Sub-Saharan Africa (muti killings), but also isolated cases in the immigrant African diaspora in Europe.[3][4] In India, Sati, the immolation of a widow on her husband's funeral pyre, continued well into the 19th century, but in current practice has become very rare.

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