TIME Man on the Wire

The Blood of Bird and Beast: The Persistence of Animal Sacrifice

Animal sacrifice is older than history. The rituals continue to this day, as the photographs in this collection show.

Animal sacrifice is older than history. Human beings have slaughtered birds and livestock throughout the ages in attempt to propitiate the gods—to alter fate, to enhance fortune, to pay for sins. One of the great hymns of the Rigveda is that of the Horse Sacrifice, which only a king can perform. The rituals continue to this day, as the photographs in this collection show: in the Muslim and Hindu worlds, as well as in Judaism. The first murder related in the bible stems from jealousy over sacrifice. Cain’s sacrifice of vegetables did not please God as much as his brother’s sacrifice of animals—and so Cain slew Abel.

Of the world’s great faiths, only Buddhism and Daoism eschew rituals of animal sacrifice, indeed, the taking of any life. Indeed, according to legend, one of the Buddha’s previous incarnations gave up his life to feed a hungry tiger. The various Christian sects and denominations very rarely perform animal sacrifices. But the very Catholic societies of Spain and Latin America still hold bullfights, which are descended from pagan animal sacrifices. And, of course, at the heart of Christianity is a sacrament that is essentially a human sacrifice.

Check out LightBox’s Animal Magic: Curious Critters, the fourth installment of recent news images that reveal the endless wonders of the animal kingdom.

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