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

2 minute read

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.

A camel reacts before being sacrificed in honor of those who died during the revolution overthrowing Moammar Gaddafi, during a gathering at the main square in Tripoli, Libya on Sept. 29, 2011. Alexandre Meneghini—AP
Nepalese bystanders watch as other devotees lead a buffalo to be sacrificed during the ninth day of the Hindu Dashain Festival in Bhaktapur on the outskirts of Kathmandu on Oct. 5, 2011. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese calendar and celebrates the triumph of good over evil.Prakash Mathema—AFP/Getty Images
Hindu devotees pull a buffalo calf for sacrifice during the Durga Puja religious festival as villagers gather to watch in Netrokona October 5, 2011. The festival is one of the most popular for Bengali Hindus, who believe that the goddess Durga symbolises power and the triumph of good over evil. Andrew Biraj—Reuters
A goat is being prepared for slaughter to be sacrificed to the Goddess Durga on the third day of the five-day-long Durga Puja at the national temple in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Oct. 3, 2011.Abir Abdullah—EPA
Hindus prepare a goat for sacrifice during the Dashain festival in Kathmandu on Oct. 5, 2011. Navesh Chitrakar—Reuters
A Hindu man slaughters a water buffalo at a sacrificial ceremony during the Dashain festival in Kathmandu on Oct. 5, 2011. Navesh Chitrakar—Reuters
Villagers gather to watch as Hindu devotees sacrifice a buffalo calf during the Durga Puja religious festival in Netrokona on Oct. 5, 2011. Andrew Biraj—Reuters
Hindu devotees watch a goat being butchered outside Taleju temple, open to public only once a year, during Dashain festival in Kathmandu on Oct. 5, 2011. Niranjan Shrestha—AP
A man carries ducks to be sacrificed at a livestock market in Kathmandu on Oct. 3, 2011 for the Hindu festival of Navaratri, also known as the Dashain festival.Navesh Chitrakar—Reuters
Yom Kippur observed in Israel
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man holds a chicken over the head of another man as they perform the Kaparot ritual in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood on Oct. 5, 2011, ahead of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Ronen Zvulun—Reuters
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man swings a chicken over his head, later to be slaughtered as part of the Kaparot ritual in which it is believed that one transfers one's sins from the past year into the chicken in Beni Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town near Tel Aviv, Israel on Oct. 7, 2010.Oded Balilty—AP
People stand next to blood belonging to a sacrificed camel, during a gathering at Tripoli's main square, Libya, Sept. 29, 2011. Alexandre Meneghini—AP

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