January 27, 2023

Individual Sacrifice, Then and Now

The machine of human sacrifice has been hierarchical in the extreme

I’ve spent the last three days in awe of the temples of Teotihuacan, Mexico, which are beyond description in size and scale, challenging even the pyramids of Egypt regarding inclusion in wonders from the world. They are all the more amazing because we can observe their own geographic context as part of a large and once-thriving community, such as the ruins of roads plus housing complexes.  

The age of the temples date from the first century and before, actually long before, and the town alone was a massive cultural and commercial center until in regards to the 8th century, when the people migrated elsewhere.  

We like to find connections between our lives and theirs and we find it within the everyday ways of the people, exactly who, like us, had households to feed, water to find and keep, and life challenges to overcome with the assistance of trading relationships, folkways, tools, community leaders, plus traditions. It’s all really beautiful and remarkable, and also rather elusive at some level simply because the written great these people and this period are usually sparse.  

Of course , one terrible truth hangs over the entire equipment: human sacrifice. That was the objective of the temples, the very ones we admire and really like. It’s a truth we know and yet don’t like to think about it much and are not encouraged to do so. We would rather look at these types of pyramids as mighty achievements of a developed pre-modern civilization, which they are in many methods.  

The particular grim horror of these religious rituals are impossible in order to deny as historical specifics. It was 500 years ago. Is actually long over. Surely these days we can rescue the lovely parts of a faith plus history without obsessing continuously on the bad with undeniable severity.

But the challenge is always there: Is it possible to celebrate these peoples and these monuments without reference to the overwhelming fact, the entire  raison d’etre   of the surviving monuments? Maybe, and much depends on just how main the killing was in the life span of the peoples, which the brief investigation did not illuminate enough for me to fully understand, if doing so is even probable.  

Had been human sacrifice periodic plus bound up with confusion plus crisis or was this daily, ongoing, and all-consuming for life in the Mayan plus Aztec empires? We might seek, for example , to understand the spiritual basis of the whole practice. They believed that the gods had made great surrender for them to live in exchange for which sacrifices had to be made back to the gods. The high priests understood it, believed within it, and explained it to the people.  

This is hardly a declare unique to these native religions. Some versions of the same can be found in every major religion in every part of the world. We give the best parts of what we should have back to the gods to whom we give honor for preserving our lives and we seek some types in which to appease them. Ideally it is not people or, at the very least, we find some way in order to port this longing for human being sacrifice into more humane paths toward propitiation for our own failings, thus satisfying the gods in some some other way.  

One way to understand these techniques is to look at them not as culture and religion – those are very often merely covers for a deeper inspiration –   but instead think about the dynamics of power. The device of human sacrifice was hierarchical in the extreme: it had been the high priests and the politics leaders, mostly one as well as the same, who themselves purchased and carried out the bloody practice. The victims had been those with less power: users of captured tribes, for example , or others from the slave and working classes deemed less worthy of long life.  

Undoubtedly, of course , the ritualistic killings paraded before the masses got on a patina of valorization: those who gave their lifestyles up for the gods so that others may live ought to be celebrated as heroes. Certainly, everyone should all be excited for the opportunity to do so. So yes, there was surely a favorite appeal associated with these displays of despotic sadism.

Nonetheless, the dynamics of power here are impossible to ignore. Daily at least periodically at some intervals, individuals witnessed with their own eye healthy human beings being killed alive, their hearts organized as gifts to the gods as their heads tumbled down the stairs of the mighty temples or wats and their bodies fed to the animals. This certainly strengthened the undeniable reality associated with who was in charge, should anyone dare to doubt or dispute it.  

All governments in most times, ancient or contemporary, seek methods of maintaining control. Nothing works better than terror that is constructed to put on brilliant display who or exactly what rules. Democracy is a system that attempts to push this impulse to the background as much as possible, and yet there is always plus everywhere the threat that whoever holds power at this point will deploy that energy in a manner that terrifies the populace into compliance with the  status quo,   whatever it happens to be.  

In the Victorian edition of history which I’ve approved and which is normal in Western historiography, the violence of primitive cultural forms were ended once subjected to more enlightened ideals. Indeed, with that came the introduction of brand new forms of brutality of the The spanish language colonial powers, which necessary their own corrective  about which I’ve previously written , and hundreds of years went by before we arrived at the Western consensus against captivity, for science and rationality, and for limits on energy and constitutional government.  

And yet the closer study of these historic practices do shed a light on issues in the modern day. It should be obvious that the Victorian model of forever improvement within the human condition, under the guardianship of human-rights ideology plus democratic control, is overly flattering to modernism in practice.  

In fact, in the 20th century, nicely more than 100 million individuals lost their lives due to governments and their overweening power. In the colonial plus world wars of Traditional western powers, which included the draft, those who killed, and were killed, are also valorized as having paid the ultimate cost for the survival of the nation state as we know it.  

A closer look at the practices of actually “ good” governments of our own time reveal vicious methods of eliciting compliance, including even dystopian schemes associated with human elimination in the provider of the common good – with eugenics at the top of the list. And who invented that will ultimate killing machine of the nuclear weapon, which is far more horrifying in practice than something even imagined by the most bloodthirsty of the Aztec warlords?  

Let us be careful in our judging of the ancient political cultures and their ways. Judging them harshly is surely the right action to take and yet we should not set aside the ethical scales when evaluating the practices of our times. Such contemporaneous flattery of our own systems of control is too easy. Elaborate hard is to look at the practices and institutions of our background with similar moral scrupulosity.  

Just three years ago, most governments in the world, even those that say fealty to democracy, split their populations into organizations deemed essential and nonessential, classified health needs based on political priorities, and channeled populational behaviors according to the vagaries of our own high priests, the sanctified Scientists plus their findings and judgments. Their power to override the laws was awesome in order to behold, and the valorization of compliance was similarly displayed. Those who masked up, isolated, and took their compelled medicines were deemed virtuous while those who doubted plus dissented were and are demonized as enemies of general public well-being.  

What did we give up to the gods of our time so that we may survive? Freedom for sure. Human rights, certainly. Democracy, it had to be wear hold while the administrators had their way, together with their particular propagandists and the builders of necessary tools. Social media platforms, once seen as friendly plus ennobling, became weapons of surveillance and cancellation, while states consisting of elected leaders were quietly overthrown in favor of the power and privileges of the permanent bureaucracy.   Then there’s the children, many of who lost two years of education along with social connection, all supposedly to keep the teachers and administrators safe.

The peoples of the Mayan and Aztec empires were surrounded by monuments to the greatness of their frontrunners and their faith, and they also celebrated both. We as well look back in awe on what they built despite what we should know: their social techniques were bloody and barbaric in ways we cannot visualize now. And yet when we study their histories in our personal times, with the appropriate amount of humility, we face an identical problematic disorientation.  

We live amongst the great achievements of mankind and yet increasingly know of the particular parallel barbarisms that accompany them. Human sacrifice, supported by violent servitude, can be clearly not vanquished from the earth; it only takes a different type today than it do 500 years ago.  

Where does this leave us in observing the particular grandeur of Teotihuacan, Mexico? We are both awed and repulsed. That contradiction, that will sense of living with the antimonious coincidence of great accomplishment and great evil, should serve as inspiration to find our way to a future in which we all maximize the place of human being rights and minimize the role of violence. Which is our task. It has been our task. For all peoples, in all times.  


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