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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 3. Primitive Religion and Human Sacrifice.

Whatever may have been the variety of the stocks that immigrated from Asia, it holds good that we may look in the less advanced American races for traces of the steps in the religious and social evolution of Mexico and Peru. The non-Aztec peoples of Central America, to begin with, had developed religious systems which in their main features recall the Goddess-worships of Semitic and

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[paragraph continues] Hellenistic antiquity; the most marked difference, as regards the historic period of the latter, being the American proclivity to human sacrifice. The summary given of some of them by Mr. H. H. Bancroft will serve to illustrate the old process by which the human mind reached the same essential results out of a superficial variety of materials:—

"The most prominent personage in the Isthmian Pantheon was Dabaiba, a goddess who controlled the thunder and lightning, and with their aid devastated the lands of those who displeased her. In South America, thunder and lightning were held to be the instruments used by the sun to inflict punishment upon its enemies, which makes it probable that Dabaiba was a transformed sun-goddess. Pilgrims resorted from afar to her temple at Urabâ, bringing costly presents and human victims, who were first killed and then burned, 1 that the savoury odours of roasting flesh might be grateful in the nostrils of the goddess. Some describe her as a native princess, whose reign was marked by great wisdom and many miracles, and who was apotheosized after death. She was also honoured as the mother of the Creator, the maker of the sun, the moon, and all invisible things, and the sender of blessings, who seems to have acted as mediator between the people and his mother, for their prayers for rain were addressed to him, although she is described as controlling the showers; and once, when her worship was neglected, she inflicted a severe drought upon the country. When the needs of the people were very urgent, the chiefs and priests remained in the temple, fasting and praying with uplifted hands; the people meanwhile observed a four-days’ fast, lacerating their bodies and washing their faces, which were at other times covered with paint. So strict was this fast, that no meat or drink was to be touched until the fourth day, and then only a soup made from maize-flour. The priests themselves were sworn to perpetual chastity and abstinence, and those who went astray in these matters were burned or stoned to death. Their temples were encompassed with walls, and kept scrupulously clean; golden trumpets, and bells with stone clappers, summoned the people to worship." 2

At a lower stage of civilisation we find human sacrifice already well established, on historic lines, where temples and priesthoods are still insignificant. Thus among the Tupinambos of north-eastern Brazil there was practised a form of sacrifice which recalls at once the rite among the Indian Khonds and the better known one in Mexico, so often described. Among the lower tribes the human

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sacrifice here figures as primarily an act either of propitiation of their own dead slain in war or of providing them with food in the other world, they having become Gods in virtue of falling in battle; 1 and, secondarily, as an act of sacrament. 2 The Tupinambos and their congeners sought in battle not to slay but to capture enemies; and when they had a captive he was taken to their village in triumph and received with fife-music, supplied by the bones of previous prisoners. For a whole year he was carefully treated, well fed, and supplied with a well-favoured maiden as wife and servant. At length, on the day of the feast, he was adorned with feathers, and festally led to sacrifice, his body being immediately cut in pieces and distributed among the heads of houses or minor chiefs; or, otherwise, eaten in a general feast. 3 If he had a child by his wife, it was brought up, as among the Khonds, for the same fate. 4

Of the more general usage of sacrificing children, which we have seen to be primordial in Central Asia, there are many traces among the North-American Indians. Thus those of Florida at the time of the Spanish conquest are recorded to have sacrificed first-born children to the sun; 5 and in Virginia there was at times offered up the sacrifice of the "only begotten son." More general seems to have been the simple usage of sacrificing boys to the God Oki and other deities. 6 Oki was held to "suck the blood from the left breast"; and the theory of the sacrifice seems to have been that it secured good fortune in war. But there was practised in addition an annual spring sacrifice—an instance of which is known to have occurred as late as 1837 or 1838—on the Khond principle of ensuring a good harvest, the propitiated deity in this case being the "great star" Venus. Prisoners were the usual victims; and the last and best-known case is that of the sacrifice of a Sioux maiden, who was bound to a stake and slain with arrows. Before she died, pieces of her flesh were cut off in the horrible fashion of the Khonds, and the blood made to fall on the young seed-corn. 7

Next to a human sacrifice seems to have ranked, among some tribes, that of a white dog, the dog being for the Native American a valuable

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possession, 1 and whiteness being held by them, as among the Greeks and Romans, a mark of purity and distinction in animals. Always it was something important or typically desirable that must be offered to the God. And in all cases the act of sacrifice seems to have lain near the act of sacrament, in which we know the identification of the God with the victim, whether as totem or otherwise, to have been a normal conception. The white dog, like the victim in the ancient Dionysiak sacrifice among the Greeks, seems at times to have been torn to pieces and so eaten. 2 But there is an overwhelming amount of testimony to prove that among the Native Americans at the time of the Spanish conquest religious cannibalism was common. 3 It was as a rule, perhaps, prisoners of war who were eaten; and it is recorded that when in the Florida war of 1528 famishing Spaniards were driven to eat the corpses of their own comrades, the Floridan natives, who were wont to eat their captives, were horrorstruck 4—this though they had no agriculture, and fared precariously at all times. 5 But though certain tribes were anthropophagous only on a war footing, there is only too much evidence in others that cannibalism occurred on other religious pretexts; 6 and as all primitive feasts were more or less sacramental, and the sacramental eating of human flesh is seen to have subsisted among the Aztecs long after simple cannibalism had disappeared, there can be little doubt that originally the human sacrifice was eaten among the American peoples.

Even in the "savage" stage, however, there can be traced the beginnings of the recoil not only from the sacrifice but from the cannibal sacrament. The letting of blood seems to have been in certain rites substituted for slaying; 7 and in the story of Hiawatha the Heaven-God, who lived as a man among the Onondagas and had a mortal daughter, we find a parallel to the modified legends of Iphigeneia and Jephthah's daughter. Heaven ordered that the maiden should be sacrificed, and her father sadly brought her forth; but there came a mighty sound as of a wind, and the people, looking on high, saw a dark object approaching with terrific speed, whereupon they all fled. The father and daughter stayed resignedly, and lo! the coming thing was an enormous bird, which hurled itself with such force on the maiden that she disappeared, and the bird

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was buried up to the neck in the earth. 1 Late or early, the legend was framed with a purpose.

In the tribal stage, necessarily, there was little development of the priesthood. Its beginnings were represented by the "medicine-men" or sorcerers, who set up secret religious societies or orders, to at least one of which, in the historic period, sorcerers of various types and tongues could belong. 2 Of the temple, too, the beginning is seen in the sacred hut, to which in certain tribes only the king or the medicine-man has entrance, and in which begin to be stored idols and sacred objects. 3 As we go southward, towards the region of the higher civilisation, we find an increasing development of the priestly function, sometimes in combination with the kingly, as among the Natchez of Florida, among whom in the seventeenth century was found the worship of the sun, symbolised in the hut-temple by an ever-burning fire. 4 There the king-priest was "brother of the Sun," and the royal family constituted an aristocracy with special privileges, though bound to marry outside their caste. 5

In the midway civilisations of Central America, this development has gone far towards the state of things seen in the kingdom of the Aztecs. In Yucatan, for instance, there was a hierarchy of priests, with a head; and the order seems to have had extensive judicial powers. 6 The temples, too, had become considerable buildings, to which the leading men made roads from their houses. 7 Alongside of the priests, all the while, remained the sorcerers or "medicine-men," also an official class with different types or orders, members of which, however, were privately employed by the nobles, 8 after the manner of "Levites" among the early Hebrews; and these private priests competed with the hierarchy in the matter of receiving formal confessions from penitents and patients. 9 Convents existed for virgins, and of those who spent their whole lives in them the statues were after death worshipped as Goddesses, while the king's daughter ranked as the "Fire Virgin," and to her others were sacrificed. 10 Idols of all kinds abounded; and wooden ones, like the Hebrew teraphim, were accounted precious family heirlooms. 11 Human sacrifices, of course, were frequent, children being made

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victims in great numbers when captives were lacking, and legitimate sons when the sons of slave women ran short, 1 "not even the only son being spared." 2 Surrogate sacrifices in the form of blood-letting were normal; but the cannibal sacrament does not seem to have been so; though it took place in Guatemala, where the king and priests and nobles partook of the victims slain to "the highest God" at the time of Lent, the high-priest and the king getting the hands and feet. 3

In the case of this particular sacrifice, the chosen victims, who were slaves, were each allowed for a week the peculiar privileges accorded to similar victims in the Old World, 4 down to the detail of dining with the king; and for this sacrifice, it is recorded, the victims were "brought together in a particular house near the temple, and there got to eat and drink until they were drunk," apparently on the principles of the Khonds and Rhodians. 5 It seems now difficult to doubt that the religion of ancient America is of Asiatic derivation; and that the pyramidal altar-temples of Mexico and Babylon are alike developments from simpler mounds or "high places" shaped by the prehistoric peoples of Asia, who first carried the practice with them to the New World. It is now reasonably established that the "Mound-Builders" of the Mississippi valley were simply North-American Indians, living very much at the culture-stage of those found by the first whites, though there as elsewhere there may have been partial retrogression in certain tribes and territories under stress of war. 6

From the tribal state, civilisation had risen to a stage at which, in Central America, even outside the Aztec State, as in Yucatan, there were schools in the temples where the children of the priests and nobles were taught such science as the priests possessed, from books 7 in which had been evolved a hieratic script on the basis of hieroglyphics, 8 as in ancient Egypt. They had advanced far in agriculture, cultivating many plants and fruits; had numerous stone buildings, and excellent stone-paved roads; and had made some little progress in sculpture. But there had been no transcending of

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the primeval concepts of religion; and human blood flowed for the Gods far more freely than in the state of savagery. The savage's "happy hunting ground" had been specialised into a heaven and a hell; 1 the medicine-man into a great priestly order; from his primitive symbolism had been evolved the sacrament of baptism; his simple sun-worship had become a vast ceremonial; and in many territories the "heathen" had so far anticipated Christian civilisation as to have established the practice of confession. But the stamp of primeval savagery, conserved by the spirit of religion, is clear through it all: there is no gainsaying the fundamental relationship of the lower and the higher cults. Around the civilisations of Peru and Mexico, at the time of the Spanish conquest, there stretched north and south a barbarism in which we know to have existed the germs of universal historic religion—human sacrifices constituting sacraments; beliefs in deities and spirits beneficent and maleficent; practices of prayer and witchcraft, ritual and worship, festival and ordinance, the whole in part conducted by the community as a whole, but guided by the soothsayers and sorcerers who are the beginnings of priesthoods. From such antecedents everywhere has all "higher" religion been evolved.


350:1 Note the same usage among the Pawnees. Brine, American Indians, p. 132.

350:2 Bancroft, The Native Races of the Pacific Coast, iii, 498-9, citing Peter Martyr, dec. vii, lib. x; Irving's Columbus, iii, 173-4; Müller, Amerikanische Urreligionen, p. 421.

351:1 Müller, p. 282.

351:2 It is noteworthy that an experienced South-Sea missionary, Dr. George Brown, is emphatic in giving these explanations of cannibalism among Melanesians (Melanesians and Polynesians, 1910, p. 110 sq.). "Many cannibals," he declares, "are very nice people." George Chalmers gave a similar testimony.

351:3 Robertson, Hist. of America, B. iv, and Note xx (Works, ed. 1821. viii, 45, 416).

351:4 Müller, p. 283.

351:5 Waits, Anthropologie der Naturvölker, iii, 207, citing Garcilasso, Hist. de la Conquête de Floride, 1737, ii, 3, 11.

351:6 Waits, iii, 207, citing Strachey, History of Travaile into Virginia, ed. 1849, pp. 82, 93 sq.; A. Young, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers, 1841, p. 358, and others.

351:7 Waits, citing J. Irving, Indian Sketches, 1835, ii, 136, and Schoolcraft, iv, 50, v, 77; Brine, as last cited.

352:1 Waitz, citing Kohl, Kitschi-Gami, Bremen, 1859, i, 86.

352:2 Waitz, p. 208, citing Nuttall, Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory, Philadelphia, 1821.

352:3 J. G. Müller, pp. 141-8 and refs. Cp. Robertson, B. iv (Works, ed. 1821, viii, 43) and refs.

352:4 Robertson, as cited, vol. viii, Note XIX, citing Torquemada.

352:5 Id. ib. Note III.

352:6 Cases have occurred down to the middle of the nineteenth century. Müller, as cited.

352:7 Müller, p. 143.

353:1 Id. p. 144, citing Schoolcraft. Cp. the story cited from Stöber.

353:2 Waitz, iii, 215.

353:3 Id. p. 203.

353:4 This seems to have been a common institution among the Native Americans before the advent of the whites. Cp. L. Carr, The Mounds of the Mississippi Valley, in Smithsonian Report for 1891, pp. 535-7.

353:5 Waitz, iii, 217-220.

353:6 Spencer's Descriptive Sociology, No. II, p. 21, col. 2, citing Liçana and Landa.

353:7 Id. ib. col. 3, citing Peter Martyr.

353:8 Id. ib., citing Landa.

353:9 Id. p. 22, col. 1, citing Herrera and Liçana.

353:10 Id. p. 21, col. 3, and p. 40, col. 2, citing Collogudo.

353:11 Id. p. 21, col. 3, citing Landa.

354:1 Id. p. 21, col. 3, citing Liçana, Landa, and Herrera.

354:2 This is told of the people of Vera Paz. Id. p. 22, col. 4, citing Ximenez.

354:3 Id. p. 22. col. 2, citing Fr. Roman, in Ximenez. The idea in appropriating those parts seems to have been that of minimising the eating done.

354:4 Above, pp. 114, 116, 119, 125, 137, 154.

354:5 Above, pp. 116, 119, 137, 140, note.

354:6 See the whole problem thoroughly discussed by Mr. Lucien Carr in his treatise on The Mounds of the Mississippi Valley, in the Smithsonian Report for 1891. Cp. Winsor, as before cited, i, 397-410. "That many Indian tribes built mounds and earth-works is beyond doubt; but that all the mounds and earth-works of North America are by these same tribes and their immediate ancestors is not thereby proved." Professor Putnam. cited by Winsor, i, 402, note. The Toltec theory of the mounds, once common (e.g., J. D. Baldwin, Ancient America, 1872, pp. 200-205, and his authorities), is practically exploded.

354:7 Spencer, as cited, p. 21, col. 2, citing Landa.

354:8 Id. p. 51, col. 3, citing Wilson, Prehistoric Man, 2nd ed. ii, 133 sq.

355:1 Id. p. 40, col. 1, citing Landa.

Next: § 4. The Mexican Cultus