Animal sacrifice

Sacrifice of a young boar in ancient Greece (tondo from an Attic red-figure cup, 510–500 BC, by the Epidromos Painter, collections of the Louvre)

Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing and offering of an animal to appease or maintain favour with a deity. Such forms of sacrifice are practised within many religions around the world. All or only part of a sacrificial animal may be offered, especially in the context of ritual slaughter.

Ancient world

Further information: Homo Necans, Holocaust (sacrifice), and Hecatomb
Preparation of an animal sacrifice; marble, fragment of an architectural relief, first quarter of the 2nd century AD; from Rome, Italy

Animal sacrifices were common throughout Europe and the Ancient Near East until Late Antiquity.

The Minoan settlement of Phaistos in ancient Crete reveals basins for animal sacrifice dating to the period 2000 to 1700 BC.[1]

Ancient Europe

Ancient India

Abrahamic traditions


Main articles: Slaughter offering and Korban

In Judaism, the qorban is any of a variety of sacrificial offerings described and commanded in the Torah. The most common usages are animal sacrifice (zevah זֶבַח), zevah shelamim (the peace offering) and olah (the "holocaust" or burnt offering). A qorban was an animal sacrifice, such as a bull, sheep, goat, deer or a dove that underwent shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter). Sacrifices could also consist grain, meal, wine, or incense.[2][3][4]

The Hebrew Bible says that Yahweh commanded the Israelites to offer offerings and sacrifices on various altars. The sacrifices were only to be offered by the hands of the Kohanim. Before building the Temple in Jerusalem, when the Israelites were in the desert, sacrifices were offered only in the Tabernacle. After building Solomon's Temple, sacrifices were allowed only there. After the Temple was destroyed, sacrifices was resumed when the Second Temple was built until it was also destroyed in 70 CE. After the destruction of the Second Temple sacrifices were prohibited because there was no longer a Temple, the only place allowed by halakha for sacrifices. Offering of sacrifices was briefly reinstated during the Jewish–Roman wars of the second century CE and was continued in certain communities thereafter.[5][2][6]

The Samaritans,[7] a group historically related to the Jews, practice animal sacrifice in accordance with the Law of Moses.


Matagh of a rooster at the entrance of a monastery church (Alaverdi, Armenia, 2009), with inset of bloody steps.
Further information: Lamb of God

References to animal sacrifice appear in the New Testament, such as the parents of Jesus sacrificing two doves (Luke 2:24) and the Apostle Paul performing a Nazirite vow even after the death of Christ (Acts 21:23-26).

Christ is referred to by his apostles as "the Lamb of God", the one to whom all sacrifices pointed (Hebrews 10).[8] According to the penal substitution theory of atonement, Christ's crucifixion is comparable to animal sacrifice on a large scale as his death serves as a substitutionary punishment for all of humanity's sins.

Some villages in Greece sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints in a practice known as kourbania. Sacrifice of a lamb, or less commonly a rooster, is a common practice in Armenian Church and Tewahedo Church. This tradition, called matagh, is believed to stem from pre-Christian pagan rituals. Additionally, some Mayans following a form of Folk Catholicism in Mexico today still sacrifice animals in conjunction with church practices, a ritual practiced in past religions before the arrival of the Spaniards.[9]

Strangite Latter Day Saints

Animal sacrifice was instituted in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), a minor Latter Day Saint faction founded by James J. Strang in 1844. Strang's Book of the Law of the Lord (1851) deals with the topic of animal sacrifice in chapters 7 and 40.

Given the prohibition on sacrifices for sin contained in III Nephi 9:19-20 (Book of Mormon), Strang did not require sin offerings. Rather, he focused on sacrifice as an element of religious celebrations,[10] especially the commemoration of his own coronation as king over his church, which occurred on July 8, 1850.[11] The head of every house, from the king to his lowest subject, was to offer "a heifer, or a lamb, or a dove. Every man a clean beast, or a clean fowl, according to his household."[12]

While the killing of sacrifices was a prerogative of Strangite priests,[13] female priests were specifically barred from participating in this aspect of the priestly office.[14] "Firstfruits" offerings were also demanded of all Strangite agricultural harvests.[15] Animal sacrifices are no longer practiced by the Strangite organization, though belief in their correctness is still required.

Neither The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nor the Community of Christ, the two largest Latter Day Saint factions, ever accepted Strang's teachings on this (or any other) subject.


Main article: Qurban

Muslims engaged in the Hajj (pilgrimage) are obliged to sacrifice a lamb or a goat or join others in sacrificing a cow or a camel during the celebration of the Eid al-Adha.[16][17] Other Muslims not on the Hajj to Mecca are also encouraged to participate in this sacrifice to share in the sanctity of the occasion. It is understood as a symbolic re-enactment of Abraham's sacrifice of a ram in place of his son, a narrative present throughout Abrahamism. Meat from this occasion is divided into three parts:

Other occasions where lambs are sacrificed include celebrating the birth of a child, reaching the final stages of building a house, the acquisition of a valuable commodity, or the visit of a dear or honourable guest. For Muslims, the sacrifice of lambs is associated with celebrations, feasts, generosity, and the seeking of blessings. Most schools of fiqh hold the animal must be killed according to the prohibitions of halal sacrifice.

Killing of animals by dhabihah is ritual slaughter rather than sacrifice.


Further information: Ashvamedha and Animal sacrifice in Hinduism

Practices of Hindu animal sacrifice are mostly associated with Shaktism, and in currents of folk Hinduism strongly rooted in local tribal traditions. Animal sacrifices were carried out in ancient times in India. Hindu scriptures, including the Gita, and the Puranas forbid animal sacrifice.[18][19][20][21]

In the Vedas, there are mentions of animal sacrifices, such as mantras for the sacrifice of a goat in the Rig,[22] the horse sacrifice (Ashvamedha) in the Yajur,[23] whilst in the Jyotistoma sacrifice three animal-sacrifices are performed, namely, Agnisomiya, Savaniya and Anubandhya.[24][25] The Yajurveda is considered the Veda of sacrifices and rituals,[26][27] and consists of a number of animal sacrifices, such as mantras and procedures for the sacrifices of a white goat to Vayu,[28] a calf to Sarasvati, a speckled ox to Savitr, a bull to Indra, a castrated ox to Varuna and so on.[29][30] According to Tom Regan, these rituals didn't focus on the killing of the animal but as a symbol to the powers it was sacrificed.[31] In the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna tells people not to perform animal sacrifices although he says he will still accept the sacrifice since he resides in the soul of the sacrificial animal. Animal sacrifices are forbidden by the Bhagavata Purana in the Kaliyuga, the present age.[32] The Brahma Vaivarta Purana describes animal sacrifices as kali-varjya or prohibited in the Kaliyuga.[33] The Adi Purana, Brihan-naradiya Purana and Aditya Purana also forbid animal sacrifice in Kaliyuga.[34]

A water buffalo about to be sacrificed by a villager in the Durga Puja festival
1652 illustration of the Ashvamedha of Kaushalya in the Ramayana epic

There are Hindu temples in Assam and West Bengal India and Nepal where goats, chickens and sometimes Water buffalos are sacrificed. These sacrifices are performed mainly at temples following the Shakti school of Hinduism where the female nature of Brahman is worshipped in the form of Kali and Durga. There are many village temples in Tamil Nadu where this kind of sacrifice takes place.[35]

In some Sacred groves of India, particularly in Western Maharashtra, animal sacrifice is practiced to pacify female deities that are supposed to rule the Groves.[36]

Animal sacrifice en masse occurs during the three-day-long Gadhimai festival in Nepal. In 2009 it was speculated that more than 250,000 animals were killed[37] while 5 million devotees attended the festival.[38]

In India, ritual of animal sacrifice is practised in many villages before local deities or certain powerful and terrifying forms of the Devi. In this form of worship, animals, usually goats, are decapitated and the blood is offered to deity often by smearing some of it on a post outside the temple.[39] or instance, Kandhen Budhi is the reigning deity of Kantamal in Boudh district of Orissa, India. Every year, animals like goat and fowl are sacrificed before the deity on the occasion of her annual Yatra/Jatra (festival) held in the month of Aswina (September–October). The main attraction of Kandhen Budhi Yatra is Ghusuri Puja. Ghusuri means a child pig, which is sacrificed to the goddess every three years. Kandhen Budhi is also worshipped at Lather village under Mohangiri GP in Kalahandi district of Orissa, India.[40](Pasayat, 2009:20-24).

Bali Jatra of Sonepur in Orissa, India is also an annual festival celebrated in the month of Aswina (September–October) when animal sacrifice is an integral part of the ritual worship of deities namely Samaleswari, Sureswari and Khambeswari. Bali refers to animal sacrifice and hence this annual festival is called Bali Jatra (Barik, 2009:160-162).

The religious belief of Tabuh Rah, a form of animal sacrifice of Balinese Hinduism includes a religious cockfight where a rooster is used in religious custom by allowing him to fight against another rooster in a religious and spiritual cockfight, a spiritual appeasement exercise of Tabuh Rah.[41] The spilling of blood is necessary as purification to appease the evil spirits, and ritual fights follow an ancient and complex ritual as set out in the sacred lontar manuscripts.[42]

East Asian traditions

Buddhism and Taoism generally prohibit killing of animals;[43][44][45] some animal offerings, such as fowl, pigs, goats, fish, or other livestock, are accepted in some Taoism sects and beliefs in Chinese folk religion.[46][47][48]

In Kaohsiung, animal sacrifices are banned in Taoist temples.[49]

Traditional African and Afro-American religions

Animal sacrifice is regularly practiced in traditional African and Afro-American religions.[50][51]

The landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah in 1993 upheld the right of Santería adherents to practice ritual animal sacrifice in the United States of America. Likewise in Texas in 2009, legal and religious issues that related to animal sacrifice, animal rights and freedom of religion were taken to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Jose Merced, President Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha Texas, Inc., v. City of Euless. The court ruling that the Merced case of the freedom of exercise of religion was meritorious and prevailing and that Merced was entitled under the Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (TRFRA) to an injunction preventing the city of Euless, Texas from enforcing its ordinances that burdened his religious practices relating to the use of animals,[52] (see Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 110.005(a)(2)).

See also


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