A Rant About Human Sacrifice

                                                      I Heard the Owl Call My Name

I have always tried to approach things logically, and even though many legends and mythologies seem rather farfetched, there exists within them many things which can give us clues to the past. We must first understand the thought processes behind them. Above all, we have to push aside all the drivel which has built up over centuries about these things. In England, we have layer upon layer of different cultures, all of whom reigned supreme at one time or another. All of whom considered the people they conquered to be inferior to them.

One thing I particularly dislike is the talk about human sacrifice, it seems very popular these days.  There are theories about the people in the Aubrey holes at Stonehenge being human sacrifices. The Stonehenge archer is another candidate, and even the Queen Stone is being connected to human sacrifice. The Queen Stone was a way marker, and has some blackening on top because they had torches in some of the grooves, making it a beacon at night. I do realize that such things went on, but everyone with a bashed in head wasn’t necessarily a human sacrifice. Inside Woodhenge, a three year old child is buried surrounded by a flint caern. It’s believed that he was a human sacrifice, he had a bashed in head. In fact, this is the proof that such things went on in England at that time. I disagree. Children in all early societies, particularly in fairly isolated places, were precious. And now someone will say, yes, but that’s what made his sacrifice so special. Drivel!

To get from birth to adulthood was rife with dangers. A cut on your foot, unattended, could kill you. Not to mention flu, pneumonia, chicken pox, scarlet fever, measles, bad teeth, broken bones, diabetes, etc. To see the list, look in a medical dictionary, then remember that there were no modern antibiotics, no cure for many diseases such as diabetes. People died of things which today we have modern medications for. Or look at the Amesbury Archer, who had an abscess which eroded a hole in his jaw, and his missing kneecap caused infection in his bones. The abscess alone could have killed him. Women died in childbirth, they still do. To have your child grow to adulthood would have been a big deal, it still is. The mortality rate among children was extremely high, you were lucky to get them passed the age of two. They would have continued your line, and become a fully functioning adult part of the community. It kept your culture going, and it helped you in your old age. If you were lucky enough to live that long.

When the Windmill Hill people went to England, they weren’t the first people there. Hunters and gathers already lived there. The Windmill Hill people could grow grains and beans. They controlled flocks of cattle, sheep and raised pigs. They made pottery and could weave. They also had some well educated people among them who were astronomer/surveyors, who could set up calendars, and possibly practiced medicine at a higher level than the natives. Don’t forget about Nuada’s silver arm. This could well be the first mention of a prosthesis. After all, metal working had been going on in some places since c5000 BCE.

All these things would have been considered ‘magical’ by the Nomadic hunters and gatherers who already lived there. These newcomers would have been viewed with suspicion. There is an echo of this in a story about Manannan. He and his wife, along with another couple go to England after some strange happenings in Wales. But the people in England were hostile toward them, and were jealous of their skills, so they went back to Wales. Ideas change slowly, sometimes it takes centuries, even thousands of years. Look around our world, see all the different levels of development? People with high technical skills are still viewed with suspicion in some parts of the world today. Even within their own communities.

So there was a different development going on among different people. We don’t know how many others came by sea. There could have been disagreements among tribes. We have no records of this. The child at Woodhenge may just have fallen on some rocks, they had plenty around, or he could have been killed by a group of invaders whether local or not. He was also likely to have been of the higher class. He was buried there because of his preciousness, not as a sacrifice.

There was an elderly man buried in the West Kennet Long Barrow with an arrow through his throat. No one has ever suggested that this man was a  sacrifice. Another one who was probably killed by some hostile element. If he was elderly and buried in the West Kennet Long Barrow, he was probably highly thought of. Not that many people lived to be elderly, their store of knowledge would have been a great asset to their community.

Then there’s the Druids. We hear about them first from the Romans, and then the Christian fathers. And that’s about all we know about them. Except from some of the Welsh and Irish traditions. Thankfully the Romans never made it to Ireland, where the Druids carried on for many more centuries. According to the Irish traditions, and the accounts by the Romans, they were very learned men and women, and are said to have gained some of their knowledge from the Dodmen.  They are supposed to have been the priests and priestesses among the Celts. The Celts were not one people, but separate tribes who practiced the same belief system, and spoke a common language. Even though this language is now split into P Celt and Q Celt, the languages are very similar and must have a common root, many words are the same and others very close. All their DNA is similar. We can look back at the clan systems which still existed in Ireland, Scotland and Wales within recorded history. These clans didn’t always get along, in fact, there were clashes among them for thousands of years, until eventually they banded together to fight the English.

Most of these people have been divided into three classes. The warrior elite, the priestly class and the peasants. Not so different from the later Normans. This priestly class is though to have had most of the control of the people within any given tribe. Not so different from the Normans either, where the priesthood ruled, even over kings.  The Druids kept the calendar, so that their feast days were observed at the proper time. Some of them were astronomer/surveyors, they were called on over land disputes, it was them who knew the proper measurements and boundaries. No doubt they frightened the population with the eclipse factor, and they likely practiced sleight of hand tricks to awe the audience. Things like the use of powders to create oddly coloured smoke or sparkles. They kept the histories and genealogies, were said to be skilled healers, orators, knowledgeable in law, etc.

According to Roman accounts, they burned people in wicker cages as sacrifices. I don’t doubt they did this to their enemies, but all Celts held that life was sacred. It came from the Creator. It’s doubtful if they ever sacrificed anyone, enemy or not. They were warriors and farmers, but weren’t all tribal societies of that time the same? Did the Roman Catholic Church sacrifice the people they burned during the Inquisition? No, they did it out of greed mostly, under cover of religious virtue. They put them to death, just as many societies put to death their enemies. Human imagination has come up with unspeakable ways to kill its foes. At least dying in a fire in a wicker cage would be an extremely quick death, since their oxygen would have been cut off almost immediately. Unlike the Catholic priests, the Celts didn’t torture their prisoners first, that would have been considered dishonourable, and not at all correct. They were fierce in battle and took some of their enemies heads, but the warriors were ruled by very strict laws of conduct.

The Romans didn’t like the Druids because they were stopping their people from falling in line with the Romans. That’s why they maligned them so much. The Romans were great liars, they lied about the Etruscans, archaeologists discovered that. When the Romans massacred the people on Anglesey, they were trying to eradicate this educated class who were trying to stop their expansion in the British Isles, and besides, they wanted all the grain which was grown on Anglesey. Anglesey was referred to as Mam Cymru, Mother of Wales, because it supplied a great deal of grain to the rest of Wales.

Without most of their Druids, the Celtic tribes pretty much fell in line with the Romans. Only in Ireland and the far reaches of Scotland, were the Druids able to carry on with their traditions and the education of the young, for the time being at least.

Later, after the Romans left, the early Culdi Church was half Druid, half Christian, until such priests as St. Patrick came along. St. Patrick got rid of all the snakes in Ireland. Those ‘snakes’ were the astronomer/surveyors who by then were the Druids. The later Church fathers took up maligning whatever remnants of druidry might have been left. One only has to look at the names and folklore connected to the ancient places, to see how people were discouraged to go near these ancient complexes.  The priests were only too happy to link the Druids to sorcery, witchcraft, the Devil and human sacrifice, and ever since many people have believed it. To the victors go the spoils. In the past, it was the victors who wrote the histories. Demonization of other Peoples isn’t anything new.

Their sorcery was their knowledge which seemed like sorcery to the priests, but outstripped their knowledge by miles. The witchcraft was likely their healing skills, and poor Cernunnos became the Horned One, the Devil. By the time the Winter Lord became the Devil, the priests were so ignorant, that they didn’t even know that in Celtic religion there is no Hell and no Devil. They just don’t exist. There was only this world and the Otherworld, which I often see called the Underworld, but this is a mistake due to translation, and the fact that the Underworld did exist in other traditions. Arawn was the Lord of the Otherworld, the Annwn, from which all life comes into being, and is the plane to which we return when we die, unless we’ve finally become enlightened enough to go on to Gwynedd. Bran is also said to be connected to the Underworld, but this is a mistake also. Instead he was a bridge (Alder) between this world and the Otherworld. His head continued to talk for eighty years, while he was dead in actuality.

The Fomorii, who were ancient sea kings, are also said to have come from the Underworld where they lived in a city below the sea. The Fomorii came from a city south of the Mediterranean, and south of the Equator. South of the Equator is the underside of the Earth, the Underworld. That’s not to say that the Underworld in other traditions is the same, it was generally the Land of the Dead, but Hades seems more like Hell. Since Celts had no concept of Hell, any mention of the Underworld connected to the Fomorii is not Hell, or the Land of the Dead. The dead went to the Otherworld.

Be logical, be enlightened, and leave all the old stories about sorcery, witchcraft, Devil worship and human sacrifice where they belong……………………in the trash.



   Shield of the Four Directions

Paintings by Susan Seddon Boulet


19 comments on “A Rant About Human Sacrifice

  1. Alex Jones says:

    I am with you on this: people who by default conclude human sacrifice are being ignorant and simplistic. Human sacrifice did go on, in at least three circumstances: a volunteer; a crime; enemies. I am unable to think of any examples of human sacrifice in Irish myth.

    • J Rankin says:

      I’ve never read about in the Irish histories or in the Welsh either.

      • Alex Jones says:

        This raises a little bit of mistrust about the claims of the classical authors about human sacrifice. If there was human sacrifice going on then some of the Celtic stories would include it.

      • J Rankin says:

        The classical authors also had their own agendas, quite often mixed up with their political and/or religious views. Haven’t trusted them for years, although I do enjoy reading their stories. But all of them should be taken with a pinch of salt.

      • Alex Jones says:

        I agree. One great test is to ask if these writers ever met a Druid, or personally experienced these claims of human sacrifice. Julius Caesar is one writer who would have had first hand knowledge of Druids, but my suspicions arise when he talks about mass burnings in wickermen, that looks Germanic rather than Celtic.

      • J Rankin says:

        Conqueror’s always have to have a virtuous reason for taking over other people’s lands. The best way to do this is to make the people barbaric, lowly, stupid, and just downright dreadful. Julius Caesar had a great many interesting things to say about Druids, but he recognized them as his enemies, which they stayed to the end. I wonder if there was a ritual with a flaming manshaped wickerworks. Perhaps he represented Lugus, and perhaps they cremated their dead. It wouldn’t be difficult to twist that into human sacrifice.

      • Alex Jones says:

        I need to look at Julius Caesar to see if I can prove any misrepresentation by him in anything he wrote.

    • Archer says:

      Crom Cruaic. Central stone of gold within a ring of 13. A tithe of children and corn on Samhain. Actually I am pretty certain occasional sacrifices did take place. They did in most cultures…why would you expect any different in Britain/Ireland? Sacrifice certainly did take place in the Iron Age, more and more bog bodies are turning up (the last Irish one dating for the edge of the bronze age) and these were not simple killings and all have similar qualities.
      I certainly believe the archer in the Stonehenge ditch is a good candidate for a sacrifice; even if he was just killed for some misdemeanor, the fact that they placed him in the ditch terminal of their incredibly important monument instead of sticking his head on a spike at the village as a warning gives his death/burial a ritual overtone. A similar burial of a young man in a wooden circle in Wales (also seemingly to have been killed by arrows) adds weight to this…and there was also another young man buried (no arrows) in Woodhenge ditch, and another outside the sanctuary at Avebury. Odd burials in ditch terminals are quite common, although in the earlier neolithic it was usually women, sometimes with something ‘wrong’ with them–a tiny short woman in Avebury, a malnourished one at Marden.
      This was not a fluffy golden age by any means, although these were creative and intelligent people….there were massacres at Hambledon hill and Crickley hill and many of the bones in various long barrows have recently been rexamined and found to have left sided head injuries…delivered by someone wielding a weapon in their right hand.

      • J Rankin says:

        Thanks for your interesting remarks, and of course, these things should be looked at as individual cases. The Stonehenge Archer may just have been a guard there, killed by……………? and buried there because of his importance. People still die with left sided head injuries, also caused by someone with a weapon. That doesn’t mean that the ones in the long barrows were sacrifices, only that someone bashed them in the head. There was violence then just as now.

      • J Rankin says:

        The story about Crom Cruach is a perfect example of the twisted histories created by priests and monks to frighten the peasants away from such ancient constructions. Crom Cruach is said to have consisted of a central pillar with 12 pillars standing around it. Some think this represented the Sun and the 12 signs of the Zodiac. This gruesome story was very popular during medieval times in connection with the life of St. Patrick, even though Patrick mentions nothing about it in his own writings, and neither is it mentioned in two 7th century biographies about Patrick by Muirchu and Tirechan

        It can be found in the 9th century Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, in a poem in the 12th century Book of Leinster, and in Jocelin’s 12th century Life and Acts of St. Patrick.

        From these we gather that Crom was a solar deity, who seems to have been identified with Moloch of the Old Testament by the monks and priests. St. Patrick is said to have banished this solar deity by lifting his crozier at the central pillar, whereupon it fell face down with a mark of Patrick’s crozier upon it. The other 12 pillars sank into the ground at this action, and in one version the gold and silver covering the central pillar fell off and turned to dust immediately. The ‘demon’ which inhabited the pillar appeared and Patrick cursed it and sent it to Hell.

        Since this all sounds like a fantasy, there is no reason to believe that the story about first-borns being sacrificed to this deity are not pure fantasy also. This folklore is not a very good base as proof of child sacrifice in Ireland in ancient times. It’s just a very good example of twisted Church teachings long ago.

  2. Hello.This post was really remarkable, especially since I was looking for thoughts on this subject last Monday.

  3. Gilgemesh says:

    I thought we still do human sacrifice. We call it going off to fight in the war: WW1, WW2, Aghanistan, Viet Nam. Oh yeah. No one was willing to be sacrificed for that one so they hauled them off.

    Nicely written post.

    • J Rankin says:

      Hmmm…got a point there. My father was working on a cruise ship and mid Atlantic when WW2 broke out. They were suddenly part of the Battle of the Atlantic for five years. Did he want to be there? not particularly, but he couldn’t get back into his own country either. To leave the ship in time of war was considered desertion, so you didn’t do that either. No choice at all. An amazing amount of men died at sea, I was surprised when I looked it up.

  4. Gilgemesh says:

    I should complete the thought. We send our innocent young people, too young to even buy beer, off to war for some sacrifice (while the other side is doing the exact same thing), and the politicians (on both sides) have their own children safely tucked away in medical school. We then think that all cultures behave so poorly. We project our sick disfunctions onto them.

    The child you discuss was buried with care. Sacrificial victims are not buried with care. There is some shame involved in the act, then and now. They are tossed aside as if to say, “It was ok. They were not really human.”

    A precious child is buried with care. I would agree with you. It must have been a child of great nobility and parental hopes.

    • J Rankin says:

      One of my thoughts about this child was that he may have been a child prodigy, they did have them just as now. Perhaps they hoped to keep his spirit close so that he could learn whatever it was they did at Woodhenge. Then when he was reborn, he would be even smarter than before. As far as I’m concerned, they were Celts and they did believe in reincarnation.

  5. H. Bourne says:

    Re. your piece about human sacrifice, there is an interesting article with the self-evident title of ” Human Sacrifice in Medieval Irish Literature” by Jaqueline Borsje (online)

    • J Rankin says:

      Thank you for pointing me to this very interesting article which backs up what I have been saying about the stories told by early monks and priests. It should be remembered that the common folk of those times were illiterate and that it was only the monks and priests who were reading the Bible. Because they were trying to do away with the old religions it suited their purpose to equate the old Irish gods with ancient gods and practices found in the Bible. The common folk would know nothing about these, only the stories the monks and priests told them.

      The idea that there was such a thing as ‘foundation sacrifices’ likely comes from the fact that people were found buried beneath houses and other buildings. This is a very ancient practice and can be found in such places as Mureybet, Catal Huyuk and Jericho. These people were not sacrifed, they were just buried beneath their houses to keep the bodies safe from scavengers.

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