Animal Sacrifice and ‘Hard’ Polytheism


A sacrifice to Kali in Nepal. (Washington Post)

There was some discussion last week at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting as to whether the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group should sponsor or co-sponsor a session devoted to issues surrounding animal sacrifice.

Some voices in the Pagan world suggest that you are not really a “hard” polytheist (truly understanding the gods as independent beings) unless you do it or at least accept its feasibility. Certainly it was a chief feature of civic Paganism in the ancient Mediterranean world. For many people, probably their chief or only opportunity to eat red meat was in the context of communal sacrifice.

At any rate, if being a hard polytheist is the goal and sacrifice is a way to get there, then these Nepalese Hindus in the middle of a sacrifice of thousands of animals are the “hardest” (and perhaps the longest and thickest) of polytheists.


  1. Sharon says:

    Wow. That does not look humane.

  2. In fairness, I don’t think your characterization is accurate here, Chas.

    The polytheists who are arguing for it have never said anyone who doesn’t do sacrifice, or doesn’t think it appropriate, aren’t “real polytheists” anywhere that I’ve seen (and I’m friends and co-religionists with many of the most vocal on the “pro-considering sacrifice acceptable” crowd). I have seen them critique those who have suggested sacrifice has no place in modern polytheism, and I cannot disagree with their critiques. But, they’ve also said that other polytheists may not be called to this work, and if not, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t disparage those who are, just as polytheists who do spirit-work don’t disparage those who don’t do it, etc.

    • Chas says:

      Thanks for dropping by. Maybe we could phrase it this way: advocating animal sacrifice, if only in theory, is one marker for a “hard polytheist”?

      As for myself, I’m on the bubble. I leave turkey feathers for Tlaloc instead of a real turkey . . . which, according to some sources, is itself a stand-in for a human child.

  3. Rita Rippetoe says:

    That is one pathetic looking sacrifice. I don’t know about Hindu custom, but most cultures offered the best they had. Sacrificial victims had their horns gilded and hung with garlands. As for the numbers mentioned in the article, I remember reading some time ago an article speculating that the Emperor Julian released more power than he knew how to handle in his reintroduction of animal sacrifice. He was sacrificing 100s at a time. I wasn’t able to find the 2nd half of the article, but it seemed that the author was leading up to the idea that the poorly channeled energy contributed to his downfall.

  4. fyreflye says:

    If sacrifices like the one pictured are so necessary to please the gods why are the Hindus who participate in them so poor?

    • Robert Mathiesen says:

      Why would you, or anyone, think that wealth and power are good for people, that the Gods might bestow them on those whom They favor?

  5. Jeffrey Albaugh says:

    “longest and thickest?” You’re killing me, Chas! And how is this side comment perhaps at the heart of some of these hard and soft polytheist conversations?