Human Sacrifice

Our Human Sacrifice episode features vikings, Aztecs, Incans, Olmec sacrifical bogs, the Peruvian temple of doom, the Decapitator god, Egyptian & viking burial rites, Mound 72, the torso in the Thames, General Butt Naked, human sacrifice in the Bible plus other items to turn your stomach!

Music: “The Chosen One” by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets



Wicker Man (2006)
Joe: 2/10

Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom
Kevin: 5/10
Toren: 6/10
Joe: 6/10

Joe: 6/10

The Mummy
Kevin: 6/10
Toren 4/10
Joe: 6/10

Heavy Metal
Kevin: 5/10
Toren: 7/10
Joe: 5/10

Toren 7.5/10
Joe: 7/10

Conan The Destroyer
Kevin: 4/10
Toren 3/10

Clash of the Titans (1981)
Kevin: 7/10
Toren: 4/10
Joe: 5/10

Clash of the Titans (2010)
Kevin: 5/10
Toren: 5/10

King Kong (1933)
Kevin: 6/10
Toren: 8/10

King Kong (1976)
Toren: 7/10
Joe: 5/10

King Kong (2005)
Kevin: 8/10
Toren: 7/10
Joe: 6/10

Joe VS The Volcano
Kevin: 5/10
Joe: 6/10

17 Responses

  1. Great episode guys!
    When I lived in Uganda, i was always told never to go to the hill opposite our house. Why? Because there was a witch doctor there who will probably kill you and use you for “medicine”. That was wild. On the Xipe Totec note, the priest’s would wear the skin UNTIL IT ROTTED FROM THEIR BODIES, this was supposed to symbolize the coming of spring (of which Xipe Totec was one of the chief gods.”
    You guys would love the original Wicker Man, great movie!
    Plus, for your troubles, The Muppet Wicker Man:

  2. I saw the original 1972 WICKER MAN for the first time earlier this year. It is indeed a classic horror film, with great performances from Edward Woodward as a devoutley Christian policeman investigating the disappearance of a young child on a remote Scottish island presided over by a movie-stealing Christopher Lee as the erudite pagan Lord Summerisle. Human sacrifice is a major plot point, leading to the awesome line “Killing me won’t bring back your apples!” Interestingly, it’s as much a musical as it is a horror film, with several folk songs being sung by the entire cast at various points. A sequel to the 1972 film, THE WICKER TREE, is due out later this year.

    btw- the American film SPELLBINDER (1988) is a thinly veiled ripoff of the WICKER MAN, with the sole redeeming feature being star Rick Rossovitch (TERMINATOR) getting naked 🙂

    btw again- more pop culture: Scottish horror writer Muriel Gray’s brilliant 2000 book THE ANCIENT deals with an Aztec god of sewage and offal being accidentally invoked on a massive super-tanker trash barge, threatening the crew of the ship. Best part is that before it claims its victims, the un-named god gives them an hour or two in a “state of grace” in which they have access to knowledge that humans cannot possibly possess (a small child gives everyone on the ship the Lottery numbers for the next year, another tells the Captain of the ship that he has a tumour in his belly (and what size it is!) and a woman tells that soon a new source of fuel will be found beneath Antarctica that will enable faster-than-light space travel)

  3. btw- another film involving human sacrifice is 1988’S LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, a film by Ken Russell from a tale by Bram Stoker. Notable as Hugh Grant’s film debut, it mixes vampirism, human sacrifice and the legend of the Lampton Wyrm to great effect, with bisexual actress Amanda Donohoe a campy hoot as snake vampire/priestess Lady Sylvia Marsh, who sacrifices virgins to her snake god, Dionin, by f*cking them to death with a giant, bladed strap-on…

    Have attached the scene where she sacrifices a boy scout to her God by…emasculating him 🙂

  4. I spent a month in Peru, particularly in Cusco and the surrounding area, which was the heart of the Inca Empire.

    Obtaining coca leaves is quite easy as is ordering coca tea to drink. The coca increases the amount of oxygen in the blood stream which makes it easier for individuals to operate at high altitudes. The coca also acts as a stimulant which gives you more energy.

    I personally never chewed coca or drank the tea. I adapted to the altitude very quickly. However, some of the people I was traveling with did drink the tea and chew the leaves. I asked them if it helped. They didn’t notice any appreciable effect. I’ll chock that up to the fact they were also having trouble with the altitude and those symptoms masked the benefits of the coca.

  5. Just got through the Aztec, and into the Inka, section of this episode. I’m not going to sit and nitpick (or big things pick in some cases), though I will note that on pronunciations, the name Toren rejected for Xipe Totec was correct (shee-pay totek), in the Spanish orthography for Mesoamerican words, x=sh.

    Ok, some things about the Aztecs.

    – The term is of course not what they called themselves per se, but instead derives from Aztlan, the mythic homeland to the north they believed they migrated from. The Aztecs (the Mexica is probably the best term) were speakers of Nahautl, an Uto-Aztecan language that does indeed have ties to the north. They were a group of chichimecs, northern barbarians, that entered the valley of Mexico, and tried to build both a physical place to live on the island that becomes Tenochtitlan, and a political place by marrying into noble Toltec families (though the reality of this gets fuzzy). In their origin tales, they talk about being mercenaries for various established kingdoms, but they were sort of jerks. In one case, a kingdom sent them a royal princess to consecrate a deal (royal intermarriage was a common practice of alliance statecraft in Mesoamerica, with overlords sending their daughters to marry into lesser royal lines to elevate or revitalize them). What the king didn’t know was that the Aztecs were jockeying for greater things, and didn’t want to be his lieges, so when the festival to celebrate all this came, the king shows up, wants to see his daughter, and the priest comes out wearing her skin. This was not taken very well, and the king and his army started chasing the Aztecs around the basin trying to destroy them.

    – The Aztecs generally refers to their period of empire and right before. That empire was less than a century old (same with the Inka empire) when the Spaniards arrived, but it was just the latest in any number of powerful kingdoms arising in Central Mexico. The real big empire to arise from there was Teotihuacan (as the Aztecs called it, the city of the gods), that lasted about 700 years, and for a time probably claimed a big chunk of Mexico, and much of the Maya region, under its control, and was the biggest city in prehispanic American history, rivaling places like Rome (contemporary to the city). Oh, and the Teotihuacanos knew a few things about human sacrifice.

    – Their world was not all about human sacrifice, but it did happen a lot. Yes, there were festivals every month, though I’m not sure they lasted five days. You may be bringing in there the 5-day period of uncertainty every year. The Aztecs had 18 months of 20 days, but like other Mesoamericans, they knew the solar year was 365 days long (there was also a 260 sacred calendar, a whole other thing). So there was a five-day “month” of unease. Even regarding monthly rituals, there may not have been killing all the time.

    – There are two things you really need to know about Aztec sacrifice in terms of motivations. The religious philosophy behind Mesoamerican sacrifice in general was that the gods killed themselves to make the world go. They had fashioned the world, but it wasn’t enough, it sat there cold and dark. So they ended up having to hurl themselves into a massive fire to start it all up. That’s a specific version, but the general idea is that the gods gave their blood to power creation, and so people had to return the favor. This ethic of a burden one has to carry and sacrifices one has to make, is a major cornerstone of Mesoamerican thought.

    – On a more practical level, remember that the Aztec empire was young and working its way up. It even had its own Dick Cheney, Tlacaelel. He served four Aztec emperors, commanded the old history books be burned for a fresh start, and basically guided the empire’s rise through war. The empire was based in tribute. The armies went out to war, forced towns to give them tribute or they’d be destroyed. These goods would then be sent back to the capital, where they enriched the state in general, but more importantly provided the central government with sumptuary goods it could give to pay the heads of noble houses to join in this centralized government. In essence, it is the same centralization of authority in the state away from aristocracy you see in the creation of nation states the world over, accomplished through a mix of violence and payoffs. So war drove the existence of the state.

    – Human sacrifice was the prime way Aztec war worked. There is too much to go into here, but the entire way of Aztec warfare was based on individuals grabbing captives (this caused them much grief when they fought Spaniards who worked with more teamwork, and were far more interested in utter devastation of opponents, not captives). The reason for this was that just as nobles were rewarded with the booty of war, commoners were rewarded for success in war, with the number of captives they took allowing them greater and greater status, until they could even break into the lower ranks of the aristrocracy.

    In this sense, the engine of the Aztec empire was war (which is not that unusual) and the fuel was human sacrifice (which is a bit less common).

  6. As for the mechanism of sacrifice, there actually have been a few medical studies (using a mix of anatomical theory, cadavers, and examination of ancient human remains and artwork) that suggest that it wouldn’t have been super hard once the priest knew what they were doing. There were two main methods (the third method, cracking the sternum and splitting the rib cage like a heart surgeon, does not seem to have been the best or preferred method): through the rib cage over the heart by moving or snapping some ribs, or through the belly and into the rib cage from below, with the latter likely making it faster but perhaps harder to produce a whole intact heart. These studies have been on the Maya, as they’ve left more evidence in both artwork and in remains (over a larger area and more time).

    Remember, though, that other methods included decapitation, burning, being shot with arrows or spears, drowning, and gladiatorial combat where the victim has a wooden sword with feathers instead of sharp stone edges, and had his mobility limited by a tether.

    As for the question of nudity in that dance ritual (which I’ve never heard of btw, but that doesn’t mean anything), and in general, men wore loincloths and depending on the circumstance, jackets or vests, and perhaps skirts or other sorts of lower coverings for certain ritual dress (they may also wear a tunic sometimes, and nobles would have a cape, as well as large amounts of pectoral jewelry over the chest). Women, on the other hand, are typically depicted as wearing clothes over most of their bodies, usually a mix of a shawl, an upper body tunic, and a skirt or underskirt. And in the highlands of Mexico, more clothes would probably be welcomed depending on the season.

  7. Can I volunteer Spookyparadigm as a future guest? I’m sure a topic can be found to accomodate.

    1. After reading his comments, I’m going to second this motion. Bring him over as the expert for another episode on ancient history! Hell, pre-Colombian history is awesome (and bloody, even without all the sacrifices) enough to merit its own episode!

  8. Oh, and the bit y’all mentioned about human sacrifice. I’m shocked, shocked I say, that y’all didn’t make more of the fact that …

    … they pushed spines and ropes through their tongue and genitals. As in, a routine act, especially for nobles and kings, was to take a stingray spine and shove it through the penis. I’ve seen depictions of penis perforation, including this figurine, which has a closeup you can see on the page*Maya*&date_added=&image=2859&display=8

    as for the tongue, try a rope, with thorns, ala this

    Lady Xoc is doing this to put her royal blood on those strips of paper below. They are, I suppose, material components (in the D&D sense) for opening a portal, a vision serpent, which will disgorge a dead ancestor’s spirit, in this case, Yat Balam, gently named Progenitor Jaguar, the founder of the Yaxchilan royal dynasty. This part of the narrative is on Lintel 25

    However, his name is more explicitly Penis Jaguar (and it is written as you might expect), and one of the most famous figures in Maya epigraphy used to (IIRC) call him Dick Jaguar because she had a sense of humor like that.

  9. I’ll try to take some of this backwards.

    I kinda like the 1999 The Mummy, except for the sillier fight scenes in the last third.

    The original Wicker Man is awesome, I highly recommend it. If you’re thinking of it as a horror film, you might be slightly disappointed based on modern expectations, but it is really good stuff.

    Apocalypto is terrible. It’s terrible for accuracy (dressed up with mediocre use of Yukatek for the language), terrible for politics (particularly for the modern Maya, as while their ancestors did bad things, they are super senstationalized and overplayed here, plus also wildly inaccurate), but also just a bad movie. I have my review here

    But for example, nothing in the movie makes sense. No Classic Mayas lived like the forest nomads shown at the beginning of the film, but much worse, they live a few days from the big city, and it is a total mystery to them. This would be like say in Braveheart, William Wallace and his Scottish villagers not knowing what a castle was, not knowing what England was, or ever having seen York, and so on. Such a movie would be rejected out of hand. But apply it to non-Europeans, and such BS is all of a suddenly ok?

    General Butt Naked – Two angles on this guy (without looking further into his background). On the one hand, the whole thing about being impervious to bullets going with visions is quite common. It pops up again and again in revitalization movements, a topic most famously studied by Anthony Wallace. On the other hand, I’m really skeptical of his story, especially now that he’s on the evangelical lecture circuit (which has a long history of gobbling up stories of bizarre Satanism, and a more recent penchant for a weirder form of Christianity imported from Africa, see Sarah Palin and the Python Spirits).

    “Adam” – One thing to note is that a great deal was learned about his origins from his bone chemistry through stable isotope analysis, which helped confirm that he had been living in Africa, and a specific area, no less. The same technique has been used on the human sacrifice victims under the Feathered Serpent pyramid at Teotihuacan to determine that some of the hundreds of victims were from far-flung areas of Mesoamerica, including the Maya region. That reminds me, I forgot to mention earlier that one important period of war and sacrifice in the Aztec empire (and more generally in Mesoamerican kingdoms) was after the installation of a new ruler, who went and captured prisoners to inaugurate his rule (and also show potentially or actually rebellious provinces that he was in charge).

    Egyptians – I’m not sure that Pharonic Egyptians actually engaged in much human sacrifice, unlike their contemporaries in Sumer (which y’all covered in the funerals episode). Typically, Egyptians were buried instead with ushabtis, little magic figures that would come to life and serve you in the afterlife (trivia: Lovecraft’s family owned at least one ushabti amongst various artifacts they and he collected). If you were important enough, you’d have whole teams of ushabtis, with even foreman ushabtis to organize their work. For a long time, it has been suggested that ushabtis were replacements for human sacrifice, so that they could accompany the ruler rather than actual people, but that comes from unlineal evolutionary ideas that all societies evolved in a similar fashion and so should have had a human sacrifice phase that was then phased out, and this isn’t really supported. So I don’t know if there is any evidence that Egyptians in any serious way had ritual human sacrifice (vs. say killing military prisoners, which they seem to have been quite happy to make propaganda about, especially early on). In the Old Kingdom, those close to the ruler did try to be buried near him, in their own mastaba tombs in cemeteries surrounding the ruler’s mastaba or pyramid, but on their own schedule, not part of mass suicides or killings.

    The Moche (mo-chay) pyramid with the bones embedded in the walls is at the site of El Brujo. The one with evidence of an El Nino-based sacrifice, and of multiple sacrificial events, is the Huaca (Waka) de la Luna at the main Moche site. That’s where a friend of mine studied the physical evidence of torture and murder on the bones of those victims, including numerous cuts around the eyes and a bunch of other horrible patterns. And The Decapitator is a half-human half-spider god, though others have suggested it might be octopoid, and you know what that means:

    *please see the disclaimer.

    Mound 72: I’ve visited Cahokia a couple of times, its well worth it if you are in the St. Louis area. It should be noted, though, that Mound 72 as an actual part of the site to visit, not very impressive because it’s like a foot tall now (vs. the positively huge Monk’s Mound, the centerpiece of the site). They discuss the find inside the museum (which is quite good), but they do dance around it a little bit, and I don’t really blame them.

    Olmecs – Could y’all be more specific as to which bog you’re referring to? It’s not El Manati, is it? The Olmec, btw, are a term we’ve given to a people in the Gulf Coast of Mexico about 3000 years ago, who are an early complex society of Mesoamerica. They are most famous for building massive monolithic stone sculptures of heads. It also refers to an art style that is found in many early complex societies in Mesoamerica. Traditionally the two have been conflated into a “mother culture” that inspires the rest of the region, but how accurate this is, is debated. Some see the Gulf Coast Olmec as indeed being the first in Mesoamerica to create all the major traits we see of Mesoamerican society, while others think they’re just one manifestation of a region-wide transformation occurring in multiple places. Right now, I’d say it is some of both, with increasing evidence for the real innovations occurring with some sort of trans-isthmian culture found on both sides of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. However, they are no longer the first pyramid builders of the Americas, that title goes to the people of Caral and the Supe valley of Peru, a huge transformation of our thought about early Andean society.

    European Bog People – I know you guys will talk more about this but, while there do seem to be some cases of possibly ritual killing, there is a lot of debate about this too, with some scholars suggesting that a lot of this has been sensationalized, and many of the bodies may be the result of either executions, simple murders, or accidents. Though not all. If sacrifice is going on, it is part of the Iron Age northern Europe votive sacrifice (of objects) tradition, with people throwing things into bodies of water (famous examples include the Battersea shield and the Gundestrup cauldron, though some have disputed the latter being a votive offering, and suggest it may have just been buried for safekeeping and then forgotten or lost).

  10. Oh, you guys forgot to mention the TOPHET! Used in worship of Moloch, it was pretty much a giant furnace in which little children were thrown in, alive. Priests would beat drums to prevent the parents for hearing the screams of the burning child (I’m guessing they scream pretty loudly), similar to the burning of the handmaiden/slave-girl you guys mentioned. In fact, it was the tophets that were outside of Jerusalem, in the Vally of Gehenna/Ge-hinnom/Hinnom, which was were all of the trash and bodies of the poor were taken and set fire to. This is what some believe gave rise to the belief that Hell was a fiery wasteland.

  11. Great episode guys. I recently watched The Vice Guide to Travel’s Liberia episode. I watched it on Netflix but you can also find it here:

    The hosts not only meet General Butt Naked but spend a consideral amount of time with him and listen to him explain his (heavily disturbing) sacrifice experience and batshit crazy reasoning behind it. Liberia alone could have it’s own Caustic Soda episode dedicated to it.

    If you have never seen the Vice Guide to Travel, I highly recommend it.

  12. Recent article I came across. More proof hoomins are awful from way back.
    Sacrifice seems to have been a way to maintain a class hierarchy, with instigators being high class people (priests, chieftains) and victims being low class (eg slaves). 1. it keeps the low class miserable and under threat, and 2. The blame is shifted to the deities anyway the victim is dead so there’s less chance they’ll attempt revenge.
    I wonder whether the resource-bound nature of a lot of these societies (on Austronesian islands) might have also played into the mix, by keeping the population artificially low (or lower than it might otherwise be, of course).

    “Human Sacrifice may have helped build and sustain social class systems”