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Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practiced by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature. Animal sacrifice has turned up in almost all cultures, from the Hebrews to the Greeks and Romans and from the Aztecs to the Hindu.

Remnants of ancient rituals of animal sacrifice are apparent in many cultures, for example the Spanish bullfights, or kapparos in Judaism, or ritual prescriptions for slaughtering procedures like shechita or ḏabīḥah. Slaughtering lambs is a common practice in Islam (the meat being consumed, not burned).

Ancient world

Animal sacrifices were common throughout the Ancient Near East, as well as some of the Mediterraneanmarker islands. For example the Minoan culture of Phaistosmarker on Cretemarker reveals basins for animal sacrifice dating to the period 2000 to 1700 BC.

Indo-European cultures


The basis of Hindu scriptures are the Vedas, which encourage Vedic Sacrifices (Yajna). These include the Ashwamedha (Horse Sacrifice), as well as the Somayaagam and Agnistoma (involving the sacrifice of goats). The meat of the animals were never eaten (nor were the animals actually killed by the priests themselves), and asphyxiation was used to minimise discomfort to the creature. Due to protests by activists, recent performances of the Somayaagam and Agnistoma in Keralamarker have used "pishta pashu" (forms of animals made out of paste) as a substitute for live animals.

Although many Hindus are vegetarian, there are Hindu temples in Indiamarker as well as Nepalmarker where goats and chickens are sacrificed. These sacrifices are mainly done at mandirs following the Shakti school of Hinduism where the female nature of Brahman is worshipped in the form of Kali Ma and Durga. There are many village temples in Tamil Nadu where this kind of sacrifice takes place.

Even in many Sakti shrines of Orissa animals like goat and chicken are sacrificed on Durga Puja in the month of Aswina (September-October) every year. In Sambalpur, this ritual sacrifice is performed in the Samaleswari temple (Pasayat, 2003:67-84).

The Hindu way of animal sacrifice/slaughter is called Jhatka, where the head of the animal is severed completely by a single blow of a heavy sword. This is considered to be the most merciful and painless death for the animal, as the spinal cord and the blood supply to the brain are severed immediately. Today much of the urban Hindu community disapproves of animal sacrifice, which has been phased out in many urban areas. There still remain many traditional practices in conservative rural areas, where attempts to stop the practices have been met with resistance.

Possibly the largest animal sacrifice in the world occurs during Gadhimai festival in Nepal. In the 3 day long sacrifice in 2009 it was speculated that more than 250,000 animals were killed while 5 million devotees attended the festival.


See main article: Korban

Many Jewish sources discuss the deeper meaning behind korbanot. For example, Sefer Hachinuch explains that an individual bringing an animal sacrifice for a sin understands that he personally should have been sacrificed as punishment for the rebellion against God inherent his the sin, but God mercifully accepts the sacrifice in his or her place. Furthermore, it is considered fitting that an animal is used as a sacrifice because at the moment of sin, the individual in question disregarded his elevated human soul, effectively acting as an animal.


References to animal sacrifice appear in the New Testament, such as the parents of Jesus sacrificing two doves ( ) and the Apostle Paul performing a Nazirite vow even after the death of Christ ( ).

The Christ is referred to by his apostles as "the Lamb of God," the one to whom all sacrifices pointed (Hebrews 10), in fulfillment of a, within the Christian context, lacking understanding of such substitution as expressed in Judaism.


Wealthy Muslims sacrifice an animal during the Festival of Sacrifice (Eid ul-Adha). This is also the time of Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca). Usually a sheep or goat (sometimes cattle or even camel) is sacrificed then distributed to the poor, in commemoration of God's forgiveness of Ibrahim (Abraham) from his vow to sacrifice his son Ismael.

Latter Day Saints (Strangite)

Animal sacrifice was instituted in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints , a minor Latter Day Saint faction founded by James J. Strang in 1844. Strang was a lawyer and newspaper editor from New York who had converted to Mormonism just prior to Joseph Smith's murder, and he claimed to have been appointed by Smith to succeed him as the Church President. Although the majority of Latter Day Saints rejected his claims, Strang managed to briefly gain a sizable following before being murdered in 1856.

In 1851, Strang announced publication of the Book of the Law of the Lord, purported to be a translation of the "Plates of Laban" that figure prominently in parts of The Book of Mormon. Chapters 7 and 40 dealt with the topic of animal sacrifices.

Given the prohibition on sacrifices for sin contained in III Nephi 9:19-20, Strang did not require sin offerings. Rather, he focused on sacrifice as an element of religious celebrations, especially the commemoration of his own coronation as king over his church, which occurred on July 8, 1850. 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."

While the killing of sacrifices was a prerogative of Strangite priests, female priests were specifically barred from participating in this aspect of the priestly office. "Firstfruits" offerings were also demanded of all Strangite agricultural harvests.

Animal sacrifices are no longer practiced by the diminunitive Strangite organization, though belief in their correctness is still required.


In Santeria, such animal offerings constitute a portion of what are termed "ebos" – ritual activities that include offerings, prayer and deeds. The blood of the animals is thought to hold "aché," or life force.


Some villages in Greece also sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints in a practice known as kourbània.

In India ritual of animal sacrifice is practised in many villages before local deities. For instance, Kandhen Budhi is the reigning deity of Kantamal in Boudh district of Orissa, India. She is the presiding deity of Kandha people of this area. She is represented in the natural form of stone under a tree on the bank of the river Tel. 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 pig, which is sacrificed once in every three years. Kandhen Budhi is also worshipped at Lather village under Mohangiri GP in Kalahandi district of Orissa, India(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).


  1. C.Michael Hogan, Knossos Fieldnotes, The Modern Antiquarian (2007)
  2. Times of India, Chennai Edition, 4 May 2008
  6. Book of the Law of the Lord: Being a Translation From the Egyptian of the Law Given to Moses in Sinai. (St. James, 1851), pp. 106-09. This article uses the expanded Edition of 1856: The 1851 edition is at This book is not accepted by any other Latter Day Saint organization today.
  7. Book of Mormon.
  8. Book of the Law, pp. 293-97. See also
  9. Book of the Law, pg. 293.
  10. Book of the Law, pp. 293-94.
  11. Book of the Law, pg. 199, note 2.
  12. Book of the Law, pg. 199. Unlike other Latter Day Saint organizations at this time, Strang permitted women to serve as Priests and Teachers in his priesthood.
  13. Book of the Law, pp. 295-97.
Pasayat, C. (2003), Glimpses of Tribal an Folkculture, New Delhi: Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., Pp.67-84.

Pasayat, C. (2009), "Kandhen Budhi" in Orissa Review, Vol.LXVI, No.2, September, pp.20-24.

Barik, Sarmistha (2009), "Bali Yatra of Sonepur" in Orissa Review, Vol.LXVI, No.2, September, pp. 160-162.

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