Cannibalism is widely believed to be practiced for consuming flesh individuals of the same kind. Archeological evidence indicates that there are practices of cannibalism in the past (cut marks, meat was taken off the bones and bone breakage). However anthropologists denied the moral issue and asked the question: why? Why do humans consume other humans? Anthropologists and archeologists adopt that there are different reasons that determine this behavior. Cannibalism is a ritual related to sacrifice and religious belief. Cannibalism experienced is ritual related to sacrificing and religious beliefs, included consuming and feasting the bodies of the dead in funereally rituals.
My data will provide evidence that there are different reasons that determine cannibal behavior. Cannibalism is not a simple action as just eating humans to their kinds flesh, Cannibalism is compound ritual activity related to voluntarily sacrifice and religious practice belief. By viewing my data about the German town of Herxheim, it will make it clear that wasn’t hunger or habitual, a lot of dead bodies founded and the possibility they been ritually sacrificed. While, the Aghoris, cannibal ritual practicing show a strong relative evidences to religious thinking.
Examples of Ritualistic Cannibalism from a Historical Perspective
Throughout history there have been many reports of ritualistic cannibalism in many different cultures. One such instance was the voluntary sacrifices of the German town of Herxheim. After the recovery of bones from over 500 individuals researchers were surprised to find signs of “butchery” not consistent with warfare or normal societal violence. It was surmised that during the European Neolithic Age around 5,000 to 4,950 years individuals of all ages and sexes volunteered themselves for sacrifice (Lamn). The reason for this sacrifice is unclear. The butchery suggests that the individuals may have been consumed solely for nutritional value as one would livestock. Others suggest that because the individual’s bones were discovered amongst highly decorated shards of pottery, that these sacrifices might have been ritualistic in nature (Lamn). The highly decorated pottery suggests respect either for their God or for the dead. The bones all showed signs congruent with butchering and many had teeth marks on them that could not have been made by animals. The shear number of bones indicates this tradition lasted for quite sometime.Either the implication that these people gave their lives willingly in order to be consumed by others within the society goes against the basic concept that cannibalism is fundamentally the result of warfare or famine. The Inca’s also practiced child sacrifice in Peru. Typically called Capacocha ceremonies, these events often spanned the course of several days (Svoboda). Events usual included feasts and rituals (Svoboda). A male and female child were brought to a shrine and sacrificed together. Often parts of the body may be consumed or dismembered in various rituals. These activities were a deeply spiritual experience and severed to set the tone for all the events to follow in that year. Mummified remains of babies and children have been found in the mountains surronding the area. Some show signs of head trauma, while others may have been drugged or suffocated. The Inca’s believed these sacrifices were necessary to insure good harvests, wealth, and all around prosperity for the community. On article states, “As for the human remains, this breaking-off particularly results in a voluntary destruction of the body integrity of dead people (and, so it seems, also of the goods deposited with them), that is completely in opposition with the traditional practices concerning death.” (Lamn). This question leads one to question the system of beliefs that would encourage a person to give their life in sacrifice.
Religion and Cannibalism
Religion can often also be tied into cannibalistic beliefs. For example, the Aghori sect of Hinduism. This sect greatly respects the process of death, even living in graveyards and wearing the ashes of their dead. This idea is ties with the Hindu idea of Sanskrit that teaches one not to fear death (Walid & Shoebat). Members of this group also practice cannibalism and feel that by doing so the spiritual and physical well-being of the deceased individual will be passed on to the individual. Those ingested are already decreased making this practice necrophagy instead of true cannibalism (Walid & Shoebat).
The History of Research
Death is one thing we as humans will always have in common. What we think about death can vary greatly however. The quest to understand death begins with the quest to understand life. It is said that death is truly the most defining moment in our life. So what is it that inspires fear when the idea of death comes up? Most likely it is based on our fear of the unknown and our body’s natural response of self-preservation. Throughout history people have both feared and honored death. In times when there was little food, no health care, and danger at every turn death was more accepted. Few lived to middle age and most did not survive childhood (Kastenbaum & Aisenberg, 1972). Death was feared but accepted as a part of almost daily life. As people became more aware of themselves they become more interested in the concept of death. With religion one accepted death as it was in relation to the soul. To receive solace for their fear of death faith and religion gave the promise of a happily ever after for the soul. From celebrating death to avoiding thinking of death different cultures dealt with the issues in different way. One thing however remained the same death came to them all anyway.
Two people who have identical beliefs or cultural upbringing can still have very different feelings about death. Burial practices often reflect a culture’s religious beliefs. For example, the ancient Mesopotamians used to keep their ancestor’s skulls within their home as a sign of honor to their ancestors and their gods (Tapscott, 1975). Robert Kastenbaum came up with a systematic approach of studying our society’s beliefs about death as it influences us as individuals. He describes this system as interpersonal, sociophysical and symbolic network in relation to mortality. The system consists of five factors: 1. People 2. Places 3. Objects 4. Times 5. Symbols and has seven different functions: 1. Warnings 2. Prevention 3. Disposal of the Dead 4. Social Consolidation 5. Care of the dying 6. Making sense of death 7. Killing (Kastenbaum & Aisenberg, 1972) this system helps determine how our society and past societies felt about death and sets the ground work for research concerning cannibalistic beliefs. Myths and folk tales are also fraught with ideas about cannibalism. These images of cannibal ancestors serve as a story that helps people explain their past and determine ethical taboos. The Argument for Ritualistic Cannibalism
As illustrated in the instances of the German town of Herxheim and the sacrifice of Incan children, history shows that cannibalism was not regulated only to violent warlike efforts. In these instances the participants were all most likely willing volunteers who felt they could best serve their community with their sacrifice. They found a form of honor through their death. Those living also benefited from the spiritual and physical benefits that resulted from the proceedings.
Cannibalism can also be a result of religious beliefs, in the case of the Aghoris sector, they feel that death is not something to be feared. By ingesting their dead they feel as if their spirit will live on through the living. This form of life after death is a common theme amongst religions worldwide. Symbolic examples such as ingesting food or drink to represent to blood and body of Christ is also common throughout Christianity. While this is not really cannibalism, one could argue that symbolic significance is no different.
Kastenbaum, R., & Aisenberg, R. (1972). The psychology of death. New York: Springer Pub. Co..
Lamn, G. (n.d.). Mass cannibalism in the Linear Pottery Culture at Herxheim (Palatinate, Germany). - Free Online Library. Free News, Magazines, Newspapers, Journals, Reference Articles and Classic Books - Free Online Library. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Mass+cannibalism+in+the+Linear+Pottery+Culture+at+Herxheim-a0216270408
Svoboda, D. R. (n.d.). The Aghori - Eaters of the Dead - Spirituality, Religion and Beliefs - Unexplained Mysteries Discussion Forums. Unexplained Mysteries - Paranormal Phenomena and the World's Greatest Unexplained Mysteries. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=77101
Tapscott, S. (1975). Mesopotamia. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
Walid., & Shoebat, T. (n.d.). Islam and Cannibalism | Walid Shoebat. Walid Shoebat | . . . Former Muslim Brotherhood Member Now Peace Activist. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from http://shoebat.com/2013/01/28/islam-and-cannibalism/
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