Aztec kings found a way of silencing calls for their entrails to be removed once their alloted time was up by finding an handsome substitute and dressing him up like the god Tezcatlipoca. They made it an annual event. His skin would be painted black. He would wear a flower crown, a seashell breastplate, and lots of jewelry.
He was given four beautiful wives. His only duties were to walk through the town playing a flute and smelling flowers so that the people could honor him.
When 12 months had passed, he would walk up the stairs of a great pyramid, breaking his flutes as he went. As an adoring crowd watched, a priest would help him lie down on a long altar made of stone. Then they’d rip his heart out.
Afterward, they would pick a new Tezcatlipoca and start all over again.
King Aun of Sweden (C6th B.C.) decided he didn’t fancy ritual dismemberment and prayed to Odin for a way out. Odin replied that he could live for as long as he sacrificed a son every twelve years. This he did, sending nine sons to their deaths. The Swedes prevented him from killing the last and tenth, so Aum died and was buried at Upsala.
On the other side of the World from Upsala the kings of Cambodia and Jambi would ritually sacrifice sons in their place, neatly buying time and eliminating the competition in the same breath, for who better qualified to serve as a substitute than one endowed with the very same qualities of potential kinglyness that make him a deadly threat?
Rather than repair his relationship with Artemis whose deer he killed, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia in order to secure a different agenda than the goddess intended…
and went to war.
Violence is going to erupt in any society where the instinctive rules governing whether killing is murder have been eroded by the king’s inflation to the point where everyone is alien and excluded from the circle of compassion. When citizens are unprotected by natural law, when they can be disposed of with impunity, they soon begin to harbour the wish to become a god/king themselves., domestic tyrants, small time bullies, lunch money bandidos.
And of course the Christian tradition is also built on the sacrifice of the son so that others may live….and should have a mention since it promises to make immortal kings of us all..
It may well be true that
‘war is about rich old men protecting their property by sending middle and lower class men off to die.” G Carlin
but the politics of war get an extra twist when you take into account less conscious considerations, the consolidation of power by delegating to sacrificial substitutes the priviledge of dying for their country.
All of which raises more questions than answers. Particularly, how on earth can it be an evolutionary advantage to have a system governed by leaders that have a vested interest in the demise of their people?
Queen Ranavalona ‘the Cruel’ (b 1778) of Madagascar managed to bump off tens of thousands of her beloved people using a ‘trial’ of poisoned chicken to determine worthy subjects from those designated as offerings to the gods.
If you didn’t cough up the chicken, you died. If not by poison then by a knife kept handy for the occasion.
Many loyal subjects took the poison trial of their own free will to demonstrate the purity of their hearts or to be taken up as the gods willed it. During her reign Ranavalona managed to kill such great numbers of her subjects that early travellers foolish enough to stay for longer than the time it took to take on supplies commented on the empty streets.
Her afforts were successful and she died of natural causes at a ripe old age.
Elsewhere in the world, sacrificial victims designated to lengthen the days of the king and bring fertility to the land also seemed to be okay with the arrangement.
Amongst the Aztecs, the sacrificial victim..
”had such a quantity of prescribed duties that it is difficult to imagine how the accompanying festival would have progressed without some degree of compliance on their part. For instance, victims were expected to bless children, greet and cheer passers-by, hear people’s petitions to the gods, visit people in their homes, give discourses and lead sacred songs, processions and dances.” Carrasco.
The conquistadors Cortés and Alvarado found that some of the sacrificial victims they freed “indignantly rejected [the] offer of release and demanded to be sacrificed.”
In fact the Aztecs went to war amongst themselves in a ritualised form of combat specifically designed to capture men for sacrifice. They were euphemistically called the ‘Flower wars’ and all combatants knew the rules and consequences of getting nabbed…
”The public spectacle of sacrificing warriors from conquered states was a major display of political power, supporting the claim of the ruling classes to divine authority.” ibid
Stalin took it a step further and sacrificed two million or more of his own troops taken German prisoner by refusing to repatriate them and killing off those who tried to return under their own steam in the gulags..
or by firing squad. All men captured were officially made an enemy of the state by Stalin’s infamous article 270. They were the Other, Zeks, unprotected by natural law, unwitting sacrifices to the maw of Uncle Joe, killed in their millions.
How much of Hitler’s crushing of the Jews and other minorities was about his own need to sacrifice to and appease unspecified Gods? After all, when he invaded Austria the only thing he wanted from Vienna was the spear head of Longinus, fabled totem that pierced the body of Christ, magically conferring kingly power upon whomever possessed it..
Now owned by the Pope..
Closer to home we have Mr Trump whose spiritual advisor Paula White says about him, ”When you are fighting against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.”
High Priest Pastor Jeffries praised Trump’s aggression as a function of Divine Will, ‘The Bible is clear, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un”
Which Bible verse is he refering to?
”There is no authority except that which God has established”..Romans 13 1-4.
In other words, just by virtue of being in office, he has the right to rule by divine fiat and with an iron fist. As we have seen, this exacerbates the experience of strangeness within borders that were once the very definition of amity for those they contained. Sacrificial subgroups are made less than citizen and war drums beat for the cleansing blood of the Nation’s sons.
Which brings back the question, how come we arranged this for ourselves?
What animal society would accept such circumstances whereby everyone’s safety is eternally compromised, where belonging is eroded, creativity degraded, opportunity diminished?
There just has to be a pay off. But what?
It’s not good enough to say that people are simply subjected to tyrants and have to endure them mindlessly for centuries at a time. , or at least from 9 to 5.
“And how we burned in the camps later thinking, what would things have been like, if people had understood…that they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers or whatever else was at hand? …We didn’t love freedom enough [and so] purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.” Solzhenitsyn.
If its true that we get the leaders we deserve then we might well look about us and ask along with Les Hayman..
”How many mirrors did we have to break, black cats did we have to pass, and ladders did we have to walk under to deserve this?”
Much as the depradations of modern kings catch our attention sufficient to evoke responses quite in keeping with the tradition of doing them in once in a while, our insistence on having them in the first place must surely grab our attention.
Do we just want to be led at any price? Is our capacity to identify with powerful others so great that its worth being crushed by them? Are we inherently sado-masochistic?
In the course of puzzling over such conundrums we would do well to remember that the evolution of a species doesn’t care to much for the fate of its individual members, neither the king nor those sacrificed on his divine behalf.