Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing and offering of an animal usually as part of a religious ritual or to appease or maintain favour with a deity. Animal sacrifices were common throughout Europe and the Ancient Near East until Late Antiquity, and continue in some cultures or religions today. All or only part of a sacrificial animal may be offered, especially in the context of ritual slaughter.


One of the altars at the Monte d'Accoddi, where animal sacrifice may have occurred.

During the Neolithic Revolution, early humans began to move from hunter-gatherer cultures toward agriculture, leading to the spread of animal domestication. In a theory presented in Homo Necans, mythologist Walter Burkert suggests that the ritual sacrifice of livestock may have developed as a continuation of ancient hunting rituals, as livestock replaced wild game in the food supply.[1] Ancient Egypt was at the forefront of domestication, and some of the earliest archeological evidence suggesting animal sacrifice comes from Egypt. The oldest Egyptian burial sites containing animal remains originate from the Badari culture of Upper Egypt, which flourished between 4400 and 4000 BC.[2] Sheep and goats were found buried in their own graves at one site, while at another site gazelles were found at the feet of several human burials.[2] At a cemetery uncovered at Hierakonpolis and dated to 3000 BC, the remains of a much wider variety of animals were found, including non-domestic species such as baboons and hippopotami, which may have been sacrificed in honor of powerful former citizens or buried near their former owners.[3] According to Herodotus, later Dynastic Egyptian animal sacrifice became restricted to livestock - sheep, cattle, swine and geese - with sets of rituals and rules to describe each type of sacrifice.[4]

By the end of Copper Age in 3000 BC, animal sacrifice had become a common practice across many cultures, and appeared to have become more generally restricted to domestic livestock. At Gath, archeological evidence indicates that the Canaanites imported sacrificial sheep and goats from Egypt rather than selecting from their own livestock.[5] At the Monte d'Accoddi in Sardinia, one of the earliest known sacred centers in Europe, evidence of the sacrifice of sheep, cattle and swine has been uncovered by excavations, and it is indicated that ritual sacrifice may have been common across Italy around 3000 BC and afterwards.[6] At the Minoan settlement of Phaistos in ancient Crete, excavations have revealed basins for animal sacrifice dating to the period 2000 to 1700 BC.[7]

Preparation of an animal sacrifice; marble, fragment of an architectural relief, first quarter of the 2nd century AD; from Rome, Italy

Ancient Europe

Abrahamic traditions


In Judaism, the qorban is any of a variety of sacrificial offerings described and commanded in the Torah. The most common usages are animal sacrifice (zevah זֶבַח), zevah shelamim (the peace offering) and olah (the "holocaust" or burnt offering). A qorban was an animal sacrifice, such as a bull, sheep, goat, or a dove that underwent shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter). Sacrifices could also consist grain, meal, wine, or incense.[8][9][10]

The Hebrew Bible says that Yahweh commanded the Israelites to offer offerings and sacrifices on various altars. The sacrifices were only to be offered by the hands of the Kohanim. Before building the Temple in Jerusalem, when the Israelites were in the desert, sacrifices were offered only in the Tabernacle. After building Solomon's Temple, sacrifices were allowed only there. After the Temple was destroyed, sacrifices was resumed when the Second Temple was built until it was also destroyed in 70 CE. After the destruction of the Second Temple sacrifices were prohibited because there was no longer a Temple, the only place allowed by halakha for sacrifices. Offering of sacrifices was briefly reinstated during the Jewish–Roman wars of the second century CE and was continued in certain communities thereafter.[11][8][12]

The Samaritans,[13] a group historically related to the Jews, practice animal sacrifice in accordance with the Law of Moses.


Matagh of a rooster at the entrance of a monastery church (Alaverdi, Armenia, 2009), with inset of bloody steps.

References to animal sacrifice appear in the New Testament, such as the parents of Jesus sacrificing two doves (Luke 2:24) and the Apostle Paul performing a Nazirite vow even after the death of Christ (Acts 21:23-26).

Christ is referred to by his apostles as "the Lamb of God", the one to whom all sacrifices pointed (Hebrews 10).[14] According to the penal substitution theory of atonement, Christ's crucifixion is comparable to animal sacrifice on a large scale as his death serves as a substitutionary punishment for all of humanity's sins.

Some villages in Greece sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints in a practice known as kourbania. Sacrifice of a lamb, or less commonly a rooster, is a common practice in Armenian Church and Tewahedo Church. This tradition, called matagh, is believed to stem from pre-Christian pagan rituals. Additionally, some Mayans following a form of Folk Catholicism in Mexico today still sacrifice animals in conjunction with church practices, a ritual practiced in past religions before the arrival of the Spaniards.[15]

Strangite Latter Day Saints

Animal sacrifice was instituted in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), a minor Latter Day Saint faction founded by James J. Strang in 1844. Strang's Book of the Law of the Lord (1851) deals with the topic of animal sacrifice in chapters 7 and 40.

Given the prohibition on sacrifices for sin contained in III Nephi 9:19-20 (Book of Mormon), Strang did not require sin offerings. Rather, he focused on sacrifice as an element of religious celebrations,[16] especially the commemoration of his own coronation as king over his church, which occurred on July 8, 1850.[17] 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."[18]

While the killing of sacrifices was a prerogative of Strangite priests,[19] female priests were specifically barred from participating in this aspect of the priestly office.[20] "Firstfruits" offerings were also demanded of all Strangite agricultural harvests.[21] Animal sacrifices are no longer practiced by the Strangite organization, though belief in their correctness is still required.

Neither The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nor the Community of Christ, the two largest Latter Day Saint factions, ever accepted Strang's teachings on this (or any other) subject.


Animal sacrifices at the Eid al-Adha Islamic festival in Pakistan (left) and India.

Muslims engaged in the Hajj (pilgrimage) are obliged to sacrifice a lamb or a goat or join others in sacrificing a cow or a camel during the celebration of the Eid al-Adha,[22][23] an Arabic term that means "Feast of Sacrifice", also known as al-Id al-Kabir (Great Feast), or Qurban Bayrami (Sacrifice Feast) in Turkic influenced cultures, Bakar Id (Goat Feast) in Indian subcontinent and Reraya Qurben in Indonesia.[24] Other Muslims not on the Hajj to Mecca also participate in this sacrifice wherever they are, on the 10th day of the 12th lunar month in the Islamic calendar.[24] It is understood as a symbolic re-enactment of Abraham's sacrifice of a ram in place of his son. Meat from this occasion is divided into three parts, one part is kept by the sacrificing family for food, the other gifted to friends and family, and the third given to the poor Muslims. The sacrificed animal is a sheep, goat, cow or camel. The feast follows a communal prayer at a mosque or open air.[24][25]

Cattle sacrifice at Eid.

The animal sacrifice during the Hajj is a part of nine step pilgrimage ritual. It is, states Campo, preceded by a statement to intention and body purification, inaugural circumambulation of the Kaaba seven times, running between Marwa and Safa hills, encampment at Mina, standing in Arafat, stoning the three Mina satanic pillars with at least forty nine pebbles. Thereafter, animal sacrifice, and this is followed by farewell circumambulation of the Kaaba.[26][27] The Muslims who are not on Hajj also perform a simplified ritual animal sacrifice. According to Campo, the animal sacrifice at the annual Islamic festival has origins in western Arabia in vogue before Islam.[26] The animal sacrifice, states Philip Stewart, is not required by the Quran, but is based on interpretations of other Islamic texts.[28]

Goat sacrifice.

The Eid al-Adha is major annual festival of animal sacrifice in Islam. In Indonesia alone, for example, some 800,000 animals were sacrificed in 2014 by its Muslims on the festival, but the number can be a bit lower or higher depending on the economic conditions.[29] According to Lesley Hazleton, in Turkey about 2,500,000 sheep, cows and goats are sacrificed each year to observe the Islamic festival of animal sacrifice, with a part of the sacrificed animal given to the needy who didn't sacrifice an animal.[30] According to The Independent, nearly 10,000,000 animals are sacrificed in Pakistan every year on Eid.[31][32] Countries such as Saudi Arabia transport nearly a million animals every year for sacrifice to Mina (near Mecca). The sacrificed animals at Id al-Adha, states Clarke Brooke, include the four species considered lawful for the Hajj sacrifice: sheep, goats, camels and cattle, and additionally, cow-like animals initialing the water buffalo, domesticated banteng and yaks. Many are brought in from north Africa and parts of Asia.[33]

Other occasions when Muslims perform animal sacrifice include the 'aqiqa, when a child is seven days old, is shaved and given a name. It is believed that the animal sacrifice binds the child to Islam and offers protection to the child from evil.[27]

Killing of animals by dhabihah is ritual slaughter rather than sacrifice.[citation needed]


Practices of Hindu animal sacrifice are mostly associated with Shaktism, and in currents of folk Hinduism strongly rooted in local tribal traditions. Animal sacrifices were carried out in ancient times in India. Hindu scriptures, including the Gita, and the Puranas forbid animal sacrifice.[34][35][36][37]

A male buffalo calf about to be sacrificed by a priest in the Durga Puja festival. The buffalo sacrifice practice, however, is rare in contemporary India.[38]

Animal sacrifice is a part of some Durga puja celebrations during the Navratri in eastern states of India. The goddess is offered sacrificial animal in this ritual in the belief that it stimulates her violent vengeance against the buffalo demon.[39] According to Christopher Fuller, the animal sacrifice practice is rare among Hindus during Navratri, or at other times, outside the Shaktism tradition found in the eastern Indian states of West Bengal, Odisha[40] and Assam. Further, even in these states, the festival season is one where significant animal sacrifices are observed.[39] In some Shakta Hindu communities, the slaying of buffalo demon and victory of Durga is observed with a symbolic sacrifice instead of animal sacrifice.[41][42][note 1]

The Rajput of Rajasthan worship their weapons and horses on Navratri, and formerly offered a sacrifice of a goat to a goddess revered as Kuldevi – a practice that continues in some places.[45][46] The ritual requires slaying of the animal with a single stroke. In the past this ritual was considered a rite of passage into manhood and readiness as a warrior.[47] The Kuldevi among these Rajput communities is a warrior-pativrata guardian goddess, with local legends tracing reverence for her during Rajput-Muslim wars.[48]

The tradition of animal sacrifice is being substituted with vegetarian offerings to the Goddess in temples and households around Banaras in Northern India.[49]

There are Hindu temples in Assam and West Bengal India and Nepal where goats, chickens and sometimes Water buffalos are sacrificed. These sacrifices are performed mainly at temples following the Shakti school of Hinduism where the female nature of Brahman is worshipped in the form of Kali and Durga. There are many village temples in Tamil Nadu where this kind of sacrifice takes place.[50]

In some Sacred groves of India, particularly in Western Maharashtra, animal sacrifice is practiced to pacify female deities that are supposed to rule the Groves.[51]

Animal sacrifice en masse occurs during the three-day-long Gadhimai festival in Nepal. In 2009 it was speculated that more than 250,000 animals were killed[52] while 5 million devotees attended the festival.[53]

In India, ritual of animal sacrifice is practised in many villages before local deities or certain powerful and terrifying forms of the Devi. In this form of worship, animals, usually goats, are decapitated and the blood is offered to deity often by smearing some of it on a post outside the temple.[54] or instance, Kandhen Budhi is the reigning deity of Kantamal in Boudh district of Orissa, India. 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 a child pig, which is sacrificed to the goddess every three years. Kandhen Budhi is also worshipped at Lather village under Mohangiri GP in Kalahandi district of Orissa, India.[55](Pasayat, 2009:20-24).[full citation needed]

The religious belief of Tabuh Rah, a form of animal sacrifice of Balinese Hinduism includes a religious cockfight where a rooster is used in religious custom by allowing him to fight against another rooster in a religious and spiritual cockfight, a spiritual appeasement exercise of Tabuh Rah.[56] The spilling of blood is necessary as purification to appease the evil spirits, and ritual fights follow an ancient and complex ritual as set out in the sacred lontar manuscripts.[57]

East Asian traditions

Buddhism and Taoism generally prohibit killing of animals;[58][59][60] some animal offerings, such as fowl, pigs, goats, fish, or other livestock, are accepted in some Taoism sects and beliefs in Chinese folk religion.[61][62][63]

In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, animal sacrifices are banned in Taoist temples.[64]

In Japan, Iomante was a traditional bear sacrifice that was practiced by the Ainu people.[65]

Traditional African and Afro-American religions

Animal sacrifice is regularly practiced in traditional African and Afro-American religions.[66][67]

The landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah in 1993 upheld the right of Santería adherents to practice ritual animal sacrifice in the United States of America. Likewise in Texas in 2009, legal and religious issues that related to animal sacrifice, animal rights and freedom of religion were taken to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Jose Merced, President Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha Texas, Inc., v. City of Euless. The court ruling that the Merced case of the freedom of exercise of religion was meritorious and prevailing and that Merced was entitled under the Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (TRFRA) to an injunction preventing the city of Euless, Texas from enforcing its ordinances that burdened his religious practices relating to the use of animals,[68] (see Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 110.005(a)(2)).

See also


  1. ^ In these cases, Shaktism devotees consider animal sacrifice distasteful, practice alternate means of expressing devotion while respecting the views of others in their tradition.[43] A statue of asura demon made of flour, or equivalent, is immolated and smeared with vermilion to remember the blood that had necessarily been spilled during the war.[41][42] Other substitutes include a vegetal or sweet dish considered equivalent to the animal.[44]


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