Lies and Damned Lies

     And then there are genocidal lies.  In this present era of conciousness raising and equality we are all pretty aware of this type of lie.  Horrible lies about one race being worse than another, or better.  Horrible lies about women being lesser humans, or the chosen vehicles for sin.  Horrible lies about people with various "challenges" somehow not being fully human anymore.  Unfortunately, some of the worst lies ever, lies that have led to wholesale genocide across thousands of years, are lies told about other people's religious practices. 
     Who isn't aware of the back and forth of horrendous lies and more horrific pogroms carried out by opposing Christian sects, for instance?  Or those against Jews?  But whilst most people now realise that none of these groups go around committing unspeakable sins in back rooms, most people still believe the most enduring lie told about pagan peoples.  You will find this lie plastered through almost every textbook, website, article or show that deals with Pagan roots.  Unfortunately, this lie is so fundamental to most people's perceptions of paganism and history that even most pagans seem to buy into it and repeat it.   It's time this lie was finally refuted loudly, boldly and consistently.
     Pagans did not sacrifice their children.  Pagans did not ever sacrifice their children to their Gods.  (I am currently exempting from my own statements here anything to do with Central and South American paganism.  I simply have not done enough research in this area yet.  Considering the ridiculous stuff I've seen passing for "history" and "fact" in other parts of the world however, I'm willing to give them overall the benefit of the doubt.)  And it is my strong opinion that reports of all "human sacrifice" are greatly exaggerated.  However, clearly the worst lie told of pagans is that they were willing to kill their own children to gain favor with their "bloodthirsty" Gods.  This is the one that I will address here.
     In ancient times the tales of child sacrifice come from two sources and two sources alone.  One is Hebrew tales of the local Pagan religion--which apparently had a great attraction for many Hebrews since they kept going back to it--and the other is Romans writing about Carthage around the time of their rivalry with Carthage and afterwards when the lies were already "set".  That's it, and these are hardly unbiased accounts.  Indeed, neither were accounts, per se, just propoganda designed to elicit a horrified response and justify the most vile actions of bigoted hatred. 
     An interesting thing to note about theJewish lies in particular, was that they chose to denounce the festival of Sacaea as one where many children were sacrificed, perhaps thousands.  And you will find this thoughtlessly repeated again and again, by people who apparently don't bother to think why they choose to believe the bible is inherently correct about this, but not about other things.  In the MidEast around the winter solstice there were two festivals very close together; both had to do with the cyclical fight between the forces of good and evil. 
      In the first of these festivals, Zamguk, as Marduk fought off the forces of darkness, the king would symbolically die and then be reborn.  This symbolic (for the real king) death was carried out on a criminal who was granted one heck of a week leading up to his ritual execution.  As far as I can tell, although the method of execution was highly symbolic and everything handled with extreme attention to detail, the execution itself was not necessarily worse than the standard executions carried out at those times and places.  (The standard ones being quite bad enough.) 
     It was considered that in general there were a lot of evil spirits roaming about and threatening children in particular at this time of year.  So after Zamguk they had another festival to celebrate the children being kept safe;  it was very noisy, as is common with festivals designed to scare off evil spirits. This festival was called Sacaea.
     Notice the holiday they chose to defile with their lies.  They chose the pagan festival that celebrated their children being kept safe by their Gods to accuse them of burning their own children alive.  How typical of the most evil lies.
     This turned out to be tragically ironic for the Jewish people, because later Christians revived these lies and accused Jews, as being after all relapsed Baal worshipers, of the same "atrocities".  You can easily find websites right now that base their anti-semitic bigotry on tales of Jewish people carrying on these same sacrifices that they accused the Pagans ofcommitting.  The practice in these accusations since about 1149, however, has been to accuse the Jews of grabbing some hapless Christian for the sacrifice, preferably a child. 
     Certainly I think one can see obvious similarities between these tales and the tales of "satanic" ritual sacrifices that are frequently revived.  
These early Hebrew lies of Pagans sacrificing their own children coupled with their other lies of Pagan men and women being concerned with nothing except meaningless sex, and lots of it, laid the pattern for the basic idea many people to this day have about Pagans.  (Oh, right, and being too stupid to  realise that a clay statue was not answering our prayers and grotesque sacrifices.)  These are very dangerous lies to still have floating about, and they do impact us today.  They impact from the outside in many people feeling that it must be inappropriate for Pagans to have children or be allowed to raise them as Pagans, and this feeling does not have to be enacted through legislation to inform the decisions of judges, mediators, and child "protection" types. 
     They impact from the inside by confusing Pagans about the thought tradition derived from our Ancestors.  Let's make this clear, executing criminals was acceptable, executing babies was not. 
     I have also seen atheists posting that they used to be Pagan, but fell away under the weight of what they saw as overwhelming "evidence" that "actual real Pagans" in the past were stupid and nasty.  Frequently they mention the "child sacrifices" as examples of this.  I myself had not seen any necessary connection between this lie and the cause of human secularism/atheism until I saw site after site on-line that based it's attack on all religion on the evil pagan roots of religion.  Always they start out with the child sacrifices.  I just hadn't realised how much this is an underpinning of the anti-religion argument. 
      This is not the same as, say, slavery, which everyone practiced, it being the "motor" for earlier technology levels.  As we have been able to move to more intensive technology levels, we have been able to leave behind this unhappy part of our common past.  Our leaving slavery behind had nothing to do with any philosopy or religion.  It had to do with a sea change in how the nuts and bolts of civilisation work.  Of course there are those who have always desired to make it a religious issue. 
This is also not the same as "humane" criminal codes, or equal rights, or any of a number of social issues, which it would be fascinating to study in an attempt to peg them to something concrete, but which are not linked to any one religious paradigm. 
     The reason it is not the same is that the frequent murder of children is being linked to a certain religion-a certain group of religions.  And it is being held out as an integral part of that religion, that only eradication of the religion stopped.  Really, if it seems horrible that people are out there saying quite similar things about Jewish people, which it is, then how much more horrible is it that a whole religion is being accused of this? 
     Yes, I know it's in the past, and only nuts who believe in all those "Satanist" stories would think this has anything to do with modern pagans.  I have also been on the wrong side of various mediators and counselors and lawyers.  I have seen others fall afoul of the quiet bigotry of the "educated professional".  They don't trust anyone with religious convictions, much less "nuts".  And the lie of child sacrifice is part of this.  Many of these people feel that modern pagans are being held in check only by weight of law and that the "natural"extension of pagan belief leads to human sacrifice and child sacrifice.  As long as we continue to condone these lies by saying, "oh, these people viewed life differently" or even simply silence, we are doing a grave disservice to not only ourselves and our children, but to Pagan culture and the Gods.

For a report of some recent research backing up my arguments here, see

2007 Oak Hedge