Ritual: Sacrificial Ritual Contents

Glossary of Terms

Bhudnōn -- "Bottom." The world below.

Dhétis -- The laws of society. In a perfect society, they are the societal expression of the Xártus.

Fire Tender -- She, of course, tends the fire. If possible, if the sacrifice is being performed for a man, this role is taken by his wife. If it is for the group as a whole, it is preferably taken by an unmarried woman.

Ǵhḗuter -- "Caller out, pourer." The priest who says most of the invocations and performs most of the libations.

Ghórdhos -- Enclosed space." The space in which the ritual takes place.

ʔṇ́gʷnis -- "Living Fire." (More specifically, the animate word for "fire.") The sacrificial fire.

Kówəs -- The priest in charge of most of the ritual speech.

Medhyom -- “The Middle.” Our world, between the above and the below.

Nḗr -- "Man, Hero." The champion, the protector of the group. He represents Perkʷū́nos and carries a double-headed axe.

Réḱs -- "King." The head of the Wiks in a religious sense; he may or may not be the political head.

Speltá -- "Board." The place where the ritual tools are stored. It may be just a board or cloth on the ground, or a small table. In no case, though, should it be taller than the ʔṇ́gʷnis.

Wiḱs -- "Household." The group performing the ritual together.

Xádbhertor: "The one who brings forward." The priest who is the main actor in the sacrifice.

Xádōr -- "Dry stuff." A mixture of salt and parched barley, used to purify the sacrifice.

Xā́sā -- "Hearth." The representative in the ritual space of the hearth of the one from whom the ritual is being performed.

Yéwesa (sing. yéwos) -- The rules according to which a ritual is to be performed, a reflection in ritual action of the Xártus.

Sacrificial Ritual

The sacrificial ritual may be performed in honor of any of the deities, or of more than one. The rituals dedicated to different deities differ in the hymns and the identity of the animal sacrificed. This example is directed towards Xáryomēn.

The sacrifice consists of:
A metal plate on which is a piece of white flatbread.
A second metal plate on which is a red velvet cake in the shape of the appropriate sacrificial animal. (This was suggested to me by Francesca Hedrick.)
On the sacrifice, two gold ribbons or lengths of gold chains vertically parallel to each other.
A short looped length of cord between the chains.
A white cloth over all of this.
Finally, on the top is a smaller piece of flatbread, this time whole wheat.
A small bowl of a clear liqueur mixed with red food coloring to look like blood. This is on the plate with the sacrifice, placed between the animal's leg.

1. Purification
If the group is small enough, the bowl of water is passed around for each person to purify themselves as they desire. If there are too many for this to be done easily, the Xádbhertor asperses them (the asperger can be simply a leafy branch cut at the site), saying:

Be pure to cross through the sacred.
Cross through the sacred to attain the holy.
Attain the holy that you might be blessed in all things.
Pútons ʔesete.
(Be pure.)

2. The Beginning
The Xádbhertor says:

Diviner, is the day propitious?

The Diviner replies:

The omens have been taken and are auspicious.

3. Lighting the xā́sá.
Arrange the xā́sá.

To light the fire, the Fire Tender holds three matches vertically and says:

The supporting pillar of the home
resting on the earth.
Spring forth, fire, from the center of our world.

She strikes them as one group and lights the briquettes. She can also use a lighter, saying instead:

Strike the rock, lightning born flame.

You may wish to pour a small amount of lighter fluid on the briquettes before lighting them. The Ǵhḗuter says:

Westyā, who burns on our hearth, in our home,
we call to you to join us here,
in our midst,
bringing our prayers to the gods,
forming the means by which we sacrifice.
May the holy arise in our midst,
the pure and the blessing.

Once the xā́sā is burning well, the Fire Tender offers butter to it, saying:

Shining Westyā, unite us all,
for by worshipping at a common hearth
we are made one family, one people.
Demezpotyā, your household is here.

The Ǵhḗuter says:

Set forth upon the shining path,
the ancestral way laid out before us.
Place your feet with measured stride,
in ancient rhythm.

4. The Procession
The Nḗr leads, holding his axe vertically in front of him in both hands, followed by the Ǵhḗuter and Xádbhertor side by side, the Xádbhertor on the left. The Xádbhertor carries the sacrifice. The Fire Tender follows, carrying the xā́sā. (Even a cauldron with three incense briquettes in it is hot to carry, so she will need to wear a fire glove.) The others follow her in two lines. If there are musicians, they are at the end of the procession.

When the procession reaches the entrance to the space all stop. The Ǵhḗuter says:

Déiwons xadbheromes!
(We wish to sacrifice to the gods!)

All: We wish to worship the gods!

The Ǵhḗuter lifts his hands in prayer and says:

Dōtóres weswom, ḱḗrdons nsons nzmei dhedhəmes

ni All: Givers of Goods, we set our hearts toward you!

Ǵhḗuter: Come we together on this holy day
across the distances that lay between us
to this time, to this place,
for one strong purpose:
To worship the Holy Ones in the proper manner.

He lowers his hands and says:

May our worship be according to the Xártus.

They enter and take their places. The Nḗr stands to the right of the gate. The Fire Tender places the xā́sā to the west of the ʔṇ́gʷnis and sits down halfway between them and slightly to the south, where she can tend both fires. The Xádbhertor and Ǵhḗuter cross the space and go to the west, where they stand facing east, with the Xádbhertor to the Ǵhḗuter's right. On his way to his place, the Xádbhertor puts the sacrifice on the speltá. The others arrange themselves equally about the ghórdhos, close to the edge.

5. Opening prayer

Déiwons xadbheromes!
(We wish to sacrifice to the gods!)
Holy Ones, Mighty Ones, Protectors of our People!
Splendid Ones, Steadfast Ones, Givers of Gifts!
Gods rightly worshipped for years uncounted.

All: We praise you,
we worship you,
we pray for your presence.

The Ǵhḗuter then calls to Xáryomēn, saying:

You weave our people together in bonds of law.
It is your law, indeed, that binds us as one.
Dhétispotei, you guide us in the ways of the gods;
In the ways of men you inspire right actions.
You are Xáryomēn, god of the right way,
of the right way for people in our society.
Watch us today; we will offer sacrifice to you.
Come join us today in holy ritual.
Come sit at the table we will set for you.
Xáryomēn, hear our words, see our actions, share our meal.

6. Call to silence
When the Ǵhḗuter is done, the Xádbhertor says three times:

Tūsyéte! Tūsyéte! Tūsyéte!
(Be silent!)

(The silence proclaimed before a sacrifice is a feature of Greek (Burkert, 1985, 73; Lambert, 1993, 296) and Roman (Dumézil, 1970a, 558; Scullard,1981, 24) ritual. Greek examples are from the Iliad 171 (p. 237), “A reverent silence now … a prayer to Zeus,” and Euripides, “Iphigenia in Aulis” 1563-4, “Then Talthybius, standing in the midst,/According to his office, spoke, proclaiming/A holy silence to the army.” In Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae, 295, a ritual starts with a heraldress calling out “Let there be silence” twice (in Mikalson, 2005, 176). When the Athenian fleet was about to leave for Sicily, a trumpet was used to call for silence; that a trumpet was used instead of a declaration makes sense in the light of there being 30,000 men at the ritual (Burkert, 1985, 266).

A Roman example comes from Tibullus, 2.1.1, “faveat” (from favere ; "may there be holding for the tongue"), translated by Woodard (2006, 129) as “keep silent.” Cicero (“On Divination” 1.45) says that this is said at the beginning of all public ceremonies. It is also mentioned by Seneca, (“De Vita Beata,” 26.7), who gives the form as favete linguis ("be favorable with your tongues"), and who explains it as being for the purpose of preventing ill-omened words. Livy (Weiss, 2010, 147, n. 40) and Pliny the Elder (Natural History 28.3 in Warrior, 2006, 18) tell us that there is a herald whose job it is to enforce silence.

Vedic rituals required a vow of silence, after which everything said had to be done according to ritual prescriptions (Jamison, 1991, 83).

In Iran we find prohibitions against “chattering” during rituals in Zoroastrianism (e.g., in the Nerangestan 19.11 (Kreyenbroek, 2004, 324-5)). The emphasis on saying the “right” words at each point in a ritual is also relevant. In this concern the emphasis is on the production of the right rather than on the prevention of the wrong, but the principle is the same.

The call to silence has the psychological effect of emphasizing the words and actions of the following ritual, especially in their creative aspect. A new world is born from the silence.

The original purpose of the silence is most likely reflected in a Vedic rule that no one should speak carelessly during a sacrifice. The time of ritual is not for ordinary things. Perhaps, as well, extraneous speech was believed to work its way into the ritual and establish itself as "real."

It is consistent with the common IE concern that rituals be done properly: anything extraneous does not belong in a ritual (or it wouldn’t be extraneous), and it might, therefore, disturb, destroy, or even reverse the desired effect of the ritual. With the IE beliefs as to the importance of speech, extraneous words are the most dangerous interventions.

The call to silence was not an admonition to maintain actual silence. How could it be when prayers were to be said and songs sung? Instead it directed those present to say nothing that did not belong in the ritual. It had a flip side; it meant that whatever was said was part of the ritual, even if unintended. We can see this in Rome, where the sacrificer covered his head with a fold of his toga and flutes played, both in an attempt to prevent ill-omened words from being overheard and being woven into the ritual. We see it also in India, where what is said is carefully circumscribed so as to prevent inappropriate words from being spoken, and therefore heard.>

7. The fires
The Fire Tender offers butter to the xā́sā, while the Ǵhḗuter says:

We feed the fire on the heart of our land.
With the burning of the fire we take possession
of the land it lights, of the world it warms.
From here to there we take possession.

(He gestures from side to side when he says the last line.)

The use of butter for a Proto-Indo-European offering is a no-brainer, especially for a hearth, since butter is food. Not only is it food for us, but it feeds the fire, since it burns well. Butter is from the sacred cow. It is golden in color, especially when it has been clarified and melted, linking it with the sun and thus the celestial deities and fire. It is clarified for practical reasons – it keeps longer than unclarified butter and melts more easily – and aesthetic ones – melted clarified butter is a clear golden color, unlike the rather unpleasant looking melted regular butter. Its clarity might also be said to serve a religious purpose; it is, in a sense, purer than ordinary butter. Finally, it might be thought of as the essence of the butter, its “spirit,” with the butter’s solid “body” removed. Clarify the butter a day or so before the ritual. Bring it to the ritual solid and melt it there.

Clarified – and slightly cooked – butter, called “ghee,” is extremely common, and extremely important, in Vedic ritual. The texts go so far as to call it a “thunderbolt” (vajra (*wágros), and “the life-sap of the universe.” It is also identified with the sacred drink, amṛta (Gonda, 1980, 176-7).

Certainly in historical times incense was also used as offerings. Greek texts speak of “fragrant altars” in Homeric times (Burkert, 1985, 62). Oddly enough, even though we might associate incense strongly with India, it doesn’t seem to have been used in Vedic rites. The Zoroastrian fires are fed with the sweet-smelling sandalwood. My thought is that incense wasn’t used in Proto-Indo-European rituals, although fragrant woods might have been, but that it was certainly adopted by the descendant traditions, and does not violate any Proto-Indo-European principles.

The Fire Tender then lays three logs on the altar, one each to the south, west, and north. As she places them, the Fire Tender says:

Tóm ʔṇ́gʷnim Bhudhnen dedəmes.
Tóm ʔṇ́gʷnim Medhyō dedəmes.
Tóm ʔṇ́gʷnim Wēi dedəmes.

We place this fire in Bhudhnon.
We place this fire in Medhyom.
We place this fire in Weis.

The logs are laid clockwise, with a gap at the east. The sacred influence of the gods will enter there. The arrangement comes from Vedic ritual. I am unaware of any information on the arrangement of firewood in the western traditions. In Greek and Roman artistic representations, the wood is piled in a “log cabin” fashion, but this may have been an artistic convention rather than a religious one.

She puts tinder in the center and kindling in a teepee shape above it, within the three logs. She then sprinkles the pile lightly with water from the pitcher. She lights it by transferring a briquette from the xā́sā with the butter spoon. As she puts the briquette on, she says:

Be our place of sacrifice.

She then blows on the ʔṇ́gʷnis to enflame the tinder, while the Ǵhḗuter says:

With our prayers we feed you,
with the breath of our mouths.

It was forbidden to blow on the fire of Brighid in Kildare; instead a bellows or winnowing fork had to be used (Gerald of Wales, 82, ¶ 69). We are not told why. In Zoroastrianism also the fire must not be blown on, in this case because of the chance that spittle might contaminate it (Choksy, 1986, 176). This rule is described in Strabo (15.3.14). The opposite is the case in Vedism, where fanning a flame in any other way than blowing on it can bring illness, poverty, and death (Gonda, 1980, 169). The Vedic fire is blown upon as it emerges from the rubbed-together kindling sticks (Keith, 1925, 316). I do not think, therefore, that the prohibition against the use of the breath is Proto-Indo-European; if it is, it is possible that it was an attribute of the hearthfire.

I added this line because, first, the fire will often need to be fanned in some way, and, second, the identification of speech with breath, combined with the importance of speech in Indo-European thought, suggested it.

After the ʔṇ́gʷnis is lit, the Xádbhertor puts butter on it, saying:

Be fed with the produce of cattle.
Shine with the shining cow’s gift.

We have information on fire lighting rituals from Greece and from India, but unfortunately they don’t agree. At Greek festivals, the flame could be brought in in a race (Burkert, 1985, 61). It could also be brought from somewhere considered to be the home of the city performing the ritual.

If the ritual is being performed indoors, use four incense briquettes arranged in the shape of a square, and transfer the fire from the xā́sā to the ʔṇ́gʷnis with a match.

8. The circumambulation.
The Xádbhertor says:

We honor the fire with right turning.

The Xáadbhertor picks up the sacrifice and goes clockwise around the ʔṇ́gʷnis. When he returns to his place, he puts the sacrifice down. The circumambulation is the last of the opening rites. Next comes the main ritual.

Clockwise is the standard Indo-European direction of honoring. In Iranian Zoroastrian sacrifices, however, the animal was led counter-clockwise around the altar (Boyce, 1989, 245). I don't know the reason for this; it may be an act of separation.

9. The hymn.
The sacrifice begins with a hymn of praise, recited by the Ǵhḗuter:

A web is laid over us,
the web of right law,
the web of the dhétis.
It is you, Xáryomēn, who weave that web;
you put each in its proper place.
It is with your blessing that we become one people,
It is with your strength that we are joined together.

10. The first offering.
The Xádbhertor picks up the small piece of bread from the top of the sacrifices, takes it to the ʔṇ́gʷnis, and breaks it up there, scattering the pieces on the ground while saying:

Givers of gifts, we offer the gift of the ground
transformed by our work into food for us and for you.
Receive with pleasure this first gift to you.

The Vedic ritual texts list three categories of ritual, the iṣṭi, which is a vegetable offering; animal sacrifice; and the agniṣṭoma or its variants (the ritual of the creation, offering, and consumption of the sacred drink, soma (Gonda, 1982, 7-8). It is also provided that these should these are nested; i.e., an agniṣṭoma needs to include an animal sacrifice and an iṣṭi, an animal sacrifice performed not as part of an agniṣṭoma requires an iṣṭi, and an iṣṭi can be performed on its own. In other words, a Vedic animal sacrifice will always be preceded by a vegetable offering, often of rice.

Greek rituals always included vegetable offerings, most commonly wheat or barley cakes (Parker, 2011, 135).

There were different types of bread or rice given to different deities. In Rome, a bread called strues, which was strips of bread crossing each other (a cross? a weave?), was only offered to Janus (Paulus-Festus 310, in Burchertt, 1912, 41). We don't know why particular types were associated with particular deities, however, but you might want to experiment with shapes or grains that seem appropriate. Perhaps oat bread might be good for ʔéḱwonā, for instance.

11. The blessing of the sacrifice
He returns to his place, where he removes the cloth and puts it over the knife. He uncoils the rope and drapes it on top of the cloth.

He then picks up the bowl of water on the speltá in his left hand and sprinkles some of it, using his right hand, over the sacrifice three times, saying each time:

A pure offering is this,
without blemish or stain,
fit for (the deity of the occasion).

There are two things going on in the sprinkling. The first is exactly what is proclaimed to be going on, that the animal is being purified. The Indo-European concern for purity is of course applied to an animal which is going to go to the gods. I have further added a declaration that the animal is inherently proper for sacrifice, that there is nothing wrong with it. In Vedic ritual the sprinkling sometimes seems more of a blessing (Gonda, 1980, 127).

He raises the sacrifice and says:

This (the animal to be sacrificed) has come willingly, eagerly,
whole, unblemished,
to the place of sacrifice
bedecked with gold
in celebration and beauty.

Indo-European sacrificial animals were required to be healthy and whole. This makes sense, of course; you wouldn’t want to give someone, least of all a deity, a broken gift.

In the Iguvine Tablets (Poultney, 1959, 194; Weiss, 2010, 284) a sacrificial victim (a pig) is proclaimed to be free from blemish. Roman sacrifices had to be purum, “pure, free from defilement” (Dumézil, 1970a, 373).

The other purpose of the sprinkling is to gain the animal’s consent. There is a certain amount of discomfort among Indo-Europeans at the idea of the actual killing of the animal in the sacrifice. In the sacrifices at the Zoroastrian festival of Mihragan, the sacrificer kisses the animal on the cheek before killing it as an act of contrition (Boyce, 1975, 111). Vedic sacrificial animals were asked for their permission (Gonda, 1980, 434). Macrobius (3.5.8) sees it from the other direction, saying that an unwilling victim is a sign that the god doesn’t like the victim. In India this was one of the factors in the rise of vegetarianism, and the especial emphasis of this in relation to the cow, originally the sacrificial animal par excellence. In Sanskrit texts, the word karman, “action,” is often used instead of yajña, “sacrifice” (Lubin, 2001, 88). Even the use of words meaning “kill” were avoided. In Rome the world immolare was used to mean “slay a sacrificial victim.” Although it is the source of English “immolate,” its literal meaning was “sprinkle with salted meal” (Poultney, 1959, 180). This sort of sprinkling was an essential part of a Roman sacrifice, so the term was used in a pars pro toto way in order to avoid a more direct word. Other Latin words used were facere, "do, make," and "work." Jan Bergman (1987, 31) attributes this to sacrifice being "the sacred action par préférence, but I think it at least as likely that it was used to avoid a more explicit term.

One way of assuaging the guilt of killing is to believe that the animal has consented to the killing. There are even stories in Greece in which the animal pressed forward to the altar. A common way the animal to give consent was for it to nod or shake. It was helped to do so by sprinkling it with water. In Greece the animal was sprinkled on its head to made it shake (Burkert, 1985, 56). Parker (2011, 129-30) believes this to be late and exceptional, and not a reflection of actual and early practice and theology, with the animal “shaking” rather than nodding, as sign of vitality rather than consent. However, in Kalasha sacrifices the animals were also sprinkled with water, with the intent that they would show their consent by shaking (Robertson, 1896, 423). The previous sprinkling has therefore performed not just a purification but a request for approval.

The knife is hidden from the animal with the cloth as a continuation of this; the animal is prevented from seeing the weapon which will cut its throat. In Greece the knife was carried in a basket, covered by ribbons and the grains that would be thrown on the animal (Bremmer, 1995, 33; Burkert, 1985, 56; Dietrich, 1988, 36). In all the representations of animals sacrifices that we have from Greece (and there are many) none show the actual killing of the animal (Vernant, 1991, 294).

Sacrificial animals were decorated with gold and ribbons in Rome (Scullard, 1981, 23; Plutarch, Life of Aemilius Paulus, 33.2; Vergil 9.627) and Greece (Iliad 10:294; Odyssey 3.417-72; Burkert, 1985, 56). In Strabo (15.3.13), Persian sacrificial animals are decorated with wreaths. In modern Iran, they are decorated with ribbons or a kerchief (Boyce, 1989, 245), preferably green, perhaps as a substitute for the green of leaves of a wreath. In some Vedic sacrifices the animals were also garlanded (Gonda, 1980, 437). In the Bṛhadáraṇyaka Upaniṣad (quoted in Staal, 2008, 166) a king, preparing to conduct a sacrifice of a thousand cows, ties ten pieces of gold to the horns of each of them. Also, pieces of gold are put in altars and on offered pieces of bread in Vedic ritual. A German folk custom was to lead an ox with gilden horns through town, which was then slaughtered (Burkert, 1966, 106, n.42).

Yerkes (1952, 108) thinks that in Greece the gold is just for decoration. Since garlands or ribbons are also used instead, there is some sense behind this suggestion. However, it may instead be a question of by marking the victim as valuable, or as being a valuable offering of its own. Using gold is also a good way for a sacrificer to declare their status to be high. Another possibility comes from the connection between gold and the divine; adorning the animal with gold is one of the stages in conveying it to the sacred.

He puts the sacrifice down and removes the chains, putting them on the ground to the right of the speltá. He picks up the bowl of Nekter in his left hand and sprinkles some of it onto the sacrifice with his right hand, saying:

Be filled with life, with long life, for the good of the gods.

Wine was sprinkled on the sacrificial animal both in Greece and Anatolia (Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, 1995, 561-2). Soma was poured into the fire as part of a Vedic sacrifice (Hillebrandt, 1980 (1929), 183).

He puts the bowl of Nekter down and picks up that with the xádor in his left hand. He scatters the xádor from it three times with his right hand onto the sacrifice, saying each time:

Be blessed and fed with the fruits of the earth.

(He may want to rinse his fingers in the bowl of water, and have a towel to dry them on.)

He then picks up the main sacrifice (that is, the top plate) and brings it clockwise about the space, carrying the bowl of xádor as well. Each person takes some xádor and throws it on the sacrifice with their right hand.

By throwing the xádōr everyone present is incorporated into the sacrifice. In Greece, everyone threw barley on the animal and the sacrifice immediately after the animal is purified (Burkert, 1985, 56), although it is sometimes said that the barley was thrown on the altar (Burkert, 1966, n. 46). (Interestingly, in a description of a modern Greek sacrifice in Pharsas, Cappadocia, it’s leaves and flowers that are scattered on the animal (Burkert, 1966, 104, n. 37).) In Vedic ritual the animal was sprinkled with rice and barley water also after (although not immediately after) having been washed (Gonda, 1980, 434). The animal in the Greek sacrifice in Pharsas was led three times around a stone on which incense was burnt (Burkert, 1966, 104, n, 37); as we will see, the stone functions as an altar.

12. The sacrifice.
When the Xádbhertor returns to the speltá, he puts the bowl of xádor down, and holds up the sacrifice in his left hand and his right hand over it. He says:

A proper offering is this,
as it is right to give.
This ox to Xáryomēn.

The formula “This X to N,” rather than “We offer this X to N” is Indo-European.

He lowers the sacrifice just enough so he can cross his left hand under it to pick up the knife, keeping it covered by the cloth, and with the rope still draped over it.

The sacrifice is in the blessing hand; the knife is in the destructive hand.

He carries them to the Fire Tender who pours some melted butter on the sacrifice (not on the knife, which would make it slippery), saying:

With the heart of the cow,
with all we own,
we offer to you,
you who stand behind all things.

Both the Zoroastrian drōn and a Vedic rice cake offered as part of the new and full moon sacrifices (Gonda, 1982, 29) are spread with butter. In this case I have added the butter as a way of identifying the animal with a cow; even though it will often be another animal, this seemed appropriate because of the Indo-European concept of property being thought of as cows or their equivalent.

He then brings them to a spot right to the west of the sacrificial stake, and puts the sacrifice on the ground. He puts the bowl of red alcohol on the left side of the sacrifice, and then puts the knife to its right, crossing it over the sacrifice, and putting it down with the blade away from the sacrifice. He takes the rope and loops it clockwise around the stake, ending it up the ends crossed on top of the sacrifice, saying:

Arrived at the center of the Cosmos, you are bound:
bound to the service of those who give,
bound to the service of those who shine,
bound to the sacrifice and to the immortal.

I have added the elaborate arranging of the cord as a deliberate complication of the ritual; i.e., it is not reconstructed but invented. It's meant, however, to represent the sacrifice being tied to the stake.

The Nḗr comes over to the fires and stands on the south, facing the Fire Tender. When he has arrived, the Fire Tender says:

May he/it strike!

This is more ambivalence. The killing will not be done by the person for whom the sacrifice is being offered, or even by the priest, but by the Nḗr. In Rome, the killing was done by a professional, a victimarius, also called the popa (Schilling, 1969, 471; Scullard, 1981, 24). In the Odyssey (3.439-63), it is the priest's (Nestor's) son who kills the animal. In Vedic ritual the killing was also done by someone other than the main priest (O'Flaherty, 1996, 155).

The most famous case of this is the Athenian Bouphonia, described by Pausanias (1.24.4). At this festival, held in the middle of the month Skirophorion (June/July), an ox was killed with an axe. The axe was then put on trial, rather than the person who had done the killing, as if had done the killing all by itself. In the Dipolieia, the killing is perfomed by a foreigner (Bremmer, 1999, 42).

When sacrifice is described in ritual and myth, and represented in images in Greece, the moment of killing is avoided (Bremmer, 1999, 42).

There is a distancing in the Fire Tender's statement to the Nḗr, *perkʷéti. This is a subjunctive third person singular of the verb perkʷ- "strike" (as in "Perkʷū́nos"), and thus means "he/she/it will/might strike" (and not even "kill"). By using *perkʷéti-, she is off the hook, because she hasn't actually told the Nḗr to strike, the Nḗr is off the hook because the subject of *perkʷéti can be "it," the axe, and not "he," the Nḗr. The Xádbhertor is off the hook as well - he only cuts up an animal that is already dead. Even so, he cuts the animal up quickly, partly to get it over with (limiting his association with the death aspect) and partly to make sure that if the Nḗr hasn't finished the job the animal will die without causing any fuss that might negate the sacrifice. The Vedic sacrificial victim is “quieted” rather than killed, this is done by the non-bloody method of smothering (or strangling), the “quieting” is done outside of the ritual space, and there is even an insistence that the animal doesn’t actually die (Gonda, 1982, 47). One reason for smothering is to prevent the animal from crying out, which would have been seen as refusing to consent to its sacrifice, thereby negating the sacrifice; the word for the strangling is saṁjñapana, which means “cause to give consent” (SB; Sen, 1976, 114). The Vedic sacrificial victim is "quieted" rather than killed. This is done by the non-bloody method of smothering; the "quieting" is done outside of the ritual space, and there is even an insistence that the animal doesn't actually die (Gonda, 1982, 47). (That the killing was originally more violent is shown by the fact that the killing is done by the śamitṛ, “butcher” (Sen, 1976, 110) someone other than the main priest (O’Flaherty, 1996, 155; Sen, 1976, 110)); all the priests leave the space and look away so that they don’t even see the killing (Drury, 1981, 29). Roman ritual terminology was even more euphemistic, using a verb meaning "do" or "make" (Weiss, 2010, 107, n. 26); “to do” was used in Greece as well (Bremmer, 1999, 42).

The Nḗr goes clockwise around the space, holding the axe upright and out. As he walks, the Fire Tender strikes a bell, and the others join in, either with their own instruments, by clapping, or by stamping on the ground. Following the Fire Tender’s lead, they increase the tempo and volume as he walks.

While the Nḗr circles, the Xádbhertor leans close to the sacrifice and softly says (it is to the animal he speaks; the others do not hear over the noise they are making):

We free you to take the sacred path,
to take the holy path,
the divine path to the Divine Ones.

He removes the rope during this, coiling it to the right of the stake.

The path is well-marked, from ancient days till now:
as you have freely offered yourself,
freely take your way,
bound only by the prayers we have made,
carrying them on your back.

During the line, “bound only...” he takes the knife from under the cloth, draws its dull side across the sacrifice from its lower left to its upper right, and then puts it on the cloth. When the Nḗr has returned, he picks up the knife again, holding it flat, with the sharp edge away from the sacrifice.

In Roman sacrifice a knife is drawn along the spine of the animal before it is killed. This is a ritual of separation, dedicating the animal to the gods (Scheid, 2003, 32). The knife is placed with its sharp edge away from the sacrifice as a way of "reassuring" the animal.

When he has returned to the south, the Nḗr lifts the axe high and the Fire Tender says:


The Nḗr brings the axe down hard against the sacrifice, and then lifts his axe to a vertical position in front of him and returns to his place. As the axe hits, the percussion stops.

In Deep Ancestors, I had the sacrificial animal “killed” by the Nḗr with an axe. This seemed necessary from a practical (and symbolic) point of view; the Nḗr’s symbol of office is an axe, and it didn’t seem right to provide him with an extra weapon simply for this use. It seemed interesting as well to parallel the primal combat be Perkʷū́nos with the snake, adding the meaning of overcoming the chaos (death) to sacrifice.

I also, however, had comparative evidence for the use of an axe. I was pleased to have this to prop up the somewhat shaky interpretative argument.

The Greeks used more than one instrument of sacrifice. Small animals could simply have their throats cut. This is how Agamemnon sacrifices a boar in the Iliad 19.252-68 (although since he is using a dagger that he wears in his sacrifice, this may have been a weapon of opportunity). There are also several sacrifices in the Odyssey. In one (3.439-63), Nestor sacrifices an ox, which is killed by his son with an axe. (Fitzgerald calls it “two-bladed.”)

Later, 14.418-36, the swineherd Eumaios kills a sacrificial boar with an oak club. That the club was made of oak is probably significant, since oak is the wood associated with the storm god. It might be argued that he was just using a convenient piece of wood, a handy piece of firewood perhaps, and since oak is a preferred species for firewood it would be the expected kind of club. However, sacrifice is by no means a handy thing to do; rituals are well-thought out and carefully followed.

Second, this is not a newspaper report, we are not dealing with someone just reporting the facts. This is not prose, it is a poem, and a carefully constructed one at that. We should consider all details significant unless proven otherwise. The only reasons I can think of to specify a species of wood are to lend color to a scene or to fill a metrical hole. In either case, the choice would have to have been of an appropriate species. At the very least, an oak club would have to have been consistent with Greek sacrificial practice.

And in fact, when we are told that he split wood for the sacrificial fire we are not told its species, but we are told that the log he uses to kill the pig is unsplit; it is not firewood at the time.

In the context of my argument, it is significant that the club is the identifying weapon of Herakles, who is a Greek reflex of Perkʷū́nos.

An axe was also used in the much-discussed Buphonia(Burkert, 1983, 136-42).

There are numerous descriptions of Roman sacrifice in the texts. Equally primary are the many artistic representations; sacrifice (except for the actual moment of killing) was a favorite topic for illustration on reliefs and coins. Examples can be found in Boardman, Griffin, and Murray (1988, 343), Bonefoy (1992; 78, 98, 119, 134, 152), and Scullard (1981; fig. 1, 2, 7).

Secondary sources describing Roman sacrifices include Dumézil (1966, II:558-9), Ogilvie (1969, 41-52), and Scullard (1981, 23-4).

The Roman sacrificer, like Nestor, had someone to do the killing for him, variously called the victimarius or the popa (Ogilvie, 1969, 48). In historical times, he did this with a hammer, a maul really, aimed at the forehead. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in his description of a Roman sacrifice, says that the animal was struck on the temple with a club (in Weiss, 2010, 282-3). We see a victimarius with a club on a medallion minted by Antoninus Pius (emperor of Rome in the mid-second century) (Palmer, 1974, 198-9; fig. 18, 216). On a relief in the British Museum it appears that a club is about to be used to sacrifice a pig. In earlier times, however, an axe was used; Festus (9 L, in Weiss, 2010, 154) describes it as a “bronze axe,” which is an archaic instrument. In fact, in artistic representations the victimarius is often armed with an axe even in later times (e.g. Bonefoy, 1992, 78; or the Augustan era Boscoreale Cup). Such an axe is mentioned in Virgil: “His cries were like the bellowing of a wounded bull that has fled the altar after shaking from his neck the ax that missed its mark (in Trzaskoma, Smith, & Brunet; 2004; 415). Note that here the axe is directed against the neck rather than the head, against which the mallet would be used. The axe also continued to be used as a sign of sacrificial office (Weiss, 2010, 154). It also continued to be used as a sign of sacrificial office (Weiss, 2010, 154).

Even more interesting is that Fetial priests, in sacrifices establishing treaties and oaths, used a flint stone (Livy 1.24.8, 21.45.8, in Weiss, 2010, 174). Neolithic axes were believed in European tradition to be thunderbolts; i.e., the weapon of Perkʷū́nos. Alternatively, we could be dealing with a very ancient tradition indeed (even more ancient than the use of a bronze axe). Flint is also, of course the stone most used for starting a fire; a stone that sheds sparks is a fitting lightning stone. That flint was, in fact, a lightning stone to the Romans is shown by Servius 8.641 (in Weiss, 2010, 174), who tells us that flint was used because it was “the ancient emblem of Jupiter.” It might be thought at first that the flint was a blade used to slit the throat of the victim, but both Livy and Servius say the animal was “struck” (percussit in Livy 1.24.8, feriretur in Servius; Livy 21.45.8 simply says mactasset “sacrifice”). This is the case even though in Livy the animal is in one case a piglet and in the other a lamb, both of which could simply have dispatched with a knife. Instead, the sparking emblem of the Roman Perkʷū́nos was used to strike the animal dead.

The differences between Greece and Rome support the storm weapon theory even more than the similarities. There is, of course, the similarity of the axe. But the secondary tools show derivation from the same thought; both flint and club are associated with the storm god, Jupiter and Herakles, respectively. Despite the strong influence of Greek religion on Rome, they have inherited their secondary tools separately. It this were to be an areal thing, it would have to go back a very long way, to a time when the Western Indo-Europeans were a unified group. Due to the ages of each migration, however, it is unlikely that there was such a time, at least insofar as the Greeks and Romans were concerned, increasing the likelihood that we are dealing with not just a Western Indo-European tradition, but a Proto-Indo-European one.

There is a sacrifice shown on a plaque from Malak juk in Thrace in which a man with an axe is about to kill a bull (Schiltz, 1987, 298). The plaque is from the Roman era, but the deity being sacrificed to is a Thracian one, so it likely represents the Thracian style of sacrifice.

In the Germanic texts, we find mention of a number of ways to kill a sacrificial animal: stabbing, strangling, drowning. However, the sacrificed animals who have been archaeologically have primarily been killed by a blow on the head (Neff, 1982, 97).

At the Gaulish sanctuary excavated at Gournay-sur-Aronde oxen were found that had been sacrificed by a blow to the back of the neck (Aldhouse-Green, 2010, 136). In some of the representations of sacrifice from Val Camonica there is an axe lying on the ground, although sometimes the sacrificer holds a sword or dagger (Anati, 161, 180). Of course, the axe could have used to deal the death blow, and a knife used to either cut up the animal or finish it off.

At Rislev, in Zealand, many sacrificial animals have been found - horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, and pigs. Most of them were killed by a blow on the forehead (Todd, 1975, 198).

It would still be nice to have some evidence from the East, however, and it is the east to which I now turn.

When the Kalasha perform sacrifices, one man holds the animal by the horns (and it is horned animals that are sacrificed) and presses the head down, and another cuts its spine with an axe (1896, 7)>

Sacrifices are still performed in Zoroastrian rituals in Iran, but we are, as always, interested in the oldest sources we can find. In this case, our best source is Strabo (63 BCE-23 CE). In his Geography (15.3.13-5) he describes a Persian sacrifice in Cappadocia in which the animal is killed with a club, “beating them to death as with a cudgel.” However, Zoroastrian sources tell us that the animal was simply stunned with the club, and then its throat was cut. The clubbing is said to prevent the animal from suffering (de Jong, 2002, 12).

The Vedic texts, usually our most useful (or at least most profuse) of sources, aren’t of much help. Even as the Brāhmaṇas were being written, animal sacrifice was beginning to go out of style. It would soon be replaced by either symbolic sacrifice of an animal substitute or by an interiorization of the sacrifice (Slevanayagam, 1996, 86-90).

As a transitional phase, the priests’ queasiness at the shedding of blood had been fixed by killing the animal by smothering it. (De Jong (2002, 142) implies that a similar motivation lay behind the use of a cudgel in Iran, to keep the blood from being spilled until the last moment). Even that was a bit graphic, so it came to be referred to as “quieting” (e.g. ŚB (Eggeling, 1885, 391)).

This unusual method is clearly a Vedic innovation, something not inherited from Proto-Indo-European days, since nothing of the sort appears elsewhere. There therefore must have been a different Vedic way of killing a sacrificial animal. The question is whether we can determine what that method was.

Vesci (1985, 37) thinks she has. She refers to a verse from Griffith’s translation of the Rig Veda, where the horse in the aśvamedha is told not to fear the axe: 1.162.20, “Let not the hatchet linger in thy body. Let not a greedy immolater, missing the joints, mangle thy limbs unduly.” This parallels other prayers where the animal is told that it isn’t really dying, but being transformed into something divine (e.g. RV 1.162.21, “No, here thou diest not, thou art not injured: by easy paths unto the god thou goest). Priestly guilt is at work here. Vesci maintains that this is a fossil of a period when an axe was the instrument of sacrifice.

The word that Griffith translates "immolater" is rendered "slaughterer" by O'Flaherty (1981, 91) (in the sense of one who cuts up an animal), and Zerleger, "one who cuts up" by Geldner (2003, 224). It is actually śamitar, which means "he who quiets, calms or appeases" (van den Bosch, 1985, 170). Since, as we have seen, the act of killing the animal in sacrifice is referred to as "quieting" it, this means that, surprisingly, O'Flaherty and Geldner have mistranslated, and it is Griffith who has it right. Based on this text, Van den Bosch (1985, 170) takes it as given that the horse was beheaded with an axe. The horse sacrifice (aśvamedha) is a very special ritual, however, so this may be something limited to it. Certainly in the Roman equivalent to this sacrifice, the October Equus, the horse is beheaded, likely after it has been speared.

A club is used in part of the horse sacrifice, to kill a dog which is then floated under the horse in a pool. However, this dog is "four-eyed" (has spots over its eyes), identifying it with the dogs of Yama, god of the dead; is not eaten; and is killed by the son of a whore (Campbell, 1962, 192; Keith, 1989 (1925), 344), so this is clearly not the normal way of doing things. It might even be seen as evidence against the use of a club in standard sacrifices.

There is a hint in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (, however, where we read that killing a sacrificial animal by hitting it on the forehead was the human way, and hitting it behind the ear was the ancestral way, but suffocating or strangling it is the modern way. This implies, or even states, that there was an earlier form of sacrifice that involved striking.

Based on all this evidence, I think we are on firm grounds in believing that sacrificial animals were killed by Proto-Indo-Europeans with a weapon associated with the thunder-god. In my reconstructed rituals (and I believe in the Proto-Indo-European world as well) this means with the double-headed axe.

The ceasing of the outcry by the congregation is actually the reverse of the Greek custom, from which I got the idea. There the women at a sacrifice give a cry after the animal is killed (Burkert, 1985, 56). That certainly is an option. I reversed it for dramatic effect; the rising volume and tempo is an intense experience, and the sudden silence after the death of the animal intensifies the sacredness of the moment greatly.>

The use of the percussion is one more way of bringing the participants into the ritual. The stopping of the percussion is actually the reverse of its inspiration, the ololygē, the sacrificial cry, raised by the women present at the Greek sacrifice at the moment of killing (Bremmer, 2010, 136; Burkert, 1985, 56). First, once I'd decided to add the percussion to draw people in I needed a place for to stop, and the moment of the kill seems the obvious one. Second, the sudden drop in sound creates, I assure you, a very dramatic moment. This replaces the dramatic actual killing that would have accompanied an animal sacrifice. Third, the sudden silence emphasizes the sacredness of the moment. All in all it is a very powerful point in the ritual.

As soon as the axe is lifted, the Xádbhertor quickly cuts off the head of the sacrifice, using his right hand. He then cuts off the hind leg and puts it next to the head, and then the front leg and put its on top of the other leg. He goes to the ʔṇ́gʷnis and puts the head in it, saying:

Xáryomēn, here is your share.
Sit down at our table, Xáryomēn,
and see the meal we have spread out for you.
ʔéd, ʔeti wḗǵ!
(Eat and be strong!)

He stands and announces:

We are ghóstēs to Xáaryomēn.
Xáryomēn is ghóstis to us.
Tód ʔestu!

All say:

Tód ʔestu!

It is of course necessary to put some of the animal into the fire. We are, after all, giving something to the gods. It allows for the ritual meal, the invocation of the ghosti-principle.

There is also a concept found in Indo-European sacrificial theory that says that the gods are increased in power through sacrifice. The Roman formula was the prayer macte esto “may you be stronger” (Scullard, 1981, 23). Indra is aided in the slaying of Vṛtra by the hymns, prayers, and sacrifices of his worshipers (Macdonell, 1897, 60). In a Hittite prayer calling for the presence of the god Telbinus, we read, "Behold now, I am evoking thee with (offerings of) bread (and) drink; be thou fully nourished" (Ten Cate, 1969, 87). Vedic ritual ends with a statement that the god has accepted the offering, and that he has become stronger (O'Flaherty, 1976, 85). In Zoroastrianism, the haoma drink and the dr̄on (consecrated bread) give sustenance to the gods, and make it easier for them to manifest themselves in the material world (Boyd and Kotwal, 1983, 307). This last makes a lot of sense; the material offering gives the deities a link to the material world.

The gods' portion varies with tradition, although the fat, and specifically that of the omentum, the fat that surrounds the internal organs, is common, as is the case in Rome (Arnobius of Sicca, in Weiss, 2010, pp. 265-6, n. 71) and Vedism. In Rome the omentum was part of the exta: the gall bladder, the liver, and the lungs, as well as the omentum (Schilling, 1969, 471). (Since the exta were sprinkled with mola salsa before being burnt (Schilling, 1969, 471-2), this was a second sacrifice, a sacrifice within a sacrifice, this time given over completely to the gods). Testicles were also offered (Weiss, 2010, 265). Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Antiquities 7.22.15-16; in Weiss, 2010, 282-4) lists them as pieces from each of the innards, plus one from each limb. Strabo tells us (15.3.13, in De Jong, 2002, 133) that sometimes the omentum was burned in Persian sacrifices. In the sacrifice at the Zoroastrian Mihragan ritual, the tip of the tongue is offered to Hōm (Haoma) and portions of the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach and omentum to Mihr (Mithra) (Boyce, 1975, 111). We have already seen the Greek splanchna, the fat and bones, and the Ossetic fat and lungs combination. All this is no surprise, really, since fat burns well. Robert Parker (2011, 140) points out another consideration. It is not actually the bones and fat that are the offerings, but the smoke from them, and the smoke, unlike the meat, is pure and does not rot (Parker, 2011, 140). This would make the meat a terrible thing to give the gods; it is in a sense impure.

In Hittite ritual there were parts of the animal that were given over the to the gods that were taboo to humans; what they were is unknown, but were likely viscera (Watkins, 1975). The term for them, šuppa, is from the root *seup- "taboo" which he have seen above. This root appears in Umbrian as supa with a similar meaning (Watkins, 1975).

He holds the top leg over the xā́sā for a moment in his hands, and then gives it to whomever the sacrifice is being held for. If the sacrifice is being held for the wiḱs this will be the Réḱs. He holds the other leg over the xā́sā for a moment in his hands, cuts or tears it in half again and shares it with the Fire Tender. He then holds the plate with the rest of the sacrifice over the ʔṇ́gʷnis for a moment, and then gives the remainder to another, and it is passed around, each eating some of it. If there are too many people present for this sharing to be practical, it is shared among representatives of the attendees. While it is being distributed, the Xádbhertor puts the rope in the fire. If there is any cake left over, it is placed in the ʔṇ́gʷnis. (Before the others, the main participants in a Greek sacrifice ate some of the entrails (Burkert, 1985, 57), after other parts had been offered to the gods.

Part of the sacrifice is put into the ʔṇ́gʷnis, the altar of the gods, for the gods to eat, but the part consumed by men is cooked over the xā́sā, the fire of men. In Vedic ritual, the sacrifice was cooked over the gārhapatya, the representative of the domestic hearth (Hillebrandt, 1980, I:67). The altar fire wasn’t used to cook the meat in either Greece or Rome.

The remainder of the sacrifice could also (and perhaps better) be eaten at the feast after the ritual. I suggest putting it in the fire here as a way of completing the sacrifice, disposing of it in a sacred manner. However, in Vedic ritual what is left over is to be either thrown into water or eaten by a priest, with putting it in the fire warned against (Srinivasan, 1983, 554).

In Aristophanes’ Plutus (594-97, in Gill, 1974, 132) part of the sacrifice made to Hekate by the rich is given to the poor.

In the Irish horse sacrifice, Vedic sacrifice, and Greek sacrifice, the parts intended for the people as a whole are boiled, rather than roasted. Thus the parts for the gods are put into the fire raw, the parts for the sacrifand(s) roasted, and those for the others boiled. De Heusch (1985, 52-3) interprets this as a successive distancing from the act of death, a successive secularization. It’s unfortunate that the use of a cake precludes a boiling of the sacrifice, but two possibilities come to mind. One would be the presence of boiled meat at the post-sacrifice feast. It could be blessed or consecrated, either at the feast or during the sacrificial ritual. The other would be the preparation and consumpition of oatmeal, grits, por some other boiled grain; still not the sacrificed animal, but at least a boiled version of what it’s made of.

(If the ritual is being performed in honor of more than one deity, the prayers can simply be directed to all of them and a single sacrifice performed, so long as the same animal is not inappropriate to all of them. If the deities are such that different animals should be sacrificed, however, each deity must get their own animal, with steps 3 through 7 repeated for each, but with the distribution to participants left until all have been offered to. Each person must eat some of each sacrifice; not to do so would be to insult the deity to whom it was offered.)

The Xádbhertor returns to his place.

13. The libation.

The Xádbhertor pours the red alcohol into the ʔṇ́gʷnis, saying: Through the fire, Through the sacrifice, through its life, the Holy Ones are honored. (In many of the Indo-European traditions, the blood played an important part in ritual. In Rome, it was poured over the altar from the bowl in which it was caught (Derks, 1988, 218) (some was allowed to flow onto the ground (Scullard, 1981, 24)), and a copious amount of blood was a good omen. In the October Equus ritual, blood from the tail of the sacrificed horse was splashed onto the hearth of the regia, the dwelling of the sacred king (Neff, 1980, 185; Scullard, 1981, 193). According to Siculus Flaccus, the blood and ashes of a sacrificial victim (along with fruit, honey, and wine) were put into the hole before a boundary stone was set up (Scullard, 1981, 80); were the blood and ashes together meant to reconstruct the animal? Or were they meant to represent offerings to the gods (the ashes) and the dead (the blood)?

Norse sacrificial blood was also poured on the altar, although it was caught first in a vessel of some kind (Fleck, 1971, 127). The ring on which oaths were sworn in Iceland was yearly placed into the blood of a sacrifice (Davidson, 1988, 53; Neff, 1980, 186). In the Eyrbygga Saga (4), Thorolf sprinkles the walls of a shrine to Thor with the blood of sacrifices (Davidson, 1988, 58). In Snorri’s “Life of Hákon the Good” (in Turville-Petre, 1964, 251) a sacrifice is described in which the blood of the sacrificial animal is sprinkled on the altar, presumably to the gods, on the temple walls, and on the people present.

In Greece, blood is also caught in a basin, and then poured onto the altar (Burkert, 1985, 56; Odyssey, 3.442). In the modern Greek sacrifice in Pharsas, the blood of the animal was poured on the stone on which incense had been burned; i.e., the altar (Burkert, 1966, 104, n. 37). The blood from sacrifices to rivers was poured into them (Parker, 2011, 146). Sacrificial blood might be used to purify (Bremmer, 2010, 134; Burkert, 1985, 81-2). Ironically, some of the reasons for which this done were pollution resulting from the shedding of blood, such as in childbirth. Perhaps the point was to remove blood which had been shed improperly with blood which had been shed according to divine law. According to Pliny (Natural History 28.137, in Larson, 2010, 67), a priestess at a temple of Gaia in Aegae drank sacrificed blood in order to prophesy, something which was also done by a priest of Apollo elsewhere. Blood soaking into the ground was a standard offering to Heroes, to refresh them, fill them with life (Robertson; 1996; 244-5, 247).

We have a record from 14th century Lithuania of the blood of a sacrificed bull being smeared on the faces and hands as part of ratifying a treaty (Gimbutas, 1973, 471-2).

The Vedic and Iranian traditions handle blood in a completely different way, seeing it as polluted or polluting. Zoroastrian tradition is somewhat ambivalent. Strabo (15.3.14) describes an Iranian sacrifice to water in which great care is taken that none of the blood enters the water, which would pollute it. In modern Irani Zoroastrian sacrifices, the blood is still considered polluted enough that it is not offered to the divine beings, but not so polluted that it cannot be consumed by people (Boyce, 1975, 111,115; 1989, 41).

In Vedic ritual, animals were sacrificed by throttling; i.e., no blood was shed in the actual killing. That which flowed during the butchering was offered to the serpents or to the destructive god Rudra (Gonda, 1980, 185; Macdonell, 1974, 153), or smeared onto grass and offered to the rākṣasas, the “demons” (ŚB Blood was not to flow onto the ground to the east of the fires (Gonda, 1980, 434), i.e., the place where the gods would have been.

In Kalash ritual, however, blood was poured on the altar just as it was in the west (Witzel, 2004, 6). In Roberston’s description (1896, 429) of a sacrifice to the war god Gísh, some of the blood of the sacrifice was poured into the fire, and the majority into the god’s shrine.

The Proto-Indo-European custom would seem to have been to pour the sacrifice’s blood on the altar, perhaps as a form of consecration. The Vedic and Iranian view can be seen as a result of viewing the blood as sacred. Remember that the sacred has a strong dangerous side to it. It is powerful and power can cut both ways. The Vedics and Iranians picked one side, and the other Indo-Europeans the other.

Another possibility is that blood was ordinarily seen as polluting, but since a sacrificial animal had undergone a ritual the usual chaotic characteristic of the blood had been negated. In fact, by the animal having been dedicated to the gods, its blood had picked up holiness. For the Vedics and the Iranians, the original polluting nature of the blood would have prevailed, while for the other traditions the fact that it was specifically sacrificial blood would have made it holy, and therefore able to be used to consecrate.

It was holy because the animal had been made holy, and undergone a holy death. In this way the sprinkling of the blood can be seen as a form of the shared meal; both gods and men are consecrated by a shared sprinkling.

The Ǵhḗuter brings the pitcher of mead to the ʔṇ́gʷnis and, with his right hand, pours it out at the base of the fire, being careful not to extinguish it, saying:

May all the Holy Ones, be honored in our midst.
Be welcome at our table, all of you.
We pour out our offering to you
like living water, like grain from a bag.
Drink deeply of the gifts we give.
Wisudeiwoíbos ǵhewomes
(We pour a libation to the All-Gods.)
Tṓd ʔestu!

All: Tṓd ʔestu!

Libations formed part of sacrifices throughout the Indo-European world. One was poured after the initial burning of the gods’ share in Greek sacrifice. Bremmer (2010, 138) attributes this to the gods’ drinking as well as eating. (This libation may also be seen as representing the blood of the animal.)

The Ǵhḗuter then begins a litany of titles of praise to the All-Gods. After each one, all reply:

Uzmei ǵhḗwomes.
(We pour a libation to you.)

This is an opportunity for the Ǵhḗuter to show some creativity. Done right, this could be a moment of real ecstasy. Possible titles include:

Wise Ones/Beneficent Ones/You of Wondrous Power/You Who Bless/Smiling Ones/Possessors of Many Cows/Beautiful Ones/You Whose Being is the Xártus/Celestial Ones/Heavenly Ones/You Who Watch Over Men and Cattle/You Who Look on us from Above/You Whose Beneficence Sustains Us/etc.

As the last one, the Ǵhḗuter says:

Givers of Gifts, thus we praiseyou.

14. The Piacular sacrifice
The Xádbhertor picks up the remaining piece of bread and takes it to the ʔṇ́gʷnis, where he breaks it up and scatters it into the fires and on the ground, saying:

Gods and Goddesses
Holy Ancestors
Spirits of this Place:
If anything we have done here has offended you
If anything we done here has been incomplete
If anything we have done here has violated the yewes
or in any way done violence to the Xártus,
accept this final offering in recompense.

Because of the concern with doing things rightly, and because of the belief that ritual writes things not just into the lives of the celebrants, but the cosmos itself, there is a strong incentive to do things right. However, as human beings we are unable to do everything perfectly. There is therefore an offering meant to atone for any mistakes that have been made. The term “piacular” comes from Rome, where this was done. If a mistake had been caught and was a big enough one, the entire ritual had to be reperformed. Since a ritual could take place over a number of days, be required to be over by a certain day, and involve a large number of expensive animals there was obviously a great incentive to get it right. The repetition would be accompanied by a piaculum, a piacular sacrifice (Ogilvie, 1969, 51). A piaculum could also precede a sacrifice, to make up either for whatever unexpected mistakes might be made, or for things that it was known would require expiation. For instance, iron was forbidden in the Arval Brethren's sacred grove, so if they had to bring it in they would perform a piaculum.

Cato gives us an example of a generic piaculum in the suovetaurilia performed to purify land. If the omens aren’t favorable, a second sacrifice is performed, with the prayer, “Father Mars, if aught hath not pleased thee in the offering of these sucklings, I make atonement with these victims” (On Agriculture, 141).

An Umbrian example is in the Iguvine Tablets: “Jupiter Grabovius, thee (I invoke) with this perfect ox as a propitiatory offering for the Fisian Mount, for the sake of Iguvium, for the name of the mount, for the name of the state. Jupiter Grabovius, by the effect of this (ox) (bring it to pass), if on the Fisian Mount fire hath occurred or in the state of Iguvium the due rites have been omitted, that it be as not intended. Jupiter Grabovius, if in thy sacrifice there hath been any omission, any sin, any transgression, any damage, any delinquency, if in thy sacrifice there be any seen or unseen fault, Jupiter Grabovius, if it be right, with this perfect ox as a propitiatory offering may purification be made” (Poultney, 1959, 242-4).

In Vedic ritual there was a belief that not only would a mistake invalidate the sacrifice, it might turn it against the person for whom the sacrifice was performed (Jamison, 1991, 20). The ritual manuals are therefore full of instructions on what to do if some part of the sacrifice goes wrong. For instance, in the birth ritual we find “Whatever in my ritual work I have done in excess or may have left deficient let Agni Sviṣṭakṛt <‘he who makes the oblations well offered’> make it well sacrificed and well offered for us” (Gonda, 1980; 217, 303). In soma and domestic rituals, butter was offered to Agni, with the mantra “whatever fault has been mine, Agni has put that right” (Gonda, 1982, 61). According to Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa, “When an animal is offered to Bṛhaspati, whatever is lacking in the sacrifice is made perfect” (in Kolhatkar, 1999, 95-6). And in the Baudhayāna Śrauta Sūtra 27.2, is the statement that “He offers the Samiṣṭayajus offerings for the total offerings of the sacrifice. By means of them one compensates for whatever might have been ferocious in the sacrifice, whatever disjoined, whatever might have not been properly done” (McClymond, 2014, 195). There is, however, unlike in the ritual here, no one standard Vedic way of expiating a fault (McClymond, 2012, 201); each error had its own way of being repaired. In general, though, this is done through an offering of ghee and a mantra (McClymond; 2012; 196, 202), but there was still variety even in this, with the mantra, the amount of ghee, and the deity to which they were offered being specific to the fault.

In the Zoroastrian drōn ritual, a missed portion of a prayer can be fixed by reciting the whole prayer again (The Pahlavi Rivāyat preceding the Dātistān i Dēnik 56.34, in Jamaspasa, 1985, 349-50).>

15. Extinguishing the Fires
This phase starts with a hymn or prayer of praise to the deity or deities of the occasion by the Ǵhḗuter or by all.

The Ǵhḗuter lowers his arms and holds them out towards the ʔṇ́gʷnis and says:

Fire of sacrifice, you have discharged your duty well,
And now we feed you and send you on your way.
ʔṇgʷnei, gʷṛtins dedəmes.
Fire of sacrifice, we give you our thanks.


Fire of sacrifice, we give you our thanks.

The Fire Tender spoons clarified butter on the ʔṇ́gʷnis. When the butter is burned, the Fire Tender extinguishes the fire by pouring water from the pitcher on it.

In the Iguvium Tables, the ritual fire is extinguished by pouring pune on it, an unidentified drink (Poultney translates it as "mead," but that is simply a guess) which is used in other parts of the sacrifice for libations (Poultney, 1959, 186).

When the ʔṇ́gʷnis is out, the Ǵhḗuter says:

Lady of Fire, Queen of the hearth,
who by rights receives the last,
bless and guard all those who worship you
whether in their home or without
whether alone or with others
whether thinking of you or engaged in business.
Pure One, receive this offering.

The Fire Tender pours butter on the xā́sā, while the Ǵhḗutersays:

Xā́sā, gʷṛtins dedəmes.
(Fire of the hearth, we thank you.)

When the butter is consumed, the Fire Tender extinguishes the x̄́sa: by pouring water on it and then putting the top of the cauldron on.

Once the fires are out, the ghórdhos is no longer sacred.

16. The Ending
When the xā́sā has finished smoking, the Ǵḗuter says:

With the hearthfire extinguished,
the center of our sacred world is gone.
With the center of our sacred world gone,
the sacred site dissolves about us.
We will carry it in our hearts, though,
nestled deep with the love of the gods.

The Ǵhḗuter raises his arms into the orans position and says:

Xáryomēn who guides us in the right way:
See; we have performed the ritual rightly.
Rightly we have sacrificed, rightly praised, rightly offered.
Without your inspiration we would not have known the way.
Our prayers would have gone amiss.
But under your watchful gaze we have performed the ritual,
and all has been done as it should have been done.
Your being is great; it deserves our gifts.
Your power is great; it deserves our honor.
Your holiness is great; it deserves our praise.
That is what we have done here, Xáryomēn.
You who are the law know the law well,
and will not fail to return a gift for a gift
as is indeed the ancient way.
Give us then what we ask for.
Give us a community at peace,
joined one to another in the web of society.

The Xádbhertor says:

We have offered to the Holy Ones
and they have accepted our sacrifices.

The Ǵhḗuter says:

We have raised our words to the Old Ones as it is right to do.

The Xádbhertor says:

We have made offerings to the Old Ones as it is right to do.

The Ǵhḗuter says:

May we always be mindful of those we have worshiped.
May we always be mindful of them, worthy of worship.
May we all grow strong, under their watchful eyes.

The Ǵhḗuter raises his hands and says:

Shining Ones, who rule by the Xártus,
we have worshiped you today as the yewésā require.
We may end this rite with confidence, knowing you will bless us.

He lowers his hands, looks at the people around him and says:

Walk on the path of the Mighty Ones,
under their protection, with their blessing.

All say:

Tṓd ʔéstu!
(So be it!)

All leave in procession, in the same order in which they came. The Fire Tender may leave the x̄́sa: in its place to be retrieved later.

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