Ch1 L36: Beliefs – part X (sacrifices III)

  1. Through the last post, we saw how mankind canonized totems since they needed a focal point to direct their attention, sacrifices, and prayers [1]. We also studied in the post about the magic era [2] that based on the law of adjacency [3] and causality [4], they believed that two similar things can have similar effect or if you touched or were touched by the source of any form of power, the power would be transferred to you like static electricity [5]. 
  2. We can say that again they suffered from premature generalization [6]. Obviously, two adjacent things can affect each other in many ways. A rotten apple spoils the barrel. However, the causal circumstance needs to be studied and it’s not as simple as they thought. But no one can blame them because they were toddling in the realm of thinking.
  3. Sir James Frazer [7] in “The golden bough” [8] brilliantly analyzes magics. First of all, magic works based on the similarity and contact; so, he has categorized them into two groups: the homeopathic and contagious magic.
  4. An example of the homeopathic magic would be doing something on the image of someone, say, piercing their heart, believing that the same thing would happen to them in reality. And an example of magic by contagion would be possessing a piece of someone’s body or belonging and performing magic on it. That’s why many primitive people didn’t trim their nails or hair or after they did, they burned or buried them so their enemy or any evil spirits couldn’t find it.
  5. Magics can also be used for either a good or bad cause. Frazer named them the charm or taboo respectively [9]. They used magic to cure diseases which shouldn’t surprise us because these days in many cases we use placebo pills which make people believe that they will be cured and they work [10].
  6. Lastly, Frazer has stated that the theoretical part of the magic is pseudo-science and its practical part is pseudo-art. As we know, in the magic era, people were trying to discover the causality between phenomena and that’s what we do in the science era.
  7. Sir Ernst Gombrich [11] in “The Story of Art” [12] has stated that the early forms of art had practical functions. The artists thought about the aesthetic of their works as much as they served the purpose. For instance, in Catholic art, the purpose of the paintings or sculptures was to convey the teachings of Christianity mainly to the illiterate believers.
  8. The artists attempt to make their works look more realistic was mainly for inducing stronger emotions. “Thus when we look at what remains of Leonardo’s famous wall-painting of the ‘Last Supper’ we must try to imagine how it may have appeared to the monks for whom it was painted. The painting covers one wall of an oblong hall that was used as a dining-room by the monks of the monastery of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan. One must visualize what it was like when the painting was uncovered, and when, side by side with the long tables of the monks, there appeared the table of Christ and his apostles. Never before had the sacred episode appeared so close and so lifelike. It was as if another hall had been added to theirs, in which the Last Supper had assumed tangible form” [13,14]
  1. Sometimes, moving away from realistic depictions can be more useful to kindle our emotions. The figure of crucified Jesus [15] with deliberately distended arms amplifies his suffering due to stretch. Besides, it can be interpreted as a bigger love for all of us as a larger embrace.
  1. To understand the nature of sacrifice [16], we’ve almost depicted the whole story. They needed to make a deal with nature to stop natural disasters or other ominous accidents. They also needed to make the ritual more meaningful so they created totems and they crafted totem poles or other devices for this mean. However, we haven’t studied the most important part “who must be sacrificed?”. We will discuss it in the coming post.


[1] Link to the previous post

[2] Link to the post about the magic era

[3] I came up with the term ” the law of adjacency” to explain how the brain can relate two things to each other and I used it in several cases. Link to the post in which the term was used first.

[4] Link to the post about causality

[5] For more information, you can refer to the wiki page about static electricity: Link

[6] We opened up the discussion about generalization in the 26th post and in several posts we studied how we can prematurely generalize when we don’t have relatively conclusive information. Link

[7] Link to the Wiki page about Sir James George Frazer.

[8] Link to the PDF of “The golden bough” which is highly recommended.

[9] Link to the post about taboos

[10] Link to the wiki page about placebo 

[11] Link to the wiki page about Sir Ernst Gombrich

[12] Link to the PDF of “The Story of Art”

[13] Quoted from “The story of Art”

[14] Link to the wiki page about Last Supper

[15] Link to the wiki page about Jesus Christ

[16] We’ve discussed sacrifices in two posts and we’ll continue it in through the coming ones. Here’s the link to the first post about sacrifices.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.