Human sacrifice was practiced by many ancient cultures. People would be ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease some god or spirit. While not widely known, on rare occaions human sacrifices still occur today. Some occasions for human sacrifice include:

  • Sacrifice to accompany the dedication of a new temple or bridge.
  • Sacrifice upon the death of a king, high priest or great leader; the sacrified were supposed to serve or accompany the deceased leader in the next life.
  • Sacrifice in times of natural disaster. Droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc were seen as a sign of anger or displeasure by deities, and sacrifices were supposed to lessen the divine ire.

Such sacrifices occured in the Bronze age religions in Europe, and in rituals related to Ásatrú. Some of the best known ancient human sacrifice was that practiced by various Pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica. The Aztec were particularly noted for practicing this on an unusually large scale; a human sacrifice would be made every day to aid the Sun in rising, the dedication of the great temple at Tenochtitlan was reportedly marked with the sacrificing of thousands, and there are multiple accounts of captured Conquistadores being sacrificed during the wars of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.

Human sacrifice still happens today as an underground practice in some traditional religions, for example in muti killings. Human sacrifice is no longer officially condoned in any country, and these cases are regarded as murder.

Some people in India are adherents of a religion called Tantrism; a very small percent of them still engage in human sacrifice.

Local authorities seem to agree. After a rash of similar killings in the area -- according to an unofficial tally in the English-language Hindustan Times, there have been 25 human sacrifices in western Uttar Pradesh in the last six months alone -- police have cracked down against tantriks, jailing four and forcing scores of others to close their businesses and pull their ads from newspapers and television stations. The killings and the stern official response have focused renewed attention on tantrism, an amalgam of mystical practices that grew out of Hinduism. (In India, case links mysticism, murder John Lancaster, Washington Post, 11/29/2003)