Sacrifice and Its Psychology
By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
13, March, 2014
Rene Girard, an anthropologist literary critic, wrote a book called the ‘Violence and the Sacred’. And he suggests that what any culture defines as the “sacred” is always an attempt to ward off “violence”. He puts violence at prior, at first. In all cultures there was a kind of primitive flux of violence and what we see as social law and religious law are always ways of somehow containing and controlling this violence.
So that is why the central institution of sacrifices was instituted in primitive people: first human sacrifices and then animal sacrifices which were done as a way of getting past the human sacrifices. And why would you have a culture of ritual sacrifices? Well , it is because the sacrificial murder is a murder that “cleanses” the community. The Greek tragedy is filled with these things. Think of Oresteia which is filled with blood revenge yielding to a code of law. That Aeschylus has really written a trilogy about the emergence of law that governs the call for blood.
Girard also talks about both parricide and regicide in Sophocles’ play ‘Oedipus the King’. This play is about both, killing the father as well as killing the king. Girard says that it is the erasure of difference, both in a family and in a social sense: the Head of the family and the Head of the society. And when you knock that person out you end up with a kind of flux once again, where no one has their delineated place anymore.
Girard also sees plague as the erasure of difference. Everybody can get it. One can get it from anywhere and one doesn’t know how it’s gotten. Now, this sounds satiric but let’s sees what happens with this reading. He starts from this view: he says the beginning of ‘Oedipus the King’ has the plague. What are they going to do about it? Well the culture of sacrifice says that there has to be somebody who has to be sacrificed. This is a fairly familiar model: somebody has got to be sacrificed.
And what Girard sees happening is the three men in the play: Creon, Oedipus and Tiresias were fighting it out to see who is going to be the sacrificial victim that will “cleanse” the pollution of the Polos, of the disease. Mind you that sacrificial rite frees everybody else from responsibility. And this is what the Oracle says: the city is dying because of one concealed murder.