Spiritual Origins of Sacrifice

Text by Lala Aliyeva (and special thanks to Rahilya Geybullayeva)

Source: chai-khana.org

Wedding traditions in Azerbaijan have been carried out in several stages, since ancient times up till the present day. Depending on the ethnic group and regional context, these traditions have changed over time. For instance, several stages before the celebration of the main wedding have developed: the presentation of the marriageable girl in question, a “notification” sent, the matchmaking, the engagement, the Kebin (Religious registration of the marriage), the henna night, wedding, rituals after the wedding, and so on.

“To cut the animal (to sacrifice)” is one of the pre-wedding traditions. Prior to the USSR, this tradition continued for three days and three nights. According to ritual, the animal must not be slain at sunset, it is considered to be a sin. The groom’s best friend approaches the lamb, taking the knife and pronounces such words, “hey, people this knife is blunt, it does not cut.” The mother of the groom understands the issue and brings the present for the friend.

Nowadays, this tradition is usually carried out in the regions. For example, in the Shirvan region of Azerbaijan, this tradition is organized in the bride’s house, in which a tent is built on the street of the bride’s house, and the women cook the lungs and liver on the fire, where the elders of the both houses and relatives gather together and eat them. The relatives discuss the future of the couple, give some suggestions, and in the end, the male family members start to gamble. In this regard, depending on the regions, it is named differently: the cutting of animal (sacrifice), the evening of eating the lung, the evening of giving advice, the evening of gambling, and etc. In this evening, they discuss the proceeding wedding, and who will do what. The elders spread the duties among the youth.

Where did it come from and what does it mean?

Along with the sacrifice of an animal before the wedding, muslims around the world also celebrate Eid al-Adha (Qurban bayramı in Azerbaijan), or the “Sacrificed Feast”each year. Etymologically, it can be traced back to the common Semitic tradition.  Sacrifice is an official holiday across the contemporary political map of Azerbaijan and as a rite, is interpreted as Muslim holiday. Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing and offering of an animal to appease or maintain favour with a deity. Such forms of sacrifice are practised within many religions around the world. All or only part of a sacrificial animal may be offered, especially in the context of ritual slaughter.

Rahilya Geybullayeva,  Azerbaijani researcher and professor in comparative Literature, in her research paper “Sacrifice and its cultural strata” explored and compared the history of sacrificing as long as it’s transformation in literature.

Thus, kurbеn (Hurban  Semiticliterally means destruction and was applied to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BCE and then by the Romans in 70 CE.  Marked in many Muslim countries as an official holiday,Qurban bayramı has been transformed in several aspects; for example, the day also serves as another reminder of those in need, and sacrificial offerings (contribution) in God’s name are then distributed to the needy, to orphanages or elderly people’s homes, or are used in reconciliation. The expression, “quzu kəsərəm, barışarıq” (I’ll kill a lamb and we’ll make peace; lamb to sake the peace) is a reflection of the shared meal of the sacrificed lamb. The end of the Hajj to Mecca is marked by Qurban bayramı. At Passover (Pesach), is celebrated to mark the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, with a one-year old lamb’s sacrifice and is eaten with matzos. In both cases, the lamb has to be flawless.

One image that allows us to follow in ritual form different representations of a single meaning in different cultures and religions existing today is some sacrifice, which can be found in the mythology of many people across the world, from America to Japan, and has various articulations and reproductions.

The image of the sacrificial victim has been transformed in art, for example in literature, into the image of the double, reflecting the sacrificial principle of “sacrificing one for the sake of (the salvation of) another.” Non-ritual sacrifice, which is just as intense as ritual sacrifice, is described in Victor Hugo’s novel, Notre Dame de Paris (Esmeralda as a sacrifice as a result of non-submission to sensual desires, accusations as a witch). In M.F. Akhundov’s short story “The Deceived Stars,” commoner Yusif Serraj is chosen as a double of the shah in order to take from him the misfortune predicted by astrologers by the “stars”. In Maxim Gorky’s Legend of Danko, Danko and his burning heart are essentially a sacrifice for the salvation of the people who in the end trampled on his heart which illuminated their path and saved their lives, and was itself a reproduction – an adaptation of the biblical theme of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for the salvation of mankind.

In monotheism, the dilemma of the object of sacrifice (human or animal) was resolved by substituting animals for humans. Another theme of sacrifice is that Abraham had to sacrifice his son Isaac (Ishmael in the Koran) to test his faith in God. Abraham’s son Isaac was brought as a sacrifice to God but was substituted by a lamb – a tradition known as Akedah or Binding. The ritual of sacrificing a ram in Islam is a visualization of the idea of sacrifice, the essence of which can be traced back to the Koranic theme. Another image of sacrifice in the sacred scriptures of monotheism is that of Jesus, who was sacrificed to cleanse the sins of mankind and who was also the Lamb of God. “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Moreover, there is the expression ‘My lamb’ – my beloved child, a single treasure, a child. The roots of an ewe can be traced to the Latin ovis (sheep), while the expression is part of the thematic of the archetype of sacrifice. In the Bible, a lamb was the primary social status of the prophets (Moses, David), including Jesus.

Is Qurban bayramı an authentic Muslim holiday if its original Arabic word is not the same (Tadhiya, the muslim kurban rite originally in Arabic)? if, instead of the word, it is tadhiyya in Azerbaijani, Kazakh and Turkic language a rite has another word for designation – qurban?  What is the core of sacrifice/qurban/korban? Sacred rites and scriptures are a medium between the divine (deities) and mankind and in their obvious variety, are samples of cultural stratification. The culture of offering food is clearly preserved in Japan, far from monotheistic culture, where food can be seen on altars, models of small houses set up in the streets of the old capital, Kyoto. In the contemporary period, sacrifice is identified with the Muslim Qurban bayramı, mainly because of its visualization and because an altar is not required for this ritual celebration. Although the Biblical story is well-known and mentioned in the Koran, too, about the sacrifice of Abraham’s young son to God as recognition of the boundless love of God who heard his prayers and gave him a son in his old age. God substituted the son with a ram-lamb-agnus, and this religious canon put an end to human sacrifice in the monotheistic religions – a rite which existed from ancient times amongst many people, both those who intersected with the ancient Greeks and those who did not (the sheep of Hermes, which Zeus, the chief god of Olympus, requested), such as the dark-skinned inhabitants of Haiti.

Modern people do not lag behind the ancient; the rite of sacrifice of a white man is described in Alberto Vazquez-Figueroa’s novel ‘The Iguana, features as one of the most dynamic moments in Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto and is a major feature of many works of art, in terms of artistic embodiment ceding nothing to the essence of the ritual itself.’

As a continuation of the human desire in contemporary civilization, the ritual of the physical sacrifice (of a human or animal, usually a ram) is often substituted with the sacrifice of a person’s reputation (bloodless) – of a real or potential enemy, having become a method of “destruction” (imitating Cain). The expression “political corpse” has taken root. Here, east and west, despite obvious differences, have not diverged very far from each other. The substitution of a physical sacrifice with a moral sacrifice can be considered the latest step, after the Bible, in the ritual of sacrificial offering, when an animal cannot be sacrificed either, although vegetarianism is not a tradition everywhere. Contemporary tradition binds both memory and oblivion. Thousands of years have been laid between the archaic “excavation” in the strata of the past, which reveals the essence of the ritual, the essence of human desire for all that we want to avoid and fear, in order to have one’s wishes come true, offering a sacrifice of something (or someone) else, as a gift or substituting another for oneself.

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3 thoughts on “Spiritual Origins of Sacrifice

    1. @rlandau Thank you very much for comment. Tomorrow of that ceremony was the wedding day. I didn’t photographed it, because it was so ordinary ceremony for local tradition. Wedding was in a restoraunt. If it was in marguee (or magar – a large tent put up for a wedding or a mourning ceremony), of course, I would photographed it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Local traditions that are ordinary to you, are perhaps unusual and interesting to people from far away. Is it considered impolite to take photographs at a mourning ceremony?

        Like

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