Jean E. Rosenfeld
This article examines five nativistic millennial movements that are culturally, geographically, and temporally dissimilar to find the similarities that bind them into a single category: the Ghost Dance, the Common Law Freemen, Pai Marire, “cargo” cults, and al-Qaeda–the International Jihad. It discusses features of nativist millennialism that began to be extrapolated in the mid-twentieth century with the appearance of pioneering monographs by anthropologists. Loss of ancestral land and traditional ways of life, under foreign invasion, informs the nativist school. The ultimate goal is the redeeming of these elements, by magical means—the sudden disappearance of the invading forces, the return of mythical heroes or messiahs, and an altered landscape. The distant nature of the ultimate goal motivates the nativist to relinquish present ways of life and material possessions as sacrifices.
This chapter presents a survey of several contemporary, major definitions of sacrifice as forms of symbolic and performative violence. A modest discussion of patterns in the sacrifices of animals and their symbols in various traditions is reported. The chapter then turns to an interpretation of the more troubling topic of actual human sacrifices in various cultures. The role of emotion and aggression in sacrifice appears in a number of Greek rituals and cultural expressions. Human sacrifice has been practiced in Mesoamerica for over 1500 years. It has increased, and the amount of territory controlled in Mesoamerica has increasingly expounded, assuring a tremendous growth in tributary payments to the capital and its royal families. The Mesoamerican religious traditions did not only seek substitutes for human “debt payments” or sublimate in rituals their aggressive drives toward humans in ways that eliminated human sacrifice, as many other peoples did.