Ever since recently watching the season ending episode of  'Vikings' on the History channel I have been pondering the mob psychology of human sacrifice. It is believed that the practice of ritual slaying or human sacrifice has been in place for tens of thousands of years. I am trying to grasp the group mentality of watching  someone you have known and maybe even loved being killed to appease a god or find favor with the supernatural. How did this barbaric act actually evolve? Was it out of fear for their own survival that the onlookers dared not raise their hand in protest to these senseless deaths? I believe it was the Aztecs who supposedly in the space of only four days systematically sacrificed 10 - 100 thousand captured rival tribes people. The steps of the pyramid must of flowed a sea of blood. It seems impossible to comprehend how onlookers could witness such a massive slaughter of human life. Do we actually engage a different mindset when in the company of others to allow such acts to transpire? Even with their primitive understanding I can't help but think that these ancient cultures didn't, on an individual level, realize that what they were witnessing was somehow innately wrong and misguided.

Religious violence could be regarded as an oxymoron but in reality the two words seem to bed together most appropriately.

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I think you're right. We forget that Christianity represented moral progress at the time. Most of the Greek and Roman philosophers were obviously more mature moral thinkers, but as a popular movement, Christianity probably did plenty of good compared to what came before. In the present day, though, I think it retards our moral progress.

That is buying into the Christian sales pitch. It is simply not true. Keep in mind the morality we are familiar with appears to be the best or most natural. Back in those days Jews and therefore the first Christians were polygamists. Christians adopted monogamy from the Romans.

Both Jews and Christians would have started with capital punishment for breaking any of hundreds of rules, mostly trivial and stupid, at the whim of the local priest or rabbi. Christians agreed that was a power of Rome, of the state.

Gladiators sounds like a good example until you realize they continued under Christian Rome until the mid 7th c. or so.

Christians did not change much of anything. What they did do centuries later was invent stories about Rome and embellish gossip about the emperors and portray that behavior as normal for all Romans.

And here is another little secret the first monotheistic religion was Islam. Neither Christians nor Jews declared they were monotheist until after Mohamed.

The Romans ended what little human sacrifice they found before there were Christians.

I think you're overlooking cultural differences which may play a more important role than mob psychology or depravity. Just look at how differently, for example, a Hindu views eating beef from an American lover of BBQ.

Sicilians?

But looking at the term mob as you are using it brings to mind Hollywood staging. Think riots for what is almost all this kind of violence. The US has had a lot of them.

I am trying to grasp the group mentality of watching  someone you have known and maybe even loved being killed to appease a god or find favor with the supernatural. How did this barbaric act actually evolve? Was it out of fear for their own survival that the onlookers dared not raise their hand in protest to these senseless deaths?

Placation of the gods is a common theme in human sacrifice, from the child sacrifices of the pre-Colombian Americas to the sacrifice of Jesus in Christianity. Not just killing, mind you, but protracted torture ending in killing. In the former case, children had fingernails plucked out and were flayed alive, then the priests donned the skins and danced around. In the latter case, read the Bible or watch Mel Gibson's international smash hit film The Passion of the Christ.

My take is that primitive humanity originally got started on human sacrifice because:

  1. Humanity had no understanding of nature so he invented gods to "explain" and personify nature.

  2. Humanity observed the gods (nature personified) did destructive things that made people suffer and die. This dying was often focused more on the young. The gods ruined crops, caused natural disasters, brought diseases, and so on. These events caused turmoil in human societies as people died, resources dwindled, survivors fought over scarcer resources, etc.
  3. Humanity concluded the murderous gods could be placated, perhaps even influenced, by a well-placed murder, especially of someone particularly valuable or innocent. Since the Gods seem to prefer killing the innocent, skin a toddler every week or so, and then there won't be a flood or a blight. (And if there are, skin more toddlers, only pull out their toenails first.) This is why Jesus was the ultimate human sacrifice: a grown man with the sin-free innocence of a child.

There are several preliminary steps before asking this question.

It is necessary to first research what really was done and why. Never assume Hollywood types researched anything much less portrayed it anything like it really happened if it really happened. Next it is necessary to keep in mind killing is killing regardless of the reason. While Europeans were being ritually appalled by the Aztecs they were burning witches including some preliminary S&M mutilation and torture. 

If there is specifically human sacrifice as usually described that is not to be found in western history. It may have existed but it was never part of any of the main threads of civilization. That last  hinted at was the Druid Burning Man thing. The Roman exterminated the Druids for a reason that has not survived but it might have been this. Even then there is a suggestion the people burned were convicted criminals that Rome would have executed. Considering Rome reserved the power of capital punishment to itself maybe it was just because the Druids would not yield the power to Rome.

Which leads to, whatever the mindset that supported it we are not going to find hints of why looking at our history. So far as I am aware this also applies to Chinese and Indian culture except for a cults that the mainstream worked to exterminate.

I'm guessing it started from simple math. 

Too many mouths to feed? Remove a few of them. Suddenly, you have more resources for everyone! These times of plenty are a sign of supernatural favor. Rinse, repeat and add a few details and a handful of sadists along the way. 

If your sadists are busy killing off the unwanted, they are too busy to kill the wanted. 

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