Sacrifice has always been a form of worship of the Divine. We see this from the earliest historical times. At one time human sacrifice was practiced. (See the story of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his beloved daughter Iphigenia before his departure for the Trojan War.) This was very common in the ancient world (and is still being practiced in Africa and in some Pagan cults.) Then most likely, as the story of Abraham and his son Isaac relates, human sacrifice was abolished in favor of animal sacrifice. The story of Abraham and Isaac, is not just some biblical story but conveys something deeper. Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his most beloved son – a son of miraculous birth – the son who was destined to be his true heir. It was an amazing command. For was it not God himself who gave Isaac to him? Why would God now want to take him? This command must have taxed his faith dearly. At the very last moment, as Abraham held the knife to Isaac’s throat, an angel appears and tells him to stop and substitute a ram caught in a tree (also by Divine intervention) for Isaac. Thus the message that human sacrifice was no longer to be practiced – at least not by monotheistic peoples – and animal sacrifice was substituted.

This practice went on until the destruction of the 2nd temple in Jerusalem. And then animal sacrifice was discontinues in favor of “sacrifices of praise and worship” – and this is the practice in the Judeo-Christian world until this day.

What was the point of sacrifice? Why was it so powerful? Why was it part of almost every religion in ancient times?

As I understand things, there were a few reasons for it. One, by sacrificing something of value – a human being – especially someone cherished and loved – or an animal (and the animal had to be perfect) – one showed one’s devotion to the Divine. It made for a very strong connection to the Divine and thus, through this connection – this interior channel that was created – the Divine had a mechanism for answering the prayer and fulfilling the desire.

In the sacrifice of the animal, the person was symbolically offering his or her “animal nature” – the part that causes sin or disconnection – to the Divine. That particular animal quality would now be consumed – made sacred – lifted up and transformed. (The kind of animal that was sacrificed symbolized those qualities that the person wanted to consume.)

Today (and this began a few thousand years ago) we understand that it isn’t necessary to sacrifice a physical animal to obtain the Divine Connection. It is enough to offer it inwardly – the jealousy, the hatred, the materialism, the lust etc.) and let the Divine “consume” it inwardly. It was never about physical animals or physical humans. They were just physical symbols of an interior condition. It is enough to offer the interior condition – the inner animal or the inner human trait – to make the connection.

When this is done we are truly fulfilling our “sacrifice to the Divine”.