Archive for the ‘Magical Thinking’ Category

The Secularization of Cannibalism

December 14, 2010

I’ve been reading an interesting old book recently, and it’s given me much food for thought.

The book is called “The Golden Bough“, by one Sir James Frazer, and is one of the first exhaustive – and exhausting – examinations of common themes in human behaviour in relation to magic,  superstition, and religion.

I was thrown for a six by one of the cases he mentions: apparently in the Fiji Islands, the pre-Contact chiefs had aggregated such mana, such spiritual power that having a hair-cut was fraught with terror at the thought that it might cause universal natural catastrophe – and to protect against that,

XXI. Tabooed Things

7. Ceremonies at Hair-cutting

The chief of Namosi in Fiji always ate a man by way of precaution when he had had his hair cut. “There was a certain clan that had to provide the victim, and they used to sit in solemn council among themselves to choose him. It was a sacrificial feast to avert evil from the chief.”

Yes, that was a rather more fraught time, and those Fijians didn’t then have the benefit of the knowledge we have at our fingertips and mouse-buttons, etc, ad nauseam … I got to thinking though, that described the behaviour of the Great Powers and the Superpowers, and of course the now-diminishing Hyperpower, to a T!

I consider the behaviour of the UK and France during the Suez Crisis, the behaviour of the Soviet Union during the first Afghan War, and likewise the behaviour of the United States during the current Afghan War … in all cases mentioned, a Great Power is on its way out, and needs to readjust its behaviour and priorities.

But a readjustment of priorities is such a traumatic experience – that Iraqis, Afghanis, Yemenis, Pakistanis, etc, have to die, to feed the “mana” of the said Great Power. Human sacrifice has not disappeared with the Enlightenment – it has, to use the ancient and rather appropriate expression of the Sumerians of blessed memory, “Kingship came down from heaven“, and human sacrifice and cannibalism has been appropriately secularized – it is the State that devours lives, rather than individual chiefs eating their tribesmen.