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by H. Crosthwaite



WE have seen something of Greek and Roman sacrifices. Chapter Seven reviewed the Greek and Hebrew apotropaic practices --red-haired men being killed to avert the red Typhon, and the driving by the Israelites of a scapegoat into the wilderness. We have also studied the earthing technique (trench filled with water, sprinkling of water and blood, etc.), and details of an Homeric sacrifice and sacred meal, with slices of thigh wrapped up in fat, entrails and tongues burnt in the fire, and other meat roasted on spits. Chapter Eight described the apotropaic nature of the origins of dithyramb and tragedy, and the significance of the axe was discussed in Chapter Eighteen, with reference to the Etruscans and the Roman magistrate. It may be useful to have a summary of sacrificial procedure, assembling some of the words used to communicate ideas in the ancient Mediterranean world. The vocabulary used is one of technical terms, many of which were shared by Egyptians, Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, and others.

Some of the proposed equivalences are mere speculation, but only a technical theory held in common by priests and experts all round the Mediterranean can explain the many similarities in vocabulary and practice. The electrical phenomena and concepts involved, e. g. lightning, radiation, magnetism, sympathetic magic, and so on, are not a modern interpretation forced on the ancient world, but are phenomena and procedures described by ancient authorities.


The altar is originally a device for bringing the electrical force, fire, lightning, god, whatever one chooses to call it, down from the sky to earth. Originally, a god could not be gratified by the sweet savour of roasting meat rising from the altar unless first the victim had been struck by a bolt coming down.

The Greek bomos, altar, is raised. In Homer, it can be a stand for a chariot, or for a statue. Eschara is a hearth, or an altar for burnt offerings. Thumele is an altar in the orchestra of a Greek theatre, from which the chorus was directed.

In Egyptian it is khaut, in Hebrew harel (har = mountain). Etruscan ar = fire, Latin ara = altar. The Latin altaria means ritual utensils on the altar. Anclabris is a sacrificial table, anclabria are its vessels. The Etruscan cletram is a litter or chariot for offerings. Batillum is a fire-shovel. In Hebrew such altar equipment was qadhosh, holy.

Fire is agni in Sanskrit. The Agnihotras were Indian priests who were messengers bringing divine fire. We saw in Chapter I that they resembled the Selli at Dodona in that they were not allowed to wash their feet. Fire in Russian is ogonj, also zhar, in Etruscan zar, Hebrew esh, Akkadian ash or esh, Egyptian chet, Greek pur. Greek chaite, hair or mane, suggests the tail of a comet. The Egyptian teha is a fire-stick tehen is a pillar; these two words should be compared with Greek techne, device or skill. Techne sometimes implies a sinister kind of skill, just as mechane is often a sinister device.

The Greeks in early times called the Persians Cephenes, but the Persians called themselves Artaei. (Herodotus VII). A link with ka and ar seems likely. Shuti, the plumes of an Egyptian crown, are the soul of Geb (Earth). Cf. Etruscan suthina, Hebrew tsuth, Egyptian Sutekh = Set). I suggest that they all relate to electrical 'fire' or force. Cf. ischus ges, strength of the earth (see end of Chapter XVI).

In Latin, focus = hearth; caminus is a hearth, also a fire for smelting metals. Ignis is the element fire, igniculus is a spark. Incendo = kindle, ardere = to be on fire; excandescere = to blaze out brightly. Cremia = firewood, titio = a brand, torris = a burning brand, fax = a torch.

Scintilla, Latin for 'spark', and Semitic sikina, knife, may shed light on a Cretan dance, the Sikinnis.

The flamen was a stoker who blew the fire into flame. Flare is to blow.

Calere is to be hot. I suggest that this is an example of ka, the double, the radiation or halo round the head of a god, or statue. Greek kaio = burn.

The Etruscan and Greek prutanis was a stoker who waved a brand to make it blaze; from pur, fire, and tanuo, brandish, as Zeus did with the thunderbolt. The Greek aisso means brandish, and suggests the Hebrew waved offerings, when the priest raised an offering and waved it over the altar. Hebrew nasa = raise; Greek anassein = to be king.

Man-made fire on an altar, with logs, was a copy of the divine fire. Kapnos, Greek for smoke, is possibly ka, plus pnous, breath.

The axe was a lightning symbol; Greek pelekus, kybelis, Akkadian pilaqqu, Lydian labrys, Etruscan tlabru, Cretan tlabris, Latin dolabra, securis. Hebrew seghor = axe, spear, refined gold. Latin bipennis = axe (two-winged, like the winged thunderbolt); the Akkadian hazdi is a spear, which is also a lightning symbol, and suggests the Latin hasta, spear. The Hebrew maghzerah, axe, is the same root as Latin magister, Etruscan macstrna. Egyptian neter = axe. Neter hen is a priest, servant of the divine, and is comparable with the Hebrew kohen, priest; cf. the Egyptian hennu, boat. At a Roman sacrifice the person sacrificing wore a crown. The animal to be sacrificed was called a victima, if a bull or cow, and a hostia, if a smaller animal. A victima would have its horns gilded, and a chaplet, vitta, put on its head. It was brought to the altar by the popa, the priest's assistant. Some hair was cut from the forehead and thrown on the fire. Salted meal, mola salsa, was sprinkled on the victim's head. It was stunned with a blow of an axe to the back of the neck and then its throat was cut. Words denoting sacrifice include, in Greek thuo, perform a fire sacrifice; in Latin, sacrifico, operor, macto. The latter is the archaic and poetic word, and is therefore worthy of special note. The Hebrew maqqel means staff; the Latin macellus is a butcher's stall or shambles.

The Latin percello = strike. The Greek skeptron, a stick, is related to skepto, strike, of lightning. The Latin baculum, stick, is generally held to be from the Greek baino, go, but is more likely to be from the Latin -cello, seen in the compound percello, strike. Greek makella is a pick-axe. Makella Dios is the thunderbolt, Aeschylus, Agamemnon 526. Latin curter is a ploughshare, or knife. The Greek sphazo, slaughter, resembles Hebrew zabhach, slaughter.

Stags were killed on threshing-floors. The Etruscan lamna is a threshing-floor. The Latin lamina is a thin layer of metal, gold, silver, bronze, or of marble, such as could be used in constructing a capacitor, in an attempt to store electricity.

An important function of the priest was to see that water was used for adequate earthing, to make a lightning strike more probable.

A holocaust was a sacrifice where the victim was burnt whole. Some of the Greek words for lightning are: sterope, asterope, selas, pur, pur Dios (fire of Zeus), Dios belos, (missile of Zeus), keraunos, skepto (hurl). Latin has: fulgur, poetic fulgor (cf. Hebrew 'or', light); fulguratio, sheet lightning; fulmen, the destructive bolt, coruscare, to flash, to push with the horns. The Greek adjective euruopa, far-seeing, is an Homeric epithet of Zeus, and may be relevant in this context.


We have already seen, in Chapter VII, details of a Greek sacrifice. The body is cut up, slices are cut from the thighs and wrapped in layers of fat. Raw meat is laid on this foundation. It is burnt on the fire, and wine is poured on. The worshippers then taste the inner parts, cut up the rest, and skewer it on spits over the fire. The tongues are thrown on the fire (Odyssey III).

The partakers sat on the beach at Pylos, on fleeces. The word used by Homer for cutting up the meat is mistullo. I suggest that this is related to Slavonic mjaso, Etruscan and Albanian mis, meat, and to Hebrew mishte, feast, and mishman, fatness. We have already seen in Chapter XVIII that there exists in Albanian folk-lore a tale of heroes being rewarded with a feast of stag's flesh after their defeat of a monster. Olenus was an Etruscan soothsayer; the Slavonic olenj is a stag, also a reindeer.

The Greek verb daio has two meanings: to kindle, and to divide. Dais, daitos, is a feast. The Latin epulum is a religious banquet. The plural epulae is a banquet in general, not religious, not a vacl. The Latin cena, archaic caesna, dinner, is derived from caedo, cut, and the food was cut up for distribution. The Slavonic tsena means price, and the same root occurs in modern Russian for price, precious, and expensive. The Latin visceratio is a public distribution of sacrificial meat. Greek deipnon is a feast, Latin daps.


The Latin word sancire calls for special study. According to Lewis and Short's Latin dictionary, it is related to the Sanskrit 'sak', to accompany, to honour, and is related to sequor, follow, sacer, sacred, and to the Greek root hag, seen in hagios, and hagnos, holy. Sancire is to render sacred or inviolable by religious act; to appoint as sacred and inviolable. It is used of fixing and ratifying laws, and can mean to forbid under pain of punishment. This latter concept of danger is significant, and we will return to it later.

A thing which is sanctus has been rendered sacred and inviolable. It differs from sacer in that sacer is applied to, for example, a place consecrated to a deity, but sanctus locus is any place which is to be inviolable, and is not necessarily sacer.

Sanctus also means august, divine, pure, holy. It is used of a deity and of divine objects such as sedes, seat, fanum, temple or shrine, and sacrificial fires (Aeneid III: 406). The sanctum sanctorum is the Holy of Holies, qodhesh haqqodhaskim, of Old Testament, Exodus XXVI: 34.

Sacer means holy, associated with a divinity; Greek hieros. A vates, prophet, is sacer (associated with Apollo). Sacer can also mean associated with divinity in a destructive situation; impious, accursed. Sacerdos is a priest. There are two kinds of priest, those who are in charge of ceremonies and rites, and those who interpret the utterances of prophets. The verb sacrare means both to consecrate and to doom to destruction. The poet Horace uses it with the meaning 'to immortalise in a poem'.

The Egyptian symbol, the ankh means life, or to live. In Egyptian, an intransitive verb such as to live can have an 's' prefixed to give it a causative force. Thus, sankh means to make to live. Here, I suggest, we have the origin of the Latin verb sancio.

A hieroglyphic text from Thebes tells of the application of protective magic. Budge suggests that the god made passes over the nape of the neck to transfer the "fluid of life", sa-ankh. (From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 487, Arkana edition). On p. 514, Budge writes that Horus embraced the dead body of Osiris, thereby transferring to it his ka. Kings embraced statues of gods in the hope of absorbing life from them.

Turning to Egyptian myth, we find that the god Osiris is torn in pieces, that the pieces are found collected and put in a chest. He is then brought back to life. In The Book of the Dead, Osiris, when he is in the closed chest, is given the title of Seker. Here, I suggest, is the origin of the Latin word sacer.

In a previous chapter we met the idea of worship as magnification, adolere. Here are a few more words connected with the creation of an electrical display, mostly in Latin:

Augeo, make bigger (auction), tollere, to raise, magmentum, that which magnifies or glorifies. Auctificare is to honour by offerings, like mactare. 'Sacris numinum potentiam auctitare', to honour the power of the divine presence with ceremonies.

Auctor is he who brings about the existence of something, or gives greater permanence or continuance to it. Augmentum is a kind of sacrificial cake.

The Greek auxanein is to make large, exalt, extol, honour. Auxanein empura (to increase the sacrificial flames), means to sacrifice (Pindar, Isth. IV: 68).

Cresco (Latin), means come forth, of things not previously in existence, to appear, grow, become visible. Incrementum, growth, increase, offspring; "Magnum Iovis incrementum", great offspring of Jupiter.

Promittere means to let grow, to forebode. Promissa barba, a long beard. Among the experiments made by 17th and 18th century A. D. scientists, were those of the Italian Galvani, who observed the movements of the limbs of dead frogs when he created an electric current by the application of two different metals. The Egyptians, whose religion was almost entirely concerned with the problem of death and resurrection, had a deity Heqt, in the form of a frog. Heqt was a resurrection goddess; her name suggests the Greek Hekate, whose associations are with the underworld. A live frog's sudden jumps would be similar to the reactions of victims on altars, and we have here a truly remarkable coincidence.

Budge, in his Egyptian Magic, mentions Graeco-Roman terracotta lamps found in Egypt, bearing representations of a frog. One of them is inscribed "I am the resurrection."

When we recall the word 'ka', the connection between magnification and worship in Hebrew, Egyptian, Greek and Latin, and the apparatus of the statue or ark shown surrounded in Egyptian and Babylonian reliefs by junction rods, Hebrew chashuqim, we have an explanation of the verb sancio. It denotes the application of electrical technique to resurrect; to create an image, the spiritual body of a resurrected god, whose glow could be seen by the worshippers in the dimly lighted temple.

If further confirmation be sought, we can see the ankh appearing in the Latin word for blood, sanguis. At a Greek sacrifice, the priest drained the blood from the victim before proceeding to the cutting up of the body.

If poured on the body the blood would assist earthing and help lightning to descend and mark the victim. In Sumerian, sanga is a priest.

This brings us to another kind of sacrifice, that to the dead. The Etruscan 'zac' is blood. If, as before, we replace 'z' with 'sd', we have 'sdac'. The suffix -ac indicates the agent; e. g. frontac, thunderer (Greek bronte, thunder). The combination 'sd' or st' appears in the Greek zo, I live, and Latin sto, I stand.

In Homer, the blood is associated with life. The psyche leaves the body with the blood when a hero is killed in battle. The Etruscans thought of it as that which makes an organism live, hence their word 'zac', blood. Blood is that which enables one to live and stand up.

In a temple of the god Mithras, the worshipper was showered with the blood of a slaughtered bull.

Greek has a link with Egyptian seker and Latin sacer in the verb 'skirtao'. (The letter 'e' is used in English for a vowel between the 's' and 'k' of seker). The verb skirtan means to spring, of horses, and to frolic, of goats, and to dance. It would be eminently applicable to the behaviour of the goats at the edge of the chasm at Delphi, which attracted the attention of the goatherds, and led to the establishment of the oracle. Compare the Hebrew 'chaghagh, ' dance, and 'chaghav, ' ravine.

There is another Greek verb using the same three consonants, skairo, which also means dance. Skarthmos hippou is the foot of a bounding horse, and skarizo means leap, throb, palpitate. One could hardly choose more appropriate vocabulary to describe the resurrection dance, or the effect of electricity in such an experiment as that of Galvani.

Sanctification employed a powerful force that could both move the dead and kill the unwary, or those who acted impiously. There were some accidents in temples, and some occurrences that were not accidents, such as the suppression of the rebellion of Korah, Old Testament, Numbers XVI, where the ark seems to have given warning of an earthquake.

The sounds 'skr' were used throughout the Mediterranean world. In Babylonia there were towers (durr), whose name sounds the same as the Latin 'turris'; the shrine on a 'Tower of Babel' is a 'saharu'. The Hebrew seghor, axe, Latin securis, extends the list.

David's dance, wearing a linen ephod (2 Samuel VI: 14), is not the only instance of a dance before an ark. Egyptian pharaohs also danced. A tablet shows Semti, first dynasty, dancing before Osiris, who is in a shrine on top of a staircase. Usertsen danced before the god Amsu, or Min; Seti I danced before Sekhet, and Pepi I danced before Osiris. (Budge, The Book of the Dead, Arkana, Introduction p. 40 ff.).

Egyptian artists sometimes show three figures on a stand. The stand is a box, the figures are known as the ark trinity. They are Ptah, the opener (cf. Hebrew pathah, and Sanskrit pathi); Seker; and Osiris.

The ceremony of the opening of the mouth and eyes was performed at the tomb of a dead person, or before a statue of the deceased.

The dead person is identified with Osiris, and the ritual represents the burial of Osiris and his resurrection. The evil god Set and his supporters had been defeated in their attack on Horus, and Set's friends were changed into animals. A bull, gazelles, and ducks were sacrificed. One of the bull's forelegs was cut off, and the priest touched the mouth and eyes of the mummy or statue with it.

Next, he touched the mouth with two instruments, seb ur and tuntet. He "opens the mouth with the instruments of Anubis, with the iron instrument with which the mouths of the gods were opened." He then took the Ur hekau, the 'mighty one of enchantments', a curved piece of wood with a ram's head and cobra carving, and touched the eyes and mouth. This enabled the dead person to know the magical words to utter in the next world.

The mouth and eyes were touched by a metal chisel, a red stone, and four iron objects. Further details of this ceremony are given in Budge, Egyptian Magic.

A picture of a figure holding a fore-leg and hoof is reproduced in Mayani The Etruscans Begin To Speak. It may be significant that iron instruments play such an important part, in view of iron's properties in magnetism, and as a conductor of electrical current. When Osiris is shown on a staircase, it seems likely that this is a ziggurat. Ziggur is to be compared with seghor and securis, the axe or lightning symbol.

Notes (Chapter Twenty: Sanctification and Resurrection)

1. Milk was used to extinguish the incense flame.

2. The Greek 'hepar', liver, may be another instance of ka. In Vergil, Aeneid IV: 60ff., Dido peers into the steaming entrails (spirantia exta) of sacrificial animals in an attempt to discover the future. The Slavonic 'par' means> steam'.

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