Mathematics and Blood Sacrifice

Language, art, dance, and music are socially activated instincts.

Sex/reproduction, status, and aggression are socially constrained instincts.

Cultures do the activating and constraining of instincts. Cultures are made up of the living and the dead. This means that the beliefs of dead people have a great deal of influence over what you and I are expected to believe, and how we behave.  Accumulated (hoarded) cultural beliefs are projected onto the world to create a supernatural vision so powerful that it determines how we experience reality and how we interact with other human beings, especially in periods of severe stress.

Our peculiar ability to think outside reality allows us to create objects that are built on the principles of nature, or imitate natural phenomena, but which may not specifically exist in nature. Jet engines, internal combustion engines, computer chips, microwave and x-ray technologies, and chemical products such as glues, dyes, medicines, food and plastics are part of a long list of familiar products made possible by our clever rearrangement of matter and energy.

This type of technical activity is made possible by understanding the underlying principles of nature through observation and experimentation, and by using rational mental constructs that result in provable and testable ideas.

Simple technology is constrained by nature; it is obvious when a tool doesn’t work and needs to be improved. A structure that will not stand in a storm is obviously not good enough. A better one may be built by trial and error, and for most of human history, this is how it was done. In order to understand how nature works, a language that describes physical relationships is needed, and that language is mathematics. The power of its many applications has transformed human culture and the earth in an extremely short period of time. Nature ‘speaks’ to us through mathematical equations.

Unlike the practical and inquisitive Greeks, and despite mathematical creativity, the Maya failed to identify numbers as the keys to understanding physical reality. Their heavily magical perception of  “how things work” perceived maths as possessing supernatural powers and with disastrous results. Instead of a calendar that produced a useful window into how physical reality is created and organized, numbers and astronomical cycles created a prison from which there was no escape. Blood is the prime substance of both contagious and imitative magic: blood is power. For the Maya, mathematical knowledge dictated a schedule of human sacrifice, cannibalism, warfare, and doom. And so, it is not simply the facility with numbers that created a technological world, but insight into mathematics as the language of reality – a tremendously powerful language that reveals the secrets of the universe.

Human sacrifice and cannibalism: A topic few people acknowledge as fundamental to understanding modern social human reliance on magical thinking. 

Library of social science review of: Marvin, Carolyn & David Ingle. Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. U.S. (pb.) ISBN 0521626099. Review by Library of Social Science.

CAROLYN MARVIN, an award-winning author, is the Frances Yates Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania. Her book Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag, reveals the central dynamic underlying violence performed in the name of the nation-state.

Sample: What is “really true in any community,” Marvin and Ingle claim, is “what its members can agree is worth killing for,” or what they can be compelled to “sacrifice their lives for.” Thus, what is “sacred” within a given society is easily recognized. It is “that set of beliefs and persons for which we ought to shed our own blood.” Rituals that celebrate blood sacrifice “give expression and witness to faith.” Warfare constitutes the central ritual allowing societies to enact or demonstrate faith in the nation.


Comment: The chronic state of “American Wars on XXX” that has dominated our lives since Viet Nam, reveals ongoing and desperate attempts to “renovate and shore up” a rapidly expanding awareness of the failure of American Culture to live up to it’s post-WWII promises of being a “powerhouse of virtue”. A promise that the U.S. would be a “new” kind of master, one that would liberate mankind, once-and-for-all, from a sad history of evil-doers, dictators and tyrants. It was a dream that was sure to fail, because it sought to impose a Disneyland system of “democracy” on the nations of the world, whether or not it was what the people wanted.

It was, and is, an infantile dream, full of magic and arrogance, blood and murder. 

3 thoughts on “Mathematics and Blood Sacrifice

    • Oh, for the good old days, when you could rip someone’s heart out and “be done with them”. I highly approve of Apocalypto’s non-PC honesty about “how lovely and sophisticated” blood sacrifice-based religion is. Too bad the video didn’t include “The Last Supper” as the cannibal feast that it really was….


  1. It took a lot of time for “religion” to develop. People didn’t separate themselves from animals or the physical environment. It was all one “soup” Locations were important – hills, water, mountain passes etc. because these were necessary for mapping, hunting, trading – survival. I wouldn’t call this religion, but fulfilling one’s destiny as an animal. Then “spirits” were attached to these locations and were worshipped at that location. Gods didn’t move around – they literally were “the ancestors” – actual people who came before, specifics forgotten, but molded together – most deities form families. After that it gets CRAZY.
    My favorite definition of religion: (Joseph Campbell) “The ritual presentation of the central culture myth.”


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