Saturday, April 14, 2007

It's A Tough Job But Somebody's Gotta Hew It

Human Sacrifice, Power, and Ritual in Moche Society and Visual Culture

[Note: Roy beat me to this topic by a few mere seconds.]

My fellow bloggers are such good friends. They didn't even blink when I invited them to go to a lecture on human sacrifice with me. It was fascinating. The speaker, Steve Bourget, worked for several years on an archeological expedition in Peru involving the Moche people who practiced human sacrifice from 200 to 700 A.D.

Human sacrifice was used to reinforce the political power of rulers by linking them with gods and the priest caste who led the sacrificial ceremony. The victims were prisoners-of-war, sometimes hundreds at a time, who were led nude to the ceremonial site. They were killed by blunt head trauma using a club-like tool or by throat laceration. Many murals and other forms of Moche artwork depicted the killing as being done by humans dressed like animals (foxes or feline characters---like Tony the Psycho kitty?) who would collect the blood in a cup and pass it to the ruler god-figures. The corpses of the victims were defleshed and the skeletons were laid out symmetrically in patterns that seemed to hold some unknown meaning for the culture. Bourget theorized that the sacrifices were used to reset the natural order of the Moche world, particularly during times of heavy El Nino storm seasons when mud would flood the temples and the seas would team with creatures not usually seen in the region.

And then there was the penis issue. (C'mon, it's a psychiatry blog. You're going to see the word 'penis' eventually.) All of the sacrificial victims were men who were depicted on ceramic ceremonial vessels and on murals as being led to the slaughter with erect penises. Guys, correct me if I'm wrong but I would expect imminent death to be a bit of a challenge to the performance issue. I'm guessing the pottery artists were taking a bit of license here. Anyway, after the sacrifice the pottery vessels with the victims' depictions were broken and the fragments scattered about the burial site. The only parts of the vessel left intact were the little pottery penises. Being good academicians, these were counted and reported as the MNP (minimum number of penises) for each archeological site. Roy seemed particularly fascinated by this. Dinah and I were too busy chortling.

Women were nowhere to be seen anywhere in the sacrificial scenes or ceremonies. Bourget explained the female role was largely featured in the fertility iconography, which made sense. We didn't stay through the whole question-and-answer session to learn if this involved any little ceramic breasts.

So that's how we spent the afternoon. I'm grateful to my friends for sacrificing their time to be with me. Especially Roy. After today I think he may not mind being under the floorboards with all of his ceramics intact.

14 comments:

sophizo said...

I'm going to reply to your post about the talk because it was more in depth and more interesting (sorry Roy!).

I am soooooo jealous that you got to hear this talk. I love a good human sacrifice. ;-) Ok...I'm more interested in the archaeology part of it all, but still...who can pass up something as cool as human sacrifice or even cannibalism. Oops...I didn't say that out loud, did I??? Well I did become fascinated in ancient religions in college, so much that I got my degree in classical archaeology and minored in religious studies. Sacrifice wise, most of my studies focused on animal sacrifices, but there were a few cultures we studied that conducted human sacrifices. It absolutely fascinates me! This post hit the core of my heart. I love this stuff as much as you guys love psychiatry. (I'm assuming you love the subject of course!)

Concerning the phallus part of the talk...it's not often in ancient art that you see men who are "limp" (to put it nicely). They always seem to be just a little too "happy". That topic alone is something that is fascinating to hear a lecture about when it comes to ancient art.

If only I could have earned a living as an archaeologist. **sigh** The world just doesn't appreciate history like it used to. I'm glad you guys took time out of your busy schedules to go to the lecture and learn something new. People need to realize how important learning about our ancient past really is. I highly encourage you to keep going to cool lectures like these. And if one on Minoan or Etruscan religion ever comes near you guys...trust me that you'll like it! ;-)

Gerbil said...

Okay, Clink, label etiquette dictates that you can't just create a label and then never use it again.

Translation: I'm eager, and also a little bit scared, to see what other posts you three can label with "MNP."

Roy said...

Clink- yours was much better. I'm with you, sophizo; I couldn't resist a human sacrifice talk. There was even some talk about vampirism, how it represents the afterlife and such.

Sarebear said...

Roy, now that vampirism talk WOULD be BAD if it hit the core of sophizo's heart (well, hee hee, you seem to be up late . . . . wait, so'm I!)

I went to a BYU Museum of (ancient peoples or was it history or I forget) exhibit that they got in as it toured the country, on the Etruscan civilization/culture, etc. Talk about morbid fascination!

Also went to an Ancient China one there too, at another time. I missed out on the Ottoman Empire one, darnit. And I've got more than a passing interest in the Minoans . . . I checked out a bunch of books about them just for the heckuvit once to find out more.

MNP's . . . I wonder if Roy wished he was beneath the floorboards right then, hee hee!

I'm glad you guys went. Off to read Roy's post, now . . . wait, that sounds vaguely obscene, now, after some of the content here (hee hee hee!). Good thing I'm not reading in braille.

Ok, now who's blushing redder now, me or Roy? lol . . .

I liked the reference to Carrie's cat, too . . .

Sarebear said...

Oh, and when I saw the Hew It part, I wondered if you guys were jabbing fun at the Minister of Health over in England.

She hasn't been within an arms length of her MNP's (minimum needed . . . ahem) for quite some time. Maybe that's why she's in such a snit . . . just don't take it out on the rest of the country's medical profession . . .

ClinkShrink said...

I'm keeping my eyes open for more lectures now that I know I can drag my buddies out for an afternoon. I forgot to mention the part about the vampire bats but he just covered so much ground (literally) to mention it all. And Gerbil, the label issue is a piece o'cake: Multiple Nitpicking Psychiatrists.

dinah said...

Sara-- Roy was not under the floorboards, he stood up in an auditorium full of people and asked why the penises were all erect (or if the sacrifice had something to do with fertility rites, or something like that). Apparently, Roy's not shy.

Clink-- More Lectures? More Segways. Food. Drink. Costume parties. Haunted houses. Movie events. Shrinks on Skates?

ClinkShrink said...

For movies I'm looking for this but it's a bit obscure. I may have to wait for the DVD.

ClinkShrink said...

Or this movie which I also can't find.

ClinkShrink said...

Or maybe a trip to Greg's Bagels followed by the Daedalus Bookstore. Roy, are you game? (Victor is also welcome. Reassure him no blood will be shed.)

And don't forget podcasting next weekend. My ClinkDom is at your command. I may be able to scrounge up some humus & pita bread, veggies, cheese, crackers, Diet Coke and gourmet coffee. Let me know what you're in the mood for.

The microphone at the Walters wasn't nearly as nice as our snowball.

And about the monastic movie---you got it! I can't wait to see you sit through a long movie of silent meditation :) Your kids would pay to watch that.

Gerbil said...

Oh, Clink, so not fair. You knew what I meant ;)

Am looking forward to the outcome of the upcoming weekend of Much Nutty Podcasting, complete with Mediterranean Nosh Plates, quite a bit of Microphone Niceness Patter, and hopefully Minimal Noise Production.

ClinkShrink said...

Nicely done Gerbil. You may not have to wait until next weekend---I handed off podcast #16 to Roy yesterday.

Gerbil said...

Mighty Nice, Psychiatrists!

Sarebear said...

Marvelously Neurotic Psychiatrists? Teehee!

More Nerdy People.

Magnificent Noodly Pasta.