Finding the right path for you in the vast world of religion can be a daunting task. Most of us tend to just follow along with the religion of our parents, grandparents, or close friends in the community, but for some of us, the path to enlightenment is one we must walk alone. Walking alone is a task more dangerous in some places than other.
Whether it’s an ancient pagan religion, one of the many variations of Christianity, Hindu, or a religion from an obscure culture, the sacred texts can dictate shocking practices.
The American south is rife with stories of people exploring a new church only to have a rattlesnake passed to them during the opening hymn. Unexpected revelations like these can have the opposite effect of what most people seek in a religion. Unexpected revelations like these can leave a religious explorer quivering in the throes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or even worse, a hatred for all religions.
With a little bit of research, I have compiled a list of ancient gods to be wary of when searching for a new house of worship. While many of these gods no longer have an active spotlight, you just never know when someone will get the bright idea of resurrecting the ways of the past, and sticking the letter of the ancient law.
It is important to remember sacrifice plays a role in nearly every religion ever devised, be it personal sacrifices by eliminating indulgences, sacrificing one’s time, or sacrificing your neighbor. Even most modern the modern Christian religions hinge upon sacrifice. The cross that symbolizes the religion, and its many congregations, represents the ultimate sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ. That ultimate sacrifice is what led to the elimination of the animal sacrifices highlighted in the Old Testament of The Bible.
Other religions never experienced that ultimate sacrifice embraced by Christians. For that reason, the following information could one day save your life.
Kali, The Hindu Goddess
For the most part, Kali is just another Hindu goddess whose mythology is highlighted by a dark note with bright edges of goodness, but just as with many other gods throughout history, some sects get a little over-zealous about things.
In Tantric teachings, Kali is the benevolent mother goddess. In other teachings she is a violent figure whose goal is to annihilate evil. Things are a little different for others.
If you find yourself traveling with a large group of friends and encounter strangers asking to travel with you who look as if they might have walked off the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and refer to themselves as being the children of Kali, born of her sweat, it’s time to get nervous. There is a high probability you and your crew are about to get hijacked by a group of Thuggee who will strangle the party to death as soon as they find a good place to do it.
Thuggee were Indian assassins who believed their duty was to kill and rob travelers in honor of Kali, and if they didn’t, Kali might destroy humanity. Thuggee were alleged to have strangled anywhere from tens of thousands to a million people before being driven out of the culture. The legend of the Thuggee spread relentlessly during British rule of India, leading to the effort to eradicate the group, and eventually to the creation of a national Criminal Tribes Act.
Some claim the British blew Thuggee impact out of proportion in the media, and might have credited them with more bad deeds than they actually committed, but when it comes to your life on the road, can you risk it?
Chaac, Mayan Rain Deity
The Mayans believed Chaak, who had a slightly different presence in the north, south, east, and west, would smack a cloud with his lightning axe to produce thunder and rain. When times got tough, they also believed drowning youngsters would inspire Chaak to deliver a favorable rainy season to boost crop production.
Back in the 16th century, the Mayan’s would drop young men and women into a ceremonial well, where they would stay until they drown. The belief was they were sending the sacrificed well dwellers to the other side so they could become assistants to Chaac, and help facilitate the production of rain for the crops.
Baptism is a popular ceremony in many modern-day Christian religions, and it is an innocuous rite symbolizing a rebirth. So don’t be lured into getting baptized in a well by anyone incessantly talking about crops and uttering the name Chaak. You might quickly go from being alive and well, to floating lifeless in one.
Odin, Norse God of War, Ruler Of Asgard
Women have little to worry about if they find themselves amid old-school worshippers of Odin, but it’s a different story entirely for guys. This is especially true if the service is held at the Temple at Uppsala in Sweden during wartime when things aren’t going well for the home team.
In Norse mythology, Odin was seen as a god of war, death, and victory. When things weren’t going well and a change was needed, Odin’s followers would often pick somebody — basically through the equivalent of drawing straws — and offer them up as a sacrifice to Odin. This is how King Vikar of Norway lost his life in the Gautreks Saga. King Vikar was among the men in a fleet of ships that had been blown off course, and it was decided the right thing to do was to make a sacrifice to Odin in hopes he would guide them back on course. King Vikar drew the short straw and was hanged.
Ritual human sacrifices were also made to Odin at the onset of summer each year during an annual festival to celebrate victory.
Every modern preacher/priest knows one way to get a crowd to church is to augment the service with a big meal. People just can’t resist free food, but that mindset could cost one their life in ancient Norse traditions.
Every nine years a festival called a Blot was organized at the Temple of Uppsala in Sweden. One of the key features of this nine-day festival was the sacrifice of horses and of nine males of each species in the land, including humans. The bodies were then hung like Christmas ornaments from tree limbs surrounding the temple.
In other words, be fearful of religions offering free meals. Your life may depend on it.
The good news is the last Blot featuring human sacrifice was allegedly held around 1087. Still, religious ceremonies conducted by guys in viking helmets and wielding hammers, who offer up an awesome free meal, are the kind of thing you might want to be cautious about attending. Odin’s son, Thor, is a modern-day movie star, so there’s no telling when someone might bring back his ancient doctrine. After all, the Blot, sans sacrifice, was resurrected as a Swedish festival in 2000, following a 900-year hiatus.
Huitzilopochtli, Aztec God of War, Sun, and Human Sacrifice
If there ever was a culture in history known for having religious ceremonies resulting in the peril of its parishioners, it was the Aztecs of Mexico. Their ceremonies were a danger to themselves and others, but apparently not as dangerous as smallpox and the spaniards, which allegedly wiped out everyone who hadn’t already been sacrificed to one god or another.
Huitzilopochtli was crucial in the Aztec’s belief in the 52-year cycle of the Earth, in which the planet would see its demise if appropriate sacrifices weren’t made to the sun god. Human sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli were also made during a special holy day dedicated to the god each year.
The scary part about Aztec mythology was the fact that Huitzilopochtli was only one of dozens of gods whose thirst for blood required human sacrifice.
The likelihood of you encountering a religious service dedicated to Huitzilopochtli are slim these days, but if you do, you’ve been warned.
Tirawa, Pawnee God of Creation
At one point in Pawnee history, the semi-annual spring fling, occurring when Mars appeared as the morning star, meant tying up a young girl and filling her full of holes so she could bleed into the soil and fertilize the earth.
Tirawa was the god who the Pawnee associated with most things in the natural world, and thus his blessing was crucial for providing an environment for crops to grow.
When it came to the sacrifice of a young girl, the Pawnee would raid an enemy village and snag a prime specimen. The sacrifice was part of the Morning Star Ceremony, which was a recreation of the Pawnee creation story in which the Morning Star mated with the Evening Star and created the first human. That first human was a girl, which is why one was used during the ceremony. The girl was then pampered for several days before being tied to a decorated scaffolding to await the arrival of the morning star. When the morning star appeared, she was burned on her arm pits and genitals with a flaming brand, shot through the heart by the warrior who captured her, cut open by the priest who smeared her blood onto himself, struck with a sacred club, and then shot by arrows from every guy in the tribe.
You don’t want to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and considered the enemy of any group practicing the ancient ways of the Pawnee.
The Pawnee still exist in the Great Plains of the United States, but allegedly gave up the practice of human sacrifice during the Morning Star Ceremony around 1838.
Dabaiba, Panamanian Goddess of Thunder and Lightning:
Dabaiba reportedly liked nothing better than an old-fashioned barbecue, which is why early cultures, predating the Aztecs, throughout Panama and Columbia burned the bodies of those they sacrificed to appease her. Dabaiba had roots as a sun goddess, and it was believed thunder and lightning were created to punish enemies. Believers made pilgrimages from throughout the region to The Golden Temple of Dabaiba to bring the goddess high-priced gifts and living humans to be sacrificed.
If you find yourself being recruited in the church of Dabaiba you not only want to watch your back, but you want to be selective as to which information to believe. When Europeans first arrived in the area, they heard stories about the gold and riches stored at Dabaiba’s golden temple, and the locals were more than happy to give them inaccurate directions sending them into the clutches of enemies sure to kill the trespassers. After years of searching, it was finally discovered the extent of the riches contained in the palace was little more than folklore, but not before many died trying to find it.
God, of Church of God with Signs Following
Since I brought up snake handling Christian churches, I might as well elaborate on it too, because even though it’s not technically a human sacrifice, they do engage in a religious ceremonies that could cost you your life.
Snake handling churches fall under the umbrella of the Pentecostals, and more specifically, the Church of God with Signs Following. They not only catch the holy spirit during gatherings and speak in strange tongues, they also sip poison and pass poisonous snakes to prove the holy spirit is within them. I feel obligated to point out the practice of snake handling is something your average Pentecostal church endorses. If outlaw bikers brand themselves as ‘One Percenters,’ meaning they are an extreme minority in the world of motorcycle clubs, snake handlers should probably label themselves as ‘One-tenth-of-One Percenters.’
The entire concept of playing with deadly snakes is based on one lonely passage in The Bible:
"And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover," - Mark 16:17-18
The practice of snake handling is illegal nearly everywhere in the US, with the exception of Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia, but small numbers of congregations exist throughout Appalachia.
Below is a documentary about a West Virginia snake handling church made in 1967. It’s nearly an hour long, but it gives great insight into an obscure corner of Christianity.