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Skinner, J. (1961). Ritual Matricide: A Study of the Origins of Sacrifice. Am. Imago, 18(1):71-102.
    

(1961). American Imago, 18(1):71-102

Ritual Matricide: A Study of the Origins of Sacrifice

John Skinner

Prehistoric religion originated as a magical sacrament intended to deny the reality of death. Confronted with the fact of death, primitive man attempted to conserve the life and vitality of his dead clansman by eating the brain. The funerary ritual of prehistoric China, which perhaps was inhabited as long as 500,000 years ago, (1) consisted of a careful interment of the dead, who were provided with food, protective amulets, ornaments and weapons. However, the skull was preserved for ritual magic after the brain had been extracted and eaten.

Life was magically renewed by the physical incorporation of the brain: the source of life. The logic was primitive, animistic, and child like: man lived because he could see his world, he breathed, he heard the sounds of life, he ate, and as his hair grew his physical and sexual power increased. The dead could not see, hear, eat, or move about. Incorporation became the first magical act, experienced first at the breast of the mother and symbolized later in a magical and religious rite of sacrament intended to recreate life.

The head of the deceased was venerated as an ancestor, consulted for oracular purposes, and employed in ritual magic, a practice which has persisted until today among the tribes of West Africa and Borneo. The ritual efficacy of the head was preserved by coloring it with red ochre, a symbolic representation of the blood of life among all primitive people.

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