Ancient Pagan Sacrifice: The Wicker Man Explained

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Human Sacrifice in Modern Times?

Something that many people believe still occurs in modern society is the grisly practice of human sacrifice. While most believe this cruel and evil deed is only done by "Satanists", there are some who believe it is every type of Pagan who partakes in human sacrifice, and it all gets attributed back to ancient practices of Celtic belief systems and witchcraft. Many fearmongers even bring up the story of the Wicker Man.

I would like to set the record straight about modern day Pagans and the fact that they do not practice nor condone any form of human sacrifice. In order to fully explain the facts, we have to travel back to ancient Celtic times and look into the story of the Wicker Man.

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The Wicker Man Story

The idea behind modern day Pagans performing human sacrifice in their rituals probably goes back to ancient Celtic times and the Wicker Man. The Wicker Man story is not fully accurate, and one has to remember that history has always been written by the winners. So you can bet your bottom dollar that the Wicker Man story was not written in stone by the Celtic people or by their priests and priestesses, the Druids. This story of torturous human sacrifice was actually written by the Celts' enemies - the Romans. And guess which Roman wrote of this practice? None other than the fabulous Julius Caesar.

According to Julius Caesar, the Celts were barbarians and would sacrifice hundreds of people in one fell swoop. They would build a large figure of a man made out of wood/wicker, and then pile the innocents inside only to light the entire effigy on fire, killing everyone inside. Some accounts said that the Celts would mostly sacrifice criminals to the gods but sometimes would use innocent men if no criminals were to be found at that time. But how much of this Wicker Man story is truth? How can we trust that Julius Caesar's account of this grisly practice wasn't elaborated or spun up?

The Wicker Man Hype (Spoilers Ahead)

The Wicker Man story has only been exaggerated in modern times all in the name of entertainment. Hollywood stepped in and used the idea of Celtic human sacrifice to spin up an intriguing yet misled tale. The film "The Wicker Man" was first aired in the 1970s, and it was just re-made in 2006 starring Nicholas Cage. The movie basically centers around a man who follows his heart to an unknown island off the western coast of the United States.

There the man finds his daughter, but also finds out that the quiet people living on the island are actually cruel and ruthless modern day Pagans. Their whole purpose with getting him to their island is to use him in their annual Wicker Man festival. They literally burn him alive at the end of the movie in order to assure for a good crop the next harvest. So as you can see, the media tends to take stories from history (written by the winners) and uses them to its advantage. It's the same for the idea of witchcraft and how it is used in movies and on TV shows these days (but that's a whole other hub).

Druids
Druids | Source

Were the Druids That Barbaric?

So what if the Celts and their priests actually performed human sacrifices in efforts to appease their ancient gods? Let's not lie to ourselves and say that the Celts never sacrificed other human beings in order to partake in ancient festivals; however, let's put that thought into perspective. The ancient Celtic people were no different than the hundreds of other cultures and religions of ancient times who also practiced human sacrifice. Those cultures include the ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Aztecs, and even the Jewish.

Before Rome became a Christian empire, they were also Pagan in nature meaning they worshiped many gods. They also killed men for sport and for entertainment, hence the gladiators of the Coliseum. And even after Rome became a Catholic empire, more killing ensued but this time the killing was to eradicate anyone who stood in their way of ruling the known world...including the Celts. At this point too, the Celts were not Christian so the idea that the Celts were barbaric Pagans who sacrificed humans was just another purpose behind killing them off and allowing the Romans to rule all.

So were the Druids that barbaric? They were no more ruthless or barbaric than any of the other ancient people who sacrificed humans to appease their gods...human sacrifice is even mentioned in the Old Testament of the King James Version Bible. Remember that chapter in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son? Is it possible that the Wicker Man of ancient Celtic times actually held no humans at all? And if it was used as a means to appease the gods, what's the difference in sacrificing criminals to the gods and capital punishment today? Killing is killing is killing, in the end.

A Modern Day Wicker Man
A Modern Day Wicker Man | Source

Wicker Man Used Today

In spite of all of the negative theories and beliefs behind the Wicker Man, many modern day pagans and festivals still use the image of the Wicker Man in their festivities...minus the innocent humans piled inside, of course. The idea behind burning the Wicker Man can be attributed to the ancient Pagan reverence for the element of fire and ensuring a bountiful harvest. Also, the idea that destruction is sometimes necessary in order for re-birth to occur.

If you plan on using a wicker man in your practice, just make sure not to make a big spectacle of it in your front yard...the neighbors might think you're sacrificing a baby. And of course, leave the human sacrificing to the Christians. (sarcasm)

Written and copyright © by Kitty the Dreamer (May Canfield), 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments 15 comments

SpiritRune profile image

SpiritRune 14 months ago

I have often wondered and would be very interested to know if there is ANY archaeological or physical evidence for druids performing this kind of sacrifice or if the word of Julius is all we have to go on. The Romans may have hired a Druid scribe but they also wiped a lot of druids out, or I have read that. I would be happier if in general if people who wrote on the topic were a lot more clear about what their claims are based on. There is a belief in the sacrifice of the King for the good of the land which is metaphorical in Pagan mythology for that cycle of renewal in nature. It could easily have been a misunderstanding by the Romans (giving them the benefit of the doubt).

If a culture has no prison system you have to figure there is some way of dealing with crime and very often in early cultures it was a harsh punishment system. I know they also had more civilized approaches for property and similar crime though which was a system of making reparation for your transgression. So if it was a crime punishment I am betting you had to do something serious to get it.


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether Author

Hi, Blake. Sorry...not trying to pick a fight with the Romans by any means, just merely trying to point out that every culture was barbaric in one way or another and to a certain extent. Very good theory...and actually I've heard something relative to the theory of the trojan horse and wicker man once before...though I can't remember where I've heard it. Thanks for stopping by!


blake4d profile image

blake4d 4 years ago from Now Rising Out of Phoenix Arizona Earthlings

Gotta put my two cents in on this on KTD. First of all, don't be picking on my people the Romans ( at least prior to the death of the first Ceasar ) - if anybody historically recognized the Druids for having language, mathematics, and as an advanced culture, it was ole Julius. Even hired a Druid to be his personal scribe while alive...check your history texts. But that is a moot point.

I will offer you an interesting theory about the whole Wicker man and how it relates to Rome in Druid land.

Remember a Trojan myth about the big Wooden horse, with a whole bunch of men hiding in its belly. Oh yeah the Trojan Horse...

Think about it, the Druids besides being a pagan culture, as a people the Celts were a horse culture. The Celts actually invented the first horse drawn chariots, which the Romans admired greatly and reworked with more metal armorments. So, a horse culture translates the myth of the Trojan Horse when they encounter Rome, during being invaded. They realize that they can fight the war, but would rather appeal to the metaphorical nature of the Roman paganism and its military politics.

So they know better than to surrender, that would mean slavery. Instead they reverse the symbolism and ritual. Instead of a wooden Horse with gurrellia troops waiting to layout for the attack from inside the belly of the Wooden artifact....an act of war. They in reversal build a single wooden Human, putting inside one willing or maybe willing participant. They sacrifice one soldier by fire. The goal being to sacrifice on person, avoid a conflict of war, and also give Rome a sign. We are not weak, but we do not want war.

A Wicker man, instead of a Wooden horse.

Just a theory. Keep on Hubbing. Blake4d


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether Author

AP - Could very well have been, but again...a lot of people were pretty barbaric back then. Thanks!


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

You know the Celts just may have had some form of wicker man 'cause Caesar in his Gallic Wars book was pretty accurate in a lot of things we can verify today. They did like to display skulls and such so who knows? Guess we'll never know for sure but ain't it creepy to even think about lol!


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether Author

AP - I never actually thought of the burning man as being a modern wicker man...but great point! And as to the Romans not making up something so intense...I don't know...I tend to be skeptical of almost everything the Romans did. LOL...err...who are the Romans?

Thanks for commenting, dear friend!


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Glad you brought up the fact that the ancient Wicker images may have been nothing more than Roman propaganda. On the other hand ...that is quite something to make up, even for the crucifying Romans. That 1973 Wicker Man is an odd movie that deserves its cult status. I like the ritual dancing nude lassies scene myself lol. Seriously good article and subject here. kitty, Isn't the Burning Man festival a kind of modern day wicker man you think.


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether Author

Thanks, cresentmoon. Always nice hearing from you. :)


Cresentmoon2007 profile image

Cresentmoon2007 4 years ago from Caledonia, MI

Useful and true information, given light on the Pagans. I loved reading this one Kitty. A lot of people are misled about human sacrifices. I also always enjoy reading about this history of the Celts.


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether Author

Thank you, Old Witchcraft. I always enjoy hearing your opinions and thoughts. Blessings.


OldWitchcraft profile image

OldWitchcraft 4 years ago from The Atmosphere

Very good hub! Very interesting and worth a second read.

You know, there are some stories in the Old Testament about foreign gods (to the Israelites) allegedly demanding human sacrifices that look very suspicious to me after doing some research on ancient pagans. The early Jews and the Christians (even now) like to make up stories about other people (like Wiccans and other witches - they're still accusing us of human sacrifice on television) that cast them in a bad light, while they try to paint themselves as good. They did it (do it) to justify and incite violence against others and unify themselves against a common "enemy."

Same old same old.

Vote up and accolades!


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether Author

karthikkash - Very very true and thanks for pointing those out. Thanks for reading & commenting!

rcrumple - Yay for working emails! My college classes have never mentioned the Wicker Man story...though I might have been immediately intrigued if they had. I find it strange as well that the Romans were so quick to talk about the Celts being barbaric when in reality they were just as bad if not worse. Thanks for your comment, as always.

cryptid - Hahaha...yeah, the movie pretty much sucks. I've heard the original from the 70s was well-put together and imaginative...much different than the newest version. I'll have to check out the older version and let you know. Thanks!


cryptid profile image

cryptid 4 years ago from Earth

Thanks for adding some historical significance to this. Until now, I only knew the Wicker Man as the single most awful movie I had ever seen in my entire life. It's interesting to know that there is a historical basis behind it.


rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

Kitty - Finally an email stating you'd published one. And what a great one it is! The Wicker Man has been discussed as truth for many years in sociology classes, at least, when I attended college. I find it strange that the Romans were looked at as civilized with all the atrocities they committed. But, as you state, the winners write the stories. Btw, there's a new movie out called "The Wicker Tree." I've DVR'd it from one of the pay networks, but have yet to view it. Probably, the same old same old. Great Job, as always!


karthikkash profile image

karthikkash 4 years ago from India

Nice hub.. There have been human sacrifices in every early civilization. Celts may have done it, Aztecs did it and even the early Indian (Aryan) civilization. There are many mythological and Vedic stories which mention animal and possibly human sacrifice in ancient Indian rituals. At different point of time, these were replaced by symbolic sacrifices. I guess somehow, there was a common belief in every civilization that sacrifice is the best way to appease gods.

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    Author Nicole Canfield (kittythedreamer)1,895 Followers
    428 Articles

    Kitty has been following a pagan spiritual path for over sixteen years. Because of this she encourages others to follow their own paths.



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