The concept of a scapegoat, a person who is blamed for the sins of others, goes back to ancient times. The term comes from a Hebrew ritual that is described in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament of the Bible. Each year a priest symbolically transferred to a goat the sins of the people of Israel. The goat was thrown over a cliff outside the city of Jerusalem, and its sacrifice was believed to remove the nation's sins. The ritual was originally performed to pacify Azazel, a fallen angel who became a demon of the wilderness.

The Hebrews were not the only group to practice scapegoat rituals. In ancient Athens, two ugly men were chosen as scapegoats during the festival of Thargelia. After dining at a feast, the pair were led through the streets and beaten with branches. Then they were escorted out of town or driven out with stones. The ritual was intended to protect Athens from harm.

The Maya of Central America also held an annual ceremony involving a scapegoat. At the end of each year, Mayan villagers made a clay model of the demon Uuayayah. They placed the model before an image of the deity responsible for governing the coming year. Then they carried the model of Uuayayah outside the village to ward off evil.

ritual ceremony that follows a set pattern

deity god or goddess

In Indonesia and the Philippines, scapegoats in the form of boats were used during epidemics to try to rid communities of a disease. The islanders built small boats and loaded them with food and water. They set the boats adrift in the open sea, hoping that the evil spirits that brought the disease would sail away in them.

See also Greek Mythology ; Mayan Mythology ; Sacrifice ; Semitic Mythology .

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