Ggantija - - Human Sacrifice at Ggantija
In the Bible we read the story of Abraham when God wanted to put him to the test. The Lord God ordered Abraham to offer his only son Isaac as a burnt offering to Him. Owing to his love of God, Abraham was ready to comply but at the last moment God did not permit any harm to come to the boy. The people of Ggantija were much more primitive than the Israelites so it not impossible that a human sacrifice was in fact sometimes offered to their Goddess.
The Gozitan poet Gorg Pisani has written a poem on the same topic.
The following story is pure fiction. Estrelja offered as a Human Sacrifice
Love and hate, envy and prepotence have always existed among men even 3500 years BC The people of those far off days around the Ggantija temples lived as a tribe governed by a despotic leader who ruled them as he liked and as best suited him.
Snarlivan had been the chieftain of the Xaghra population for many moons and it was a known secret that he had acquired this high position by illicit and corrupt means. He was a giant of a man who seldom smiled and who watched like a hawk all that was happening around him. He had a couple of toughs of his own ilk always at his side paying him homage and keeping him informed of the smallest details. Everyone showed him due respect not as much out of love as from extreme fear of him. Snarlivan ruled with an iron hand and the people were resigned to their fate, all of them concentrated on their work from sunrise to sundown. The majority of the men worked in the fields, some were fishermen and others attended to their animals. There were carpenters and masons and those who worked in the tanning of leather and making ropes, mending the roofs, making nets for fishing and preparing bows and arrows for hunting. Other skilled men worked in the vineyards and in the production of wine and honey.
The women also worked hard because apart from giving birth to dozens of offspring they were the gatherers. They looked for snails, sea urchins, sea shells, capers, mushrooms and a good deal of edible roots. They were also responsible for the collection and the carting of firewood apart from a hundred other chores inside their little houses. And life went on, they were fully occupied and had enough food and what they lacked they got by bartering. Recently Durjan succeeded in acquiring 3 small sacks of corn and a quantity of new potatoes in exchange for a young goat. Durjan was a shepherd with a few sheep and goats. He made his living by bartering milk and by making cheeselets out of what was left. He used to dry the cheeses in a kind of reed-cage and they kept for quite a long time. In the production of cheese he had the helping hands of his daughter Estrelja of around 15 years of age, who also had to do all the house-work. She used to fetch the firewood, pound the corn with the pestle in the mortar, make the dough, bake the bread and roast the game which her father sometimes brought home from hunting. Their food was simple: bread, cheese, game, fish, fruit and vegetables, honey, milk and wine. The people were getting along fairly well except that all that winter everyone was worrying about the utter lack of rain. It had not rained since April and the wells and cisterns were almost completely dried up. Their life was closely tied with nature and every change in the elements affected for better or for worse their livelihood. The island of Gozo has from time immemorial suffered from the lack of water and Snarlivan being the leader was worried more than anybody else faced by the extreme scarcity of water all around him. The fields were parched by the sun, their animals had hardly enough water to quench their thirst and all the people walked with downcast faces in fear of their very life.
Snarlivan had been praying fervently for weeks on end to their God of Fertility but it seemed that the goddess was expecting something special to lend an ear to his pleas. The dry weather persisted and the whole population was almost in a panic. It was already October and all around it was as arid as a desert. Those who still had a little water in their wells were asking too much to barter with a small bowl of the life-giving liquid. And Snarlivan all the time racking his brains and thinking hard. The time has come for a special treat to their Fertility Goddess, the Fat Lady. He was dying for an immediate downpour because the people expected it of him. He was aware of a serious dissent and he was well informed that there were those who were aiming to usurp his seat of power. Especially that ambitious Durjan the shepherd who because he was a little well-off was putting on airs and almost expected to meddle in the leadership of the people.
He would make him pay for his insolence never fear and he would show him who had the leading hand and who was the High Priest of the Ggantija temples. The Fat Lady, their beloved god was expecting a special treat, a blood sacrifice much more sacred than the usual daily ones. According to Snarlivan, the Lady Goddess desired a human sacrifice soaked with the rich warm blood of a human being on her sacred altar. Their God loved human sacrifices or so Snarlivan imagined in his deranged mind.
Snarlivan was ruthless and that was why everyone lived in fear of him. He was a sadist; his eyes would glow when he was in the act of punishing a wrongdoer with the excuse of disciplinary action. Many times he used the whip and he delighted in humiliating a person in public and crushing him under his feet. This time it was Durjan’s turn and he was planning a torture for him that was worse than death. He waited for the Sunday and early in the morning in front of the crowd that had gathered in front of the Ggantija temple he climbed the steps of the altar and proceeded to address the faithful. In his usual pomp he ran his eye over the congregation and began to speak in an assertive tone of voice , “Dearly beloved, I know how sad and worried you are and I can assure you that I am feeling much worse than you because as your chief I am in duty bound to find a solution to every problem that confronts us from time to time. For months now we have not seen a drop of rain falling from the heavens and this aridity has permeated into our very souls. However I can with pleasure announce that last night I had a marvellous apparition. I saw our Lady in all her beauty and majesty dressed in a dazzling white gown and with a loving smile on her face she whispered, - do not alarm yourself Snarlivan, have faith in me and if you honour my command, you will have what you ask for as from tomorrow. On hearing these words of love and hope, I knelt down my face on the ground in the presence of such enchanting beauty and after having thanked Her with tears streaming down my face I made a solemn promise that we her people would obey her supreme command with all our hearts. And as a pledge of our sincere love to our deity she requested nothing less than a …........ human sacrifice from us”.
On hearing these frightful words the people were shocked to their core. They stared with open mouths, dumbstruck and wide-eyed and were hardly able to breathe. His words left them bewildered, talking to themselves … how is this possible … such a horrifying sacrifice was never heard of … our leader is truly mysterious and unpredictable. Snarlivan, however had everything planned and in his insane excitement he continued to lie and invent tall tales to his people. He knew that he would have his way and take his revenge upon Durjan.
Snarlivan raised his arms to the heavens and continued, “ We are not sacrificing an animal this evening, a beast but a young maiden to please our beloved God all the more. This is what she requests from us and as soon as we obey her command we will have many days of rainfall and as much water as we need”. The faithful crowd listening to the leader inside the Ggantija temple was again unsettled by a new wave of distress. A cold terror began gnawing at their minds – it was possible that the unfortunate victim would be a girl from their own family. By then all the young girls were trembling with fear. They were all crying and their parents could not stop kissing and hugging them. Nobody had the slightest idea who the unfortunate girl was going to be!!
“There is no need to be frightend dearly beloved, Our Lady has already chosen the lucky maiden who is going to offer her youth and body for our sakes, dear brethren of the Ggantija Temple. Her name will forever remain carved in our hearts and we will never forget the supreme sacrifice that she has offered for us where with her virgin blood she is going to save us all” All the congregation was frozen with fear. The parents talked in whispers and were dying to know who the victim was going to be. “The most beautiful girl, a pure young virgin was chosen by our dear Fat Lady herself,
“Come to me, Estrelja”, Snarlivan commanded in a slightly louder voice.
The young girl Estrelja could not believe her ears. She was dumbstruck, her legs were trembling - - no it couldn’t be true. She was rooted to the spot, reeling almost falling to the ground. It was not possible that that very evening she was going to be slaughtered and burnt on the altar. She was still in her prime with a fantastic future before her, and what about her father, she was going to leave her poor daddy alone - - Estrelja could not move. Everyone was looking at her and all the people could see her trembling, her cheeks streaming with tears and her eyes fixed on her father.
At the edge of the crowd which was increasing by the minute Estrelja saw her father struggling while being manhandled by five burly men who had already tied his hands behind his back and were then securing his feet to the great column at the entrance of the temple. Durjan was helpless, shackled as he was by his hands and feet. His voice was hoarse by hurling curses at Snarlivan and by repeatedly calling her name. He was crying like a baby because he could do nothing to help his darling Estrelja and because of the blind rage that was boiling inside his chest. Seeing his daughter in that pitiful state he would have liked to tear the accursed Smarlivan to pieces with his teeth.
On the contrary, Snarlivan surrounded by his henchmen appeared calm and at ease and with a meaningful look he signalled to a couple of his roughnecks to bring the girl to his side. For days he had been fantasizing with pleasure the act of undressing her, taking her in his arms, squeezing her against him and placing her prone on the sacrificial altar. And the supreme pleasure would come when with his hand on her slim white neck he would bring forth the ceremonial knife and slit her throat. He imagined his hands soaked in her warm blood when he would then open her chest and cut out her heart. A confirmed sadist without any doubt but in public he took great pains to act correctly in the manner pertaining to his position of chieftain and high priest of Ggantija.
That evening at sunset a crowd gathered in front of the temple for the ceremony of the human sacrifice that the majority of those present had never dreamed of seeing. The throbbing sound of the drums could now be heard and Durjan albeit having been shackled to the great column since the morning and feeling dead tired and thirsty was struggling and trying to free himself with the hope of being able to help his daughter. On one side of the temple square he could see the pyre of firewood already prepared for the cremation of his beloved daughter and Durjan swore that he would make Snarlivan pay dearly for her murder. He knew that the human sacrifice and the choice of Estrelja were expressly invented to hurt him and mortally wound his being.
Durjan then heard the dismal notes of the great horn and saw a procession slowly approaching the temple. A number of men carried torches and about a dozen women were chanting a somber hymn while Estrelja walked in their midst her head bowed in deep sorrow. She was dressed in white resigned to her terrible fate knowing that there was no escape from her imminent demise. At the end of the cortege, in the most prestigious position came Snarlivan following at a measured pace. Four urchins with a burning twig in their hands were lighting dozens of small lamps placed round the perimeter of the square. The lights were shedding black smoke that smelled of fat and burning hemp and the sky as if to lend a more dramatic effect to the dismal scene was covered with a blanket of dark clouds that obscured the little sunlight that still remained. The clouds became so thick and leaden and the slight breeze so cold that the people expected it to rain. In their hearts they hoped that their dear Fat Lady in her great kindness was going to answer their prayers even before the offering of the sacrifice.
A hush fell on the square when the procession arrived and stepped into the temple with all due solemnity and devotion. Snarlivan attired in his ceremonial long mantel climbed the steps to the altar accompanied by a young boy holding a small red cushion with the large sacrificial knife resting on it.
All eyes were fixed on the knife with its elaborate bone handle encrusted with precious stones gleaming in the dim lights of the lamps. Its sharp blade was fashioned in gold in the shape of a crescent moon. An instrument fabricated with great skill and expertise but instead of attracting everyone’s admiration it instilled a chilling fear in the hearts of all the onlookers. The frightening possibility that next time it could be their daughters’ turn to die was churning in their minds.
All the people were tongue-tied and in that perfect silence one could at that moment clearly hear the distant rumbling of thunder and a cold gust of wind penetrated the innermost chambers of the temple. Snarlivan had a smug look on his face and his smile seemed to convey the message that the thunder and the approaching storm were endorsing his wise decision of celebrating the human sacrifice. He made a sign towards the crowd and Estrelja was seen approaching the altar. Her head bowed and hardly able to walk, Estrelja had to be helped by two girls one on each side of her. She looked calm and resigned, helpless in the face of the untimely death that awaited her. As soon as the poor girl placed her foot on the altar step the first flash of lightning illuminated the beautiful Ggantija temple and it was immediately followed by a loud clash of thunder. This signified the arrival of the storm and a slight rain began to fall. The mood of the congregation changed and they all began to thank their beloved Fat Lady with hope in their hearts.
With each flash of lightning Durjan could see Snarlivan’s eyes fixed on his darling daughter, lust and desire reflected in his smouldering gaze. The high priest raised his arms and began preaching to the people. He referred to the rain that by then was pouring in torrents and emphasized the point that they were receiving this gift from heaven as a result of the sacrifice that they were about to celebrate. He assured them that after the completion of this human sacrifice their Goddess would never again permit such a terrible drought to plague their land.
The storm was by then in their midst and the continuous flashes of lightning and the deafening clashes of thunder seemed to reflect the anguish and mad rage that Durjan was experiencing seeing his daughter’s life hanging by a thread and listening to Snarlivan lying to the people to satisfy his pervert lust for blood. Though dead tired and hoarse with thirst and utter distress, Durjan could be heard above the noise of the elements hurling abuse at Snarlivan, “Liar, murderer”. And all the time he was attempting to free himself in order to get at him.
Snarlivan however did not pay heed to Durjan’s ravings and in the electric light of the storm the people held their breath when they saw him reaching for the knife. Holding it high with his arms outstretched, his eyes looking towards the heavens Snarlivan started to pray, “oh divine Lady of Fertility our hearts are brimming with love for you, we believe in your mercy and kindness for us, accept we beseech you the body and blood of this young virgin in your honour and glory. We all kindly beg you to give us enough rain so that we will never again suffer hunger and thirst”.
The golden blade of the accursed knife raised high above Snarlivan’s head gleaming in the lightning flashes was a torture in the eyes of Durjan who could not take his eyes off his poor daughter. His body was racked by heart-rending sobs for in his delirium the sharp blade was already dripping with the blood of his darling Estrelja.
However, it so happened that all of a sudden the awed silence of the congregation changed to screams and shouting when a thunderbolt hit the temple. A general pandemonium and a stampede broke loose.. Everyone pushing and jostling to get out of the temple as fast as possible. There was a pungent smell of burning and sulphur and while all the people were running towards the door neither Durjan, nor Estrelja nor Snarlivan could move from their places.
Estrelja was paralysed with fear and glued to the spot, her father was securely shackled to the huge rock while Snarlivan was lying prone on the ground, his eyes staring, glazed and lifeless and his mouth open as if asking what had happened all of a sudden.
Outside, some of the people oblivious of the pouring rain were airing their views about the thunder-bolt reiterating that it was cast from heaven to punish Snarlivan. Many of them hurried home relieved that all the sinister drama had ended as it did and secretly happy that Snarlivan did not get the chance to lay a finger on the girl. Someone cut the ropes that were shackling Durjan and he ran towards his daughter, picked her up in his strong arms and held her tenderly, comforting her all the way to their home.
The thunderbolt had been attracted by the gold blade in Snarlivan’s hands and he was roasted alive in seconds. He died suddenly of severe brain damage and a heart-attack. Parts of his body as well as his clothes were still smoking when they climbed the altar steps to pick him up.
The next morning everything returned to normal, the human sacrifice was hardly mentioned any more, Snarlivan and his reign of terror were dead and gone. The people returned to their customary way of life and Durjan and Estrelia resumed to tending their flocks and to make Gozo cheeselets for themselves and for all the Ggantija folk. Oct 2019