Ancient writers were always accusing enemy cultures of evil deeds. This type of propaganda is still used today, as evident with main-stream news networks. While the ancients made many factual detailed accounts, there is no doubt that as humans they were just as fallible to influences as we are today. Historians today seem unable to cite any substantial archeology to defend the Greek, Roman, or Jewish claims that their enemies conducted mass human sacrifices; at least by our traditional literal definition of Satanic ritual human sacrifice. There is no conclusive evidence regarding human sacrifice in Celtic or Canaanite history, anymore than in early Greek, Roman, or Jewish history.
Rumors about enemies executing criminals, assisted suicides, or cremation of dead bodies were easily labeled simply as ‘sacrifice’ because rituals were overseen by priests. These manipulated rumors were spread by a few select literate sources to an already biased audience ignorant about barbarian culture. With no counter-culture period writings, we cannot believe the accusing texts at surface value, despite the appearance of fairness due to some compliments or rhetorical claims.
Sacrificing human lives during a war or battle certainly happened, and continues to happen in military conflicts and secular fights today. There are religious aspects to conflict sacrifices, but are more related to fighting, war, and secular killing in general. Conflict sacrifice deserves its own essay; regarding suicide, decapitation, cannibalism, and other practices before, during, and after fighting or hunting.
The Hebrew Torah references human child sacrifice in ancient Egypt, Israel, & Canaan. When the Torah mentions child sacrifice in terms of the first born sons of Israel, it is considered an acceptable metaphor, or symbolic ritual rite of passage into religious service. Curiously the Torah does not make a detailed account of Hebrew child sacrifice when Moses says “’With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons’.” – Exodus 13:14
I believe by the time of Moses, most cultures that practiced human sacrifice had a concept of sacrifice as a ‘tax payment’ to a higher authority. In Israel they ‘sacrificed’ their first born sons to the higher authority of the Jewish Temple Priests, in the name of God. In Canaan they ‘sacrificed’ their children to the higher authority of the Babylonian Temple Priests of Ba’al. Canaanite rituals probably included rites-of-passage where their youth passed through sacred flames (fire baptism), as existed in many other cultures from Egypt to America. First born sons were sacrificed by parents, meaning they gave them over to the priests in the service of a Temple. In Egypt the lambs’ blood on the doors meant that they had already sacrificed lambs to God, so they did not owe him their sons. This trade of sacrifice is known as Consecrated Redemption, which is described later in the Torah (Numbers 3:49).
In modern times we do use the term ‘sacrifice’ when describing military service, and patriotic parents accept this sacrificial concept of duty to the nation. We also use the word ‘sacrifice’ when following strict religious restrictions; giving up one thing for another higher blessing. My argument is that the origins of our modern definition of ‘sacrifice’ was possibly started during the time of Abraham, when God told him he could sacrifice a lamb instead of his son. By the time of Moses, sacrifice (even human sacrifice), meant trading one valuable asset to an authority, to insure the blessing of another. So when the Torah refers to sacrifice, it is referring to the established traditional ritual metaphor.
The ritual metaphor of human sacrifice relating to death, was often over-emphasized as political propaganda for their intended audience. It is much easier to reject the practices of others, if we believe them to be repulsive. Sacrificing sons (giving money to priests) may have been a tax on the parents for being able to keep their child; as with livestock God demands a sacrifice, but you can exchange one animal for another, or the monetary equivalent. In the New Testament Jesus was worth sacrificing a dove to the Temple. Jesus later became the ultimate human sacrifice when he died for our sins, so that no one needed to give sacrifices to the Temple anymore, because he said through him we can ask God directly for forgiveness, and he paid the price of sin for all. This was very popular with poor people, since they often could not afford the price of sacrifices. Also the sacrifice tax may have been intended as population control.
Another problem with biblical terms, is that Canaanites and Israelites were ethnically similar by the Second Temple period (Job 40:30, Proverbs 31:24). In archaeological and linguistic terms, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were a subset of Canaanite culture. The disdain for Canaanites in the Torah was related to the semantic use of the word Canaanite as a synonym for merchant or trader who does business with Babylon. Clearly the Jewish Temple Priests did not like outside religious influence, as it was threatening their power and diminishing their sacrifice (tax) income.
Regarding literal historical Pagan human sacrifice by American Aztec Priests, and some Native Asian Islander cannibalism, there is more evidence that they actually did kill many humans to appease the gods or gain their powers. Despite this fact, human sacrifice is not mandated by main-stream Neo-Pagans today in any form. Human sacrifice for salvation is generally rejected by New-Age ideology, as salvation typically comes from within and is achieved through self-realization, without the need to contribute to an institution or higher authority. Most people do not like to pay taxes anyway.