HHAHAHAHA!!!! I'm just so very, very clever.....;)
One of my crew members emailed me a few days ago concerned over something she'd seen about primitive Europe on the History Channel. In one reenactment, a Pagan Priestess performed an act of ritual sex with a young man and when the act was completed, another Priest or someone snuck up behind him and strangled him to death. That was how, according to the History Channel, the Gods were pleased and the people lived happily ever after.
"Cool!" I thought.
The member brought up a good point--it bothered her that she was now part of a religion that had such violent origins. As usual, I had a bunch to say about it.
One, sensationalism. How else is the History Channel going to compete with "The Biggest Loser" without a little bloodthirsty, sex-rape-murder? They're not. "Real" history can sound droll and show producers are going to focus on the macabre and lazily skip over the reason behind the ritual or the more benevolent aspects of the practices. Sensationalism is not new, either. Much of what we know of ancient Pagan practices (Within and outside of Europe) came from letters sent by soldiers or missionaries. In the case of the missionaries, facts were frequently inflated or outright omitted in place of sensational fictions in order to encourage the Church to supply more funding for their causes. In truth, we don't know a lot of what the ancient practices were like outside of questionable authority, folktales and some archeological findings. Despite what many books preach, contemporary Paganism is NOT "The Old Religion." Thank god. Contemporary Paganism may share similar concepts (but we don't even know for sure about that....) but has fortunately left its bad, nasty and messy pieces for archeologists to wonder about.
However, that being said, many primitive religions did incorporate human sacrifice into their Rites and yes, the Europeans as well as the Aztecs. Archeology has indeed supported this conjecture. But remember that most world religions have dark roots. Judaism used to embrace the slaughter of enormous amounts of animals for the sake of pleasing Jehovah. Christianity, in addition to hanging heretics or burning them alive, launched the Crusades which killed enormous innocents as well as condemning basic human hygiene as sinful, which was a main contributor to the Black Plague---which killed about 1/3 of Europe. Yet, these religions have evolved out of these practices and the reclaiming tradition of Neo-Paganism is no different. Humanity as a whole has evolved past the need to outright sacrifice other humans in order to please our gods. Any religious sect that killed a human to please its God would be disbanded and locked up by local authorities and if it had any connection to a reputible religious community, it would be exiled from it. It is my belief that if we were somehow able to transport one of the Priestesses you saw on television from primitive Europe to a modern day Pagan gathering, I doubt she would even recognize it as a descendant of her faith. What we share in common with those ancestors is a connection to our planet and its seasons as well as a love of many Gods and Goddesses, but we have fortunately left the nasty stuff behind.
While the growth of Christianity encouraged many good things (the abolition of the practices as you mentioned, the notion of a God of peace and forgiveness), one of the damages it committed was the mentality that this world we live in was created by a God for us to consume. This has permeated much of the world and has placed us in the the most dire ecological situation our human race has ever faced. The reclaiming of Paganism may just be what the world needs to save itself. What we Pagans can offer our non-Pagan brethren is to see that we are part of the earth, not merely renters waiting for the day when the God who gave us this planet can get us off before it collapses. Don't be afraid or ashamed to be part of a religion that was once extremely violent. Be thankful that you are part of a religion that has let go of nasty practices which are no longer necessary and is focused on fixing the future for the next seven generations.
That's all for now. :)