Lindow Manchester

Sacrificial Theory
September 12, 2008, 9:07
Filed under: Lindow Man Exhibition, Sacrificial Theory

I first came across Rene Girard and Mimetic or Sacrificial Theory whilst researching the Manchester Museum’s Lindow Man exhibition several years ago.  A chance  reference to  “acts of unanimous, sacrifical violence inflicted on innocent victims or scapegoats”  leapt up off the page at me because of the way Lindow Man died.  Some commentators have referred to this as ‘Overkill’. The more I read the more I found elements that seemed to correspond with what we knew about Lindow Man.

The neatly manicured fingernails indicate he was either of high status or possibly was groomed for sacrifice, like one of the unfortunate prisoners of the Tupinamba in South America. One of the Lindow Moss bodies has a small underdeveloped thumb (one of Girard’s victimal signs, the equivalent of an Oedipal club foot making that person a suitable candidate for killing?).

The fact that no victimal signs have been found on Lindow Man himself is not necessarily a problem because the body is incomplete and in any case his ‘victimal sign’ need not have been a physical one. We  know he had Schmorl’s nodes on his spine. It isn’t clear if that affected him in any way. Even a complete absence of evidence for ‘victimal signs’ is no counter argument because sometimes what makes the victim different is the fact that he or she is unblemished.  

Now that Lindow Man’s ‘Triple Death’ has been undermined (Timothy Taylor lists the many ways in which he was killed in a chapter in his book The Buried Soul), the way is clear for the whole community to be involved in misteatment of the scapegoat, ranging from feeding him unpalatable contaminated food like a burnt breadcake through to hitting him on the head and drowning him.

We still don’t know the circumstances of Lindow Man’s death. Was there a Girardian ‘sacrificial crisis’ in his community because of a plague, a famine or a flood? Or was it in response to the advance of the Roman army into Northern Britain, as suggested by Anne Ross and Don Robbins in their Life and Death of a Druid Priest ? Or was it provoked by nothing at all? Was it an arbitary act of unspeakable violence of which there are all too many examples?  

Perhaps the proposed isotopic analysis of Lindow man’s fingernails or hair will shed light on some of these questions by revealing what Lindow Man had been eating in the months leading up to his death, or even showing which part of Europe he came from.  Of one thing we can be sure, the debate will run and run.


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[…] Sadly in 2008 it was too late to develop Rene Girard’s work on scape-goating in relation to sacrifical theory, bog bodies and Lindow Man, but it is a topic I have spoken about in presentations to students and […]

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[…] against Roman rule that took place in northern Britain. However, if (and it is a big if) we follow Rene Girard’s sacrificial theory, the scapegoating of victims during a time of crisis only ‘works’ if the victim is a […]

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