Rooster rituals and sacrifices in various cultures and since ancient times

Haru no iwato: Sono ni: Sarutahiko by Totoya Hokkei (Edo Period, 1780 – 1850)
Shinto God Sarutahiko with Jeweled Spear and White Roosters, Number Two (Sono ni) from the series the Boulder Door of Spring (Haru no iwato), Edo period, 1825

Well-fed, strutting roosters can be seen wandering around the Ise Jingu Shrines, especially by Naiku. The rooster is associated with the sun goddess Amaterasu because it crows before dawn and plays an important role in her mythical story.

And there is a special day called the Torinoichi (Rooster Day Market), a festival in November celebrated at Washi Jinja in the Asakusa section of Tokyo and in various localities. In the Asian zodiac, a cycle of twelve animals is used to count days, months, and years. The tori no ichi festival is held on the two or three “days of the rooster” that fall in the month of November. These days are considered ennichi, and in the shrine, engimono (lucky objects) such as kumade (rakes) and otafuku masks depicting a round-faced woman are sold. The kumade are especially prized by merchants; they are believed to have the power to rake in good fortune.

It is also called “Honorable Rooster”(otorisama). Originally, it was a festival at Otori Jinja that celebrated the gods of luck and business prosperity, but now it occurs at other shrines too. Festival days occur two or three times in November and are known as the “First Rooster,” “Second Rooster,” and “Third Rooster” in order. On these days, lots of street stalls selling bamboo rakes as good luck charms, and the like are set up in the shrine compound. (Source: Basic Terms of Shinto, The Encyclopedia of Shinto)

The excerpt below is from Asakusa Tourist Federation:

“According to Japanese mythology, the world turned dark when the sun god, Amaterasu Omikami, hid in a cave. Amenouzume no Mikoto performed a dance to lure her out. Another god, Amenotajikara no Mikoto opened the door to the cave as his son, Amenohiwashi no Mikoto, played a stringed instrument called the gen.

Since a rooster was perched on the instrument when light returned to the world, it was regarded as an auspicious omen. Since then, a rooster has been enshrined throughout Japan as the god who will improve and enhance one’s fortune and prosperity, and also came to be worshipped in Asakusa. On his campaign to the Kanto Provinces, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto prayed for victory and upon his triumphant return, he worshipped at the shrine and placed a kumade (colorfully decorated rake) in front of it to celebrate his success. Since this day fell on the Day of the Rooster in November, it became the festival day of Otori Shrine.

In the Edo era, Otori Shrine was called Otori-daimyo Shrine. During this time, Shintoism and Buddhism were not clearly practiced as distinct religions and the chief priest of the adjacent Chokokuji Temple also served as caretaker and steward of the shrine. However, with the beginning of the Meiji era, the two religions were separated, the name of the shrine was changed to Otori Shrine and its precincts were clearly marked off from those of Chokokuji Temple.

Tori-no-ichi or Otori-sama (The Festival of the Rooster)
Otori-sama is the nickname for this Otori Shrine. In the olden days, the annual festivals held at the shrine were called tori-machi or tori-matsuri, meaning festive day in Japanese. Later, merchants set up open-air stalls in the shrine compound to sell various goods during these festivals, in the same manner as the tori-no-ichi (The Festival of the Rooster) at the Otori Shrine in Kasai Hanamata. As the festivals became popular, the festival at Otori Shrine came to be affectionately called otori-sama.

The festival thrived during the mid-Edo era. In the Toto-Saijiki (The Chronicle of the East Capital) first published in 1838, it is stated that Shitaya Taho-Otori-Daimyojin (the present Otori Shrine) began to attract large crowds by the 1770’s for the festival had become famous in the Horeki and Tempo periods of the mid-Edo era (1750-1760). Kikaku, a well-known haiku poet of the day, composed a haiku about the tori-no-ichi at Taho in Asakusa: “Anticipating spring, The beginning of all, Year-end fairs.”

Since long ago, Otori Shrine has been visited by people who wish to pray for good luck and success in business. The kumade or colorfully decorated rakes that are sold here as talismans are called kakkome, a word that is derived from kakkomu or torikomu, meaning to “rake in” as in to “rake in good fortune.” These kumade became popular among the common people of Edo. On festival days, merchants set up stalls around the shrine selling kumade of various sizes. During the tori-no-ichi, there are now over 200 open-air stalls selling kumade which have grown larger and more magnificent over the years. Behind the Otori Shrine is the former site of Yoshiwara, Japan’s largest red-light district in time past. In the heyday of Yoshiwara, o-tori-sama was the festival that drew the largest crowds in Tokyo.

Depending on the year, there are three Days of the Rooster in November. The first Day of the Rooster in November is called ichi-no-tori (first Festival of the Rooster) and the second Day of the Rooster is called ni-no-tori (second Festival of the Rooster). In some years the third, san-no-tori (Third Festival of the Rooster) is held. For the people of Edo, worshipping at the otori-sama signaled the coming of winter and a time to start preparing for the season.”

Rooster Rituals

Beijing Today Specials, February 11, 2005

A hen used to be a regular part of bridal parties in Shandong Province thought to bring good luck to a young woman's new family. Illustrations provided by Beijing Yang Xin Hutong Arts Studio

A hen used to be a regular part of bridal parties in Shandong Province thought to bring good luck to a young woman’s new family. Illustrations provided by Beijing Yang Xin Hutong Arts Studio

The coming lunar year is the Year of the Rooster. Among the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac – the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig – whicrepresent the 12 earthly branches used to denote the year of one’s birth, the rooster ranks tenth. Each animal of the zodiac has an appointed two hours of every day, and the rooster’s is 5 to 7 pm, a period known asyou, when the bird is supposed to take a short rest.
In ancient China, there were many customs related to the rooster and today rooster-related customs still abound. For example, the first day of the first lunar month is named “the day of the rooster.” Killing or harming roosters is prohibited and feeding is done in a more humane way than normal.

By Peng Juan
Scratching for a zodiac spot
The rooster is the only domesticated fowl used to symbolize a lunar year. According to ancient legend, that is because when the mythical Jade Emperor of Heaven was creating the zodiac, he only took into consideration animals that made contributions to human society and not domesticated creatures like roosters. One day, upon seeing a horse with a golden saddle on its back petted and adored by human beings, the Rooster King became very jealous.
The horse told him, “It is not difficult to win the love and esteem of human beings if you honestly try to do something for them. You were born with a good voice. If you use it correctly, you may be able to do something for peopl.”Enlightened, the Rooster King went home and thought hard about what he could do with his voice. Finally, it dawned on him that he could use his golden call to wake people from their slumber at daybreak. From then on, he got up very early every morning and sang at the top of his voice, arousing people from their deep sleep. The people were grateful, but to the rooster’s chagrin, the Jade Emperor of Heaven still refused to cosider poultry proper for the zodiac.
Late one night, the Rooster King’s spirit flew to the Heavenly Palace and tearfully complained to the Jade Emperor. The Jade Emperor stopped to reconsider his anti-poultry policy and ealized that the rooster had done people a great service. Acknowledging that his standard for conferring the animals of the zodiac was not perfect, the Emperor picked a red flower and placed it on top of the rooster’s head to comfort and commend him.The next day, with the red blossom still atop his head, the Rooster King visited the Four Great Heavenly Kings, who upon recognizing the imperial red flower allowed him to take part in the ranking of the 12 zodiac animals.
When the day for the final ranking of the zodiac arrived, the rooster and the dog got up at the same time and headed for the competition together. Steps away from the Heavenly Palace, the rooster, fearing the dog might get ahead of him, sprinted and flew ahead of the dog. By the time the dog realized what was happening, the rooster had taken the 10th seat on the cycle and the dog was forced to sit behind him. Ever since, the dog has been angry with the rooster and chases the rooster whenever he sees him. That lingering enmity can be seen today, as dogs regularly chase after roosters. The rooster was so ashamed of his behavior that his face turned red and has stayed that way since.

Cockfights used to be popular around China, but now are mostly isolated to remote areas.

Cockfights used to be popular around China, but now are mostly isolated to remote areas.

Lucky charms
Han people in northwest China and eastern Shandong Province have the custom of wearing a “spring rooster” ornament at Lichun, the official fit day of spring, which fell on February 4 this year. The ornament is diamond-shaped and made of shreds of cloth and stuffed with cotton. It is pinned on the left sleeves of children’s clothes to bring good fortune in theNew Year. At the end of Spring Festival, usually the 16th day of the first lunar month, the ornaments are cast away at a temple fair.
In the Jinhua area of Zhejiang Province, there is a custom of wearing a “rooster heart acket” on Dragon Boat Festival. To make the item, a piece of red cloth is filled with rice, tea leaves and realgar (a natural mineral)powder. It is hung around children’s necks to ward off evil and bring good luck. The Chinese word for “rooster heart”jixin – has the same pronunciation as the word for “good memory”, so parents make kids wear “rer heart packets” to impress on them theimportance of studying well so they can forge strong memories, clear minds and bright futures.
In olden days, the people of the Fufeng area of today’s Shaanxi Province had a custom ofputting a cloth printed with the image of a rooster around children’s arms to protect them from illness ater in life.

Spilling blood
In some parts of Henan Province there is a custom of killing a rooster on October 1, an act believed effective in scaring away ghosts. Legend has it the King of Hell releases ghosts on that day and does not call them back until the Festival of Pure Brightness (around April 4). The people in those areas believe ghosts fear rooster blood, explaining the sacrificial tradition.
The custom of killing roosters is also popular in other places, but for different purposes. For example, in Jinhua, Zhejiang, roosters are killed on July 7 when the Cowherd constellation meets Vega (a day known as Chinese Valentine’s Day). Locals believe that if the rooster, the herald of daybreak, is killed, the two lovers Cowherd and Vegawill never have to part.

Birds of a feather

The rooster has long been considered an auspicious animal for weddings. In the past in Shandong Province, a boy bearing a hen in his arms walked alongside the bridal sedan when a young woman was taken to the bridegroom’s home. Because the Chinese word for chicken,ji, is a homophone for the world for auspicious, the fat hen was a sign that the bride would bring luck to her new family, which would get a rooster of its own for the big day. The bridal party set out early to make sure the sedan chair arrived before the rooster crowed in the new day. After being tied to a table leg with the hen, the male chicken was beaten senseless to symbolize the bride would not be bullied or humiliated by her husband’s family. But the two birds were not killed after the wedding ceremony and therefore had the name of “longevity chickens.In the “bride bowing with a rooster” custom indigenous to China’s southeastern coast, a bird actually replaces the groom. The two sides of a wedding usually choose in advance a red-letter day to tie the knot. If the bridoom is fishing at sea and cannot come back on time for the wedding, his party will choose a rooster to perform bows with the bride. The bird complies because the bridegroom’s younger sister or a groomsman presses its hed down. After the ceremony, the rooster is closed in the bridal chamber with a red cloth tied to its neck and fed rice. When the real bridegroom returns, the rooster is set free.
In some parts of central China’s Hnan Province, people have the custom of presenting “leave-mother chicken meat.” Prior to his wedding day, a groom will present some chicken meat to the bride’s family, particularly to her mother, to bid farewell – h the name.

Dangerous games

Cock fighting is a centuries-old tradition in China that has slipped in popularity in many places but has been kept alive in remote areas among Han people and some ethnic minority groups in Yunnan Province.

Fighting roosters are bigger and taller than ordinary ones and distinguished by the absence of crests and wattles. They can come in a wide variety of colors. In Kaifeng, Henan Province, cockfights are held on the 22nd day of the first lunar month of each year at a large, walled venues. Cock owners show up, roosters in hand, and wait for their birds to get their chance while gamblers on the sidelines place their bets.

Before things get down and dirty, roosters are matched for competitions depending on height and weight. The feathered fighting machines are bred on highly nutritious foods like wheat, red rice, black rice, grapes and egg whites and put through exercise programs to keep in fighting shape. Bouts can be over in a flash or last hours – either way, then end when oe rooster kills or severely injures the other.

Exotic edible gifts

Among the Bai minority people who live around Dali, Yunnan Province, there is a popular custom of “giving rooster-rice gifts,” divided io two forms of single and double gifts. The single version includes a jug of wine and a fat rooster, and the double a jug of rice wine, a jug of seed grain and two fat birds. Such gifts are exchanged by close relatives on big occasions, such as weddings, the birth of a baby or completion of a new home.

In villages of the Miao people in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, presentation of a plate of “rooster heart” is said to be a sure si of real friendship. Hosts usually treat respected guests with rich dinners including a delicious stew of a whole male chicken. If the heart is still intact in the pot after all the meat and soup are finished, the host will regard the guest as a blood brother and treat him to another dinner the next day to celebrate their status. If the guest eats the rooster heart, he will never be invited to another “reunion” dinner held by that host.


The Hmong will also sacrifice a rooster to accompany the soul on its journey. Musicians play a pipe and set of drums to guide the soul in the direction of its ancestors.  (Source: Funeral Traditions by Religion)


Rooster rituals of the Yi people was practised in connection with nature worship of gods of earth, wind and fire:

“The worship of the earth
The earth is where people get their food and clothing. The worship of the gods of the earth has lasted long. In the 9th month of the lunar year, the Axi People will choose an auspicious date to sacrifice to the gods with white roosters.

C. The worship of wind
The Yi People think that the god of wind is mighty and can bring people disasters. Whenever the houses, crops or trees of people are harmed by wind, people will attribute these to the god of wind. The Bimo is soon asked to read scriptures and sacrifice with a chicken to please the god. People will also call back the spirits of the victims so that the spirits can go back to the bodies again.

D. The worship of the fire god
The Yi People believe in the existence of the fire god. They attribute the fire accidents happening to the houses to the fire god. So, all the people in the village are organized to send away the fire god. The 3rd day of the 1st month of the lunar year is the day to sacrifice to the fire god. Each household will make a picture of the fire god, prepare some joss sticks, meat and wine, and charcoals to give to the god senders. The senders will bind a white rooster to a bamboo pole and circle the roofs of each household with the pole. Finally, the rooster is killed to sacrifice to the fire god, asking him not to burn the houses in the village.”

Source: Nature Worship (


A very detailed treatise of cock or chicken symbolism for the Miao tribes, is given in “CHICKEN AND FAMILY PROSPERITY: MARITAL RITUAL AMONG THE MIAO IN SOUTHWEST CHINA” by Xianghong Feng, which is significant for Japanese rooster and chicken symbolism as well, given that the two peoples share ancient genetic connections. The sun-hiding, and calling the dawn motifs and sabae-insect-eclipse associations are noted in “Japanese Mythology and the Primeval World: A Comparative Symbolic Approach” (p. 549-553) by Peter Metevelis. See also Japanese Mythology p. 44


According to Pythagorean Counsels based on ancient fragmentary materials from the 6th c. B.C. Pythagorean monastery at Croton in southern Italy, translated citations from the Greek sources : Diels-Kranz 5 ed. vol 2 under Pythagoristae:

“…do not lay hands on a white rooster, since it is holy to Moon (meis), and a suppliant. [This is one of the good things, he is holy to Moon, and signals the time; if white it is of good nature, if black of bad.] Diogenes Laertius, D. 463-16″ — Source: The Pythagorean Counsels | The Ko’ans of Pythagoras


White roosters are part of ancient Jewish magical ceremonies and traditions performed from present-day Egypt to Syria and Turkey, and according to the Greco-Egyptian Grimoire sacred book “Unique” or “Eighth Book of Moses” one practice involved an elaborate purification ceremony, spells and sacrifices to various deities:

“Remain pure for 41 days. Have a house on ground level in which no one has died during the past year. The door should face west. Set up an earthen altar in the middle of the house and gather cypress wood, 10 pinecones full of seed, 2 white roosters, uninjured and without blemish, and two lamps, each holding an eighth of a pint, filled with good oil. And don’t pour in any more than the eighth of a pint, for when the god comes, the lamps shall burn more fiercely. Have the table prepared with these following kinds of incense, which are cognate to the Gods….

First, however, present yourself, on whatever auspicious new moon occurs, to the Gods of the hours of the day, whose names you have in the Key. …

Accordingly, as I said before, when you have purified yourself in advance through the last seven days while the moon is waning, at the dark of the moon, begin sleeping on the ground on a pallet of rushes. Rising at dawn, greet Helios (Rê) through seven days, each day saying first the names of the gods of the hours, then those of the weeks. Also, each day, knowing who the ruler of that day is, address him saying:

‘Lord, on [such and such a day] I am calling the God to the sacred sacrifices’.

Do so till the eighth day. Then, when you come to this day, in the middle of the night at about eleven o’ clock, when there is quiet, light the altar fire and have at hand the two roosters and the two lamps, lighted (the lamps should hold an eighth of a pint each, and you must not put more oil into them). Begin to recite the stele and the mystery of the God, which is called Scarab. … Then, before you drink off the milk and wine, say over it this petition; and having said it, lie down on the mat, holding both the tablet and the stylus, and say this Hermetic spell:

‘I call on thee who surround all things. I call in every language and in every dialect, as he first hymned thee, who was by thee appointed and entrusted with all authorities, Helios AKHEBUKRŌM, whose is the glory, AAA ĒĒĒŌŌŌ, because he was glorified by thee, thou who set the winds in their places and then, likewise, the stars of glittering forms, and who, in divine light, created the Universe, III AAA ŌŌŌ, in which thou hast set in order all things. SABAŌTH, ARBATHIAŌ ZAGOURĒ (These are the angels who first appeared) ARATH ADONAI BASĒMM IAŌ. The first angel cries in
‘birdglyphic’ ARAI – which is “Woe to my enemy” – and Thou hast set him in charge of the punishments. Helios hymns Thee in hieroglyphic, LAILAM, and in Hebrew by his own Name, ANOK BIATHIARBAR BERBIR SKHILATOUR BOUPHROUMTRŌM (36 letters); He says, ‘I precede Thee, Lord, I who rise on the boat of the sun disk, thanks to Thee’. Thy magickal name in Egyptian is ALDABIAEIM. Now, he who appears on the boat rising together with Thee is a clever baboon (? Thoth); he greets Thee in his own language, saying ‘Thou Art the number of the days of the year, ABRASAX (= 365)’. The falcon on the other end of the boat greets Thee in his own language, and cries out to receive food, KHI KHI KHI KHI KHI KHI KHI TIP TIP TIP TIP TIP TIP TIP. He of the nine forms greets Thee in hieratic, saying: MENEPHŌIPHŌTH. (He means, ‘I go before Thee Lord’).”

Note: “The Eighth Book of Moses, is a magical treatise that otherwise has nothing to do with Moses and which is found in Greek Magical Papyrus (PGM) xiii in two versions: the Greek Magical Papyri, specifically PGM XIII lines 1-646, from two versions of a spell titled ‘The Eighth Book of Moses.’  But don’t let the title fool you; while this has a few Jewish elements it’s actually a late Egyptian work, written in Greek and with heavy Greek influences.  The version we have was probably found in a tomb near Thebes, and dates from the fourth century AD, but its contents are certainly older. The spells give instructions for summoning a god for the purposes of divination [The creator god isn’t explicitly named in this account; the scholar Morton Smith thinks it’s the Egyptian sun god Harpocrates (‘Horus the Child’), but other parts of the spell seem to be addressed to Aion (a vaguely defined but powerful god in late antique religion), so either are options]” Source of quote: The Cosmology of the Eighth Book of Moses (PGM XIII 1-646)

See also “The Interpretation of the Old Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism“, p. 44 by John Granger Cook and Hans Dieter Betz’s “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation including the Demotic Spells” p. 181


In Canaanite-Phoenician cultures, rooster rituals occur in conjunction with the Equinox-harvests and celebrations of “Tishri (Hebrew) Tashritum (Babylonian) (late September-early October) (end dry season); New Moon – New Half-Year, New Year’s Day – in the magical seventh month”

Autumnal Equinox: September 19, 20, 21, 22
Intercalary Purification Fast Day – 10th day after New Moon
At this time people at home light no fires and perform acts of expiation and purification. In ancient times there was a Bull sacrifice in temple; a Goat sacrifice in temple, and a Scape-goat was sent to Azazel into wilderness to transfer any evil from humans to animal. In Modern Europe: Kiparot: on day before before Yom Kippur (= Day of Awe), Orthodox Jewish men are lightly flogged at their synagogue, a hold-over from the actions of mourning or ecstacy performed by celebrants in ancient days. At home, to purify and chase away evil, swing a white rooster around one’s head, then sacrifice it, or drive it away, or throw into running water, or give the bird to the poor to eat.

FULL MOON – Feast of Harvest In-Gathering – Week Long Festival
This week long festival marks the end of the grape harvest and the final Harvest Home. The Canaanites ate, drank, and reveled, marking the end of agricultural year and the beginning of the rainy season. Dance processions wound their way through the fields under the full moon’s light almost until dawn. Celebrants would carry palm leaves, and olive, myrtle and willow branches bound together and hanging with fruit. Major animal sacrifices were performed at the temple, but the poor could offer a jar of flour or oil or a jug of wine instead.

During the festival, prayers and magic are made for rain. Normally, after the burning of the daily sacrifice, libations of wine are poured on the altar. During Sukkot, a special libation of water is also poured. A priest with a golden ewer goes down from mount of the temple to a special sacred spring to draw water. He returns to temple through what is called the Water Gate, where other priests blow silver trumpets. Another group of priests gather long willow branches which are placed alongside the altar with their tips curving inward. The water priest pours the holy water over the altar in a magical practice to bring rain, after which libation all the priests march around altar carrying the willow withes in a magic circle. This activity is watched by men carrying bundles of leaves from the palm tree, sacred to the Athirat. At night, men dance in temple whirling torches until cock crow. At end, the priests circumabulate the altar seven times, then beat the earth with willow branches, a magical practice to make the earth fertile.” — End of Excerpt

Source: A Canaanite-Phoenician Sacred Year | Part Two: A Reconstructed Sacred Calendar of Lunar and Solar Festivals (Qadash Kinahu A Cannanite-Phoenician Temple website)


According to Wikipedia, “Kapparot” is a Jewish ritual connected to concepts of atonement and repentance practiced by some Jews on the eve of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) occurring either in September or October. An excerpt follows:

“The person swings a live chicken or a bundle of coins over one’s head three times, symbolically transferring one’s sins to the chicken or coins. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor for consumption at the pre-fast meal…

The religious practice is mentioned for the first time by Natronai ben Hilai, Gaon of the Academy of Sura in Babylonia, in 853 C.E., who describes it as a custom of the Babylonian Jews with the practice also having been as a custom of the Persian Jews and further explained by Jewish scholars in the ninth century by that since the Hebrew word geber(gever)[4] means both “man” and “rooster” the rooster may act and serve as a valid religious substitute and a religious and spiritual vessel in place of the man….

Kapparot was strongly opposed by some rabbis, among them Nahmanides, Solomon ben Adret, and Yosef Karo. They considered it a non-Jewish ritual that conflicted with the spirit of Judaism, which knows of no vicarious sacrifice outside of the Temple in Jerusalem. However, it was approved by Asher ben Jehiel and his son Jacob ben Asher. The ritual appealed especially to Kabbalists, such as Isaiah Horowitz and Isaac Luria, who recommended the selection of a white rooster as a reference to Isaiah 1:18 and who found other mystic allusions in the prescribed formulas. Consequently, the practice became generally accepted among the Jews of Eastern Europe.

In the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Yosef Karo discouraged the practice. According to the Mishnah Berurah, his reasoning was based on the fact that it was similar to non-Jewish rites. Rabbi Moses Isserles disagreed and encouraged Kapparot.[8] In Ashkenazi communities especially, Isserles’ position came to be widely accepted.”


There also existed Jewish rules against the sale of white roosters implying that it was customary for gentiles to use white roosters for idolatrous purposes:

The sages prohibited a Jew from selling to gentiles those items and foodstuffs which they customarily used for religious purposes (idolatry). Thus, for example, they were forbidden to sell a white rooster (sacrificed in religious rituals) to a gentile, but a black or red rooster may be sold. Similarly, one may sell a rooster which is missing a claw to a gentile. (According to the Talmud, the gentiles only use whole white roosters in their religious rituals.)

One of the sages asked: what is the rule if a gentile wants to buy a white rooster which is missing a claw? Is one permitted to sell a rooster, even whole? The very fact that the gentile asks to buy a rooster with a missing claw shows that he does not wish to use the bird for a religious ritual. On the other hand, perhaps he is trying to trick the Jew. Since he knows that Jews will not sell him a whole bird, he fools them with his request, hoping to actually buy a whole bird for idolatrous purposes. On that same topic another question was asked: a gentile requested a white rooster, but when he was offered a red one agreed to purchase it. He was then offered a black rooster and again he consented to purchase it. Is one now permitted to sell him a white rooster? The fact that he agreed to buy a red rooster and a black one shows that he is not buying for idolatrous purposes, but he might be tricking the Jewish seller, and then one is certainly forbidden to sell the white rooster to him.
(These questions were not settled in the Talmud.)
(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zarah 14b)” — Source of Excerpt: Daily PilPul


The Custom of Kapparot in the Jewish Tradition (Jewish Virtual Library)

by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D.

“Every year, before Yom Kippur, some Jews perform the ceremony of kapparot. The following, in question and answer form, is a discussion of the ritual and its relation to the treatment of animals.

What is kapparot?

Kapparot is a custom in which the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a fowl. It is practiced by some Jews shortly before Yom Kippur. First, selections from Isaiah 11:9, Psalms 107:10, 14, and 17-21, and Job 33:23-24 are recited; then a rooster (for a male) or a hen (for a female) is held above the person’s head and swung in a circle three times, while the following is spoken: “This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement; this rooster (or hen) shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace.” The hope is that the fowl, which is then donated to the poor for food, will take on any misfortune that might otherwise occur to the one who has taken part in the ritual, in punishment for his or her sins.

What is the history of this rite?

Kapparot is not mentioned in the Torah or in the Talmud. The custom is first discussed by Jewish scholars in the ninth century. They explain that since the Hebrew word gever means both “man” and “rooster”, punishment of the bird can be substituted for that of a person.

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica (Volume 10, pages 756-757), several Jewish sages strongly opposed kapparot. Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham Aderet , one of the foremost Jewish scholars during the 13th century, considered it a heathen superstition. This opinion was shared by the Ramban (Nachmanides) and Rabbi Joseph Caro, who called it “a foolish custom” that Jews should avoid. They felt that it was a pagan custom that mistakenly made its way into Jewish practice, perhaps because when Jews lived among pagans this rite seemed like a korban (sacrifice) to some extent

However, the Kabbalists (led by mystics such as Rabbi Isaac Luria and Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz) perceived in this custom mystical significance which strongly appealed to many people. This greatly enhanced the popularity of the kapparot ritual down to the present day.

Why did some Jewish sages oppose kapparot ?

Some Jewish leaders felt that people would misunderstand the significance of the ritual. The belief that the ceremony of kapparot can transfer a person’s sins to a bird, and that his or her sins would then be completely eradicated, is contrary to Jewish teachings. For, if the ritual could remove a person’s sins, what would be the need for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement?

The Mishneh Brurah, an eminent contemporary commentary on Rabbi Joseph Caro’s classical codification of Jewish law, explains the significance of the ritual. Judaism stresses that a person can’t obtain purity from sin, and thus obtain higher levels of perfection, without repenting. Through God’s mercy, we are given the Divine gift of repentance, so that we might abandon our corrupt ways, thereby being spared from the death that we deserve for our violation of the Divine law. By substituting the death of a fowl, one will (hopefully) appreciate G-d’s mercy and be stirred to repentance. By no means, however, does the ritual and the slaughter of the bird eradicate one’s misdeeds, even though the bird is donated to the poor. [end of excerpt]”  Read the rest of the article here.


In the case of early Islamic practices, there is considerable cleric interpretation and controversy over rooster sacrifices and whether these are appropriate, see Performing ritual sacrifice with a Rooster (

“This excerpt from Bidayatul Mujtahid wa Nihayat al-Muqtasid by Ibn Ruysd al-Hafied clearly explains that, the so called permissibility to slaughter a rooster or sparrow and any other animals, other than the cattle; camels, sheeps or goats and oxen, is a peculiar view not to be followed and has no legal basis in Syari‘ah.

The first chapter: (with regards to) the ruling of performing a sacrifice “Ud-hiyah/Dohaya” and upon whom it is legislated.

Sacrifice (ad-Dohiyah) is not obligatory. When he shallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam commanded Abu Burdah to redo his sacrificial slaughtering, since he did the slaughtering before the (Prayer of ‘Eid), some understood from that command, that sacrifice “Ud-hiyah/Dohaya” is obligatory, whereas Ibn ‘Abbas held the opinion that there is no obligation. ‘Ikrimah said: Ibn ‘Abbas gave me 2 dirhams (silver coins) and ordered me to buy for him some meat and said: whoever you meet, say to him: this is the sacrifice of Ibn ‘Abbas. It has also been said (narrated with uncertainty – رُوِيَ) from Bilal that he sacrificed a rooster. Each of these narrations is not meant and doesn’t serve the purpose of justification, thus using it as reference for justification is weak. They (the scholars) differ in opinions whether it is compulsory upon one who wishes to perform the sacrifice, not to remove any of his hair and nails during the first ten (days of Dzulhijjah) and the hadis related to it is justified.

From my research, I discovered these two narrations from Ibn ‘Abbas and Bilal in Musannaf Imam ‘Abdur Razzaq bin Hammam (d: 211H)

No: 8146 – From (the narraton of) ats-Tasuriy from Abie Ma‘syar, (he said) Abu Bakr: Verily I heard from Abie Ma‘syar (who narrated) from a man, who was an ex-slave of Ibn ‘Abbas, who said:

Ibn ‘Abbas ordered me to by some meat for 2 dirhams and he said: This is the Sacrifice of Ibn ‘Abbas.
“From a man”, this man is actually ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umair, Maula (a freed slave of) Ibn ‘Abbas as mentioned in al-Muhalla. The narrator Abu Ma‘syar al-Madieni has been clasiified weak (a weak narrator) by al-Hafiz in at-Taqrieb (7100).

As concluded by Ibn Rusyd, this narration is not worth for justification in rulings.

As for the narration that Bilal sacrificed a rooster, this is the explanation:

No: 8156 – From ats-Tsauriy from ‘Imran bin Muslim from Suwaid bin Ghafalah, he said: I heard Bilal saying: I do not care even if I only sacrifice a rooster, or if I give the value in charity for the orphan or the poor is more prefered by me than to use it for sacrifice. He (the narrator) said: I do not know whether Suwaid was the one who said it from his own freewill or it was the saying of Bilal.

It is also narrated in al-Muhalla 2/258 and other books with similar wordings (in the form of “words” and “intention” of Bilal, instead of his action). Ibn Hazm came out with all he could to use this as a basis of justification. In his opinion, any one of the animals mentioned in the hadis about the excellence of going to the Masjid early for Friday Prayers; the first hour is like one who sacrifice a camel, second hour like a cow, the third like a sheep, then like a rooster, a sparrow and the least, an egg, can be made as a sacrifice, “Ud-hiyah/Dohaya”.

This is the view of the az-Zahiri Madzhab or School of Fiqh and as we knew, they conclude rulings based on textual content of the evidences of al-Qur’an and as-Sunnah. Although at times, the truth is with them, yet in this issue of sacrifice, Rasulullah himself never performed the Sacrificial Rites by slaughtering other than cattle.”


Tajen Balinese cock fighting Excerpt from article by

“Tajen is Balinese word for cock fighting gambling, yet in the sense of true gambling of Bali Tajen has developed from a small number of men gathering at the village temple during the ritual provocating their cocks to fight each other until one or either were dead or one gives up armed with sharp two sided knife tied at the leg of the cock involved in fighting. Both cocks will injure each other, even kills one or both. This sharp knife called ” taji ” which word forms “tajian”, and tajian is assimilated into ” tajen ” The bebebotoh is the name of tajen gambler who use the money for betting at the cock fighting field called ” kalangan tajen ” It is not known when Balinese started to know this type of gambling.

We know that in Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Lombok also exist the tradition of cock fighting, but the cock is not armed with taji like in Bali. Here the winner is the cock that made it’s sparing smacked down until it gave up or run away with the sigh of tortures. During the kingdom of Bali it was permitted by the smaller kingdoms as the source of retribution or a kind of tax. This is probably the beginning of popularity of tajen, which then among priests also relate it as a requirement of religious ritual called ” tabuh rah”. The meaning of tabuh rah is water or essence of blood.

During a ceremony called ” macaru ” some tabuhs are needed such as alcohol of coconut ( tuak ), alcohol of rice ( brem ), and including essence of blood. It is not clear what is the philosophy of all this just like the complicated banten offering. Writer think that the element of blood essence is the influence of Buddhist left hand path such as Tantrayana school who was ever existing in Bali, and it’s influence on the completion of Banten in Bali has been very strong. If we see the Pedanda ( Hindu priest ) when conducting various offerings, it is very clear from his hand gestures called ” Mudra “. The mudra is belong to the tradition of Tantrayana who belives that hand gestures can arise magic power as well as the belief of chakra in the body of human beings. It is just no reason basis that can be understood by human being. This must all the practiced by priests and other religious figures, that how far they understand this activity is a big question.

Since the government of Indonesia declared with regulations that tajen is one of gambling and is forbidden, the bebotohs looking for a reason that tajen is a tabuh rah, for requirement of ritual, and always organize the tajen during the temple ritual, or during family ritual. The birth of tajen inspired a person to write superstitious forecasts. We do not able to find out weather the writing was made by a brahmana or a common people. Seen from the language it would have been written around 18th century. This manuscript is called ” Pengayam-ayaman” or simply means the consultant for bebotohs to foresee what cock will be the winner on certain day of the tajen, what color of the cock will be the victorious, and at what direction the cock should be provocated for the first time on the battle field. The manuscript claims to be able to give clues to the cock that will win the battle.

During the 18th century common people did not have the skill to write such a manuscript except the priests, even it was the fact that common people were prevented to gain the knowledge of writing by some restrictions imposed by the tradition such as before starting to read and write one must got a ritual called ” meprayascitta” which is not easy for common people. Common people can not put the written material at any place or step down or put under the bed or at any time under lower places. If any one offences this tradition it is said that he will be cursed by the invisible spirit. So this is a perfect way to make people illiterate until today. Further effort by the priest even more conspicuous by making an opinion that on the day of Saraswati is the day of knowledge where manuscripts got special offering. Indeed the illiterate also make offering to the temple aside from the offering focused to the manuscripts or books, as the symbol of knowledge.

A myth of Dewi Saraswati, the daughter of God Brahma is now appointed as the god of knowledge and directing common people to get knowledge by making offering to the Goddess of Saraswati instead of learning seriously on knowledge. So, whatever the writing about tajen and the symbolic knowledge, nature has succeeded in keeping people illiterate until today… ” Read the rest of the article here. See photos at Tajen: Ritual and Pleasure


In the Savu Islands, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, a number of rooster rituals are related to harvest festivals:

Na’a Pedeka held in Eastern Savu during the month of June a week-long ritual ceremonies are held to give thanks to the Creator for a successful harvest, with dancing performances that last about a month along with parades of adorned horses and rooster fights.

In Western Savu’s  village of Lobo Hede, Hole is a ceremonial parade of adorned horses that takes place along with a ritual ceremony, gongs and drums and rooster fights.

Source: Beliefs of Savu and Rai Jua by Ina Tali and Francesca von Reinhaart


Dead roosters were religious sacrifice in Vineland [– a city in Cumberland County, New Jersey, United States]
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

By Jason Laday/The News of Cumberland County

VINELAND — Cumberland County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals officials stated on Wednesday they cannot prosecute a case involving two dead roosters found in a bag over the weekend.

The roosters were apparently sacrificed in a religious ritual by practitioners of Santeria, a religion of West African and Caribbean origin, with Roman Catholic influences, according to Cumberland County SPCA Executive Director Bev Greco.

They were discovered in Willow Oak Natural Area, on East Landis Avenue, along with a collection of black candles and a plastic cup labeled “dirt from the cemetery” written in Spanish.

“Given the things that we’ve found, it appears to be a Santeria religious rite, which is a very complicated religion with many facets to it,” said Greco.

“Also, according to a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case, you cannot prosecute for animal sacrifice unless they were killed inhumanely.”

According to Greco, the roosters’ throats were cut at the carotid artery and left to bleed out.
SPCA officials stated animals typically die very quickly when killed this way.

“Getting into what counts as legally humane can get tricky, but in this case, this meets the court’s criteria of not being inhumane,” said Greco. “Really, there’s no place we can go with this, not too many places the investigation can go.”

Greco also stated the SPCA receives “a few” similar cases of rooster sacrifice each year in Cumberland County.

According to police, a 54-year-old Vineland man stumbled upon the bag containing the roosters on Friday while walking his dog along a nature trail.

However, he did not inspect the bag until he saw it for a second time on Sunday.

Police officers who responded to the area later found another bag nearby. It contained black candles, a pair of wool gloves and a plastic butter dish apparently containing dirt from a cemetery.

Police stated there was no evidence that the ritual had been performed at the park.

It’s something that’s more prevalent in some Spanish populations,” said Greco.
Followers of the religion can be found in the United States, Canada, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, parts of South America as well as western Europe.

“What’s typically done in these rituals, is that the rooster is eaten, unless it’s a sickness or death rite,” added Greco.

“Seeing as there was something labeled ‘cemetery dirt’ in the bag, and obviously the birds being in tact, we think it was some kind of death rite.”


“Gadhimai festival is a month-long Hindu festival that is held once every five years at the Gadhimai temple of Bariyarpur, in Bara District, about 100 miles (160 km) south of the capital Kathmandu in southern Nepal. The event involves the world’s largest sacrifice of animals – including water buffaloes, pigs, goats, chicken and pigeons – with the goal of pleasing Gadhimai, the goddess of power

The festival started in the first week of November 2009 and ended in the first week of December (up to makar sankranti), the fair has a custom of animal sacrifice that occurred on November 24 & 25 in the year 2009, with the temple’s head priest performing ritual sacrifice called Saptabali which includes the sacrifice of white mice, pigeons, roosters, ducks, swine and male water buffaloes.” — Gadhimai festival (Wikipedia)

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