When I was a junior in high school, I read Shirley Jackson’s great short story “The Lottery,” and I will confess that her narrative still haunts me. You might remember the plot. The townspeople of a village in the American heartland are gathering on a beautiful summer day in late June for a festival. There is good food, lively conversation, and upbeat music. It becomes clear that the focus for this celebration is the annual lottery, and the reader naturally assumes that the winner of the lottery will receive a prize of some kind. But when the choice is made, the “winner” shrinks away in fear, protesting the injustice of it all, while her fellow citizens close in on her, rocks and stones in hand. As the story ends, they are upon her.
In medieval Mexico, the Aztecs would choose a particularly handsome and brave warrior from a rival tribe. For a year, they would wine and dine him, provide entertainment for him, and treat him like a celebrity. Then, at the close of the year, they would lead him to the top of a tall pyramid and rip his still-beating heart from his chest, and offer it to the gods.