Blood Meridian

Religion and Ritual Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Blood Meridian, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon

In the world of Blood Meridian, Christianity is decaying. Early on the kid sleeps in an abandoned church littered with feces and shot up by American soldiers, and the gang encounters many such ruins on their travels, including a church in which the kid and Sproule discover forty human corpses, slain and scalped by the Apaches. Traditional Christian doctrine is also in tatters in the novel, and the idea of a benevolent God would certainly be hard-pressed to account for the hellish world the novel depicts. A hermit tells the kid that the devil was at God’s elbow when He made man. A dying squatter sings hymns and curses God alternately.

It is in such a spiritual climate that the Judge’s religion of “War is God” thrives. At the beginning of the novel, the Judge enters a tent where the Reverend Green is holding a Christian revival, and by slandering the Reverend he quickly converts religious experience into a shootout. Indeed, the Judge himself acknowledges that there are “strange affinities” between priests and warriors, exemplified in the novel by the connection between religious and military rituals, especially sacrifice. Throughout the novel, an ironic comparison is implied between the rebirth of a soul into God through baptism with the rebirth of a warrior through the shedding of blood. Moreover, the Judge explicitly characterizes warfare as a ritual, a deadly dance of fate and wills—one that in the world of Blood Meridian has come to supplant the rituals of Christian worship.

While the Judge’s god is one of wrath, though, there are also flickers in the novel of more moral centers of worship. For example, when the Judge gives his sermon on war, one of the scalp hunters listening insists that might does not make right. The kid faintly but uniquely adheres to this code by refusing once in a while to brutalize his fellow travelers. A woman named Sarah Borginnis justly shames Cloyce Bell for keeping his imbecilic brother in a filthy cage, and she and the other women in her company deliver the idiot from his bondage, take him to the Colorado River while singing Christian hymns, bathe him, and in a small way restore his humanity. This is perhaps the gentlest act that McCarthy reveals to us, but it would seem that, even if the majority of the characters in the novel act more like the Judge than Sarah, the characters at least in theory recognize that love and mercy are more solid foundations for ceremony and right worship than hatred and violence.

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Religion and Ritual ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Religion and Ritual appears in each chapter of Blood Meridian. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Religion and Ritual Quotes in Blood Meridian

Below you will find the important quotes in Blood Meridian related to the theme of Religion and Ritual.
Chapter 3 Quotes

There is no government in Mexico. Hell, there’s no God in Mexico. Never will be. We are dealing with a people manifestly incapable of governing themselves. And do you know what happens with people who cannot govern themselves? That’s right. Others come in to govern for them.

Related Characters: Captain White (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

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The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.

Related Characters: The Mennonite (speaker), Captain White
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

In this company there rode two men named Jackson, one black, one white, both forenamed John. Bad blood lay between them and as they rode up under the barren mountains the white man would fall back alongside the other and take his shadow for the shade that was in it and whisper to him. The black would check or start his horse to shake him off. As if the white man were in violation of his person, had stumbled onto some ritual dormant in his dark blood or his dark soul whereby the shape he stood the sun from on that rocky ground bore something of the man himself and in so doing lay imperiled.

Related Characters: The John Jacksons
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

The nearest man to him [the white Jackson] was Tobin and when the black stepped out of the darkness bearing the bowieknife in both hands like some instrument of ceremony Tobin started to rise. The white man looked up drunkenly and the black stepped forward and with a single stroke swapt off his head.

Related Characters: The John Jacksons, Ben Tobin
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

For let it go how it will, he said, God speaks in the least of creatures.

Related Characters: Ben Tobin (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night… This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker)
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 12 Quotes

They rode on. They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote.

Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

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The trailing of the argonauts terminated in ashes and…the expriest asked if some might not see the hand of a cynical god conducting with what austerity and what mock surprise so lethal a congruence. The posting of witnesses by a third and other path altogether might also be called in evidence as appearing to beggar chance, yet the judge…said that in this was expressed the very nature of the witness and that his proximity was no third thing but rather the prime, for what could be said to occur unobserved?

Related Characters: Judge Holden, Ben Tobin
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 23 Quotes

He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.

Related Characters: Judge Holden
Related Symbols: The Dance
Page Number: 327
Explanation and Analysis:

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