This was one of the principle figures in pre-Christian paganism and therefore is one of the essential themes in neo-Pagan Witchcraft, especially Wicca. The Slain God, sometimes referred to as the Divine King, evolved out of the early hunter/warrior cults that existed before the agrarian societies.
In the earliest tribal communities the hunter/warrior held the highest social status. He was honored as the most bravest and cunning member of the tribe and chosen to be its leader. The well being of this individual affected the well being of the whole tribe. Such beliefs are predominant in the Arthurian legends of northern Europe, where the king and land become one. This also is reflected in the southern European mythos of Rex Nemorenss, King of the Woods, in the sacred grove of Diana of Lake Nemi.
The hunter, before the evolvement of agricultural and herdsmen, was essential to tribal welfare as he provided both food and defense. But hunting was often dangerous in that the individual suffered bodily injury and many hunters lost their lives. The needs of the tribe, in both food and defense, required that the best individuals would be sent.
Eventually religious and spiritual consciousness evolved, and along with this came the concept of a Deity. The role of Deity soon took on a role in ritual and dogma. With this emerged the idea of sending the tribe's best member to the Gods in order to secure the needs of the tribe. This began the concept of human sacrifice to placate the Gods. Those willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the tribe were thought to become gods themselves. The concept of giving offerings to the Gods, such as food, flowers, or game, was nothing new because such offerings previously had been made; but human sacrifice now was considered the supreme gift that the tribe could offer. The belief was that the Gods would surely grant the tribe whatever it needed when a person willingly gave his or her life to them.
Following the sacrifice, the blood and flesh were distributed among the clan members and given into the soil. Parts of the body were buried in cultivated fields to insure the next harvest. Also, small portions of the body and blood were incorporated into the ceremonial feast; an ancient practiced that was assumed later by the Christians in their Communion services, the body and blood of Christ.
It was further believed the sacrificial offering must be returned to the tribe. To accomplish this, rituals evolved for the resurrection of the Slain God. There was the preparation of special maidens to bring about the birth, usually virgins who were artificially inseminated so that no human male could be determined as being the father. Bloodlines were carefully traced from the impregnated female, and the returning soul was searched out among her children.
Eventually human sacrifice was totally eliminated as human consciousness matured and was replaced by animal sacrifice, and then by plant sacrifice, or the harvest festival. The same ancient mythos, or legend, applies to both animal and plant sacrifice. In Wicca/Witchcraft this is referred to as "eating the deity" or consuming the Harvest Lord in the ritual cakes and wine (flesh and blood) of Craft rituals.
There is present in the rituals similarities of concepts or beliefs. In the ancient tradition it was believed that through the connection of the body and blood of the Slain God that the people became one with the deity. In the "Last Supper" Jesus declare that the bread and wine were his body and blood, which he gave up for the salvation of the people. Blood was believed to contain the life force. The death of the king freed the inner spirit. Through the distribution of his body and blood, heaven and earth were united and his vital energy renewed the kingdom.
The appearances of the Slain God have taken on various aspects throughout the ages. His images can be seen in the Jack-in-the-Green, the Hooded Man, the Hanged Man of the Tarot, the Lord of Vegetation, the Harvest, and the free untamed aspect of the forest.
Perhaps the best image of the Slain God is symbolized in the Green Man. He is the spirit of the Land manifested in all plant forms. He is both the procreative power as well as the seed of life. The Slain God bridges the gap between the two worlds. This is why he is frequently depicted as hanging from a tree; the tree symbolizes a bridge between the Underworld and heaven, for its roots are in the earth and its branches reach into the sky. The Slain God is one with both heaven and earth, and to be one with him is to be one with the Source of All Things.