The human experience of the heart as a life supporting organ which marks the boundary between life and death has given the heart a special status as the center for power and emotion, through which humans have defined the communicative relationship between the self and the outside world. The special meaning that the heart has can especially seen in sacrificial rituals.
Asko Vilkuna discusses the ‘sacred meat’ of the Saami and the Ob Ugrian Khanty and Mansi, which stands for the bear heart. The heart was regarded as containing the ‘soul’ and power of the bear, which then hunters were able to insert into themselves. (…) To eat the heart and the liver of the killed enemy – cooked or raw – has been an ancient method for gaining power for both the body of the person who eats the meat and his community.
Thus, the idea of a burning heart (and a worshipped heart) did not arise within the Western philosophy of love; humans have burned or fried hearts in very concrete ways and marked them off as sacred, as markers of transformation, through the act of ritual eating. It is the later ideological currents that have given a more sublime meaning to the idea of the sanctity of the heart. Instead of concrete behaviour, humans have now chosen to define their relation to the burning heart on the level of an image.
– Veikko Anttonen. The concept of ‘pyhä’ (sacred) in pre-Christian Finnish religion. In: Northern religions and shamanism, 1992, p. 33.