Comment: The Eucharist or Holy Communion is clearly an act of symbolic cannibalism, so it's not too surprising that the Romans, acting on vague reports of Christian rituals, would have accused the new cult of practicing actual cannibalism.
The negative Roman view of the early Christians was partly based on distorted rumors about their practices. For instance, the Christians were accused of incest because they called each other "brother and sister." And the charges of cannibalism were especially repulsive.
The Romans would have associated the stories of how Christians ate the flesh and drank the blood of their god with sieges, barbaric eastern cults and legends from Greek mythology: the Thyestean Feast, for instance, in which Atreus killed Thyestes' sons, cooked them and served them to their unknowing father. The stories aren't the same, of course, but the difference between the Communion and real cannibalism would have been lost on the practical-minded Romans.
In this case, it's hard to blame the Romans because the new religion did practice cannibalism. Symbolic cannibalism. And it still does.
Christians do what they can to obfuscate this strange practice, but it's hard to explain away the real significance of what they're doing. When Christians take communion, they are participating in an act of ritual magic in which the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. If that isn't symbolic cannibalism, I don't know what is.
Ritual cannibalism, whether it's symbolic or real, is designed to produce a spiritual transformation. For example, warrior societies often believed -- and some still believe -- that they could absorb the power of their enemies by eating them. In the same way, the follower of a god could literally absorb the spirit and power of the god through an act of sacred cannibalism.
The Communion, a ritual with ancient pagan roots, is surrounded by a fog of mystery and mystical jargon designed to obscure its real meaning, and some theologians, in typical fashion, defend it by claiming that it simply can't be understood. According to the New Advent, for instance, "the Church honors the Eucharist as one of her most exalted mysteries, since for sublimity and incomprehensibility it yields in nothing to the allied mysteries of the Trinity and incarnation." [Emphasis added]
In other words, Christianity is a mystery religion.
The connection between the Eucharist and cannibalism is so clear that theologians are compelled to try to explain it away using doubletalk, hairsplitting and paradox to deny the obvious:
"If Catholics believe the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ, then they believe they are eating human flesh and drinking human blood," according to The Catholic Thing (2011). "But while holy Communion does involve eating human flesh and blood, it is not true that it is cannibalistic."
In other words, cannibalism is not cannibalism, which, by definition, is the eating of human flesh.
The article goes on to make several arguments against the idea that the Communion is actually a form of ritual or symbolic cannibalism, but none of them are very convincing. For instance, cannibals supposedly only eat the dead, but "the Eucharist is life." Therefore, the Communion can't be cannibalistic. Likewise, "the Eucharist is the whole body and blood of Jesus Christ [but] cannibals only take part of their victims." Apparently, you're not a cannibal if you eat the living and clean your plate.
Most of the arguments here are based on mysticism. For example, the Communion isn't cannibalistic because "when a Catholic receives the Eucharist, he is receiving not just flesh but glorified flesh, a resurrected and transfigured 'super body' that foreshadows the new reality of a new Heaven and a new earth." I'm not sure that this is much of an argument, though. It makes it sound like the Eucharist isn't just cannibalism, but the glorified cannibalism of a super-body with transcendental powers.
I could go on with this, but why bother? Eating human flesh and drinking human blood is obviously cannibalistic even if the flesh and blood are purely symbolic. The truth is that the Eucharist is an act of theophagy -- "feeding on a god" -- with roots in very ancient, pre-Christian fertility rituals. Theophagy is "the act of eating one's god, either literally or symbolically," according to the Free Dictionary. And millions of Christians eat their god on a regular basis around the world.
It's not surprising to find a ritual like this at the very heart of a religion which originated as a mystery cult in Hellenized Israel.