History shows that change is inevitable. From agriculture to technology and lifestyle, everything evolves. For instance, the modes of communication from 50 years ago are very different from today. In the same way, human beliefs and practices are not the same. What was normal a century ago is crazy today.

While we appreciate culture and diversity, some beliefs are outright bizarre, to say the least. There are some practices that we can’t wrap our heads around. Here is an in-depth listicle of some of the most bizarre historical beliefs and practices.

1. An Indonesian Tribe Exhumes Dead Bodies Every 3 Years

It’s not unusual for people worldwide to give their departed loved ones a decent sendoff. However, this is usually a one-off thing – once buried or cremated, there is no going back. Not for the Trojan people from Sulawesi, Indonesia, though. They exhume the dead every 3 years to celebrate.

Why would they do this? Apparently, the celebration, popularly known as the Ma’nene ritual (the ceremony of cleansing corpses), is to feed and wash the spirits of their departed loved ones. They believe even the dead deserve good care. For them, death is the beginning of spiritual life.

The celebration is so big that family members and friends usually sacrifice buffaloes and bulls to mark the occasion. The horns from the slaughtered animals are then used to decorate the deceased. Besides water, food, and general clean up, the Trojan community usually feeds the corpses their favorite drinks and cigarettes.

Interestingly, the Ma’nene festival usually attracts tourists worldwide. Besides taking pictures (with the natives’ permission), visitors enjoy the traditional dances and songs performed during the event.

2. Female Hysteria

Many might not know this, but female hysteria was once a thing; it was a very “serious condition.” Women that suffered from this required extensive care and “advanced treatment.” Of course, now we can look back and perhaps giggle, but people really believed the hysteria existed at the time.

Popular in Western Europe and America between 1837 and 1901, symptoms of female hysteria included fluid retention, insomnia, poor sex drive, and a tendency to cause trouble. Doctors believed increased appetite, chest pain, and swollen abdomen also played a part.

Female hysteria treatment involved pelvic massages. Women “suffering from the condition” would visit doctors to physically rub their pelvis. Professionals would repeat the procedure until the patients achieved orgasms (hysterical paroxysm).

By the 1870s, doctors realized hand massages were less effective; patients needed an electrical invention. Interestingly, it didn’t take long before the first electrochemical vibrator came into being. Due to the state of technology at the time, the machines were only available for doctors treating female hysteria.

Over time, while doctors realized female hysteria wasn’t a thing, commercial vibrators were hitting the market. There is no diagnosis of this ailment today, but sexual vibrators are widely available.

3. Blowing Tobacco Smoke up the Butt

The effects of tobacco and nicotine are well-known today. This hasn’t always been the case, though; there was a time when the product’s real repercussions were unknown. If anything, most people believed that tobacco was healthy and could even cure some diseases.

Established doctors and the mainstream media sang praises of various tobacco products. They considered it a “sacred” herb. One weird belief about the product is that it could save a drowning victim. Doctors believed the lungs and the entire respiratory system were linked to the anus.

With this in mind, people figured they could blow tobacco smoke up a drowning person’s butt and save them. Of course, this didn’t work, but the belief lived on anyway. At the time, “You’re just blowing smoke up my ass” wasn’t just a figure of speech.

4. Drapetomania           

Gone are the days of slavery and the slave trade, but its history remains. Popular in the medieval period, slavery was such a big thing that “professionals” dedicated time and resources to analyze why the enslaved fled from their enslavers.

To explain this, physician Samuel A. Cartwright came up with a supposed mental illness known as drapetomania in 1851. The main “symptom” was running away from the enslaver, while the recommended treatment was overseeing the enslaved people as if they were kids.

Many people believed this for a long time in what is a perfect example of folk biology. It died down eventually when slavery came to a halt.

5. A Winged Penis Flew Around Impregnating Barren Women

Ancient Romans are famous for their culture and deep-rooted religious practices. They had more than 200 gods, each serving different purposes. One of them was the winged penis god known as Fascinus. He was responsible for curing barrenness and child provision.

Just like some modern Christians wear crosses around their necks, the Romans wore amulets or pendants with the penis god symbol. If you are wondering whether Fascinus really helped anyone get a child, there is a story of Ocrisia, who bore the sixth king, Servius Tullius.

Interestingly, the Latin verb “fascinate” originated from the word Fascinus. It loosely translates to the power of summoning the god to cast a spell or perform an almost impossible deed. The rise of Christianity eventually ended the worship of Fascinus.

6. Trains Were Not Fit for Women

It’s common for people to resist change, especially ones to do with technology, and rightly so. Some of them have hugely backfired. This was exactly the case when train transportation was first introduced in the late 19th century.

People, especially women, feared that their uteruses would fly out of their bodies because the trains moved so quickly (80 km/h). That aside, the general fear was that the human body would melt if exposed to such “supersonic speeds.”

Of course, they eventually found out that it was all a hoax. The evolution in the transport industry to date is perfect proof.

7. Cocaine as a Cure for Hay Fever

The period around the late 1880s and early 1900s was interesting regarding cocaine consumption. There was a widespread belief that the drug could cure diseases, prominent among them being hay fever. Coca was packed and sold in lozenge form or bottled for its vast medicinal value.

Usage recommendations for the drug were equally outrageous: the containers recommended that users take it up to 10 times a day. At the time, cocaine was the agreed-upon cure for anxiety-ridden consumers. Of course, this was debunked and now the drug is outlawed almost everywhere in the world.


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Last Update: July 31, 2023