12. Vampires Really Were Pierced With Wooden Stakes
Vampires, the terrifying undead creatures that Stephanie Meyer popularized with her Twilight series, have little to do with the pale beings who suck people’s blood in order to turn them into vampires. Beliefs about vampires have origins in the ancient Middle East and the Far East, but the creature that fascinates the modern imagination — the cultural legacy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula — tends to be the one that hails from Eastern Europe, especially the Balkans and Romania.
In these cultures, the vampire was largely seen as a particular type of corpse that, when unearthed, had not decomposed and had fresh blood on it. However, these cases of lack of decomposition can probably be attributed to certain medical conditions or the premature burial of someone who was still alive (perhaps in a coma). The fresh blood was likely the corpse’s own blood, which naturally flowed from the body’s orifices, the “shrieking” noises were from air escaping the glottis, and shiny fingernails were actually the nail undergrowth that exposed itself once the fingernails themselves fell off.
Nevertheless, the people would pierce the hearts of these corpses with wooden stakes to ensure that they remained in their final resting places. They wouldn’t be able to terrorize the villages by sucking people’s blood.
13. Ancient Egyptian Priests Pulled Corpses’ Brains Out Through Their Noses
The process of mummification in ancient Egypt was a gruesome, gory process that predates our modern embalming processes. The most important thing to understand about the mummification process is that it was deeply imbued with a religious significance; in fact, it was carried out by priests rather than doctors. As such, every step carried spiritual meaning.
The process began with the priests removing all of the corpse’s vital organs, usually starting with the mind. They would delicately insert a unique hooked instrument up the corpse’s nose and bring out the brain, bit by bit, careful to not disfigure the face. They would then cut the left side of the person’s body to remove all of the internal organs, excluding only the heart, believing it to be the center of intelligence and the seat of the soul. The liver, stomach, lungs, intestines, and all other organs were placed inside jars and sealed so that they would journey with the person to the afterlife.
Next, the priests would salt the body to remove as much moisture as possible before wrapping it in linen. This part of the process was quite tedious, as sometimes fingers and toes would be bound separately, and several hundred yards of linen strips were required. Their technique withstood the test of time: whether or not the bodies found their way to the afterlife, they have lived on in the stories of ancient Egypt and the mummies that today can be viewed at museums.
14. Some People Celebrate Their Dead Instead of Mourning Them
Ancient tribes in Latin America, including the Aztecs and Toltecs, believed that the act of mourning those who had died was disrespectful; they were still present and should have their memories preserved. Enter Mexico’s Day of the Dead, celebrated on November 2 as a means of honoring, rather than mourning, those who have been lost. Altars are constructed in people’s homes, not for worship but for providing the dead spirits with things that they may need, such as food and water, as well as a candle and family photos. After all, the journey from the world of the dead to the world of the living can make you quite hungry and thirsty. Families that have lost children might also place toys on the altar.
Day of the Dead celebrations in Latin America are festive, social occasions. Parties are held in the streets and public squares all day long and well into the night. Symbols that many people might find macabre and disorienting, such as skulls, are used as molds to bake sweets and other treats for the celebrations. The effect is a different way of viewing death and grieving, and UNESCO feels that this is so momentous that it has made the Day of the Dead an official cultural heritage.
15. Some Indian Widows Are Still Expected to Die From Grief
In an era of feminism and unparalleled pushes for equal rights for women, there is much concern over the ancient practice of sati. In many parts of India, bodies are cremated on a funeral pyre according to local Hindu traditions. Sati is the practice of the widow throwing herself onto the flames so that she, too, dies with her husband.
The practice originated around the 1300s when Rajput women would commit suicide on a funeral pyre after their husbands were killed in battle. The method had a practical purpose: the women would rather die than be enslaved by their enemies. Over time, it evolved into a test of the wife’s devotion; she was expected to throw herself onto the pyre and burn to death in order to prove that she had been a good wife.
Fortunately, the practice of sati has been outlawed in India, and women are not even allowed to throw themselves onto their husbands’ funeral pyres voluntarily. However, reported cases still happen and sometimes receive high-profile attention. In remote villages that are more bound to local traditions than the central authorities, though, the practice may be much more prominent than believed.
Death has long been tied to religious beliefs, and there can easily be an argument made that much of today’s religion is consumerism. However, many people are actively and passionately eschewing that lifestyle in favor of something more simplistic and natural. The creators of the Capsula Mundi certainly have as they believe that death is as much commercialized today as is life. The expenses of coffins, funerals, and everything else make the process of ending one’s life yet another aspect of a consumerist lifestyle.
They wanted to give people a different option, one that is as minimalist and natural as possible. Enter the Capsula Mundi, an egg-shaped coffin made of biodegradable plastic. The coffin is buried underneath a tree sapling. As it degrades underground, the nutrients from the deceased’s corpse nourish the seedling and take on new life in the form of the growing tree.
In addition to providing a means for minimalist people to be buried according to their own “religion,” the Capsula Mundi is much more environmentally friendly. Traditional coffins pollute the ground and are not helpful to the process of decomposition. The Capsula Mundi enables people to leave a smaller carbon footprint in death and even give back to the earth.
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