History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs

Khalid Elhassan - September 20, 2023

Belief in just what the shoe represents culturally varies, depending on just where you are. In some parts of the world, to show others the sole of your shoe is offensive, and to throw a shoe at somebody is a serious insult. In other parts of the world, throwing shoes at people is deemed to bring good luck. Below are twenty five about that belief and other historic rituals and superstitions.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
King Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria places his foot atop a defeated foe. British Museum

The Shoe and Foot as Symbols of Authority

When it comes to the shoe’s significance, your mileage may vary depending on historic era, and just where you are in the world. In the ancient Middle East, shoes were seen as symbols of authority. To place one’s foot on a defeated enemy’s neck or head was a demonstration of dominance. Likewise, to kiss the shoe or foot of a ruler was a ritualized display of submission to his authority. That belief in the shoe or foot as symbolic of authority eventually made it to Europe. In medieval France, for example, kings required vassals to kiss their feet as a demonstration of allegiance.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
A Viking warrior grabs the foot of King Charles III of France. Look and Learn

In the Viking age, tired of raids by Norsemen, King Charles III of France figured that it takes a thief to catch a thief. So he granted Normandy to Rollo the Viking, in exchange for the latter’s agreement to become the French king’s vassal, become a Christian, and fight off other Vikings. To seal the deal, attendant bishops urged Rollo to kiss the king’s foot as a display of fealty. Rollo adamantly refused to kiss another man’s foot. Instead, he ordered one of his warriors to kiss the royal foot on his behalf. Instead of kneel down to do so, however, the Viking remained standing, and lifted the king’s foot to his mouth, causing Charles to topple over.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Shoes outside a mosque. Pinterest

The Belief in What the Shoe Represents is Culture Specific

In historic Ghana, most people went about barefoot, but ritual dictated that the king always had to wear sandals. There was a belief that a monarch must never touch the earth, because if he did, he would lose his status. In much of Asia, shoes have long been considered particularly unclean. Many Asian people do not enter homes with their shoes, but leave them at the doorstep. In Islamic culture, footwear is left at mosque entrances because shoes are deemed unclean. Accordingly, they are removed in the presence of God to show respect and submission. Shoe soles are seen as particularly repugnant in the Middle East. There, it is offensive to show others one’s shoe sole, and to throw footwear at or hit somebody with it is a grave insult.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
The 2008 George W. Bush shoe throwing incident. Associated Press

Sultana Shajar al Durr, a woman who ruled Egypt starting in 1250, had her reign cut short in 1257 when her maids beat her to death with their slippers as she bathed. The sultana’s enemies were not only pleased at her demise, natch, but took extra satisfaction from the manner of her death, inflicted by offensive shoes. The Middle Eastern belief that shoes are ritually unclean is still around. In an infamous 2008 incident, an Iraqi journalist expressed his disgust with President George W. Bush by throwing his shoes at him in a Baghdad press conference. However, in other parts of the world, as seen below, throwing shoes at people can convey the exact opposite message.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Throwing shoes at newlyweds for good luck. K-Pics

Queen Victoria Threw Shoes at British Soldiers

In contrast to the Middle Eastern cultural perspective that throwing a shoe at somebody is a mortal insult, there is a belief in other parts of the world that throwing a shoe at somebody brings good fortune. In Middle Ages Europe, a belief developed that shoes are good luck. Text dating back centuries references shoes being thrown at newly married couples to wish them good fortune in their new life together. The medieval belief that throwing shoes at somebody brought good luck lasted into the modern era.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Queen Victoria throwing her shoe at British soldiers in 1854. Punch Magazine

For example, Queen Victoria threw her shoes at British soldiers in 1854 as they headed out for the Crimean War, to wish them well. Her Majesty also wrote in her diary that shoes were thrown into the doorway of Balmoral Castle when it was completed in 1855, for good luck. It was a continuation of another long held belief, that shoes brought good fortune to homes. For centuries, well-worn shoes were placed in the rafters or inside the walls of homes that underwent renovations, in the belief that doing so wards off witchcraft and evil spirits.


History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Marble bust of Herodotus. Wikimedia

The Father of History, or Father of Lies?

The Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnasus (circa 484 – circa 425 BC) is often referred to as “The Father of History”, because he is credited with writing the first great historical narrative of the ancient world. He traveled widely, or at least claimed to have done so – some obvious errors in his descriptions of places he supposedly visited have cast those claims in doubt. Herodotus collected the stories he gathered from his own travels, or from the hearsay of other travelers, into The Histories, a record of ancient politics, geography, and cultures, deemed Western literature’s founding work of history.

However, while Herodotus is rightly lauded as the Father of History, he also known to quite a few critics as “The Father of Lies“. For good reason: the man’s writings included not only some wrong details, but some major whoppers, as well. Not only modern scholars, but even some of Herodotus’ contemporaries, scoffed at his claims. Today, many question whether Herodotus had ever traveled beyond Greece, and had instead simply penned The Histories by collecting stories from people he encountered at home. As seen below, many a ludicrous belief that became popular for centuries can be traced back to Herodotus.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Herodotus believed that griffins were real. K-Pics

Many a Mistaken Belief Can be Traced Back to Herodotus

The Father of History rightly deserved his other moniker, the Father of Lies, because of his tall tales. A typical Herodotus whopper was his narrative about the struggle between giant one eyed Cyclopes and half-eagle, half-lion, griffins, who inhabited northern Europe. Per Herodotus, the griffins roosted over and guarded stockpiles of gold, which were frequently raided by the one eyed giants. Herodotus did not narrate this story as the retelling of a myth, but as a belief that he took to be gospel truth.

Another Herodotus tall tale was about giant, gold-digging ants. As he told it, ants the size of foxes lived in the Persian Empire’s eastern provinces, in deserts whose sands abounded with gold dust. As they dug their anthills, mounds, and tunnels, they unearthed the gold dust, and the locals grew wealthy sifting through the giant ants’ excavations. Few if any Greeks had ever been to the faraway lands described by Herodotus. Thus, for centuries, the ancient Greeks, and later the Romans, treated Herodotus’ tales of weirdness in distant lands as literal truths.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Assassins cult killers. Medium

The Medieval Era’s Scariest Killer Cult

The medieval era’s scariest cult was started by an Islamic scholar named Hassan al Sabbah (1034 – 1124). A Shiite missionary, he detoured from missionary work to found the Order of Assassins, a politico-religious cult. Despised as heretics by most Muslims, relatively few, and geographically dispersed, the Assassins punched far above their weight. They wielded considerable power throughout the Middle East by terrorizing the region for generations. Before, there had been a rough balance of power between Muslim Sunnis and Shiites. The less numerous Shiites were championed by the rising Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt, while the more numerous Sunnis were led by the waning Abbasid Caliphate in Iraq. That balance was upset when the Seljuk Turks, recent Sunni converts, fell upon the Fatimids and broke their power between 1056-1060. The Fatimids, defeated militarily by the Seljuks, responded with clandestine warfare.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Artistic reconstruction of Alamout, the Assassins cult’s chief fortress. Grand Poobah

Assassination was used as a political tool against Sunni leadership. That campaign was eventually led by Sheik Hassan al Sabah, who led a radical Shiite faction, the Nizari Ismailis before he founded the Assassins cult. In 1090, with Fatimid funding, Sheik Hassan seized Alamout Castle in the mountains south of the Caspian Sea in Persia. From there, he and his followers expanded their reach and established a series of remote mountain fortresses in Persia and Syria. That earned al Sabbah the moniker of Old Man of the Mountain, a title passed on to his successors. From those holdfasts, he sent suicide squads of killers known as fida’is (“self-sacrificers”) against prominent leaders throughout the Middle East. The killing campaign carried out by Hassan al Sabbah’s followers initially hewed to the goals of the Assassins’ Fatimid sponsors. Then they went rogue.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Sheik Hassan al Sabbah. Wikimedia

The Belief that a Cult’s Leader Held the Keys to Paradise

Initially, the Assassins targeted prominent Sunni opponents of their Fatimid patrons. Eventually, they went rogue and asserted their independence. They retained some Fatimid financial support, but killed to further their own agenda. The result was nearly two centuries of terror, in which fear of the Assassins was an ever-present concern for prominent Middle Easterners. Remarkably, the Assassins adopted one of the most innovative recruitment strategies known to history: they indoctrinated recruits with the belief that the cult’s leader, the Sheik known as The Old Man of the Mountain, held the keys to paradise. Recruits were summoned to Assassins fortresses, and housed in bare cells. They underwent daily religious lectures and education, and it was gradually hinted that Sheik Hassan al Sabah or his successors controlled entry to heaven.

The more promising young men were drugged with hashish – a practice that earned the group the Arabic name “Hashashin“, which Europeans might have transliterated into “Assassins”. A likelier origin is that the group referred to themselves as “Asasiyun“, from the Arabic word “Asas” or foundation, to denote their faithfulness to Islam’s foundations. When the recruit came to, high on hash, he found himself amidst beautifully landscaped gardens through which clear streams meandered between rows of vines heavy with grapes, and trees ripe with fruit. Cute animals such as lambs and tame deer frolicked about; peacocks wandered around, ruffling and spreading their magnificent tails; while brightly colored birds flitted through the branches above, trilling and filling the air with their song. Amid the breathtaking surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful women to seduce the recruit, cater to his physical desires, and satisfy his lust.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
To demonstrate the dedication of his followers, the Old Man of the Mountain orders some to kill themselves. Alchetron

An Innovative Recruitment Strategy

In their pleasure gardens, the Assassins plied young recruits with wine, kept him high on hash, and fed them delicious delicacies. The cult’s temptresses worked to instill in the besotted youth the belief that he was in paradise, and that his seductresses were the houris promised those who made it into heaven. Then, after days of wallowing in delights and indulging in heavenly pleasures, the young man was drugged senseless once more, and removed from the gardens. Waking back in his bare cell and austere surroundings, the recruit was informed that he had been in paradise, sent there by the grace of the Old Man of the Mountain, who held the keys to heaven. The youth was then told that he could return to paradise – if he died while killing the Sheik’s enemies.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
The assassination of Nizam al Mulk. Quora

It worked: suicide squads of horny young fanatics, high on hash and desperate to die while killing the cult’s enemies, descended from the Assassins’ mountain fortresses to terrorize the Middle East. The cult’s first notable victim was Nizam al Mulk, a Grand Vizier in the Seljuk Empire. He wielded absolute power for twenty years, before the Assassins got him in 1092. During their centuries of operations, the cult’s suicide squads killed many prominent Middle Eastern figures. Their victims included numerous sultans, viziers, generals, Crusader higher ups including a King of Jerusalem, and at least two Caliphs. In his youth, King Edward I of England was grievously wounded and barely survived an attack from an Assassin who snuck into the royal tent when Edward was on Crusade.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
One of Magellan’s sailors dancing with a Patagonian. Pinterest

The Belief in South American Giants

The Age of Exploration and Discovery was marked by many a strange belief about the supposed wonders and marvels hidden in the newly discovered and unexplored (by Europeans) lands. One strange belief was that parts of South America were populated by giants. It began with the expedition of explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who set out to circumnavigate the globe in 1519. En route, the expedition dropped anchor off Patagonia – a sparsely populated region in what is now Argentina. There, the crews reportedly came across a naked giant singing and dancing on the shore.

Magellan directed a crewman to sing and dance in turn to demonstrate friendliness, and persuade the giant to come aboard ship. It worked, and a scribe who kept a diary that was later turned into a book account of the voyage wrote: “When he was before us, he began to marvel and to be afraid, and he raised one finger upward, believing that we came from heaven. And he was so tall that the tallest of us only came up to his waist“. As seen below, that sighting kicked off centuries of belief in the existence of Patagonian giants.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Patagonian giants. Fine Art America

The Birth of the Belief in Patagonian Giants

Magellan’s men made contact with the rest of the big man’s tribe and befriended them. The expedition stopped for a few weeks to rest and replenish their supplies. They took on fresh water, and what fresh meat they could by joining the tribe in hunts. When they were finally ready to leave, Magellan wanted to take some Patagonians with him to display back in Spain. So he lured some aboard his ship with the offer of trinkets, got them drunk until they passed out, and had them chained. When the Patagonians came to, Magellan’s ships were already underway, with Patagonia receding in the distance.

Sadly, the kidnapped Patagonians did not survive the voyage. Nor, for that matter, did Magellan. However, expedition members who completed the voyage returned to Spain with fantastic tales of a land inhabited by giants. It was a tall tale that grew taller over the years. Later sailors claimed to have seen Patagonians who stood ten-feet-tall. Others came in contact with ones whose height was measured at twelve feet. Yet others encountered Patagonians who truly towered above normal people, measuring fifteen feet in height. Reports of the South American giants gripped European imaginations for over 250 years.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Belief in the existence of Patagonian giants lasted for centuries. K-Pics

The Truth About Patagonians

The tall tales about South American giants were first challenged by Sir Francis Drake. The British seaman and pirate encountered Patagonians during his own circumnavigation of the globe. As described by his nephew: “Magellan was not altogether deceived in naming these giants, for they generally differ from the common sort of man both in stature, bigness and strength of body, as also in the hideousness of their voices: but they are nothing so monstrous and giant-like as they were represented, there being some English men as tall as the highest we could see, but peradventure the Spaniards did not think that ever any English man would come hither to reprove them, and therefore might presume the more boldly to lie.”

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Members of the Tehuelche tribe, in 1904. Wikimedia

Nonetheless, the belief in Patagonian giants persisted. As late as 1766, rumors circulated that a British Royal Navy ship had encountered a tribe of nine-foot-tall natives. When the ship’s account of the voyage was finally published, however, it turned out that the natives had been recorded as six and a half feet tall. That was tall, especially so for that era. But certainly not giants. In reality, the Patagonians in question, the Tehuelche tribe, were actually taller than average. However, they were taller than average in the sense that their average height was in the six foot range, not in the sense that they towered over people and stood nine, twelve, or fifteen feet tall.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
El Dorado. K-Pics

From a Guy Covered in Gold Dust to a City of Gold

The myth of El Dorado, the fabled city that was made of gold, seems to have changed with the passage of time like a message in a game of telephone. Just like that childhood game, the story of El Dorado was altered with each retelling from one source to another, until the final recipient ended up with something completely different from the original. The story first referred to a man, then to a city, then to an entire kingdom, and finally, an empire.

The legend began with the first Spaniards who came in contact with the native Muisca people, in today’s Colombia. They heard a tale about chiefs who coated themselves in gold dust, then rowed into Lake Guatavita, about 35 miles northeast of modern Bogota, to drop golden gifts for the water god. The first Spaniards to hear the tale named a mythical Muisca chief El Hombre Dorado, Spanish for “the Golden Man”. From there, as seen below, the story grew with each increasingly ridiculous retelling into the myth most are familiar with today.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
The El Dorado legend started off as accounts of a native chief covered in gold dust, and grew into a belief in a city of gold. Just Want to Know

The Belief in the City of El Dorado

Over the years, and with repeated retellings, the legend of El Hombre Dorado, the Golden Man, was transformed. What began as a tribal chief coated in gold dust became a city made of gold, then a kingdom of gold, and finally a fabulously wealthy empire that had more gold than the rest of the world put together. There was at least some justification for the belief that the story was real. Spaniards and other Europeans had actually encountered plenty of gold among the natives of the Caribbean coast of South of America. So they reasoned that there must be a huge source of gold somewhere in the interior.

In due course, many Spanish Conquistadors and other European adventurers who heard the more ridiculous El Dorado story version that described a city of gold, came to believe in its existence. The lust for gold and fabulous riches said to be found in the legendary city fueled numerous expeditions and searches in the 1500s and 1600s. None of them discovered the nonexistent city of gold. Indeed, most of them found little more than grief and woe in a futile quest to find a myth.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Sir Walter Raleigh’s disastrous expedition up the Orinoco River in search of El Dorado. Pinterest

A Belief that Caused a Lot of Grief

Those who bought into the ridiculous belief that there actually was a city of gold out there somewhere were disappointed. However, seekers who stuck to the original version of the El Dorado story, about tribal chiefs who dropped golden gifts into a lake, had some success. They set out to drain Lake Guatavita, and lowered its level enough to recover hundreds of golden artifacts from around the lake’s edges. However, whatever treasures had been tossed into the deeper waters remained beyond their reach. Other than that partial success, the only results of the search for El Dorado were numerous lives wasted in fruitless treasure hunts.

The more famous jinxed searches included those undertaken by English courtier Sir Walter Raleigh, who conducted two expeditions in Guiana in search of El Dorado. In the second expedition, in 1617, Raleigh was too enfeebled by age to endure the rigors of the search. So he set up a base camp in Trinidad, and sent his son, Watt, up the Orinoco River to find El Dorado. It ended in utter disaster, and in the death of Raleigh’s son in a battle against the Spaniards. Things did not end much better for Raleigh himself. When he returned to England, its king, James I, ordered him beheaded for defying his orders to avoid conflict with the Spanish.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Basil Rathbone, as Sherlock Holmes. K-Pics

The Birth of a Modern Belief in Fairies

One might reasonably assume that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the cynical and deductive reasoning Sherlock Holmes, must have been one of those skeptical types who are hard to fool. In reality, however, the famous British author was remotely not like his famous character. Late in life, Doyle became a big booster of spiritualism. In his eagerness to credit whatever supported his belief, he became a gullible old fool who fell hard for a hoax perpetrated by two little girls. It began in 1917, in the English village of Cottingley. There, nine-year-old Elsie Wright and her sixteen-year-old old cousin Frances Griffith claimed that they hung around with fairies beside a nearby stream.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Cottingley Fairies. Yorkshire Post

Their parents scoffed, so to prove it, the girls borrowed Elsie’s father’s camera, and came back half an hour later with “evidence”. When Elsie’s father developed the film, he was surprised to find a picture of fairies dancing around Frances. However, he dismissed it as a prank by his daughter, who knew her way around cameras. When the girls came up with more fairy photos in subsequent months, Elsie’s father finally forbade them to borrow his camera. That should have been the end of it, but as seen below, it was not.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Cottingley Fairies. Blitz Lift

When The Cottingley Fairies Went Viral

Two years after Elsie Wright and her cousin Frances Griffith photographed “fairies” in Cottingley, things took off. The pictures went viral after Frances’ mother showed them at a meeting of the Theosophical Society – a New Age spiritualist group. The photos were clearly questionable, and experts who saw them pronounced them crude cardboard cutouts. However, belief in the existence of fairies dovetailed with some religious tenets of the Theosophical Society. So the society’s members – who included prominent British figures – began to spread the photos and vouch for their authenticity.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. K-Pics

In 1920, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became aware of the photos’ existence. He was initially skeptical, and went so far as to ask Eastman Kodak for their opinion. However, before he had received a reply from the camera and film manufacturer, Doyle decided that the photos were real. Before long, Sherlock Holmes’s creator had not only vouched for the photos’ authenticity, but went on to become a huge advocate for the existence of fairies in real life. It was the start of an awkward journey.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
The Coming of the Fairies, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Pinterest

The Creator of Sherlock Holmes Went All In on His Belief that Fairies Were Real

In December, 1920, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published a cringe-worthy article, in which he urged the public to accept that fairies actually exist. It opened him to significant ridicule from a press that was equal parts puzzled, and equal parts embarrassed for the hitherto respected author. None of that dissuaded Doyle, who followed the first article with a second in 1921, that described even more fairy sightings. A year later, in 1922, he capped it off with the publication of his most awkward book, The Coming of the Fairies.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Comparing the Cottingley Fairies to illustrations from a popular children’s book. Wikimedia

As it turned out, Sherlock Holmes’s creator should have been more skeptical. In 1983, more than half a century after Arthur Conan Doyle’s death, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffith revealed the truth. They published an article, in which they confessed that it had all been a hoax. They had used illustrations from a contemporary popular children’s book, and simply drew wings on them. The girls had kicked off the prank to get back at adults who teased them for “playing with fairies”. The joke snowballed, however, and got out of hand once the Theosophical Society and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got involved. Once that happened, they could not think of a graceful way to back out. So they just kept the hoax going, until they finally came clean, six decades later.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Japanese immigrants in Brazil. Porta Nippo

The Belief That Japan Won WWII

Colonel Kikawa urged his followers to protest mistreatment by ceasing the production of peppermint, which included ingredients used in explosives, and to stop making silk, a vital wartime material for parachutes. He also advocated more direct steps, such as sabotage. By 1945, Shindo Renmei, headquartered in Sao Paulo, had 64 branches in Brazilian localities with Japanese immigrant communities. With most Japanese-Brazilians cut off from reliable news, the group exploited their countrymen. They filled the information vacuum with “news” that was mere wishful thinking. As Japan reeled from defeat after defeat, Shindo Renmei told the Japanese immigrants that Japan was marching from triumph to triumph. The claims included a decisive Japanese victory in Okinawa, where America lost 400 warships. Victory was secured by a super weapon, the “High Frequency Bomb”, which killed Americans by the hundreds of thousands and forced the Allies’ unconditional surrender.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Colonel Junji Kikawa. Doc Player

Many believed that, or if they did not, feared to speak up because Shindo Renmei punished “defeatists”. Those who voiced doubts about how well the war was going for Japan were shunned, boycotted, and sometimes violently assailed. Shindo Renmei dismissed Japan’s surrender as “fake news” and American propaganda, and redoubled its efforts to punish those who said otherwise. In the eyes of Colonel Kikawa and his followers, Japanese immigrants were divided into two camps: good guys, and bad guys. There were the virtuous Kachigumi (“Victorious”), who knew that Japan had won the war. They were mostly the poor and poorly educated. Then there were the vile Makegumi (“Defeatists”), also pejoratively labeled “dirty hearts”, who bought the fake news about Japan’s defeat.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Shindo Renmei members. K-Pics

A Terror Campaign to Ram a Crazy Belief Down the Throats of Japanese Immigrants

Those labeled “Defeatists” by Shindo Renmei tended to be the better off and better educated immigrants. They had better access to information, and could differentiate between reliable and unreliable news. However, even those innocent of Shindo Renmei’s fanaticism were terrorized to toe the group’s line, or at least stay silent. By war’s end, Shindo Renmei had about 50,000 followers. They went on a buying spree that emptied local shops of red and white cloth to make Japanese flags, intended to welcome Brazil’s new overlords. The situation was further complicated by the circulation of fake Japanese newspapers and magazines. The fake media included articles about Japan’s “great victory”; the arrival of Japanese occupation troops in America; photographs of President Truman bowing to Emperor Hirohito; and coverage of the trial of General Douglas MacArthur for war crimes.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
Japan’s foreign minister signs his country’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri. Wikimedia

Charlatans who peddled that drivel sold duped Japanese immigrants land in the “conquered territories”. Those who doubted Japan’s victory were silenced. In 1946, Japan’s postwar government prepared documents for distribution in Brazil, outlining reality and declaring that Japan had surrendered. Shindo Renmei dismissed that as fake, and beat up or murdered Japanese immigrants who read or distributed the documents. To reduce the violence, Brazil’s government prohibited newspapers from publishing news of Japan’s defeat, and ordered the term “unconditional surrender” removed from official communications. Things then gradually simmered down. A last gasp occurred in 1950, when Japan’s Olympic swimming team visited Brazil. When its members expressed shock at the belief that Japan had won the war, diehards claimed that the athletes were actually Koreans masquerading as Japanese. That was so ludicrous, that it killed Shindo Renmei’s credibility for good, and the organization soon vanished into history’s dustbin.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
An amulet for Fascinus. Ancient and Oriental.

The Ancient Belief in Flying Dongs

Ancient Rome had a rich religious pantheon that included hundreds of gods. One of the lesser-known ones today – although he was quite popular with ancient Romans – was Fascinus, the winged phallus god. The god of masculine regenerative power, Fascinus’ symbol was a phallus. He was literally all dong, taken to a ridiculous degree of dong-hood. His body was an erect phallus and testicles, which sported an erect phallus, and he had a phallus for a tail, and phalli for legs. He also had wings, so he could fly around and spurt his blessings upon fortunate mortals.

Fascinus was believed to be lucky, so worshippers carried him around in the form of amulets or pendants that hung from their necks. It was just like how pious Christians wear crosses around their necks today. Except that instead of a cross, ancient Romans had an erect dong dangling from their necks. It was a different culture. Fascinus, a hard phallus who sported multiple hard phalli, was constantly on the prowl, with a particular preference for sleeping women. Many Roman art motifs and tales revolved around sleeping maidens, usually getting some shuteye in bucolic settings, who woke up to discover that Fascinus had flown between their legs to bless them.

History’s Most Bizarre Rituals & Beliefs
‘With a Turned Thumb’, by Jean Leon Gerome, 1872. Wikimedia

Traces of the Flying Phallus God in Modern English

The most famous Roman maiden supposedly impregnated by Fascinus was Ocrisia, the mother of Rome’s sixth monarch, King Servius Tullius. Ocrisia was a foreign noblewoman captured in war, and made a slave in the household of Rome’s King Tarquinius. As the legend went, Ocrisia was a virgin, and one day, as she performed the sacred rites of the Vestal Virgins, a disembodied winged phallus flew in and impregnated her. The result was Servius Tullius, who was raised in the royal household. Although a slave, he so impressed King Tarquinius that he eventually freed him and gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage.

After Tarquinius’ demise, he was succeeded on the throne by Servius, his son in law and son of the divine winged dong. Fascinus’ name gave rise to the Latin verb “fascinare“, which means the power to use the Fascinus to entrance or cast a spell, because of a widespread belief that the flying dong god had such powers. The worship of Fascinus declined with the rise of Christianity, and eventually vanished, along with the rest of antiquity’s pagan pantheon. Nonetheless, a trace of Fascinus remains with us today: the etymology of the modern English word “fascinate” traces back to the Latin word “fascinare“, and the Ancient Roman flying phallus god.



Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:


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Atlas Obscura – Romans Used to Ward Off Sickness With Flying Penis Amulets

AV Club – Wikipedia Erected a Page to Explain Ancient Rome’s Fascination With the Phallus

BBC – Cottingley Fairies: How Sherlock Holmes Creator Was Fooled by Hoax

BBC – El Dorado: The Truth Behind the Myth

Burman, Edward – The Assassins (1987)

Classical Journal, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Oct. 1968) – Father of History or Father of Lies; the Reputation of Herodotus

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Daftary Farhad – The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma’ilis (1994)

Discover Nikkei – Shindo Renmei, a Dark Chapter in the History of Japanese Immigration in Brazil

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Gardner, Martin – Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1957)

Historic UK – The Cottingley Fairies

History Collection – The Morbid Tradition of Sin Eating Was as Scary as it Sounds

Hodgson, Marshall G.S. – The Order of Assassins: The Struggle of the Early Nizari Isma’ili Against the Islamic World (1955)

How Stuff Works – Why is Herodotus Called Both the Father of History and Father of Lies?

Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Jul., 1915) – The Symbolism of the Shoe With Special Reference to Jewish Sources

Lesser, Jeffrey – Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (1999)

Listverse – 10 Historical Shoe Rituals and Superstitions You Might Not Know About

Medieval Warfare, Vol. 8, No. 6, Jan/ Feb 2019 – The Sultana of Egypt

National Geographic – El Dorado

Princeton University Library – Patagonian Giants

Public Domain Review – Sir Arthur and the Fairies

Wired – Fantastically Wrong: Magellan’s Strange Encounter With the 10 Foot Giants of Patagonia