7. When Blowing Smoke Up the Rear Was Not Just a Figure of Speech
Today, when somebody scoffs at another that “you’re just blowing smoke up my a**“, it is a figure of speech that the addressee is insincerely complementing the scoffer, telling him what he thinks he wants to hear. However, centuries ago, blowing smoke up one’s rear end was meant literally, to describe a medical procedure in which a tube or rubber hose was inserted in a person’s behind, through which tobacco smoke was blown. In the 1700s, doctors routinely used tobacco smoke enemas, in the mistaken belief that they had healing properties. Blowing smoke up the behind was thought to be particularly useful in reviving drowning victims.
The nicotine in tobacco was thought to make the heart beat faster, thus stimulating respiration, while smoke from the burning tobacco was thought to warm the drowning victim from the inside. It made intuitive sense: the drowned person was full of water, so blowing air, in the form of tobacco smoke which was full of healing properties, would expel the water. Hiccup was when the water was in the person’s lungs, which are not connected to his or her bum. Thus, blowing air up the drowning victims’ rears and into their bowels did little to expel water from their lungs.
6. The Ridiculous Belief That Tobacco Enemas Could Revive Drowning Victims
When doctors back in the day practiced medicine by blowing tobacco into people, some preferred sticking a smoking tube directly into the lungs through the mouth or nose. However, most doctors preferred to shove a tube up the patient’s rear end, instead. Although medically useless, belief in the effectiveness of tobacco smoke enemas in reviving drowning victims, or even those presumed dead, was widespread. So widespread, that medical kits for blowing smoke up the behind were found at routine intervals along major waterways, such as the River Thames. There they waited, like modern defibrillators, ready for use to revive the drowned and bring the (presumed) dead back to life.
Blowing smoke up the behind was used to not only revive the drowned, but to also treat colds, headaches, hernias, abdominal cramps, and even heart attacks. Tobacco smoke enemas were also used on typhoid fever victims, and those dying of cholera. While the treatment was useless for the patient, it was quite dangerous for the doctor, especially if he blew smoke up the patient’s rump with his mouth instead of using a bellows. If a doctor inhaled instead of exhaled, or if gases in the patient’s bowels escaped (i.e.; if the patient farted) fecal particles could get blown back into the doctor’s mouth or his lungs. Such a mishap, particularly when treating a cholera patient, could prove fatal for the doctor.
5. A Ridiculous Explanation for a Mysterious Phenomenon
A strange new phenomenon cropped up in 1976 in Wiltshire, England. It started with crops in a local wheat field getting flattened in a circular pattern. Soon, mysterious circles of flattened crops, in increasingly elaborate patterns, began appearing in other fields throughout Britain. Once the phenomenon became widely known, it attracted self-declared experts, who offered mystical, magical, and pseudo-scientific explanations for the mystery. Theories ranged from secret weapons testing, to restless spirits and ghosts acting out, to Gaia, the primal Mother Earth, expressing her distress at what humanity had done to her planet.
Early on, one of the more ridiculous explanations – and one that gained the greatest currency – revolved around space aliens. Presumably, extraterrestrials had created the crop circles and left them behind as a means of communicating with humanity in some as yet un-deciphered code. That line of reasoning of aliens being behind the circles was supported by the fact that only a decade earlier, mysterious circles had appeared in Australian crops. Many had attributed the Australian circles to UFO landings, labeling them “[flying] saucer nests”.
Wiltshire, where the first British crop circle appeared, is located near Stonehenge. It is a region rife with ancient burial mounds and marker stones. New Age types had long that claimed those landmarks were linked to others throughout Britain via “leys” – mysterious energy paths. For years, the region had also been a hotbed for UFO watch parties – England’s Roswell, if you would. So it seemed apt that the first crop circles, or saucer nests, would appear in its vicinity.
It was not long before ridiculous theories combining Stonehenge, ancient Druids, mystic energy paths, and the recently revealed crop circles, were combined in a complex explanation for the phenomenon. The circles themselves became magnets for New Age mystical tourism. In reality, however, the crop circles had been the brainchild of Doug Bower, an English prankster. One night in 1976, he had been drinking with his friend Dave Chorley, and the two got to talking about UFOs, aliens, flying saucers and the mysterious Australian circles. Midway through the conversation, Bower suddenly said: “Let’s go over there and make it look like a flying saucer has landed“.
3. Revealing the Truth Behind Crop Circles Wrecked Some Ridiculous Careers That Had Been Based on Explaining a Not-So-Mysterious Mystery
As friends, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, confessed in 1991, when they finally revealed the mystery of Wiltshire’s crop circles to assembled media, it had all been incredibly easy. As they demonstrated to print and TV journalists by creating other crop circles in just minutes, all it took was rope, a wooden plank, and a wire to help them walk in a straight line. That was all there had been to the mystery that became central to the lives of many for years on end: a pair of pranksters out for a laugh.
A “cereologist” – a crop circle “expert” who had made a living for years by writing and lecturing about the phenomenon, was called in. He declared the circles authentic. Then the hammer was dropped on him when it was revealed that it had been a simple hoax and prank all along. As Bower and Chorley explained, they had created all crop circles up to 1987. Then other pranksters discovered how to make their own circles and patterns, and joined in on the fun.
Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) advanced the notion that the essence of the universe is constant change. To that end, he coined the phrase “no man ever steps into the same river twice“. It illustrates that everything, like the ever-moving droplets of water drifting downstream on a river, is in constant motion and flux, even if the motion is not readily perceptible. He also advocated a “unity of opposites”, whereby the universe is a system of balanced exchanges in which all things are paired in a relationship with those things exhibiting contrary properties. Unfortunately, Heraclitus is better known today for his ridiculous demise than for his contributions to philosophy.
A highly introspective man, Heraclitus did not come by his philosophy through learning at the hands of another philosopher, but was self-taught. Critical of other philosophers, had a dim view of humanity, loathed mobs and democracy, and preferred rule by a few wise men – a concept that Plato later distilled into the notion that the ideal ruler would be a philosopher-king. Deeming wealth as a form of punishment, Heraclitus wished upon his fellow Ephesians, whom he hated, that they would be cursed with wealth as punishment for their sins.
Given his views on the rest of mankind, Heraclitus was a misanthrope. That misanthropy led him to avoid contact with other people for long stretches, during which he wandered alone through mountains and wilderness, surviving on plants and what he could scavenge. As Diogenes summed him up: “finally, [Heraclitus] became a hater of his kind, and roamed the mountains, surviving on grass and herbs“. His ridiculous end came as a result of his affliction with dropsy, or edema – a painful accumulation of fluids beneath the skin and in the body’s cavities.
Doctors could offer neither cure nor relief, so Heraclitus, the self-taught philosopher, sought to apply his self-teaching skills to medicine and heal himself. He tried an innovative cure by covering himself in cow dung, on the theory that the warmth of the manure would dry and draw out of him the “noxious damp humor”, or the fluids accumulated beneath his skin. Covering himself in cow manure, Heraclitus lay out in the sun to dry, only to be immobilized by the cow dung drying around him into a body cast. He was thus unable to shoo off a pack of dogs which came upon him and ate him alive.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading