When we finally pass on from this mortal coil, the pain and humiliation are over, right? Not quite, buddy. Societies around the world do all kinds of demented and creepy stuff with dead bodies, and this gallery will share ten of the weirdest.
In 17th-century Iceland, a superstition involving great wealth created one of the most bizarre corpse traditions ever. Nabrok, or “necropants,” was an alleged magical path to wealth that started with a local warlock making a deal with someone about to die. The corpse was dug up after burial and the lower half was carefully skinned, keeping the epidermis in one piece from the waist down. A magical spell and a stolen coin were then placed in the scrotum, and the legend says that the dead man’s nutsack would produce additional coins as long as the necropants stayed intact.
Corpse Juice Smearing
The burial rites of Australian aborigines are complex and bizarre, with the dead bodies being kept around for long after their expiration date. Corpses are placed on a raised platform over a slowly burning fire, allowing the dead person to decompose in the open air. Relatives often wore bones and other durable pieces, but the grossest part of the whole deal was that some tribal groups would collect the drippings of rotten bodily fluids from the decomposing corpse and smear it on the faces and bodies of young men so that they would inherit the good qualities of the passed-on person.
Dancing With the Dead
While many traditions believe that the soul of a person leaves the body immediately after death, the Malagasy people of Madagascar think that it hangs around a little bit longer. That’s the rationale for the festival of Famadihana, held every seven years. On that merry day, villagers break open their family crypts, take the bodies out and carefully change their clothes, wrapping them in fresh swaths of cotton. That’s just a prelude to the real action, though — rousing folk music plays and the community starts a wild dance party with dead bodies as partners.
Leave It to the Vultures
The Zoroastrian religion believes that the instant the soul leaves the body, the corpse becomes a ticking time bomb for seriously bad juju. An empty body is an open door for all kinds of demons to enter, so Zoroastrian burial rituals are carefully designed to avoid any such shenanigans. The body is believed to be able to corrupt anything it touches, so it’s first washed in bull’s urine and then wrapped in clean linen. Mourners then carry it to the top of a funeral tower, remove its clothes using special tools (the clothes are then burned) and let vultures devour what’s left.
This is a strange one, because it’s a corpse tradition that starts while the dead person is alive. Sokushinbutsu is a practice employed by a select group of devoted Japanese Buddhist monks to transform their bodies into mummies naturally after their death. The process takes six years, starting with the monk eating a diet of seeds and nuts, and exercising constantly to burn off all their body fat. They’d then start eating tree bark and roots, finally consuming nothing but a poisonous tea made from the urushi tree. That would cause them to dehydrate, repelling bacteria and other parasites, so when they finally did pass on (locked in an airless tomb) their bodies would be perfectly preserved.
The indigenous Haida tribes of British Columbia typically just threw corpses into a festering pit to rot, but if an important man died they pulled out all the stops to send him into the afterlife in high style. That’s a relative term, of course, because first they’d take the corpse and smash it with sticks until enough bones were broken, then stuff it into a wooden box about as big as a carry-on suitcase. That box was then used to top a funerary totem pole that would be displayed outside the dead man’s longhouse to ward off evil spirits.
The Thai religious ritual named Kuman Thong is deeply disturbing, so hold your breath. Unwanted babies are surgically removed from a woman’s womb, then roasted over a flame to evaporate all of the moisture out. Tattoo artists cover the skin with a variety of religious designs and symbols. They’re then coated in gold leaf and sold to superstitious wealthy people, who believe that a gold-plated baby has the power to ward off bad luck. Needless to say, this is all quite illegal, but there is still a thriving black market in Kuman Thong babies.
There’s still a thriving industry in dealing with dead bodies — it’s not something you can read about on the Internet and do yourself. But it used to be even more complicated. In 18th-century Scotland, the common folk belief was that if you died with unconfessed sins, you’d head straight for the hot place until somebody intervened. Sin eaters were itinerants and vagrants who would, for a small fee, take those sins from the corpse, usually by consuming a loaf of bread set on the dead body’s sternum. Thus taken care of, the soul of the dead could proceed to Heaven unmolested.
The people of the Toraja tribe in Indonesia have a very close connection to their dead, and every few years they get even closer. Bodies there are not buried in the ground, but rather in caves on high limestone cliffs. In a ritual called Ma ‘Nene’ or “the cleaning of the corpses,” departed souls are disinterred and given a little sprucing up — decayed flesh is stripped away, clothes are changed and coffins are painted and repaired. Afterwards, the bodies are put back in their nooks for another couple of years.
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Victorian Corpse Photos
During the 1800s, the rise of photography made it possible for Victorian era people to keep memories forever. Unfortunately, pictures were expensive and long exposure times meant subjects needed to sit very still. That wasn’t a problem for dead bodies, though, and one of the most common uses for this new technology was taking pictures of corpses before they were buried. With infant and child mortality rates quite high, many families had at least one shot of a passed-on little one dressed in their Sunday best before they were sent to get eaten by bugs in a pine box.