8 Most Bizarre Religious Rites
Okipa: Suspension, Wooden Skewers Inserted Behind the Muscles, and Pinky Finger Amputation (Native American Mandan Tribe)
By Natalie Umansky
What was known as the Okipa ceremony was a complex ritual of the Native American Mandan tribe, which was used to signify the male rite of passage into adulthood.
The Okipa ceremony began with young men abstaining from food, drink, and sleep for four days, in hope of being visited by a spirit messenger. Then they were led to a hut, where they had to sit with smiling faces while the skin of their chest and shoulders was slit and wooden skewers were thrust behind the muscles. Using the skewers to support the weight of their bodies, the warriors would be suspended from the roof of the lodge and would hang there until they fainted. To add to the agony, heavy weights were added to the initiate's legs. After fainting, the warrior would be pulled down and the men would watch the warrior until he awoke, proving the spirits' approval. Upon awakening, the warrior would offer his left pinkie finger to the Great Spirit, whereupon a masked tribesman would sever it with a hatchet blow.
Finally, participants would endure a grueling race around the village called "the last race," with weights and skewers still in place, to determine who among them was the strongest.
Those finishing the ceremony were viewed as being honored by the spirits; those completing the ceremony twice would gain everlasting fame among the tribe.
The last Okipa ceremony was performed in 1889. According to sources, the Mandans were the first people to suspend humans by their skin and are responsible for many of the suspension methods people presently use.
Sati: A Woman Immolates on Her Husband's Funeral Pyre (India)
Sati is a social funeral practice among some Indian communities in which a recently widowed woman would immolate herself on her husband's funeral pyre.
Some Indian texts provide detailed instructions about who may commit Sati, cleansing for the Sati, positioning, attire, and other ritual aspects. For instance, if the widow is pregnant, menstruating, or if she is not on her regular menstrual cycle (indicating that she may be pregnant), she is not permitted to follow her husband onto the pyre. Another curious fact is that rather than mourning clothes, the widow is dressed in marriage robes or other finery.
This ritual has been practiced intermittently since at least 400 CE and as recently as 2008, due to a strong Hindu belief that a woman who turns herself into a Sati is a deity; she is worshipped and endowed with gifts.
This practice was banned several times, with the current ban dating to 1829 by the British.
Though Sati is banned by today's Indian government, incidents of Sari have taken place at least three times in the past ten years.
Day of the Dead: Picnicking at the Gravesite (Mexico)
Day of the Dead is a holiday rite celebrated primarily in Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls of loved ones, so the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living. Celebrations can take a comical tone, as celebrants remember humorous events and anecdotes about the departed.
The celebration rite takes place on November 1 and 2, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Traditions connected with the Day of the Dead include building private altars using sugar skulls to honor the deceased and decorating graves with gifts of marigolds and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. Toys are brought for dead children and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque, or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies at the grave, due to the belief that the spirits of the dead eat the "spiritual essence" of the ofrendas food. Pillows and blankets are left out so the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places people have picnics at the grave site, as well. They also leave possessions of the deceased. Some people believe that possessing Day of the Dead items can bring good luck. Many people get tattoos or have dolls of the dead to carry with them.
Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday rite to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl.
Cleansing Rite: Stabbing the Tongue, Inserting Reeds into the Nose, and Sticking Wooden Canes into the Throat (Papua New Guinea)
Nanggol: Land Diving (Vanuatu)
Land diving (known in the local language as Gol or Nanggol) is a religious ritual performed by the men of the southern part of Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, in which men jump off wooden towers with two tree vines wrapped around their ankles without any safety equipment. According to belief, the higher the jump, the more bountiful the harvest.
The platforms are at several different heights. The ritual begins with the least experienced jumpers (around the age of eight) on the lower platforms, and ends with the most experienced jumpers on the upper platforms (around 20 to 30 meters). The ideal jump is high, with the jumper landing close to the ground. The goal is to brush the shoulders against the ground. The process is similar to bungee jumping except vines supply absolutely no give, and the man's head must touch the ground- thus no room at all is left for error here.
The diver crosses his arms over his chest to help prevent injury to the arms. The head is tucked in so his shoulders can contact the ground. Therefore, the diver risks a number of injuries, such as a broken neck or a concussion. During the dive, the jumper can reach speeds of around 45 mph. Right after a dive, other villagers rush in and take care of the diver.
The tradition has developed into a tourist attraction.
Human Sacrifice: Cut a Person Open from Throat to Stomach and Rip out Their Heart as an Offering to the Gods (Aztec)
Because the objective of Aztec warfare was to capture victims alive for human sacrifice, battle tactics were designed primarily to injure the enemy rather than kill him. Slaves could also be used for human sacrifice, but only if the slave was considered lazy and had been resold three times.
Santeria's Initiation: Sacrificial Blood and Other Potent Substances (Caribbean)
To become a full-fledged Santero or Santera (Priest or Priestess of Santería), the initiator goes through what is called a cleansing ritual. The initiator's godfather cleanses the head with special herbs and water. Once cleansed, there are four major rituals that the initiator will have to undergo.
The first initiation ritual is known as the acquisition of the beaded necklaces. The elekes necklace is bathed in a mixture of herbs, sacrificial blood, and other potent substances for the initiated, and they serve as a sacred point of contact with Orichás.
The second important ritual is the creation of an image of the orichá Eleguá, a sculpture that is used to keep evil spirits away from the initiator's home.
The third ritual, known as the "receiving of the warrior," begins a formal and lifelong relationship that the initiate will have with these Orichás, as the orichás devote their energy to protecting and providing for the initiate on their path.
The last ritual is a process of purification and divination whereby the initiated becomes like a newborn baby and begins a new life of deeper growth within the faith.
Once the initiation is completed there is a year-long waiting period, in which the newly appointed Priest and Priestess cannot perform cleansings and other remedies. It is a time when they must follow a strict regimen of wearing all white and avoiding physical contact with those who have not been initiated. Once the waiting period has been completed there will be an end of year ceremony, which will enable the Priest or Priestess to consult clients, perform cleansings, provide remedies, and perform initiations.
El Colacho: Baby Jumping (Spain)
During the act, girls throw rose petals on babies who were born during the previous twelve months of the year. Then a priest blesses the babies and a man dressed as the Devil (known as the Colacho) jumps over the babies, who lie on mattresses in the street.
The origins of the tradition are unknown, but it is said to cleanse the babies of original sin, ensure them safe passage through life, and guard against illness and evil spirits.