10 Brutal and Horrifying Religious Ceremonies


These days the atheist movement has made bashing religion almost passe. They would have us believe that religion only strips people of basic rights when it’s not busy inspiring violence or taking money. They are in no place to complain. The persons who had to endure or even witness these horrible ceremonies have plenty of right to complain.

10. Scalp Dances


While anyone who has seen any traditional westerns or Inglourious Basterds has heard of the Native American practice of removing the scalps of enemies, particularly among tribes like the Apache. It’s much less likely you’re aware of the ceremony and etiquette that went into using them for post-battle celebrations and ceremonies. For one, they were not to be conducted if the victorious tribe had suffered heavy casualties or if the chief was wounded in the battle.

Furthermore, the scalps were to be given to the women for them. They would be either paraded about triumphantly or to be dragged through the dirt contemptuously. If there were any grieving widows, the scalps were to be used to symbolically wipe away their tears as if they were facial tissues.

9. “Respectful” Mongolian Executions


Although the Mongols are heavily associated with seemingly mindless murders, as it happened they had protocol for putting certain respected figures to death that was even worse than mere quick decapitation. They would wrap them in cloth (rugs, a bag, etc.) and then crush them with stones or trampling horse hooves, often slowly and practically into paste to ensure death. This was so that none of their blood would touch the ground out of a belief that if the blood of someone of a royal (regardless of whether they were a Mongol or not) touched the ground, it would offend their gods.

One of the more noteworthy of the persons killed this way was the Caliph of Baghdad in 1258 because his death destroyed the unified Islamic power structure of the Middle East and spawned almost a millennium of brutal conflict among Muslim branches.

8. Self-Impalement


Purification through voluntary pain is a common theme in religions all over the world, but one of the more memorable examples of it takes place in the town of Phucket in Southern Thailand on September 30 as part of a nine-day vegetarian festival. There are dozens of people who will stab themselves through the cheeks with everything from knives to gun barrels, and stick such things as umbrella handles, shovels, tricycle handles, and flower bouquets through the holes.

Unsurprisingly this draws spectators that number around 100,000. The origin of this spectacle was a meditation practice that would help them endure inhuman amounts of pain. Seems like the vegetarian aspect of the festival would be pretty much completely overshadowed by it.

7. Sparagmos


Unlike the other entries on this list, there is some debate over the reality of this next practice. Some believe that it was just a bit of theatrical symbolism of the cycle of death and rebirth, and others cite accounts that claim specific years that the ceremony took place. Not that it’s something anyone would particularly want to be true.

Sparagmos means to rip or to tear in Greek. In this case, it refers to a ceremony to commemorate an event wherein the baby Greek god Dionysus was torn apart by Titans, figures which existed before gods in their mythology. This was reenacted by ceremonies where followers would take a variety of different symbolic beings that included bulls, goats, and babies, according to legend (one that reportedly occurred in 276 b.c. involved three Persian youths), and rip them apart after the cultists worked themselves up into a frenzy.

6. Agoge


In the farfetched 2007 film 300, the ritual from the ancient Greek city of Sparta known as the Agoge was portrayed in a very whitewashed fashion. While we are shown how the religious ritual involved sending young men out into the world with the expectation that they’d only be allowed back into society after they proved they could depend on only their own abilities with a blanket and a spear, the encouraged survival methods didn’t usually involve killing gigantic wolves or anything so glorious.

The truth was that youths taking part in the Agoge were sanctioned by the state to stalk and murder slaves (“helots” in Greek). You can understand why a movie that claimed the Spartans fought for freedom and enlightenment wouldn’t want to portray that.

5. Torture Exorcisms


Although the main association readers today will have with exorcisms in the 1973 film The Exorcist or the 2010 film The Last Exorcism, the practice is by no means only one related to Christianity, and they do a lot of harm. Because they often entail what amounts to physical abuse, there are numerous stories of people dying from rituals that are meant to cleanse their spirits. For example, on July 14, 2014, a woman identified as Haseena died from internal bleeding during a form of exorcism performed by an exorcist named “Sirajuddin.”

On June 15, 2015, a woman from Uganda was granted asylum in the U.K. because she had endured an exorcism due to her being a lesbian, a ritual that involved “sharp cuts and laceration”. It is definitely one of the more disturbing aspects of religion gone wrong. In Western culture as well numerous people have died while violent exorcism rituals were performed, such as when on December 24, 2010 Kristy Bamu (pictured above) was drowned in a bathtub in London.

4. Child Sacrifice


We mentioned child sacrifice being performed by ancient Greeks in entry number six, and it is definitely something we’d only associate with ancient times. We also imagine people would only be willing to do it under dire circumstances, such as appeasing a wrathful god or during a national crisis. It turns out some people are willing to do it today for reasons that seem terribly small.

In Uganda, there has been a rise in the number of children being sacrificed, first reported in 2006 and rising to 29 of them by 2009. The sacrifices involved either killing the kidnapped child outright or removing a part of their body as an offering such as an ear, the heart, the genitals, etc. The persons who pay for these horrible crimes are supposedly enticed by the claim that the sacrifice will solve a personal problem in their lives, and as reported, come from all walks of life in Uganda, including senior political positions. It’s certainly not just the poor and uneducated that turn to this. Thankfully a number of charitable organizations, such as Children on Edge and the Ugandan Adolescent Development Support Network are combining efforts to combat this.

3. Cannibal Executions


In 1979, debate flared up with the publication of The Man Eating Myth about whether any tribe anywhere in the world had ever actually eaten other humans for reasons aside from desperation. The idea behind this historical revisionism was that it was a way to justify European and American imperialism by claiming the lands that were being seized had been inhabited by primitives violating the ultimate taboo. Today it is now well confirmed that the ritualistic eating of flesh is a practice still performed into the modern age by at least one known tribe, the Korowai in Papua New Guinea.

This tribe of roughly 4,000 would primarily perform cannibalism as a form of punishment. It was for “khakhua,” which roughly translates as “male witch,” the apparent rationale that warlocks will themselves perform cannibalism. While the body of the executed person is distributed throughout clans, the head is left for the family that put the person to death. Such a practice was officially banned in New Guinea in the early 1970s, though some locals insisted to Smithsonian Magazine that it persisted. Considering that having an entire clan eat a person puts them at risk of a horrible disease called “Kuru,” it would undoubtedly be in their own best interests to abandon the practice matter what sort of punishment they may want to give a warlock.

2. Real Crucifixion


Most of the Catholic Church is opposed to the practice, but around the city of Manilla in the Philippines, people have themselves nailed to crosses for real as a tribute to the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. The practice in this region began in the 1950s and since then allegedly not a single person has died from the practice because of precautions such as soaking the nails in rubbing alcohol for pretty much the rest of the year.

Even local bishops believe the custom reflects improper education in the region regarding the nature of what Christ’s martyrdom was supposed to represent. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case for many of the participants, some of whom have have come from places around the world, although admittedly those tend to be the minority. Amazingly some people, such as Danilo Ramos, claim to have done this as many as 23 times.

1. Conversion Through Rape


Although Imams that are not under the sway of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (the notorious ISIS), such as Ajmal Masroor, condemn this as a desecration of Islamic law instead of something with a legitimate basis in the Quran, in October of 2015 it was reported that ISIS terrorists had begun performing mass rapes with the evil claim that doing so would convert the non-Muslims, such as the Yazidi people. According to a statement issued by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, if a woman is raped by 10 different terrorists, then she will become a follower of Allah.

Making the situation even worse for victims of this is that they came from communities that did not have progressive attitudes, so merely not shaming these women for being victims was a step forward. At least there’s the fact that this action on the part of ISIS has been cited as evidence that they were deeply desperate for new recruits after an air offensive by Russia, however sincere their religious convictions were.

Dustin Koski would really appreciate it if you checked out this video made from another of his Toptenz articles.

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