7 'Ancient' Forms of Mysticism That Are Recent Inventions

#3. Ninjutsu


The secret collection of ninja skills and wisdom known as "ninjutsu" has been around for like a thousand years, and you're still able to learn it today, despite the fact that modern America lacks a strict class system, honor-based fighting rules and any real opportunities for assassinating feudal lords. Throw a shuriken in your average martial arts dojo and it'll hit someone offering to teach you ninjutsu. Maybe you'll even end up getting invited to one of those secret underground death fights!

"I can teach you nine ways to kill a man for a Mounds bar and some soda."

The Reality:

We've already revealed that ninjas never wore black jumpsuits and masks like Hollywood taught us. But surely ninjas actually existed in some form, right? Sure, probably. The problem is that no one in Japan or elsewhere has ever proven that they have access to any ninja-related tradition going back earlier than the 20th century. The Bujinkan school practiced by Stephen Hayes, who popularized ninjutsu in the West in the 1970s, isn't taken seriously by traditional martial arts schools in Japan, and its claims to historical legitimacy are based on a bunch of "ancient scrolls" that the leader won't show to anybody. Another man who claims to be Japan's last "real" ninja, Jinichi Kawakami, says that he learned ninjutsu from a mysterious stranger he met as a child who mysteriously left no evidence of ever existing.

"Hey, a mysterious stranger! Let's see if he can teach us karate."

Basically, it seems like everyone in Japan can claim that their high school gym teacher was a hidden warrior who taught them the Way of the Ninja and Americans will flock to them for training in the hope of being able to wear those cool black suits and punch people in the head.

Above: Karate. Although, to be honest, we consider everything Japanese to be karate.

#2. Friday the 13th


As newspaper articles and Dan Brown alike tell us every time the date rolls around, Friday the 13th's bad reputation dates back to October 13, 1307. Dozens of Knights Templar were arrested en masse by the corrupt king of France, right when they were looking forward to the weekend. The knights, whose mission it was to protect pilgrims traveling in the Holy Land, were imprisoned and tortured, and their leader was burned at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314. As he died, he laid down an epic curse on those present, many of who then dropped dead within the year. The French were so impressed with this that they dutifully decided not only to remember the curse forever, but also to base their superstitions on the day of his arrest seven years earlier.

"From now on, stupid people will avoid driving or gambling on the anniversary of this day."

The Reality:

There are plenty of historical references to both 13 and Friday being considered unlucky. But in another example of life imitating art only pretending to imitate life, nobody thought about marrying these two superstitions until the early 20th century, when a bestselling novel by the name of Friday the Thirteenth was released.

This 1907 book told the story of a crooked businessman who plots to crash the stock market. No Knights Templar, no hockey mask, just your run-of-the-mill Wall Street business thriller that inexplicably led us to mark off our calendars, call in sick and hide under the bedcovers once every couple of years in terror of some arbitrary combination of numbers.

"Sorry ma'am. None of our pilots will fly today. You'll just have to sit in the terminal."

#1. The Viking Religion

Vikings are awesome, as are the myths of pre-Christian Scandinavia that come with them. There are giant hammers, eight-legged horses and Ragnarok, in which the universe is kicked to death by fire and the bad guys pilot a ship made of corpse fingernails. It's like one giant, eternal '80s metal album cover. But for many people -- those who feel a deep connection to Norse culture, want to join a prison gang or are just angry at their parents for making them get up early for church when they were young -- Scandinavian paganism is alive and well, known as Odinism or Asatru by modern followers.

Above: Everything we know about Vikings that doesn't also involve Dungeons and Dragons.

The Reality:

You're begging us now, "Please, Cracked, don't tell us that all of that stuff about Thor and his hammer, Odin, Loki and other Marvel properties are horseshit made up to sell some books!" Unfortunately, our dedication to the truth is only seconded by our dedication to killing your dreams. Pretty much everything we know about Scandinavian paganism comes from the Eddas, two books compiled in the 13th century by a guy with the hilarious, Muppet-like name of Snorri Sturluson.

Aww, he looks like a Zoloft commercial.

But wait, the 13th century's still pretty old, right? Yes, but there's a problem here: Snorri wrote the books several hundred years after Scandinavia had been Christianized. Oh, and Snorri himself wasn't exactly a true believer: he declared that the "gods" he was writing about were just dead heroes who got talked up later.

Some random hobo ended up memorialized as Odin.

That would be bad enough, but Snorri's collections also contained elements that seem to be cribbed from the hot new religion, like Odin sacrificing himself by hanging on a tree and getting pierced by a spear. In fact, some buzzkill scholars have even suggested that Ragnarok itself is no more than a retelling of the end of paganism under Christianity, or even a co-opted version of the Biblical book of Revelation. Basically, Snorri was working at the end of a 200-year-old religious telephone game, and we've just got no way of knowing what was in the original version and what was the result of one guy saying, "You know what religion needs? More giant hammers."

You can follow C. Coville on Twitter here.

For more modern ideas that were here before us, check out 11 Modern Technologies That Are Way Older Than You Think and 6 Depraved Sexual Fetishes That Are Older Than You Think.

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