Humans have long held a deep fascination with the morbid. Before televisions and the Internet came along, this could be problematic: It's not as if people could just sate their thirst for freakology with a Twilight Zone marathon or a wee hours Creepypasta binge. What the people of the past did have, though, was an abundant supply of corpses and tons of spare time. Here's some of the horrible, horrible stuff they did with both of those things.
(Disclaimer: This article contains images that may disturb some younger readers and will absolutely kick your soul in the dick, regardless of age.)
#6. Victorian Postmortem Photography
People of the Victorian era were into all sorts of kink that ranged from the ball-shrivelingly strange to the downright lethal. And once you were actually dead, things didn't get any less freaky: On the weird end of the Victorian fashion spectrum lurked memento mori pictures. When a family member passed away, the Victorians had photos taken of the dearly departed. These eerie shots served as grim keepsakes, reminders of the inevitability of death -- and fashionable home furnishings.
Luckily, the living looked just as creepy as the dead.
Originally, "memento mori" meant almost anything -- locks of corpse hair woven into jewelry, death masks, paintings of the deceased -- just so long as you were probably haunted for carrying it around, it counted as an MM. The advent of photography changed all this. Suddenly, the middle class could afford to have the pallid, waxy corpses of their loved ones immortalized on a budget. And, since early cameras had exposure times of up to 10 minutes -- meaning the subject would have to sit really still (corpses are generally pretty still, and if they're not, you've got bigger problems than a blurry picture) -- the photographers were generally down to take some soft-core photos of the dead.
The relaxed posture sometimes added a cheery, casual air.
For a truly fashionable corpse display, the bodies needed to appear as lifelike as possible. This was achieved with a number of cheats, not unlike the ones food photographers use to trick you into thinking a Big Mac is edible. A common technique was to prop the stiff's eyes open or paint pupils onto the developed picture (because that's what corpses need help with -- augmenting their unblinking vacant stares). Children were sometimes surrounded with their favorite toys and, for a side of extra creep, occasionally done up like zombified cherubs. For adults, a complicated pose-a-corpse apparatus enabled more complex stances.
Turn the crank to see him perform a jig.
Because that's how little Johnny should remember his loving dad -- staring balefully across the barriers of death while propped up like a meat Muppet.
#5. Naga Trophy Skulls
In the Naga Hills of the Naga district of northeastern India, there lived a tribe called, surprise, the Naga. The Naga treated the skulls of fallen foes like video game currency: Collecting enough top-quality heads bought a warrior many privileges, such as access to special tattoos and ornaments that marked him as a great hero.
Tribal Art Asia
In case your victims' decorative skulls didn't already mark you as a badass warrior.
A post-headhunt Naga camp was a sight straight out of a horror movie: Heads would be left on open pedestals for months while the meaty parts rotted away. The bare skulls would be displayed in the communal warriors' hut, where aspiring young hunters were housed. Of course, extra points were scored for how formidable the opponent had been. Warriors had a tendency to decorate their trophies with stuff like animal horns and tusks, for the same reason kids slap lime green spoilers on their Honda Civics today.
Like Civics, skulls don't have to worry about drag. Because they're magic.
Among other things, these horned skulls were totally acceptable marriage dowries. If a headhunter wanted to strike up a romance with a lady, he'd give her the pimped out head of a vanquished enemy. Hey, it's a surprisingly sensible gift -- chocolate lasts a day, and flowers last a week, but that defiled skull will haunt you for a lifetime.
There's also the Indonesian Dayak tribe, who shared a lot with the Naga: They, too, were very aggressive headhunters who also displayed their trophy heads in communal long houses. The only difference was that their skull trophies were, if anything, way more fitting for your black metal band's debut album cover:
Tribal Art Asia
They did a DNA test. This was human. Superhuman.
#4. Powdered Mummies
For hundreds of years, mummia was a wonder medicine used to fix basically everything. According to apothecaries, mummia could staunch internal bleeding, ease menstrual pains, and even speed up the healing of wounds. Oh, and it was also made of desiccated human corpses. Yes, we're talking about goddamn powdered mummies, and yes, that shit was applied internally.
Every bathroom had a jar! No bathtubs or toilets, but everyone had their mummy powder.
From the 11th century until, well, now (hopefully), mummia was a readily available medicine in Europe. Tomb raiding thrived, as enterprising grave robbers sold powdered corpses on the street like nightmare cocaine.
When actual Egyptian mummies weren't available, you could just manufacture your own. The traditional recipe, as explained by the 15th century mystic/doctor Paracelsus, went as follows: Take the body of a young man who had died suddenly due to "unexpected violence," paint the inside of his chest cavity with asphaltum (a black resin used in the mummification process), wrap the body in bandages, dry it out like a human Raisinet, and then grind it up.
Of course, there's only one way to be sure that he dies suddenly, unexpectedly, and violently.
All this dead-guy-dust-eating insanity was based on the belief that mummia contained vital life forces and could overcome the weak, sick flesh of the living, purging all illness from their systems. From about the 16th century onward, mummia started being dismissed as alchemical claptrap. However, because horrific madness is nothing if not resilient, mummia still persisted for quite some time. In fact, as late as the 19th century, a well-known German pharmaceutical company had mummia available in its catalog. The catchy product description was: "Genuine Egyptian mummy, as long as the supply lasts, 17 marks 50 per kilogram."
At those prices, you'd be crazy not to buy!