7 'Ancient' Forms of Mysticism That Are Recent Inventions
So you want to add some meaning and depth to your life that just isn't provided by playing another round of Bananagrams. Why not adopt an ancient, mystical belief? After all, society offers us a wide choice of age-old practices and belief systems, the more obscure and foreign the better. After all, if something has been practiced for thousands of years, there must be something to it, right?
But take care when you're choosing, because some of these "ancient" practices are about as authentic as the ill-fated Chinese tattoo on your arm that the lady swore meant "pure warrior." For example ...
Ask anyone wearing a leotard and staring off into the middle distance how long yoga has been practiced, and chances are they'll tell you that it's around five thousand years old. In other words, people were stretching and posing serenely several hundred years before aliens secretly built the Egyptian pyramids.
"Shit, I've been on this thing all day. Time for some yoga."
Yoga as we know it today -- a set of postures (asanas) combined with breathing techniques -- dates back to around the grand old year of 1960.
In other words, yoga is as old as Bono.
"But how can that be?" you scream, rending your organic exercise mat in two. Well, that "five thousand years old" claim rests entirely on some 5,000-year-old pictures found in the Indus Valley of a man sitting cross-legged. Though this is one of the main yoga positions, it so happens that it's also the position most people take when, you know, they sit on any flat surface.
The ancient art of sitting on your ass and daydreaming.
Yoga is first mentioned by name in some 2,500-year-old Hindu religious texts called the Upanishads, but this is actually a term relating to a method of strapping horses together -- literally the origin for our word "yoke." The Upanishads use it as a metaphor for a mental prayer technique, but as far as all those weird stretches are concerned, the texts mention exactly one physical posture, and that posture is pretty much "sit in a way that makes meditation comfortable." So the word "yoga" might describe an old Hindu teaching, but then so does the word "avatar," and nobody's claiming that the James Cameron movie reflects an unbroken line of ancient sacred tradition.
The ancients must have really enjoyed the smell of unwashed crotch.
It wasn't until the 19th century that an Indian prince named Krishnaraja Wodeyar III produced something resembling what we call yoga: a manual called the Sritattvanidhi, which listed 122 poses mostly taken from Indian gymnastics. What really kicked-started modern yoga, though, was the influence of the Imperial British, who introduced Indians to the new exercise craze that was sweeping Europe at the time.
"You really should try it, Sahib. It comes from the East."
Later a guy named B.K.S. Iyengar came up with the idea of combining these exercise techniques with some of the teachings described in old Hindu texts like the Yoga Sutras and let the result loose on America in the 1960s. Since then, yoga fans have grown by the millions, with few realizing that they are practicing a chanted-up version of early 20th-century gym class.
Mr. Iyengar is still alive today, and his eyebrows look like wings.
Anything related to tarot cards will probably be described as "ancient" and "mysterious," including the plastic they come wrapped inside. According to fans, the cards originated in Ancient Egypt, and through the ages somehow also became involved with the Kabbalah and a few Holy Grail myths. They're like the mystic town bicycle!
Every single thing about this picture should make you feel dirty.
Tarot cards were originally designed not for being stared at by people while they listen to ethnic harp music, but for a card game similar to modern-day bridge. People only started using them for fortunetelling about 250 years ago, a good 400 years after the cards were imported from the Middle East. In fact, normal playing cards have a longer history in Europe than tarot cards, preceding them by about 50 years. So you're technically indulging in a more venerable ritual when you play "go fish." Those magical "wands" in the tarot's Minor Arcana were a holdover from their Middle Eastern origins, where they originally depicted freaking polo sticks.
Above: Somewhat less than mystical.
Tarot's new fortunetelling function was quickly seized upon by 19th-century fans of occultism, which was what bored white people used to do in the 19th century before backpacking around India was invented. The occultists "discovered" tarot's long history and renamed the two parts of the deck "Arcana" to replace the slightly less spooky trumps and pits.
The Devil is apparently part Aquaman.
In 1909, two occultists published a new version of the cards, the Rider-Waite deck, which is what most Americans visualize today when they hear the word "tarot." The new deck switched out the traditional Christian imagery on the cards with pagan symbols to make it look like they predated the New Testament, replacing the Pope and Popess with a Hierophant and High Priestess, presumably so that fortunetellers could say more exotic things than "I see a Pope in your future."
"He's leering in an unsettling manner and wearing a pimp hat."
If popular culture is to be believed, Satanism has been around ever since our first ancestors crawled onto the primeval shore and used their rudimentary hands to throw up the "devil horns" gesture. Movies like The Ninth Gate and anything starring Christopher Lee depict Satanists practicing their craft way back in the Middle Ages and earlier.
"My career is utterly inexplicable without Satan's influence."
The Satanism we know today, with its pentagrams, inverted crosses and odd devotion to faded black clothing, dates all the way back to the year 1966 when it was wholly invented by a musician from Chicago named Anton LaVey. This makes it younger than Wicca, the Cthulhu mythos, the Rolling Stones and Mr. Potato Head.
And just old enough to be D&D's (1974) older brother.
Of course, you can find descriptions galore of Satanist activity for centuries before that. Look closer, though, and you see that this "Satanism" inevitably involved a misinterpretation of a nonmainstream religious practice or was a handy accusation to use against your neighbors when they stayed up all night ringing their cowbells or whatever bad neighbors did back then.
"I told you: they're hippies or Satanists, and I want them off my lawn either way."
Cases where accused Satanists admitted to devil worship usually involved a good deal of horrible torture, under which most of us would probably confess to worshiping Vice President Joe Biden. Most probably innocent people confessed under torture to secretly worshiping the demon Baphomet, a name that is most likely a corruption of "Mohammed." In other words, what we now think of as accusations of Satanism were the old school equivalent of neocons accusing Obama of being a secret Muslim.
Above: Anton LeVey. He's the snake, not the bald dude.
Until LaVey, pentagrams were commonly used by Christians as a charm against witchcraft and demons. That's right, just in case the inverted crosses weren't enough, Satanists are also proudly displaying both a Christian symbol and a product of religiously motivated execution and torture.
In other words, maybe hold off on that back tattoo.
Whether you think it's a harmless pastime or a cardboard portal directly into hell, lovers and haters of Ouija agree on one thing: the boards have a long, mysterious history. Using yourself as a ghost-puppet to spell out words on an alphabet board supposedly goes back to ancient China, and even the Romans apparently also hopped on the historical Ouija party train.
Nothing goes with an orgy like Ouija!
Ouija boards are about as mystical as an Optimus Prime doll: in fact, they're owned by the same parent company. The boards were invented by several Baltimore businessmen in 1890, and today the word "Ouija" is still a registered trademark of Parker Brothers, the guys who gave us the Nerf ball.
"We need a gift for the parents who don't love their kids enough to buy a better toy."
As for the ancient versions of Ouija rites? "Fuji," the Chinese practice that's usually claimed as a predecessor, involved a completely different method of divination that used a stick to trace Chinese characters in sand. The Roman version wasn't much closer. Other, older cultures might have used vaguely similar methods to obtain hidden or future knowledge from "spirits," but saying these rites were ancient Ouija is like saying that Roman chariot races were an ancient form of NASCAR.
"This ... this is basically the WWE."
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.
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."
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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.
And stop by LinkSTORM because it's practically the weekend anyway.
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