6 Insane Superstitions That Are Still Shockingly Influential
As a society, we're pretty good at spotting the difference between actual science and superstitious nonsense. But everybody's got their weak points: Maybe you're a totally rational human being who also happens to believe in alien abductions, ghost kidnappings or yeti carjackings. That's OK. You're not alone. Why, sometimes even courts and governments blur the line between reality and bullshit ...
The Romanian Government Is Afraid of Witches
Witchcraft is a big industry in Romania, which probably isn't that surprising if you're pop-culture racists like us and pretty much think of the place as being staffed exclusively by Gypsies and vampires. The Romanian government, shockingly, supports this ridiculous stereotype: Back in 2010, they drafted a law that would make witchcraft a legitimate profession for tax purposes. The Senate rejected the law -- not because they weren't anxious to get their hands on some witch taxes, but because they were afraid of being cursed for it.
We thought tax people would be accustomed to curses.
Romania is suffering through a tough economic downturn and is desperate for new sources of income. So the government's attention turned to those crafty fortunetellers, who have so far managed to avoid paying taxes on their profession, due to the minor loophole that their "profession" doesn't technically exist. But Romania's witches threatened immediate retribution by casting a spell with black pepper and yeast, which sounds like a good start to a tasty bread to us, but in Romania was evidently considered a serious enough threat to shake up the lawmakers.
Eventually the law passed when enough officials decided that bakery-themed disharmony wasn't a sufficient enough threat to risk economic catastrophe. But, more recently, Romania has tempted further witchy retribution by proposing other laws -- ones that would hold witches accountable by fines or even jail time if their predictions don't come true.
"I miss the drowning and burnings."
Actually, that's just good business sense: If you're going to mess with witches, you might as well make sure to only target the incompetent ones.
The Legally Haunted House
These days, "haunted houses" are the exclusive domain of plastic skeletons popping out from squeaky trapdoors. It's hard to find anyone who takes hauntings seriously anymore. But the New York Supreme Court apparently does: Back in 1991, they ruled a house to be legally haunted.
The fiasco began in 1989, when Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky bought an 18-room mansion from its owner, Helen Ackley, for the amount of $650,000. But just like Poltergeist, the new owners soon learned that the old Ackley place was harboring some secrets. Some supernatural secrets ...
P-probably. Like, it just felt weird, you know? You'd be standing in the kitchen and get a cold feeling -- and sure, maybe that's because the fridge is open, but do you really want to risk that?
Legends say that the house was built on an ancient pile of bullshit.
The Stambovskys didn't. They decided that the mere possibility of a haunting was a deal breaker and took Ackley to court, where they argued that she had deceptively withheld information about the ghosts. The court initially ruled "caveat emptor," which we're pretty sure is legalese for "tough titties," but the Stambovskys appealed the case, and the Supreme Court overturned the decision, ruling that Ackley had broken the contract by claiming that the house was "vacant."
Now, stop: Can you guess the stupid? You have an idea, don't you? Yeah, you have an idea, but it's too stupid to be real, so you're staying quiet rather than risking embarrassment. That's too bad, because you would have been right: Ackley was found to be in violation of contract because she'd failed to disclose the occupants living on the property. Well, not "living," per se ...
As a result, there is now a legal precedent for future contract disputes that accounts for the possibility of ghost interference.
"Build your new business over an ancient cemetery. It gives you a way out if sales don't take off."
Cause of Death: Spontaneous Combustion
Spontaneous human combustion, the occasional tendency for people to Flame On apropos of nothing, is one of the last remaining mysteries of the human body. But those killjoys in the science world don't want to let us have our Human Torches -- they keep reminding us that there is a depressingly mundane explanation for it that doesn't involve radiation or mutant superpowers. Most scientists agree that victims of "spontaneous combustion" are likely just victims of boring old "getting lit on fire," due to the fact that many cases are drunks or geriatrics falling asleep while either sitting near open flames or smoking.
You can't always improve drinking with fire play.
So coroners are pretty hesitant to declare "spontaneous combustion" as a cause of death, because sometimes the families frown at you when you tell them that Drunk Uncle Neil died of an Acute Magic Attack. Nevertheless, in 2011, Irish coroner Kieran McLoughlin did just that, ruling that Michael Faherty had spontaneously combusted when his ashen remains were found in his home.
Faherty was discovered after his neighbor heard a smoke alarm, but the home itself had not been damaged -- only the body was burned. This was good enough for officials, who threw up their arms and declared that they couldn't figure out the source of the fire. Why nobody thought that the open fire Faherty had been sitting in front of may have been the source is anyone's guess.
"Occ- whose razor? Sorry, but I don't listen to heavy metal."
Investigators rely on the spontaneous combustion hypothesis in the absence of any accelerant or collateral fire damage, but scientists are quick to point out that you don't need either of those things to be present due to something called the wick effect, where body fat acts like a candle without burning anything else around it. Some people stubbornly argue against the effect, which is pretty weird to us. We're all for "wanting to believe" when it's kindly aliens or party crypto-animals, but you'd think that skepticism is a bit more comforting an option than your loved ones just randomly exploding in the Barcalounger.
The Indian Government Declares Astrology to Be Legit
For the record: Astronomy is the science of studying planets and stars through massive telescopes; astrology is that thing that tells you how much ass you're going to get this week based on your birthday. One of them is a respected scientific discipline. We'll leave it to you to figure out which.
"It clearly shows right here that you have to sleep with me. These are facts."
If you live in India, however, the answer might not be the one you expected. As recently as 2011, the Bombay High Court ruled that astrology is a "trusted science" and not mere superstition. And who are you to argue? Not an astronomer, that's for sure, otherwise you would've seen this coming.
The (snicker) gravity of the situation is not lost on the astronomers of India: The former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation has gone on record stating that the country's belief in astrology is preventing them from gaining their due recognition in the field of science. But regardless of the academic opposition, the ruling still stands, which means that respected Indian universities are giving out degrees in astrology right now, alongside such subjects as chemistry and physics. That's right: They offer accreditation in magic. They're essentially one bulk pack of wands short of Hogwarts.
"If I wished to make the right amount of "fuck you" for this, from scratch, I'd first have to create two universes."
The Hong Kong Government Spends Millions on Feng Shui
Feng shui is an ancient Chinese tradition that dictates how you organize your home to maximize life energy -- put a couch in the wrong place, and the "qi" might just bounce off the cushions and fly straight out the window. But feng shui was banned in China back in the 1960s, when Chairman Mao ruled that the only energy permitted to flow through your home was enthusiasm for Chairman Mao.
"But ... our qi!"
But the practice has enjoyed a major resurgence, to the point where the Chinese government had to pay out nearly $10 million in compensation to people for disturbing their feng shui.
Apparently, nearby construction projects can wreak substantial havoc on the qi flow, so victims of inconsiderate construction are entitled to compensation for the real damage done to their indefinable auras. Compensation typically comes in the form of "tun fu," a cleansing ritual that involves a feng shui master performing rites at the offending site. As feng shui is a subjective art (to put it mildly), the masters can charge absurd amounts for the services, and the government is all too happy to pay them off.
"I told you, forget about the lead poisoning. This is way more important."
Roads, tunnels, bridges and more have all required cleansing in recent years. One particular rail link between Hong Kong and Guangzhou resulted in at least 17 feng shui compensation payments. The chief executive of the Kowloon Canton Railway Corporation admitted to paying millions of pounds in cleansings, but it was aaaalll worth it, because now all of their trains run on 100 percent good feelings.
You Can't Build on Fairy Land in Ireland and Iceland
Thick, sticky red tape makes construction a damn nightmare pretty much anywhere in the world, but in Ireland, road builders have another hurdle: They have to be sure not to lay roads down through fairy territory.
While most people in Ireland claim that they don't really believe in the wrath of the fairy folk, it's nevertheless fairly common practice to reroute roads and highways if fairy experts insist that a particular patch of land might be a meeting place for the little people. According to folklorist Eddie Lenihan, the consequences for building on fairy land might include brake failures and car crashes -- because even Fairyland has a mafia.
"Those are some nice Lost Boys. It'd be a shame if something ... happened to them."
A similar practice occurs in Iceland, where the majority of Icelanders (we know that's incorrect terminology, but we like it because it sounds like "Highlanders") believe in elves. And although you probably think of "elves" as either tree-bound cookie slaves or sexually ambiguous archers, in Iceland they are vengeful spirits whose houses you certainly don't want to be bulldozing.
That's why roads in Iceland are regularly rerouted to work around angry elf populations. In one case, a project was completely abandoned when equipment failures prevented the crew from removing a large rock. The workers assumed that the elves were trying to send them a message with all the breakdowns and packed up shop, rather than doing what more logical, reasonable construction crews do, which is to fire Gary, their shitty site mechanic.
HR isn't sensitive toward any type of fairy accusations.
Steve Hanley makes sure to never take anything seriously on his Twitter.
For more silly things people still believe, check out 5 Myths That People Don't Realize Are Admitted Hoaxes and 5 Reasons Humanity Desperately Wants Monsters to Be Real.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 8 Weirdest Vehicles People Were Caught Driving Drunk.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover Cracked's zombie contingency plan.
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