5 Mysteries of Ancient Religions (Easily Explained)
Religion is an area that often attracts people with bad intentions. There are preachers who run away with the church's bankroll, cult leaders who molest their followers, and literally all of Scientology. But all those little ploys that modern faith healers and shady preachers use to fleece the masses have been around for thousands of years, and if anything, they've only gotten less inspired over time.
Statues in Ancient Alexandria Moved on Their Own and Even Flew
When Greek Macedonian Ptolemy I, a former general of Alexander the Great, took over Egypt, he brought a new god called Sarapis with him. Ol' Ptol was dead set on convincing people Sarapis was something of a big deal, so he built a massive temple for him in Alexandria. A particular conversation piece in the Sarapeion temple was a small iron sun, which was not so much known for its blingness as it was for the fact that it floated in thin air. In an era where coughing without immediately dying was something of a miracle, hovering iron was basically proof that the divine exist, and they're metal as fuck.
But the sun emblem was not alone, for the city of Alexandria was a place where statues did strange things regularly. Noted historian Pliny the Elder describes other statues that seemed to stand suspended in mid-air, and even statues of Mars and Venus that could move towards each other independent of outside influence. Priests used them during nuptial ceremonies, because nothing gets young couples hotter than haunted artwork.
Hey, all's fair in love and dong statues.
In what was perhaps the first instance of getting peanut butter all up in somebody's chocolate, the ancient Greeks harnessed feats of science to make their religion more impressive. All of the "magical" statues did their thing as advertised, all right. It's just that they were powered by engineers instead of angels.
Ah, engineers. The angels of the labs.
That mystical, floating sun was actually made of iron, and briefly "flew" thanks to tactically placed great lodestones -- primitive, naturally occurring magnets -- in the ceiling. The Mars/Venus statue couple was powered by the same technology: Venus was sculpted from magnetic stone, and Mars was iron. And that's perhaps the greatest tragedy of all that those ancient priests missed such a golden opportunity for a "magnetic attraction" pun.
The Oracle of Delphi Prophesied the Future Through Mysterious Means
The Oracle of Delphi was one of the most famous fortune tellers in the ancient world. A priestess of the god Apollo, her divination game was to other oracles what Kobe Bryant is to your drunken driveway pick-up games. Her advice was often obscure and somewhat hard to decipher: the Lydian king Croesus famously consulted the oracle about invading Persia, was told that a great enemy would be destroyed in the battle, and ended up getting his ass thoroughly kicked because, hey, the oracle never said whose great enemy would eat dirt.
The next day, he planned a picnic because the Oracle confirmed there would be weather.
The oracle was so popular that the position eventually had to be worked in shifts by three priestesses (two oracles, one backup) to cope with the sheer volume of people seeking audience.
Yes, a backup. They had surplus psychics.
"I had no idea we'd be this popular."
"... Wait a minute."
Literally anyone could be an oracle in Delphi. The legend of the oracle actually preceded the arrival of the cult of Apollo in the area and revolved around a strange chasm in the ground that caused anyone near it to enter a state of trance and "see the future." This is because the chasm spat out hallucinogenic vapors that caused everyone in its vicinity to trip their tits off.
The modern arena of the Oracle has this experience only when Phish is in town.
The Delphi temple was built directly above underground springs that tectonic activity has mixed with ethylene, a gas that can produce a narcotic effect and a sense of euphoria. All they had to do was pop a squat over the ol' drug-hole and breathe. Though we're still not sure why their stoned ramblings were considered "holy prophecies of the future" and ours don't even gather a dozen hits on YouTube.
Inca Shamans Summoned and Bound Evil Spirits
Although most known for its approach to human sacrifice, the Incan religion had plenty of other hardcore aspects. Take yacarca shamans, diviners who were able to summon and communicate with evil spirits for a variety of purposes. Divination, prophecy, chatting when they've got some down time. Whatever.
"Just speaking to the mystical forces beyond our comprehension. It ain't no thang."
To see a yacarca in action was truly impressive; they would elaborately summon evil spirits in their special fire braziers, where the demons would be trapped. Then, the yacarca would talk to them, and the evil ones would reply with an eerie voice that made the flames rise and fall in time with their speech patterns. We'll just say it for the record here: we would attend church far more often if the sermons were practically Rammstein videos.
The church would burn and kill us, but we'd be there, dammit.
It was two of the simplest, stupidest tricks imaginable. The first was that the "demonic," seemingly sentient flame was manned by worshippers who carried hollow tubes, much as one would use to, say, blow in the fire to make it rise whenever necessary. The second was that the priests were totally using ventriloquism to make the fire "speak."
Which made it less demonic than the average ventriloquist's act.
Wow. We didn't think anything could be more disappointing than finding out your god is a magnet. Way to step up to the plate, Inca.
Heron of Alexandria Made Divine Statues Move and Secrete Gross Fluids
Heron of Alexandria was three things: a genius, a man with a fetish for making inanimate objects move (he actually came up with the first steam engine, as well as programmable robots -- back in the friggin' first century), and our No. 1 current historical crush. So if you needed a statue to go full horror-movie on some unsuspecting plebes, you came to one man. Heron could sculpt impossible statues that cried, bled, cried blood (the next logical step), poured wine, and even rotated.
"Voight-Kampff test my ass."
Though the subjects of these sculptures were generally pagan gods such as Dionysus and Cybele, you may recognize the whole "weeping and bleeding statues" thing as a pretty big deal in modern Christianity too. So what are we thinking here? What was Heron: warlock, prophet, demon in disguise?
At best, he was a stranded time-traveler (but the only proof we have for that is our own poorly written fan fiction). Heron's statues were full of hidden machinery and pumps. The most spectacular illusion was utilized by the cult of Cybele, a many-breasted mother god who was pretty popular in Alexandria.
This story is just all about predecessors for Philip K. Dick movies.
To honor her ceremonies, where worshippers worked themselves into a frenzy, a massive statue was created that would start to lactate from all of the goddess' multiple sets of breasts at the climax of the ceremony. Yes, this means Heron fixed the boob-god statue with a timer. Yes, we have a video of the end result. And yes, you're welcome. We figured you could use a terrifying new fetish.
Ancient Egyptian Sorcerers Had Mastery Over Life and Death
Ancient Egypt was not a bad place to be a magician. Particularly if you had an animal-themed act. Siegfried and Roy would have cleaned up, back in their prime. As recorded in the Westcar Papyrus, the most famous of the ancient animal-wrangling magicians was a man named Dedi, a seer and supernatural lion-tamer whose Ultimate Priest Attack was to sever and reattach heads.
Dedi might have been fictional, but the magic better have been real.
Though his pharaoh would have liked him to perform the trick on human prisoners, he instead demonstrated it on "a goose, a waterfowl, and an ox." Hopefully an unrepentant criminal ox.
Turns out, this whole "ripping the heads off animals and reattaching them" shtick is a pretty simple sleight of hand trick. It's still employed today, by performers like David Blaine.
Apparently, all you need is a cheesy prop, a bit of distraction, and a heck of a lot of showmanship. You procure a fake chicken head from your local fake-chicken-head supplier, tuck a real chicken under your arm, mime up a good show of pulling its head off, and then show it to the audience. The chicken has its head safely tucked under its own wing, facing away from the audience. While the rubes are flipping out about your rampant animal cruelty, you pretend to screw the head back on and all is well. Here's a handy step-by-step if you want to try it yourself.
(Note from Legal: For Christ's sake, do not try this yourself! In fact, please generally refrain from performing "decapitation magic" on animals based on the suggestions of an Internet comedy site. We honestly do not believe we had to type this. For shame, Cracked. For shame.)
For more ways they'll fleece ya, check out 5 Cheap Magic Tricks Behind Every Psychic and Dickonomics: How 5 Everyday Businesses Trick You.
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