Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we are continuing with “Scatalogic Rites of All Nations: A Dissertation upon the Employment of Excrementious Remedial Agents in Religion, Therapeutics, Divination, Witchcraft, Love-Philters, etc., in all Parts of the Globe: Based on Original Notes and Personal Observation, and upon Compilation of over One Thousand Authorities,” published in 1891 by John Bourke.
This book isn’t just a compilation of horrible stories about people eating feces. It also has a history of latrines in different countries (haven’t you ever wondered where the toilet is in an igloo?) and practical applications for waste, like the use of feces for fertilizer or urine for tanning hides (Wikipedia has a good description of the process if you are unfamiliar with it). Back before hand cream was widely available, ladies would rub urine on their hands to soften their skin.
People who didn’t have access to clean water for bathing or washing utensils often made due with urine. This might sound awful, but urine is basically sterile, and so better than nothing. A knife used to cut meat and then left uncleaned will quickly become covered in disgusting, rotting material that you don’t want in your food; a knife cleaned with pee might impart an unpleasant flavor to the food, but it probably won’t kill you.
Surprisingly, one of the locals where clean water was in short supply was Siberia/the Arctic. Not because people lacked for snow, but because collecting enough snow to bathe with and then melting it was a time-consuming process that involved going out into the extreme cold and then using a lot of fuel, which people didn’t always have. So for cleaning: urine.
And then there are folks who’ve gotten so used to cleaning their dishes with pee that they purposefully add it to their drinks for the flavor:
“On the morning of the 8th of May, while struggling with an attack of fever, I received a visit from Gilmoro, who brought me a gourd of milk as an expression of gratitude for saving him at an opportune moment his position. Burning with fever, I drained at one draught a goblet full of the foaming liquid ere the sense of taste could detect the
nauseous mixture ; my stomach, however, quickly rebelled, and rejected in violent retching the unsavory potion, seven eighths of which were simply the urine of the cow ! — a practice, by the by, common to all Central Africans, who never drink milk unless thus mixed.” …
EvX: This is more common than I had suspected–and then there are the mushrooms:
Oliver Goldsmith speaks of ” a curious custom ” among ” the Tartars of Koraki. . . . The Russians who trade with them carry thither a kind of mushroom. . . . These mushrooms the rich Tartars lay up in large quantities for the winter ; and when a nobleman makes a mushroom feast all the neighbors around are invited. The mushrooms are prepared by boiling, by which the water acquires an intoxicating quality, and is a sort of drink which the Tartars prize beyond all other.
When the nobility and ladies are assembled, and the ceremonies usual between people of distinction over, the mushroom broth goes freely round, and they laugh, talk double-entendres, grow fuddled, and become excellent company. The poorer sort, who love mushroom broth to distraction as well as the rich, but cannot afford it at first hand, post themselves on these occasions round the huts of the rich, and watch the opportunity of the ladies and gentlemen as they come down to pass their liquor, and holding a wooden bowl, catch the delicious fluid, very little altered by filtration, being still strongly tinctured with the intoxicating quality. Of this they drink with the utmost satisfaction, and thus they get as drunk and as jovial as their betters. …
“The most singular effect of the Amanita is the influence it possesses over the urine. It is said that from time immemorial the inhabitants have known that the fungus imparts an intoxicating quality to that secretion, which continues for a considerable time after taking it. For instance, a man moderately intoxicated to-day will by the next morning have slept himself sober; but (as is the custom) by taking a cup of his urine he will be more powerfully intoxicated than he was the preceding day. It is therefore not uncommon for confirmed drunkards to preserve their urine as a precious liquor against a scarcity of the fungus.
” The intoxicating property of the urine is capable of being propagated, for every one who partakes of it has his urine similarly affected. Thus with a very few Amanita; a party of drunkards may keep up their debauch for a week. Dr. Laugsdorf mentions that by means of the second person taking the urine of the first, the third of the second, and so on, the intoxication may be propagated through five individuals.”— (English Cyclop., London, 1854, vol ii., ” Natural History,” article ” Fungi.” London : Bradbury and Evans.)”
EvX: Europeans have certain genetic adaptations that let them digest alcohol with fewer ill effects (Asians, by contrast, often get quite red while drinking, even if they enjoy the beverage, and people from cultures that never really had alcohol often get quite addicted to it.) I wager the Siberians have some interesting genetic adaptations to mushrooms (and maybe pee) that allow them to eat them with fewer bad effects.
“Speaking of the remnants of the Hindu sect of the Aghoris, an English writer observes:
” In proof of their indifference to worldly objects they eat and drink whatever is given to them, even ordure and carrion. They smear their bodies also with excrement, and carry it about with them in a wooden cup, or skull, either to swallow it… or to throw it upon the persons or into the houses of those who refuse
to comply with their demands.”
EvX: The Aghoris are definitely a real sect and not something just made up for the sake of a wild story. According to Wikipedia:
The Aghori (Sanskrit aghora) are ascetic Shaiva sadhus. The Aghori are known to engage in post-mortem rituals. They often dwell in charnel grounds, have been witnessed smearing cremation ashes on their bodies, and have been known to use bones from human corpses for crafting kapalas (skullcups which Shiva and other Hindu deities are often iconically depicted holding or using) and jewelry. Because of their practices that are contradictory to orthodox Hinduism, they are generally opposed by other Hindus. …
the Aghoris maintain that all opposites are ultimately illusory. The purpose of embracing pollution and degradation through various customs is the realization of non-duality (advaita) through transcending social taboos, attaining what is essentially an altered state of consciousness and perceiving the illusory nature of all conventional categories. …
Aghoris base their beliefs on two principles common to broader Shaiva beliefs: that Shiva is perfect (having omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence) and that Shiva is responsible for everything that occurs – all conditions, causes and effects. Consequently, everything that exists must be perfect and to deny the perfection of anything would be to deny the sacredness of all life in its full manifestation, as well as to deny the Supreme Being.
Aghoris believe that every person’s soul is Shiva but is covered by aṣṭamahāpāśa “eight great nooses or bonds”, including sensual pleasure, anger, greed, obsession, fear and hatred. The practices of the Aghoris are centered around the removal of these bonds. Sādhanā in cremation grounds destroys fear; sexual practices with certain riders and controls help release one from sexual desire; being naked destroys shame. On release from all the eight bonds the soul becomes sadāśiva and obtains moksha.
Back to the book, which has moved on to the Dalai Lama, whoe poop is magic:
“Grueber assures us that the grandees of the kingdom are very anxious to procure the excrements of this divinity (i. e., the Grand Lama), which they usually wear about their necks as relics. In another place he says that the Lamas make a great advantage by the large presents they receive for helping the grandees to some of his excrements, or urine ; for, by wearing the first about their necks, and mixing the latter with their victuals, they imagine themselves to be
secure against all bodily infirmities. In confirmation of this, Gerbillon informs us that the Mongols wear his excrements, pulverized, in little bags about their necks, as precious relics, capable of preserving them from all misfortunes, and curing them of all sorts of distempers. …
“Mr. W. W. Rockhill, for six years secretary of the Legation of the United States, in Pekin, is a member of the Oriental Society, and a scholar of the highest attainments, more particularly in all that relates to the languages, customs, and religions of China and Thibet, in which countries he has travelled extensively.
“The sacred pills presented by him to the author were enclosed in a silver reliquary, elaborately chased and ornamented ; in size they were about as large as quail-shot ; their color was almost orange, or between
that and an ochreous red.
“Through the kindness of Surgeon-General John Moore, U. S. Army, they were analyzed by Dr. Mew, U. S. Army, with the following results : —
“April 18, 1889.
“I have at length found time to examine the Grand Lama’s ordure, and write to say that I find nothing at all remarkable in it. He had been feeding on a farinaceous diet, for I found by the microscope a large amount of undigested starch in the field, the presence of which I verified by the usual iodine test, which gave an abundant reaction.
” There was also present much cellulose, or what appealed to be cellulose, from which I infer that the flour used (which was that of wheat) was of a coarse quality, and probably not made in Minnesota.
” A slight reaction for biliary matter seemed to show that there was no obstruction of the bile ducts. These tests about used up the four very small pills of the Lama’s ordure.
” Very respectfully and sincerely yours,
(Signed) “W. M. Mew.”
EvX: It appears that the current Dalai Lama’s monastery still produces pills of some sort, but I bet they aren’t full of poop. Religions change, sometimes for the better. Nevertheless, I don’t recommend buying and eating random “Tibetan pills” off Ebay that promise they’re made with bits of hair or nail clippings from monks.
Returning to Europe:
“In Ireland, weakly children are taken to drink the ablution, that is, the water and wine with which the chalice is rinsed after the priest has taken the communion, — the efficacy arising from the cup having just before contained the body of our Lord.” … The same cure was also in vogue in England, and in each case for the whooping-cough.”
EvX: This is why infant mortality used to be so high.
“Picart narrates that the Brahmins fed grain to a sacred cow, and afterward searched in the ordure for the sacred grains, which they picked out whole, drying and administering them to the sick, not merely as a medicine, but as a sacred thing. …
” The greatest, or, at any rate, the most convenient of all purifiers is the urine of a cow ; . . . Images are sprinkled with it.
“Very frequently the excrement is first reduced to ashes. The monks of Chivem, called Paudarones, smear their faces, breasts, and arms with the ashes of cow dung ; they run through the streets demanding alms, very much as the Zuni actors demanded a feast, and chant the praises of Chivem, while they carry a bundle of peacock feathers in the hand,
and wear the lingam at the neck.”
EvX: And a the other extreme:
Captain Cook tells us that the New Zealanders had privies to every three or four of their houses ; he also takes occasion to say that there were no privies in Madrid until 1760 ; that the determination of the king to introduce them and sewers, and to prohibit the throwing of human ordure out of windows after nightfall, as had been the custom,
nearly precipitated a revolution. …
” They (the Tartars) hold it not good to abide long in one place, for they will say when they will curse any of their children, ‘ I would thou mightest tarry so long in one place that thou mightest smell thine own dung as the Christians do;’ and this is the greatest curse they have.” …
“Padre Gumilla says that the Indians on the Orinoco have the same custom as the Jews and Turks have of digging holes with a hoe and covering up their evacuations. (See “Orinoco,” Madrid, 17-41, p. 109.) No such cleanliness can be attributed to the Indians of the Plains of North America or the nomadic tribes of the Southwest. …
“Mr. John F. Mann confirms from personal observation that the natives of Australia observed the injunction given to the Hebrews in Deuteronomy. ” From personal observation, I can state that the natives, all over the country, as a rule, are particular in this matter, but it was many years before I ascertained the reasons for this care. Sorcery and witchcraft exist in every tribe; each tribe has its ‘Kooradgee’ or medicine-man ; the natives imagine that any death, accident, or pain, is caused by the evil influence of some enemy. These ‘ Kooradgees ‘ have the power not only of inflicting pain, but of causing all kinds of trouble. They are particular to always carry about with them, in a net bag, a
‘ charm ‘ which is most ordinarily made of rock crystal, human excrement, and kidney fat. If one of these medicine-men can obtain possession of some of the excrement of his intended victim, or some of his hair, in fact anything belonging to his person, it is the most easy thing in the world to bewitch him.” — (Personal letter from John F. Mann, Esq., Neutral Bay, New South Wales.)
“the Lapps, upon breaking camp, made it a point to burn the dung of their reindeer in cases where any of these animals had died of disease ; while it is also related that immigrants to California from the States of Missouri and Arkansas, for some reason not understood, had the singular custom of burning their own excrement in the camp-fire. …
“On the Gold Coast of Africa, the negroes “are very careful not to let a fart, if anybody be by them ; they wonder at our Netherlander that use it so commonly, for they cannot abide that a man should fart before them, esteeming it to be a great shame and contempt done unto them.” — (Master Richard Jobson, a. d. 1620, in Purchas, vol. ii. p. 930.)
“In the Russian sect of dissenters called the “Bezpopovtsi,” “during the service of Holy Thursday, certain of them, known as ‘ gapers ‘ or ‘yawners,’ sit for hours with their mouths wide open, waiting for ministering angels to quench their spiritual thirst from invisible chalices.” — (Heard, “Russian Church and Russian Dissent,” pp. 200, 201.)”
EvX: I think that’s enough for today. See you next week!