Never before has it been so easy to find information. Thanks to Google and iPhones, nearly everything is just a simple click away. For the majority of human history, however, this hasn’t been the case, and that frequently led to the propagation of some really weird ideas.
In particular, the period between the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance—otherwise known as the Dark Ages—was full of odd practices and beliefs. From deadly medical practices to seemingly improvised laws, life in the Dark Ages was questionable—and unbelievable. Yet it was all completely real…
1. Beavers are nuts: During the Dark Ages, hunters were known to seek out beaver testicles for medical reasons. So, in 1188, when Gerald of Wales claimed beavers would bite off their own genitals if they saw hunters as a “please don’t kill me” offering, people believed it.
2. Criminal animals: The scales of justice had no preference for man or beast, apparently, which meant that animals could stand trial for crimes. Less hysterically, in 1266, a pig was tried, sentenced, and burned alive for murder.
3. Weird animal classifications: Scientists of the Dark Ages saw animals a bit differently than we do today. For example, bees weren’t considered insects, but tiny birds. Meanwhile, beavers were thought to be fish because—duh—they swam around and stuff.
4. Animalistic medicine: Many people believed that owls could treat gout. You just had to catch one, kill it, pluck it, burn it, mix its remains with boar fat, and voila—that gout was gout of there.
5. The chicken cure: Medical “experts” had no clue how to treat the plague, and it showed by the sheer number of insane “cures” they proposed. One treatment involved rubbing chickens on the festering plague sores, which wasn’t particularly effective. Go figure.
6. The syphilis cure: For those unlucky enough to catch what playwright Francis Beaumont dubbed “the burning pestle,” there weren’t a ton of treatment options. Worse still, some doctors recommended patients take a swig of mercury—you know, a highly toxic chemical.
7. Trepanning, or putting holes in heads: Have a head full of evil spirits? Maybe some blood built up around your brain from doing Dark Ages stuff? No problem! Doctors had the perfect cure: they’d just cut a little hole in your head with a tool called a trephine.
8. Medicinal smoking: As recently as the 1700s, men, women, and children lit up some tobacco, puffed away, and waited for the awesome plague-defeating benefits to kick in. Rest assured, the plague wasn’t the only health issue these smokers had to worry about…
9. Spooky mandrakes: As you could imagine, a plant with human-looking roots and hallucinogenic properties fueled all sorts of medieval nightmares. Some folks thought the plant killed anyone who harvested it. Others simply used it for black magic.
10. Royal touching: Some medieval people believed that royalty could cure any affliction with just a touch from their fingertips. Likely, this was a rumor started by, naturally, royalty. But hey, it was better than telling people to drink mercury!
11. Belief in the existence of manticores: With a man’s head, a lion’s body, and scorpion’s tail, this mythical chimera created by a Roman historian allegedly spent most of its time eating its prey whole—leaving no bones behind—and shooting its spine like an arrow.
Sebastian Meyer / DeviantArt
12. Cynocephalus: Apparently, folks in the Dark Ages were really afraid of humans with animal heads. This was the case with the cynocephalus: a human-bodied monster with a dog head that people believed actually existed.
13. Blemmye: These headless monsters were believed to be a race of people that had faces built right inside their own chests, which must have been a total downer for any of them who wanted to wear a shirt.
Guillaume Le Testu / Wikimedia
14. Titivillus the Error Demon: Some in the Dark Ages believed that the blame for any scribe’s error—big or small—fell squarely on the shoulders of this Muppet-lookin’ monster. The Titivillus ran with a bad crowd (aka Satan), so it made sense he’d do such devilish work.
15. Demon-infested Brussels sprouts: Today, we cook Brussels sprouts in a pool of butter and bacon bits, but in the olden days, people just avoided ’em all together, chocking their aversion up to demons living inside them. Next time Mom makes you eat them, you know what to say.
16. Changelings: According to folklore, fairies were kind of mean and would commonly swap human babies for “defunct” Fae babes. The dastardly faeries raised the stolen baby in super-awesome fairy world, while the humans were left raising a dud.
Martino di Bartolomeo di Biago / Wikimedia
17. Spooky teeth: Always looking for the edge in a fight, Vikings wanted to really up their “scare” factor. They would sometimes carve little grooves in their teeth, because nothing says scary like teeth liable to break on an overcooked venison leg.
18. Preformationism: This was the belief that sperm carried homunculi, tiny versions of a fully-grown human. It had organs, eyes, a brain—everything a baby had when it was born. In the womb, this little thing just grew from microscopic to baby-sized.
19. Penis pets: If you asked 15th-century witches, penises made great pets. According to the official guide to witches, Malleus Maleficarum, these magic-wielding ladies would create nests of up to 30 shlongs. Like a pet rock, you didn’t have to feed, water, or walk them.
20. Persecuting witches: To determine whether or not someone was a witch, judges used a dunking stool. The contraption lowered her into a river and, if she sank, it proved she wasn’t a witch. It usually killed the lady, but hey, at least you knew she wasn’t evil!
SalemWGNA / YouTube
Now those are some out-there notions! It’s crazy to think what beliefs we hold now that might be considered this outrageous in a thousand years.
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