A fire-walker carries a woman on his back across burning embers during the night of San Juan in San Pedro Manrique in northern Spain.

Anthropology of Strange Ancient Rituals around the World

DISCLAIMER: The content contains graphic depictions of violence, as well as adult content. While reading about the Strange Ancient Rituals and traditions around the globe, please proceed with caution and an open mind at your own risk. You have been warned!

The world is a strange place. From a penis festival to tossing babies, Some unusual cultures are stranger still. Ancient history can be quite a mystery too. The content of the blog tries to keep an open mind about curious cultures around the globe. Please do read the segments completely before getting offended or jumping to conclusions.

The history of our planet is littered with extraordinarily curious customs and weird rituals. While some weird cultures like walking over the coal barefoot might make you wince, a festival entirely dedicated to venerating Penis might make your jaw drop.

Let’s take a short trip to the ancient anthropology of unusual cultures around the globe. Fasten your seat belts, this is gonna be a roller coaster of stranger things!

Anthropology of Strange Ancient Rituals

The Festival of Steel Phallus- Strangely curious traditions of Japan

I was today years old when I found out that there is a whole festival dedicated to the penis. If you think it’s just another quirky little western fun fest, from perhaps somewhere like LA, then you’d be wrong. It’s one of the most intriguing, unique, and strange ancient rituals that I’ve ever heard of. One of these days, I definitely plan to visit this festival.

It’s known as Kanamara Matsuri, and it’s celebrated in the Kanayasama shrine, Kawasaki Japan. A steel phallus is paraded around the town in open display. Phallus features predominantly in candy, decorations, and the Mikoshi parade as well.  The festival of steel penis is celebrated on the 1st Sunday of April per year. This festival and its events are not sexualized in any way rather, it’s a healthy display of celebrating fertility. The locals pray for better crops and fertility in households while parading around the big wooden phallus.

Does the above retelling of unusual cultures and customs of Japanese Kawasaki clash terribly with your image of ancient customs, monasteries, and kimonos that you had in mind? Weird huh? Well, that’s ancient traditions for you.

The story behind the strange Ancient Rituals of Kanamara Matsuri

strange ancient rituals Japan: Festival of steel phallus
by Japan travel guide

The ancient tradition of Kanamara Matsuri originates from the penis venerating tradition of the Kanayama shrine. There is an interesting and completely unbelievable story behind it. Legends say that Once Upon a time there was a demon was enchanted by a beautiful girl. The demon was quite jealous of the young man who got to marry the young woman.

On the wedding night, the demon bit off the penises of the young man, by hiding inside the vagina of the young woman. The same thing repeated one more time and then the young woman started looking for help.

A worldly blacksmith took up the task of ridding the young woman from the demon. The blacksmith designed an iron phallus which was then used by the young woman to break the teeth of the demon which was hiding inside her vagina.

It is said that supposedly this incident led to the enshrinement of the iron phallus made by the blacksmith. This legend was mentioned in the island of women, which was published by Basil Hall Chamberlain written in the Ainu language.

Festival of the steel phallus
UBC wiki
Significance of the festival of the steel phallus

Back in those days, the Kanayama shrine was quite famous among sex workers. It was one of the few places where they could safely go and pray, without being prohibited entry. The festival is one of the most unique features of the unusual cultures and ancient traditions of Japan.

Kanamara Matsuri revolves around the idea of fertility. It is said that the festival of steel phallus brings fertility to crops and households. It was a local belief that had turned into a custom, however, nowadays, it has become one of the unique travel hubs. People from around the globe come here to observe this one-of-a-kind festival.

Hanging Coffins- Strange Ancient Rituals of China, Philippines, Indonesia

While some cultures burn their dead, other cultures bury them. Coffins are predominantly used across various cultures to bury their dead. Have you ever heard of coffins that are hanged on a Cliff? Strange isn’t it? Hanging coffins is seen across a myriad of cultures in China, the Philippines, and Indonesia. If you are highly attracted to ancient knowledge, then this is one of the most unusual cultures and ancient traditions in the world, which hanged the coffins of their dead on cliff walls, that you might like to know about.

Eradication of the Bo people

This signifies that this practice may have started to prevent the looting of corpses to keep the dead undisturbed from bandits or other grave diggers. Xuanguan was practiced by some of the ethnic minorities of China as a funeral custom. This custom was predominantly observed in the book people were situated around Yunnan and Sichuan.

If you have read about Chinese history or even seen some movies related to their history, you might be familiar with the Qin-Han conquests. During 1573 AD, the Ming dynasty carried out a wide-scale genocide eradicating all the opposition. More people became victims of the genocide. Presently the culture, rituals, ceremonies, or lifestyle, nothing is known to archaeologists.

The descendants of the Bo people

The “Ku” people around Yunnan province are thought to be descendants of remnants of the Bo people.

This is considered so because ‘Ku’ people are known to practice Hanging Coffins to this date. The actual reason behind the ritual is long lost, but, an excerpt from Marco Polo’s writings illuminates possible reason. Marco Polo described his observations about this ritual as “when diseased, they had their bodies put in a box and taken to the mountains to be put in caves or hung out where others cannot reach

Places to see for Hanging Coffins
Unusual culture Philippines: Hanging Coffins of Sagada
By TripAdvisor

Fijian – in the Wuyi mountains

Hubei – found in the Zigui County

Sichuan– in Qutang gorges, which is also known as one of the Three Gorges. Around southwest Sichuan, the ancient site of the Bo people.

Yunnan– you can see the famous site of Hanging Tombs by the Bo People at Doushaguan.


It might feel a bit weird for you to know that distinguished people of the Kankanaey society carve their own coffins during their life. The contrast between Asian and western culture is of such high resolution that it dazzles the mind sometimes. The Asian continent has countries with a quite rich history. With rich history comes a plethora of Unusual cultures and Traditions. The higher the height of the hanging coffin, the higher their status was during their life. Coffins are also put inside limestone caves. Social hierarchy is observed here as well.

Echo Valley is one of the best places to see in the Philippines where you can observe this custom. It is a popular travel hub.

Baby Tossing- Strange Ancient Rituals of Rural India 

Didn’t that sound weird enough to you already? Potentially the most disastrous out of all the strange ancient rituals in this blog. It’s an actual custom practiced in some rural parts of India, despite being banned, to this date. While some ancient cultures can seem funny with deeper meaning, others can seem to be of dangerous nature for no particular reason.

strange ancient rituals india
by ED times

Baby Tossing is a rural Indian ritual in which infants up to 2 years old are first taken up by priests to the roof of the home or shrine and then dropped.

On the ground below, people surround the area of the baby drop with the bedsheet, which is then used to capture the falling baby. The ritual is supposed to bring good luck and health to the child. As well as the family members who participate in this custom. It has been practiced for about 700 years.

In the beginning, this ancient Indian ritual was practiced due to extreme faith in the priests as well as God’s. Medical advancements were lacking in those times, which led to a high level of child mortality. This ritual was then suggested by the priests to the worried parents. It

unusual traditions India
by askchange.com

was proclaimed to be able to cure their sick and dying children of their ailment. The desperate parents who had complete faith in the almighty, as well as the priests, agreed with the priests and that’s how this ceremony came to be.

Nowadays, medical advancements are on a whole another level and the Indian government has made a lot of effort over the years to decrease infant mortality. The results are quite positive as the mortality rate of children under 5 years of age has dropped down significantly. Then why is the tossing children custom still practiced in India?

Well, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, banned the ritual as illegal in 2009. However, to ban an ancient religious practice is not so easily done. It resumed soon, even after the ban, and was observed in Digambareshwara Temple, Karnataka in 2011.

Self Flagellation of Muharram

strange ancient rituals; Self flagellation of Muharram
By UBC wiki

This period of mourning and related events are observed mainly by Shia Muslims. It is an Islamic commemorative ritual, also called as Remembrance of Muharram. Muharram is the first month in the Islamic calendar.

The grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Hussein in Ali, was martyred in the battle of Karbala. The Mourning of Muharram is observed in remembrance of this event. This ceremony is practiced in most countries with a considerable amount of Shia population.

The event itself has its roots in quite an emotional concept of mourning. It is a solemn day, where people remember and re-enact the battle of Karbala, weeping for the martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.   However, the practice of self-harm during the Muharram processions is what leads it to the weird cultural practices list.

Flagellation & Chest beating

Chest beating is a form of mourning practiced during this event, which is observed in some Shia communities. This was introduced by Syed Dildar Ali Nasirabadi, who was an Indian Shia Muslim. Flagellation and related acts of violent mourning practices observed during this event are enactments of injuries of Husayn ibn Ali. This act has roots back to 17th century Azerbaijan.

Have you been a witness to the Shia Muslim procession of Muharram? Have you seen flagellation in practice yourself? If not, let me tell you about a few types.

In some communities of Shia, striking of the chest with bare palm, or a palm with blades in between the fingers is practiced. While in some others striking their own backs with Chains, sometimes even making cuts on foreheads with swords or knives is practiced by in extreme cases.

Flagellation is no longer in open practice in Iran after Ayatollah Settled Ali Khamenei, Iranian leader in 1993, declared fatawa addressing the practice of flagellation as haram.


The day of Ashura begins with a mourning ritual, Shia Muslims are observed to fast on this day while joining the mourning procession. Men as well as women wear black-colored clothes and join the mourning processions while beating their chests and chanting “Ya Hussain”.

While some Shia communities strike their chests and backs with sharp objects, not all commemorate this day the same way. In fact, it is quite possible that in your local vicinity the procession of Shia Muslim people on this day is completely non-violent. It is a personal choice, not a mandatory practice.

Carrying pregnant women over burning coal: Strange Ancient Rituals of China

Pregnant women over hot coal

Ancient traditions, curious customs, and unusual culture play a major role in defining the shape of any society. This is a practice passed on from generation to generation in China, where the man carries their pregnant wife over a walkway of burning coal.

Some may see it as a barbaric ritual of self-harm, while others may agree that this is how men need to show their support. Without dwelling on the people’s opinions of the custom, let me introduce you to the finer details of this custom. Then you can make up your own opinion about it.

How it’s done?

When a couple finds out that they are pregnant, this news is shared among their friends and families. All the people close to the couple hold a gathering to celebrate this occasion. In this gathering, a walkway of red-hot coal is prepared in front of the house entrance. It is a popular belief in this Chinese culture that this act by the man leads to the pregnant lady having a better time delivering the baby. Well, the spiritual concept of the ritual aside, does it not seem like a good way to show support to the pregnant lady to you?

strange ancient rituals China: Pregnant Women over burning coal
by quora

I agree that it will bring no small amount of pain and discomfort to the man. However, the pregnant lady has to go through 9-months of raging hormonal changes, emotional upheaval, and physical discomfort. All this leading to an intensely painful experience, that is going into labor.  If you can make her feel comforted by your support, perhaps it will warm her heart to see you willing to go through such extremes for her?

This ritual is not about showing off the manly side, it’s an expression of love and commitment. If the wife has to go through 9-months of suffering, why can’t the man go through at least a few minutes of it? Well, my job is to just make you aware of this custom, it’s for you to make your opinion about it.

There are as many variants of cultures and traditions as many countries there are. Some countries like India are a hub to multitudes of cultural differences ranging from regular-mild to extremes.

The older the history of a country, the stranger the stories. You can get to know a lot of weird culture of a country with just a bit of digging around. However, I request you to be unbiased in your judgment, as it is impossible to truly comprehend the significance of any tradition to its practitioners as an outsider.

In your travels around the globe, while witnessing a variety of cultural anthropology, I recommend you to hold your tongue from spouting judgemental words. We can never know what something means to the other without observing the same from their shoes.

Now that you’ve read about these weird cultures, what are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comment section below.

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