Sunday, February 16, 2020

The History of Mardi Gras and the Tradition Of Flashing

This year Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 25, 2020.  In the Catholic Church, it's Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday.  The date for Mardi Gras depends on the date of Easter—always occurring forty-six days before Easter.

In the most literal sense, the Mardi Gras celebration is the three days prior to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.  It's the last opportunity for partying and indulgence in food and drink.  In practice, Mardi Gras—or Carnival, as it is called in many countries—is usually celebrated for a full week before the start of Lent.

Celebrations take place all over the world with the most famous modern day festivities being in New Orleans, Louisiana; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Nice, France; and Cologne, Germany.

Even though Mardi Gras is a Christian festival, it dates back to the pre-Christian spring fertility rites and embodies many of the traditions of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  In the early Middle Ages, after converting pagan tribes to Christianity, the Catholic Church was still unable to abolish all the ancient traditions.  To combat this, the Church ended up taking many ancient feasts and festivals originally celebrated in honor of pagan gods and adapted them to Christian beliefs.  An example of the pagan roots—today revelers on parade floats still dress as Bacchus, the Greek god of wine.

The first Mardi Gras celebration in the United States was near modern day New Orleans on March 3, 1699, but it was the mid 1800s before parade organizations, known as krewes, came into being.  The first Mardi Gras parade was held in New Orleans on February 24, 1854, by the Krewe of Comus.  They began the tradition of a parade with floats followed by a ball for the krewe and their guests.  The official colors of Mardi Gras were chosen by Rex, King of Carnival, in 1892 and given their meaning—purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

But what about that popular activity that has become a seemingly integral part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, much to the chagrin of the festival purists?  Women pulling up their shirts and flashing their bare breasts to procure some worthless plastic beads?

Exactly where did this tradition come from?

Well, first of all, it's not really a tradition.  It's more along the lines of what has become a traditional activity in the same vein as getting stupid drunk and passing out now seems to fall into that same 'traditional' category.  Over the years more and more media attention has been directed toward the drunken revelry that occurs on Bourbon Street which has helped in defining flashing as a traditional part of the Mardi Gras celebration.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point-of-view, flashing in exchange for beads is mostly limited to the New Orleans' French Quarter.  And even in the French Quarter, it's an illegal activity.  Women flashing their bare breasts run the risk of being arrested.

Maybe flashing is not a true tradition, but you can't deny that it has become a custom.  After all, the history of wild Mardi Gras behavior comes from celebrating the last day before Lent—Lent being a time of atonement.  And this naturally lends itself to activities of excess and craziness.

Which apparently has come to include flashing.

But there is one crazy excess even more daring than the momentary baring of the female breasts known as flashing.  And what, you may ask, could possibly be crazier than flashing and still be done in public?  And the answer is having clothes painted on your bare skin.  There are artists who specialize in this.  It probably started as something simple and basic like face painting but has grown to include full body artistic renderings.  At a casual glance, it appears that the person is clothed (albeit skin tight clothing).  But on closer inspection, you discover that's far from the truth.  Some of these examples shown below are basic and others are quite elaborate.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Chocolate—The Food Of Love

Valentine's Day is when the chocolate industry happily counts its profits.  Certainly other items also come to mind such as flowers, cards, and jewelry.  But chocolate reigns supreme for the holiday.

The history of chocolate goes back more than two thousand years.  Cocoa has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  It's a concept that traces to the ancient Aztecs.  Archaeological records indicate that before the Aztecs the Mayans were consuming cocoa as long ago as 600 B.C. and possibly even earlier than that.

The Aztecs believed it was a source of spiritual wisdom, energy, and sexual power.  It was widely served at wedding ceremonies.  The ancient civilizations of Central and South America did not know chocolate as we do today.  They consumed cocoa as a drink, its naturally bitter taste possibly altered by adding chili peppers to the water and cocoa.

When the Spanish explorers first brought cocoa home with them in 1585, they experimented by mixing it with sugar and vanilla to make a sweeter tasting drink.  The result was a type of hot chocolate popular among the upper classes who were the only ones who could afford it.  Cocoa was also added to baked goods to give them added flavor.  By the first half of the eighteenth century cocoa production had increased and the price had fallen so that it became affordable to the general population of Europe and also the European colonies in the New World.

By the nineteenth century things were moving along nicely for those involved in the manufacture of chocolate.  In 1828, Conrad van Houton of Holland invented a process to make a refined cocoa powder which increased the output of the usable powder from a given crop of cocoa beans which further lowered the price.

The first chocolate candies as we know them today were invented in the 1860s by Cadbury, a British candy maker, who was also the first to sell them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine's Day.

Another big advance came in 1878 when a Swiss chocolate seller, Daniel Peter, invented a process for making candy out of milk chocolate—a process picked up by Nestle.  In 1913 Jules Sechaud, a Swiss chocolate maker, created the first chocolate candy with cream and other fillings and the modern soft centered chocolate candies were born.
And thus chocolate candies joined the ranks of flowers and jewelry in the courtship ritual.

Chocolate, including chocolate candy, is liked by most people, but women tend to have a somewhat greater affinity for it than men.  Chocolate is more than food.  It not only fills your stomach, it also makes you feel good.  Many people believe that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.  While it is true that chocolate does contain organic substances which have a physical feel good affect on the body, the amounts are not that great.

Critics claim the benefits of eating chocolate are small compared to the sugar and fat contained in a chocolate bar.  However, the best chocolate—dark chocolate with high cocoa butter content rather than milk chocolate—has no added fat with a high percentage of cocoa solids and correspondingly less sugar.  Dark chocolate will never be considered a health food based on its nutritional value, but it is still good for you.  It's good for your heart, relieves stress, and makes you feel good.  What more could you want?  But, like everything, in moderation.

Chocolate has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  This association goes all the way back to the Aztecs.  Valentine's Day is a celebration of romance.  Chocolate is both an everyday pleasure and a token of love.  Valentine's Day and chocolate make a perfect match.  Men have long known in dealing with women that chocolate is almost always a safe gift. Chocolate is given as a token of love and is equally viable as a peace offering when he has done something to anger his love.

Chocolate—the all purpose taste treat that's good any time of the year.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

28 Incorrect 'Facts' You May Have Learned In School—part 2 of 2

Last week I shared 14 of the 28 Incorrect Facts with you in part 1 of my 2-part blog. This week I'm sharing the other 14. Like many myths, these stories often have a kernel of truth to them. It just isn't what you learned in school.

MYTH: Bats are blind
If this were true, would Bruce Wayne really model his superhero identity of Batman after an animal that can't see? You've probably heard someone use the phrase blind as a bat to describe someone. Contrary to this widespread belief, bats are not blind. Large bats are said to see three times better than humans. In addition to a normal sense of sight, bats rely on a technique at night known as echolocation. In low-light environments, as the term echolocation suggests, they are able to locate the source of sounds based on echoes that are produced. This is particularly helpful when trying to find prey and other food sources.

MYTH: Tilting your head back will stop a nosebleed
As a child, you might have been taught to tilt your head back in order to stop a nosebleed. Doctors agree this is not the solution. In the case of a nosebleed, you should tilt your head forward and pinch right below the bridge of your nose to stop the flow of blood rushing out of your nostrils. Tilting your head back might actually lead to more damage. It can cause blood to enter your throat which leads to your stomach and further unpleasant complications.

MYTH: When you swallow gum, it stays in your body for seven years
Gum will stay in your body for some time, but nowhere near seven years. Unlike most food, gum can't be broken down by the body's enzymes and acids. Therefore, that piece of gum goes straight through your system without being dissolved or broken into smaller pieces, and is later expelled. Even though swallowing a wad of gum accidentally or on purpose won't cause it to stay with you for a long period of time, it's probably best to just spit it out when you're finished. There have been rare cases of children having internal issues due to swallowed gum.

MYTH: Camels store water in their humps
You might have been taught that the purpose of a camel's hump is to store water, but this is not true. Some camels have one hump while others have two, but regardless of quantity, they serve the same purpose—to store fat. The stored fat serves as a substitute for food when camels are traveling long distances with limited available resources. According to Animal Planet, a camel can use the fat as an energy source to replace approximately three weeks of food. It's the camel's red blood cells that account for its ability to last one week without water. Unlike other creatures, a camel has oval-shaped blood cells that are more flexible and enable them to store large portions of water.

MYTH: You must drink eight glasses of water a day
The origin of this myth isn't entirely clear, but it is believed that people were convinced of this health rule after the Food and Drug Administration suggested it as a guideline in a 1945 published paper. The truth is that you don't need to drink eight glasses of water each day. Your body will still receive necessary hydration from other fluids and foods. It's probably best to drink a healthy amount of water and indulge in a moderate amount of less healthy beverages (like sugary ones). The most important thing is remembering that your body needs to maintain a balance since fluids are constantly entering and leaving the body. The amount of hydration needed also varies from person to person, since there are factors like age, health conditions, and activity level to consider.

MYTH: There's a five-second rule that applies to food that falls on the floor
If you've ever dropped a piece of food on the floor and quickly picked it up within five seconds, deeming it safe to eat, you have been misguided by a popular health myth. According to the five-second rule, food that falls on the floor is acceptable to consume as long as it hasn't stayed on the unclean surface for more than five seconds. Research has found that the rule is not accurate or applicable. While it's true that the longer dropped food stays on a surface the more germs it attracts, but food will instantly become contaminated as soon as it hits the floor.

MYTH: An apple a day keeps the doctor away
While the nursery rhyme has the laudable goal of getting kids to eat more fruit, it doesn't really work. Apples have vitamin C and fiber, but they are far from containing all the nutrients people need to stay healthy. The best diet you could have is one that consistently gives you a well-rounded group of nutrients. One that uses a lot of vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats is probably ideal.

MYTH: You can catch a cold just by being cold
It makes some kind of intuitive and linguistic sense—if you're cold and uncomfortable, your health will suffer and you'll catch a cold. But that's not quite how it works. In reality, viruses that cause people to catch colds predominate in North America during the winter. Furthermore, people tend to stay indoors when it's cold and in close quarters, enabling viruses to spread more easily. Low indoor humidity, which happens when the heater is on, is also conducive to the flu. So it isn't so much the cold causing colds. It's the cold weather creating conditions where colds spread.

MYTH: You'll get cancer if you stand too close to the microwave
You might have been taught as a child that you shouldn't stand in front of the microwave because of potential effects on your health. This is mainly due to concerns over radiation exposure. Radiation exists on a spectrum, and the radio frequency radiation used by the kitchen appliance is low-energy which is not harmful. According to the American Cancer Society, the energy emitted by microwave ovens is contained within the device and if used correctly "there is no evidence that they pose a health risk to people."

MYTH: If you shave your facial hair, it'll grow back thicker
A biologist who has studied hair for more than 30 years said that has not proven to be true. A razor cleanly cuts the hair, which results in blunt ends. Once the hair grows back, it might feel thicker because of the bluntness.

MYTH: If you eat plenty of carrots, you'll have great eyesight
The exact origin of this myth isn't clear, but it's believed that it became a widespread idea during World War II. When the British issued citywide blackouts in their attempt to defeat the German air forces, one UK soldier, John Cunningham successfully shot down planes. From there, the country started spreading posters and other propaganda that credited carrots as the reason for his exceptional night vision. This was believed to be a myth spread by the government to hide the knowledge of radar from the Germans. The bottom line is that although carrots are high in Vitamin A, you won't have magically superior eyesight or night vision.

MYTH: Sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away
Sharks are known for having an acute sense of smell. Although they have a better sense of smell than many other creatures, they cannot detect a single drop of blood that's miles away. These predators can pick up on small amounts of different chemicals in the water, but there are other factors that should be taken into consideration (like what kind of substance and the speed of the water current). Some shark species can detect a drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool while others can sense chemicals up to a few hundred meters away.

MYTH: Milk is good for you
Yes, that's right. The proven health benefits of milk are few and far between. It's mostly the product of an enormously successful advertising campaign. But humans are the only mammals to consume milk during adulthood. And while no one disputes that milk contains essential nutrients to help children's bodies grow, study after study shows there's no evidence milk does much good for older children or adults.

MYTH: Coffee stunts children's growth
It's a myth grown-ups use to stop kids from drinking coffee—it will stunt your growth and make you shorter later in life. The idea behind it is that caffeine limits the body's ability to absorb calcium, which is important for the growth of younger children in particular. But the overall idea that caffeine is going to significantly stunt growth is bunk.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

28 Incorrect 'Facts' You May Have Learned In School—part 1 of 2

I recently came across a list of 28 things you may have learned in school that have since been proven wrong. I'm going to share 14 of them with you in this blog and the remaining 14 in next week's blog. Like many myths, these stories often have a kernel of truth to them, it just isn't what you learned in school.

MYTH: Chameleons change colors to camouflage themselves
Chameleons are thought of as spiky lizards that change the color of their skins to fit in with their surroundings. While their color-changing abilities are real, it's their way of maintaining a certain body temperature and communicating with other chameleons rather than a means of hiding from predators.

MYTH: Christopher Columbus discovered America
The belief that Christopher Columbus discovered America is still widespread. The U.S. even has a federal holiday honoring him. A 2005 survey from the University of Michigan showed that 85% of Americans believed Columbus discovered the continent while 2% of those surveyed answered that Columbus couldn't have discovered the land now known as America because millions of Native Americans already lived here. The first European to land on the North American continent is widely accepted by historians to be the Viking explorer Leif Erikson who sailed from Greenland to Newfoundland in what is now Canada around 1000 A.D. However, Columbus is historically significant because his 1492 voyage to the Americas paved the way for European imperialism in the Western Hemisphere.

MYTH: You can only taste certain things on certain parts of your tongue
According to the tongue map myth, different parts of your tongue are for different sorts of tastes—the back of your tongue detects bitter tastes, the front takes in sweet tastes, etc. This is wrong. Taste receptors are all over your tongue, and they all detect all kinds of tastes. It's true that some taste buds are more receptive to certain kinds of tastes than others, but the difference is slight, and the locations of those taste buds aren't in accordance with the tongue map.

MYTH: Sir Isaac Newton "discovered" gravity when an apple fell on his head
Newton's apple legend isn't true. But like many urban legends, it's an embellished version of something that actually happened. An apple didn't fall on Newton's head, but Newton did start theorizing about gravity when he saw an apple falling from a tree. Of course, today our account of physics is far more precise than Newton's notion of gravity.

MYTH: Albert Einstein failed math in school and was a terrible student
It's an attractive idea for young kids. Even if you're not a good student, you can still bloom as a genius later in life. Examples of late-blooming talents are everywhere, but Einstein isn't one of them. Not only was he an excellent student in math, he was excellent in everything. The myth that he flunked a math class may be from the time he failed the entrance exam to the Zurich Polytechnic. At that time, he was still a couple of years away from high school graduation and he only spoke a little bit of French—the language used on the exam. He did pass the mathematics section, but failed the language, botany, and zoology sections.

MYTH: Diamonds are made from ultra-pressurized coal
Both coal and diamonds are formed from carbon under the surface of the Earth, which is the origin of this myth. However, the carbon that forms diamonds is much more pure, and the process requires a lot more heat and pressure.

MYTH: According to laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly
According to the myth, its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee flies anyway because bees don't care what humans think. This is, of course, wrong. Bumblebees can fly. The idea may have developed because bumblebees are pretty big and their wings are pretty small. There's a difference between a real-life biological being and a mathematical model of that being. Honeybees fly by flapping their wings really fast.

MYTH: Convicted witches in the United States were burned at the stake
While convicted witches in France were burned, witches in England were hanged instead. The English tradition made its way to the American colonies during the Salem Witch Trials and other places of anti-witch hysteria. All the convicted witches who went to their death were hanged, with one exception. That sole exception is Giles Corey, who was pressed under large stones.

MYTH: Pluto is no longer considered a planet
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) originally classified Pluto as the ninth planet that orbits the sun. In 2005, Eris, another really big space rock 27% larger than Pluto that also orbits the sun, was discovered. The IAU re-evaluated what a planet actually is and ended up with criteria that neither Pluto nor Eris met. So neither could be one of the major planets that go around the sun. Instead, the two are considered dwarf planets. Pluto is a planet, it's just a dwarf planet.

MYTH: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure that can be seen from space
This depends on your definition of space. It's worth noting that while man-made structures like the Great Wall are visible from satellites orbiting Earth, they're not visible at all from the moon. Secondly, the structures you can see largely depend on the weather and how high the orbit is. Given the proper conditions, astronauts in the International Space Station can see major cities, the Great Pyramids of Giza, and some big bridges from their orbits.

MYTH: Raindrops are tear-shaped
According to the United States Geographical Survey website, raindrops are shaped more like hamburger buns or beans. When they get really large, they split in two. Only then do they turn into a teardrop shape but quickly become burger buns again.

MYTH: You can't start a sentence with a conjunction
You've probably been taught in school that you can't start sentences with but or and. But, as anyone who writes fiction will tell you, you most certainly can. Some grammar rules in the English language are unbreakable yet are broken anyway. The important thing to remember is that different publishers have different house styles. Each publication will set its own rules about grammar, like deciding whether to permit starting sentences with conjunctions, or allowing sentences to end with a preposition.

MYTH: Deoxygenated blood is blue
A common myth is that oxygenated blood is red and deoxygenated blood is blue, but this belief is inaccurate. While glancing at your skin, you may be lead to think that the veins below the surface are carrying blood that is a different color than red. This is actually the result of how you perceive light and the way body tissues are absorbed. Blood that leaves the heart is full of oxygen and bright red, while blood that travels to the heart is dark red. So, even though your veins might appear blue, green, or purple, the blood that flows in them is red (unless you are an extra-terrestrial being, then all bets are off).

MYTH: Humans only use 10% of their brains
The origin of this myth is unclear, but the idea that humans are storing approximately 90 percent untapped abilities in the brain is not true. Scientists have repeatedly been outspoken about this false claim, which has also been perpetuated by movies like Lucy and Limitless. All the neurons in your brain may not be firing at the same time, but that doesn't mean that parts of your brain are totally inactive. According to a neurologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Let's put it this way: The brain represents 3% of the body's weight and uses 20% of the body's energy."

Stop by next week for part 2 of my 2-part blog about Incorrect Facts You May Have Learned In School.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

10 Scariest Places On Earth

I recently came across a list that claimed to be the 10 scariest places on Earth.  The list isn't a reference to most haunted places. That would have made it a Halloween blog. :) Although, a couple of the places on this list are said to be haunted. Some of these places have been abandoned due primarily to man's misdeeds. This list is in no particular order.
1)  Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
When you have the remains of over 40,000 people, what do you do with all those bones? The Abbot of Sedlec went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1278 and brought back some dirt he claimed came from Jesus' burial site. Immediately thereafter Catholics from all over Europe started demanding burial in the Sedlec Ossuary cemetery. The cemetery obviously didn't have the space to accommodate all the continual requests. In the 16th century, the church staff dug up everyone buried there and used those bones for decoration: there's a chandelier made from one of every bone in the human body, garlands of skulls, and a replica of the Schwarzenberg coat of arms made from bones.

2) Centralia, Pennsylvania
Our incredible natural resources is one thing that has made America such a prosperous country. Unfortunately, those natural resources can occasionally turn on us and that's what happened when a coal mine near Centralia, Pennsylvania, caught fire in 1962. The veins of coal ran under the town which ultimately turned Centralia into a literal hellhole. Temperatures over 1000 degree Fahrenheit accompanied by belching clouds of poisonous gas. Once the initial conflagration settled down, people began to move back but soon discovered that the veins of coal were still burning resulting in blazing hot sinkholes that swallowed people without warning. Most of the residents have moved away.
3)  Pripyat, Ukraine
A colossal example of man's ability to really screw up the planet is on display in Pripyat in the Ukraine. The town's former population of 49,000 was evacuated following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Now referred to as the zone of exclusion, it looks like a freaky ghost town. The few people who have ventured back into the town report an atmosphere of desolation and terror. Dolls on school house floors, vehicles in disrepair on the roadsides, and the skeleton of an abandoned amusement park that's hauntingly scary.

4)  Aokigahara Suicide Forest
The Aokigahara Forest at the base on Mt. Fuji in Japan is associated with multiple demons in Japanese folklore. There's something about the supernatural forest that drives people to suicide. An average of 100 people travel to Aokigahara every year to kill themselves, mostly by hanging or drug overdose. Legend says that in the 19th century families would abandon their elderly relatives there to die when they couldn't take care of themselves.

5)  Lome Bazaar, Togo
If you've ever been to a street market in a third world country, then you know how crazy things can be. So, take all that energy and put it in a bazaar that sells only materials for voodoo and you have the Lome Bazaar in Togo. The bazaar is a one stop shop for a wide variety of terrifying things used to perform frightening functions. The absolute volume of grisly death that stares at you is enough to make the strongest person weak in the knees.

6)  Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia
The Khmer Rouge period of Cambodia's past is one of the scariest genocides in history. Millions of innocents were slaughtered and the museum is located where it all happened. In Khmer, "Tuol Sleng" translates as "Strychnine Hill." The museum is housed in a former death camp and notoriously haunted by ghosts of the thousands who died there. Of the 17,000 people who were admitted to the prison, only seven survived.
7)  Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee
Sometimes science has to do some pretty disgusting things to make advancements, but we don't make them vacation spots. Studying the decomposition of the human body can give researchers lots of knowledge useful to medicine, forensics, and others. To monitor a body decomposing in real time, you go to the body farm on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It's a 2.5 acre of land and at any time has multiple bodies laid out in various positions. Over 100 corpses are donated to the Body Farm every year. Several detective/forensics/crime shows, both entertainment programming and documentaries, have used the concept of the Body Farm in their episodes.

8)  Helltown, Ohio
The village of Boston was founded in Ohio's Summit County in 1806 and succeeded until 1974 when something weird happened. President Ford signed a bill authorizing the area to be turned into a national park, the houses were purchased and boarded up, but no park was ever built, resulting in a deserted town in the middle of nowhere. The newly named Helltown spawned some terrifying legends including Satanist sacrifices, mysterious toxic waste spills, and an escaped mental patient who wanders the woods.

9)  Fengdu, China
With China's population, there isn't much room left for a ghost town—except for Fengdu, located on the north bank of the Yangtze River. Fengdu is completely abandoned. It's rumored to be a junction point between Earth and the underworld where rampaging demons grab unaware souls.
10)  La Isla De La Munecas, Mexico
Dozens of small, uninhabited islands dot the canals south of Mexico City. It's not just the polluted runoff from Mexico City that makes the area less than desirable. Fifty years ago, a man named Don Julian Santana lived the life of a hermit on one of the islands. One day he fished the corpse of a young girl out of the water. As a form of protection, he started hanging dolls from the tree limbs and branches on his island. He continued to do this over the next few decades until the entire island was cluttered with broken, weathered dolls giving it the appearance of a terrifying place.

And that's the list of ten. Have any of you ever been to any of these places?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

10 Things You May Not Know About Vikings

With last week's blog about myths of medieval torture, I decided to follow it up by repeating my blog about Viking myths.

So…you think you know all about the Vikings?  Those seafaring Scandinavians who raided and settled coastal sites in the British Isles and beyond between the 9th and 11th centuries?  You've watched the movies and television shows, have been exposed to the caricatures and stereotypes.  But I'll bet there's a lot about the Vikings you don't know.
1)  Vikings Didn't Wear Horned Helmets
Forget all those Viking warrior costumes you've seen in those movies, television shows, and pictures seen with the characters wearing those elaborate horned helmets.  Descriptions from the Viking age don't mention it and the only authentic Viking helmet ever discovered is horn-free.  This concept seems to have originated with painters in the 19th century, possibly inspired by ancient Norse and Germanic priests who wore horned helmets for ceremonial purposes long before the Viking Age.

2)  Vikings Were Known For Their Excellent Hygiene
What with all that boat rowing and decapitating their enemies, the logical assumption would be that Viking men must have stunk.  However, excavations of Viking sites have revealed tweezers, razors, combs and ear cleaners made from animal bones and antlers.  Vikings also bathed at least once a week, much more often than other Europeans of that time period.

3)  Vikings Used A Unique Liquid To Start Fires
The Vikings collected a fungus called touchwood from tree bark and boiled it for several days in urine then pounded it into a substance similar to felt.  The sodium nitrate in urine allowed the material to smolder instead of burn.  This gave the Vikings the availability of taking the fire with them on the go.
4)  Vikings Buried Their Dead In Boats
The Viking's boats were very important to them so it was a great honor to be buried in one.  It was believed that the vessels that served them well in life would see them safely to their final destination.

5)  Vikings Were Active In The Slave Trade
Many Vikings became rich through human trafficking.  They captured and enslaved women and young men while rampaging through Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Slavic settlements then sold them in giant slave markets in Europe and the Middle East.

6)  Viking Women Enjoyed Some Basic Rights
Viking girls married at age 12 and took care of the household while their husbands sailed off on adventures.  However, they had more freedom than other women of their era.  They could inherit property, request a divorce and reclaim their dowries if their marriage ended.

7)  Viking Men Spent Most Of Their Time Farming
Most Viking men swung scythes rather than swords.  True, some were callous pirates who only left their boats long enough to burn villages but most planted crops and raised cattle, goats, pigs and sheep on their small farms.

8)  Vikings Skied For Fun
Scandinavians developed primitive skis approximately 6000 years ago.  By the Viking age, Norsemen regarded skiing as an efficient way to get around and a popular recreation activity.  They even worshiped Ullr, the god of skiing.

9)  Viking Men Preferred Being Blond
Brunette Vikings, usually men, used strong soap with a high lye content to bleach their hair and in some regions also their beards.  These treatments also helped with a health and hygiene problem—head lice.

10)  Vikings Were Never Part Of A Unified Group
They probably didn't even call themselves Vikings.  The term simply referred to all Scandinavians who took part in overseas expeditions.  During the Viking Age, the land that is now Denmark, Norway and Sweden was a patchwork of tribes that often fought against each other…when they weren't busy creating havoc on foreign shores.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

10 Biggest Myths About Medieval Torture

I came across an odd bit of information a while back.  Even though I don't write historicals, I decided to save it with the thought in mind that it might make an interesting blog.

Medieval times…the Dark Ages.  There are many documented tales of truly barbaric treatment.  But, unlike the message we get from Hollywood's entertainment industry, Medieval times overall weren't as barbaric as we've been led to believe.  And with that thought in mind, here's a list of the ten biggest myths about justice in the Dark Ages.

10)   Go Directly To Jail?
Most Medieval communities actually had a judge and jury type of system, although it was much quicker than today's long drawn out sessions.  Court generally lasted less than half an hour.  At the judge's discretion, he could ask a few simple questions and deliver a verdict without consulting the jury.

9)   The Lawless Middle Age Villages?
Earlier Medieval communities had much more social responsibility than today.  If one member claimed to be wronged, every resident had to join in the hunt and persecution of the criminal, otherwise they would all be held responsible.

8)   Those Strict Church Types?
The pious Middle Ages were serious about religious offenses.  Each town's church usually ran its own kind of court to investigate everything from bad attendance to heresy.  However, the concept of sanctuary was also well known with the church as a place where criminals could avoid sentencing or punishment.

7)   Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind?
Criminals who committed lesser offenses were often subject to a policy of three strikes and you're out—literally.  Repeat offenders were often simply banished from a city and not allowed back rather than killing them or having them clutter up the prisons.  Humane and cost effective.

6)   Executions: Left, Right, and Center?
According to Hollywood, Medieval evil-doers were killed on whim and often in public squares for even the slightest of offenses.  In reality, capital punishment was used only in the most serious cases which included murder, treason, and arson with the guilty usually hanged.

5)   Royal Highnesses High Above the Law?
Medieval nobles did enjoy certain privileges when it came to bending laws or making new ones to serve their purposes.  However, most European countries had legislation preventing their kings and queens from running wild, such as England's Magna Carta signed by King John in 1215.

4)   Public Beheadings as Weekly Spectacle?
Beheading was swift and painless—as long as the axe was sharp.  It was considered a privileged way to die and reserved primarily for the nobility.  Treason was the crime of choice with the beheadings usually taking place inside castle walls rather than in public.

3)   The Burning Times?
A few witches, as proclaimed by their accusers, were burned at the stake during Medieval times.  But it was during the following Reformation period (beginning approximately in 1550) that burning witches at the stake really took off.  However, in England witches were rarely burned and were hanged instead. At the Salem witch trials in the U.S., most of the accused who were actually put to death were hanged.

2)   Off With Your Ear?
Mutilation—severing of an ear or hand—was occasionally used as a punishment for serious crimes, especially in larger jurisdictions such as London.  But more often, Medieval law enforcement used it as an empty threat rather than actually doing it.

1)   Rack 'Em Up?
Immortalized in the film Braveheart, the most famous torture device of all time was the rack.  It probably wasn't used in England until the very end of the Medieval period.  It was used extensively along with other devices beginning in the torturous days of the 1500s when Queen Elizabeth I, and other European monarchs, began purging religious opponents.

So, next time you're watching a high budget film set during Medieval times filled with bloody and torturous actions, remember there's a good chance it didn't really happen that way.