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16 Weird Things You Won't Believe People Used To Believe, Believe Me

Witches used to steal men's penises and keep them as pets, apparently.

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1. That breast milk is coagulated menstrual blood.

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This bizarre belief originated in Ancient Greece and continued until the medieval period, despite the fact that milk and blood look very different indeed. The Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that breast milk was blood that "had been heated, coagulated, and whitened by hot air." What hot air? We're women, not balloons.

2. That you could cure illnesses with a tobacco enema.

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This weird practice gives a new meaning to the phrase "blowing smoke up your ass." During the 1700s, tobacco smoke enemas were used to treat a whole range of conditions, including headaches, stomach cramps, and even death. TL:DR, if you were sick or unconscious during this time, it's likely your doctor's first instinct would be to take out a tube and a lighter and start filling your butt with smoke.

3. That evil spirits lurk in Brussels sprouts.

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In medieval Britain, it was thought that teeny tiny evil demons hid between the leaves of sprouts and cabbages. If you accidentally swallowed these fart genies, it could make you ill, so a cross was cut into the base of all of these vegetables before they were cooked, something we still do to sprouts today, weirdly. Watch out, brassica goblins.

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4. That some babies were changelings.

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Medieval people also believed that fairies sometimes kidnapped babies and left fake "changelings" in their place. One way to test whether your baby was a changeling was to get its attention and then put a shoe in a bowl of soup. If it giggled, it meant that it got the joke so it must be a fairy...because babies never find random things funny.

5. That travelling by train could cause instant insanity.

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Traveling by rail became increasingly popular in the 1850s and 1860s, but at the same time it was treated with a great deal of suspicion due to the "high speeds" involved. The rattling, side-to-side motion of trains was believed to “injure the brain", driving people mad and shattering the nerves of commuters, causing them to leap from the train in a fit of insanity. Hmm, maybe they just hated their job.

6. That witches stole penises and kept them as pets.

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In the notorious 15th-century witch-finding guide the Malleus Maleficarum, witches are described as having the ability to make men's penises vanish. The witches would then keep the dismembered penises in nests and feed them oats, like little veiny horses.

7. That you could cure depression and anxiety by jamming an ice pick into someone's eye socket.

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This gruesome surgery was invented in 1946 by a Dr. Walter Freeman, who thought the best cure for mental ill health was to take an ice pick, jam it into a patient's eye socket, and move it sideways to sever the "emotional areas" from the rest of the brain. The brutal procedure would sometimes seem to work, but more often than not it would cause brain bleeding, paralysis, and lasting disability.

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8. That we misplaced an entire continent called Mu.

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In the late 1800s, an enthusiastic but entirely inaccurate archaeologist called Augustus Le Plongeon wrote a treatise claiming that the Mayan civilisation had actually originated on a lost continent called Mu. He also claimed that ancient Egypt was founded by a Mu refugee based on, er, no evidence. Who needs facts, eh?

9. That drinking gladiator blood could cure epilepsy.

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Many ancient Roman authors reported that drinking the blood of slain gladiators (or eating their liver) was a "proven" cure for epileptics. In his Natural History, Pliny wrote: "Epileptics even drink the blood of gladiators, from living cups, as it were. Those who suffer from epilepsy think it the most effective cure for their disease, to absorb a person’s warm blood while he is still breathing." Bloody hell.

10. That menstruating women could kill swarms of bees.

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Pliny also claimed that menstruating women were dangerous forces to be reckoned with, and had the ability to curse plants, dim the "brightness of mirrors," drive dogs crazy, and kill swarms of bees, as well as rusting iron and blunting steel blades. Oh, and they could also drive away thunderstorms. Fair enough.

11. That sperm looked like teeny tiny little dudes.

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Preformationism was another of Aristotle's theories. He claimed that inside each human sperm was a tiny person, and inside that tiny person was more people-sperm (i.e, sperm = Russian dolls). What's more, he believed this embryonic sperm was all that was needed to generate life: the woman was just the oven, and the resulting baby took 100% of its characteristics from the man. Cheers, Aristotle.

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12. That redheads would turn into vampires after death.

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It wasn't just redheads, either. In 11th-century Europe, any child who was born "different" (e.g. with red hair, odd-coloured eyes, or with a cleft lip), was believed to be at risk of becoming a vampire after death. In Poland, babies born with a caul (a membrane that covers a newborn's face at birth) were definitely destined to become vampires.

13. That California was an island.

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For a seriously long time, settlers and explorers were convinced that California was an island. The idea first took hold in the early 1500s, but further exploration soon proved that it was a peninsula, not an island. But no one seemed to pass this information on to map-makers, so it was often depicted as an island until around 1800.

14. That our eyes shoot out beams of invisible light.

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The ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed that the reason we can see is because our eyes generate invisible beams, which pass back information about the objects they touch. When two people looked at each other, it was thought that their eye beams "twisted" together, which is both lovely and kind of weird.

15. That gin was a cure for gout and indigestion.

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Gin's initial use was as a medicine – it was thought to be a cure for gout and indigestion. In fact, it was the opposite. In the 1700s gin was about 80% abv, was diluted with turpentine and sulphuric acid, and was laced with copious amounts of sugar to mask the taste. It was gut-rotting death juice, basically. Urgh.

16. And that there was a bull who had acid poop.

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It was called a "bonnacon", and was depicted by medieval artists as a bull with inward-curling horns. Because its horns weren't any use, it was said to defend itself from attackers by firing large quantities of acidic, burning faeces from its butt, burning anyone behind it in the process. A bit like a dad who's had too much vindaloo.

UPDATE

This post has been updated to reflect BuzzFeed's editorial standards.