9 Controversial Rituals Still Practiced Today

1Female Genital Mutilation (Africa)

The practice involves cutting a girl's vagina to create a seal that narrows the opening, making it just wide enough to allow the passing of urine and menstrual blood. Infibulated girls often have their legs bound together for up to four weeks to allow the freshly fused tissue to heal.

In most cases cutting is done by a traditional practitioner without any anesthesia and little care for hygiene. Razors, knives, or scissors are used and they are rarely sterilized. The surgery takes place wherever it is convenient, from out in the open to a bathroom floor.

2Bloodletting for the Annual Mourning Rite (Shi'a Muslims)

Ritual Ashura bloodletting is one of several ceremonies at Shi'ite sites across the world marking the death of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Imam Hussein at the 7th century battle of Kerbala, in which Shi'ite men hit the heads of boys with daggers, spilling blood onto Muslim streets.

People mourn the fact that they were not present at the battle to fight and save Husayn and his family by spilling their own blood and that of their children. Shi'a Muslims commonly believe that taking part in Ashura absolves them of sin. A popular Shi'a saying has it that, "a single tear shed for Husayn washes away a hundred sins."

3Putting Elderly Out to Die in the Ice (Eskimos)

One of the most well-known stories about the Eskimos is the strange practice that they have adopted when facing death and old age.
When old age strikes, the elderly Eskimos are taken out to sea and set adrift on a floating iceberg. Alone on their iceberg, the elderly must inevitably freeze or starve to death.

Because the Eskimos believed that another world awaits their dead, they would be sending the elderly to move on to the afterlife with dignity, a way to gracefully exit without becoming a burden for the family. However, there are concerns that this practice is still in use among modern Eskimos.

4Drinking from Human Skulls and Practicing Cannibalism (India)

The Aghoris of northern India are a splinter sect of Hinduism who still practice cannibalism. They consume the flesh of the dead bodies floating in the Ganges, in pursuit of immortality and supernatural powers. Members of the Aghori drink from human skulls and practice cannibalism in the belief that eating human flesh confers spiritual and physical benefits, such as the prevention of aging.

5Eating Dead People's Ashes (Venezuela and Brazil)

The Yanomamö attribute a large fraction of deaths to the actions of malevolent shamans who send demons to consume the souls of people. Owing to this reason, upon death the corpse is very quickly burned. The men then collect and pulverize the bones and pour the ash into a set of gourds. After about a year, close relatives and villagers consume the ash, which is mixed into a large trough of plantain soup. This type of endocannibalism demonstrates affection for the dead and solidarity with the deceased's relatives. It also helps insure that the souls of the dead will find their way to a paradise, according to their tradition.

6Pulling a Tooth during Adulthood (Australia)

In this ritual a man lies down on his back, resting his head on the lap of a sitting man. Later, he fills his mouth with fur string for the purpose of absorbing the blood, deadening the pain, and preventing the tooth from being swallowed, as well. The same man then takes a piece of wood in which a hole is made, usually the sharp end of a spear, presses it firmly against the tooth, and strikes it sharply with a stone.

7Massacring Animals (India, Indonesia and Nepal)

Bali Sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal in Hinduism. The method includes strangulation and the use of a wooden spile driven into the heart. The reason for this is that priests see it as a bad omen for the animals to make noise when killed.

The ritual slaughter normally forms part of a festival to honor a Hindu God. Ritual animal sacrifice also includes a cockfight where a rooster is used to fight against another rooster, a form of animal sacrifice. The spilling of blood is necessary as purification to appease the evil spirits.

8Making a Subincision into the Urethra (Australia)

Subincision, an incisura of the urethra, is especially significant in its association with a secret-sacred ritual in Australian Aboriginal culture.

In this operation, a slit is cut through the ventral surface of the penis into the urethra from its orifice to a position about a inch along the shaft of the penis. The slit is usually extended bit by bit until the full extent of the penile urethra is converted into an open channel.

Because the channel tends to heal over at the proximal end, some people modify the operation by making transverse cuts.

9Wearing Collars of Metal (Thailand and other African tribes)

The custom of wearing neck rings is related to an ideal of beauty: an elongated neck. The rings are, in fact, a long brass-wound spiral. The spiral is wound around the neck manually by women. Brass is a tough metal and the process can take several hours depending on length.
The length of the coil is gradually increased to as much as twenty turns. The weight of the coils eventually places sufficient pressure on the shoulder blades to cause them to deform, creating an impression of a longer neck.