According to the Platform Sutra, the fifth patriarch of Chan Buddhism held a poetry contest to determine his successor. But it became a contest for the soul of Chan Buddhism itself.
Going from house to house singing Christmas carols is a long-held tradition. But what if the wassailers turn up with a goat or a horse’s head? And what if they take you with them?
The Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas has a deceptive title. The real Wenceslas’ reputation for goodness was mainly posthumous, as was his rank and title. Also he may have been murdered by his brother after a drunken fight.
Around 1730 a German secret society recorded their initiation rituals in an encrypted manuscript. In 2011, that cipher was finally decoded.
Benedict IX has to be one of history’s strangest popes. He was one of the youngest popes ever appointed, he was the pope on three non-consecutive occasions, and he’ll go down in history as the only pope to ever sell the papacy.
The Ethiopian and Coptic Orthodox Churches hold that Pontius Pilate, the governor who condemned Jesus Christ to death, later converted to Christianity himself, and they revere Pilate as a saint.
Wadi al-Salaam, the Valley of Peace, in Iraq is the largest cemetery in the world; more than five million people are buried there.
Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, occurs sometimes in Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian gatherings. It is supposed to be the language of God – but what does it say?
One of the longest measurements of time appears in ancient Hindu scriptures: the mahā-kalpa, equal to 311.04 trillion years.
Behold the fabulous creatures of myth and legend! The dragon, the phoenix, the basilisk, the roc, the unicorn… and the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary?
The Imperial Regalia of Japan consists of a legendary sword, mirror, and jewel. They are brought out at every imperial enthronement, but only a few priests and the emperor himself are ever allowed to see them.
The Cloaca Maxima in Rome is one of the world’s first sewer systems. It still works today, and with good reason: it has its own goddess.
Some of the first public schools in North America were founded explicitly to counteract “that old deluder, Satan.”
By most modern interpretations, Islamic law forbids charging interest. So some modern banks have found ways to profitably lend money without it.
An urban legend from the late 1980s claimed that Soviet scientists had drilled so far down they hit hell – and brought back an audio recording of the suffering souls. But it was actually Baron Blood.
Some of the best beers in the world (according to aficionados) are also among the rarest beers in the world.