The 5 Most Bizarre Traditions Involving Insects

Many cultures outside of the U.S. have strange and fantastic rituals as a part of their traditions and heritage. Some customs that take place in indigenous tribes from the Amazon all the way to the west coast of the United States are deeply rooted in an appreciation and awe of the insect world. If you have a hard time overcoming a fear of insects, you won't believe what other people around the world endure as part of their rituals. Entomophobes, beware.

5. Celebration of Ah-Mucen-Kab, the Ancient Mayan Bee God

Ka'apor Ant Honey from the stingless bee genus Melipona was extremely valuable to the Mayans and their traditions. Two times a year, a priest (or shaman) would collect honey from these bees for a religious ceremony. Because the bees were seen as an offshoot of Ah-Mucen-Kab, the god of bees and honey, the honey collectors treated them with extreme care, making sure to divide already existing nests so as to not harm the population as a whole. If a bee was accidentally killed during the process of collecting the honey, there was a standard protocol to follow in order to honor the life of the bee. The shaman would wrap the bee's body in a leaf and bury it in the ground, much like the treatment of a human's body after death.

4. Ka'apor Womanhood Neoponera Ant Ritual

Ka'apor Ant The Ka'apor, an indigenous group in Brazil within the reserve of Maranhão, take the transition to womanhood very seriously. In order for a girl to become a woman, she is secluded for almost two weeks with a stringent diet. After her time is up in seclusion, her hair is cut very short, her legs are cut with the tooth of an agouti, and she must endure live stinging Pachycondula commutata ants on her waist, chest, and forehead. In order to prove that she has made the transition to becoming a woman, she must go through this experience without crying audibly. If she is able to accomplish this, she is welcomed into the Ka'apor as an adult.

3. The Ancient Egyptian Dung Beetle God Khepri & the Sacred Scarab

Ka'apor Ant Ancient Egyptians worshipped Khepri, the dung beetle god, as a symbol of creation and manifestation. Since these beetles emerge from the balls of dung in which they develop and "hatch" when they are ready, the Egyptians pegged them as a symbol of rising as the sun rises. In mummification practices, amulets and seals were created in the fashion of these sacred scarab beetles and placed over the heart of the mummified body when laid to rest in the tomb. It was said that these beetle-themed pieces of stone would grant the deceased more leniency in the final judgment of their afterlife. Usually inscribed on the scarab stones was a saying that read, "Do not stand as a witness against me."

2. Satere-Mawe Paraponera Manhood Initiation

Satere-Mawe

The indigenous tribe Satere-Mawe from the Amazon rain forest in Brazil is infamous for their brutal initiation ritual. When a boy is ready to become a man, he must endure a painful challenge. Tribe elders catch Paraponera, a genus of ants that are known for their excruciating sting that is followed by an entire day of agony and swelling. Also called bullet ants, this insect's sting resembles a sensation of being shot by a firearm. When a boy believes he is ready to become a man, he must put on a pair of gloves that are full of angry Paraponera with their stingers ready. The initiate must keep these gloves on for at least 10 minutes while suffering an endless number of burning stings. If the boy cries while attempting this ritual, he is not yet a man and must undertake the obligation a second time. When the boy can endure the bullet ant stings for 10 minutes without shedding a tear, he is considered a man.

1. Red Harvester Ant "Dream Helper" Rite

Red Harvester Ant

In southern and central California, indigenous tribes (including the Kitanemuk, Kawaiisu, Tubatulabal, and Chumask) take part in an unimaginable ritual. They believe that in order to acquire a "dream helper" that can bestow the power to cure others and gain a shamanic power of understanding of the universe, one can consume hundreds of live red harvester ants. The ant's venom contains a potent hallucinogen that many believe is the conduit to higher understanding and power. Though this ritual is not required for coming of age or mandatory within the tribes, those who desire to hallucinate or become a shaman can elect to undergo this tradition. The interested boy or man must fast and detox his body for days before the ritual to give the venom a more pungent liminal effect. Once the ants are force-fed to the volunteer on eagle feathers, he is then startled by the "ant doctor" who fed him, which startles the ants and causes them all to bite simulatenously. This causes immediate loss of consciousness. After he comes to, the boy or man can become a shaman.

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