20 Most Shocking Religious Practices Around the World

shocking religious rituals

Cults are strange and sometimes scary. This list includes 20 of the most frightening and unbelievably terrifying groups of individuals known to man. Some of their rituals are considered to be taboo in today’s society. Others are just simply unthinkable and make us shiver just from reading about them. These cults have been found all across the globe and include places such as India, Africa, and the United States.

Some of the leaders of these cults have been captured by police and sentenced to time behind bars. Others have escaped that peril or have chosen suicide as a way out. Still others have been killed by enemies. There are still other leaders that are still out there. The stories behind the members of these cults and their various practices will shock and disturb you.

From bloody tendencies to strange misconceptions and beliefs, some of these groups have amassed a large following, while others are very much under the radar. As you read this list, you will learn about some groups that you have never heard of and others that you wish you had never heard of. The list is just an example of the horror humans are capable of.

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20 Exorcisms - Catholicism

In some religious circles, mostly among Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox churches, exorcisms are performed. This is a ritual in which a priest (only an ordained religious leader can take part) helps to release evil demons and spirits from a person. People who have an exorcism performed on them may display outrageous and dangerous behavior. Yet many outsiders consider these ritualistic practices to be superstitious or even related to magic or mysticism. Furthermore, what is to say that the person is just insane or has a mental disability? It evokes images or references to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, when those with mental disabilities were just given lobotomies.

19 Kaparot - Judaism

Those who love animals or consider themselves animal-rights activists will find this Jewish ritual quite disturbing. In Kaparot, a person holds a chicken (one that is alive and well) and revolves the bird around their head three times. This transfers the person’s sinful wrongdoing to the chicken, who is then killed. Yet it may make you feel a bit better to know that the chicken is not just discarded or thrown by the wayside. Rather it is usually given to the needy and should be eaten at a religious feast, such as Yom Kippur. As you may suspect, PETA and the like find this ritual extremely horrifying, and there have been public protests.

18 Shamanism - Tibetan Buddhism

Shamanism is the practice of having a sort of medium serve as a mediator between people and the spirit world. It is a ritual that takes place in various religions, including Tibetan Buddhism. Shamans are usually older individuals who exhibit an air of wisdom and knowledge. These people are approached for help with interpreting dreams, the weather, and the stars. People go to them for answers to their most burning questions, but sometimes shamans can be quite frightening, yelling and seemingly losing control of their motor skills. It is also said that they can control the weather and other spirits, making them mystical yet somewhat horrifying individuals. We certainly would not want to mess with them.

17 Sati - Hinduism

Via upload.wikimedia.org

In the Hindu religion, there is an ancient and traditional ritual known as Sati. This is when a wife will commit suicide after her husband’s death. The practice of widows burning themselves alive is supposed to represent the warrior culture of the 4th century B.C.E. It was actually quite an aristocratic thing to do and was most prevalent in India, but also made an appearance in other Southeast Asian countries. While Sati may have been a voluntary action for some widows, in other instances it was absolutely enforced. Sometimes the widow was given a drug to sedate her and was then tied up to her husband’s funeral pyre.

16 Live Burials -Hinduism

Via upload.wikimedia.org

This is another religious Indian ritual. Some Hindu communities hold the belief that they should cremate the dead, rather than bury them. Yet, other communities prefer to do the burying practice, and apply this activity to wives. Sometimes if a husband were to pass away before his wife, it was the wife’s marital duty to be buried alongside her husband while she was still alive. These live burials are carried out with a Bramin (Hindu religious leader) digging a hole in the ground that exceeds the height of the husband and wife by one foot. The two individuals are then lowered into the hole and covered with sand. The sand is piled up about a foot above ground level and then participants and witnesses dance on the sand.

15 Digambara - Jainism

Via upload.wikimedia.org

Digambara is one of the two primary sects of Jainism, in which an elder religious leader refrains from wearing clothes. In their minds, they are simply wearing the world, or their surrounding environment. The ritual is said to be a way to follow Lord Mahavira and turn away from the physical body’s worldly commands. Being in the buff represents being freed from convention and societal norms; in a way it is like a state of enlightenment. While these religious leaders do not wear any clothing, they do walk around with a peacock feather and a water dish. These individuals can mostly be found in parts of India.

14 Denial of Blood Transfusions - Jehovah’s Witness

Via richarddawkins.net

This is a practice that is featured in the realm of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is a piece of doctrine in this religion that states that the Bible does not allow for the transfusion of blood among people under any circumstances. The doctrine also includes instances of storing or drinking blood. Therefore Jehovah’s Witnesses would not be permitted to receive a blood transfusion even if it were a matter of life and death. We are not sure how many Jehovah’s Witnesses actually follow this rule, but about 50 years ago, the doctrine also included blood transfusions for pets as being prohibited as well.

13 Human Sacrifices - The Fall Rivers Cult

Via abstractinfluence.com

The Fall Rivers Cult in Massachusetts was a terrifying Satanic cult founded by a 25-year-old man. He claimed to be the son of Satan and said he had received orders to start the cult. Only about 10 people had joined, but there was loads of horrifying damage done. Founder Carl Drew was known for mistreating prostitutes (whom he had working for him). He held séances in River Falls and spoke in a different tongue and tone of voice. He used sex and drugs to perform rituals and that eventually morphed into using human sacrifices. Multiple young women were killed by this cult, usually be having their hands bound and their skulls crushed.

12 Revenge Sacrifice - U.S. Satanic Cult

Via picslist.com

In order to seek revenge against a blackmailer and ensure that he never spoke again, some members of a Satanic cult in the United States resorted to a gruesome human sacrifice. They were threatened by a snubbed applicant who wanted to join the cult. In order to keep him quiet and pay for threatening to blackmail them for a murder they committed, the cult members sacrificed him to Satan. They placed him on a manmade altar and said prayers before slicing him up. They cut an inverted cross on his chest and killed him slowly and gruesomely. The members were eventually caught by the police and were sentenced to decades in jail.

11 Spilling of Blood - Santa Muerte Cult

Via escapistmagazine.com

In Mexico there is a terrifying culture known as the Santa Muerte cult. Santa Muerte stands for Saint Death, and is part of Mexican folklore. She is recognized for accompanying people to the afterlife once they die and is a constant reminder of one’s own mortality. When police in Mexico were informed of the disappearances of two young boys, and then a middle-aged woman, they were tipped off about one of the boys’ grandmothers. The police invaded her home and found all three bodies in or around the facility. As it turns out, the grandmother was a member and leader of the Santa Muerte cult and had carried out the murders, sacrificing the blood of the deceased on an altar for Santa Muerte.

10 Castration and Death - The Superior Universal Alignment

Via ipsnoticias.net

The Superior Universal Alignment is a religious cult in Altamira, Brazil. About 25 years ago, there were various missing persons cases involving young boys. As these cases continued to appear over the next four years, further police action was taken. It was discovered that some of the boys had been castrated and left in the jungle of Brazil to die a slow, painful death. The Superior Universal Alignment remained off the hook until about 2003 when it was revealed that a woman in her 70s was the leader. The cult involved aristocratic Brazilians who had used their high status to avoid police punishment.

9 Flower Girls - Black Jesus Cult

Via fc04.deviantart.net

The “Flower Girls” of the Black Jesus cult were found in Papua New Guinea, and were concubines for Black Jesus founder Stephen Tari (who referred to himself as “Black Jesus.”) The Flower Girls numbered over 400 at one point, and were often raped, involved in other sexual acts, and murdered. Even more horrifying, Tari and his followers were said to consume the dead’s flesh and drink their blood. The police eventually took custody of Tari and sentenced him on various accounts. Yet Tari managed to escape from jail and continued his killing and raping streak. In 2013, he was captured and killed.

8 Animal Sacrifices - Yaroslavl, Russia Satanists

Via upload.wikimedia.org

In Yaroslavl, Russia, there was a teen cult dedicated to Satan. The teens were mentally afflicted and led by Nikolai Ogolobyak. The group used various small animals in sacrificing rituals to Satan. They firmly believed that these sacrifices helped them improve the quality of their lives. Yet, the teens also resorted to killing humans as well. In one instance, they misled four adolescents into a forest and stabbed them. The teen cult was also said to consume flesh and chop off limbs to throw them into a pit. Some of the cult members were caught by police and charged with murder. Some of them were deemed mentally insane.

7 The Farm of Jeffrey Lundgren

Via huffingtonpost.com

Jeffrey Lundgren started as a minister in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He was able to amass a large following due to his likeability and orating skills. Yet he soon became a figure in the church of questionable actions. The other religious leaders in the Church were concerned and he was later asked to leave the Church. Lundgren was convinced that he knew a different way of interpreting scriptures, so he started his own religious group on his farm in Ohio. He made his followers give him their paychecks, train in weaponry, and have little privacy. He forced women to engage in sexual practices and he even resorted to human sacrifice.

6 Ritual Rape and Murder - The Ripper Crew

Via huffingtonpost.co.uk

The Ripper Crew was just as terrifying as they sound. They were engaged in a string of violent rapes and murders in Chicago. After citizens were found to be missing, police investigated and discovered The Ripper Crew had captured and raped her before killing her. A strange aspect of these types of murders by The Ripper Crew was that they all involved cutting off the left breast of the victim. The members of the cult were men and were known to beckon women and lure them into their van before escaping with them to commit rape and murder. It is said that the men would cut off the left breast of their victims, masturbate onto it and then consume it between them.

5 False Prophets - The Children of Thunder

Via youtube.com

The Children of Thunder were a cult that was led by a young man claiming that he had received word from God. He needed some money to start his cult, however. So, he tried selling drugs and later stealing money from an elderly couple. The Children of Thunder ended up killing off the elderly couple when they were not able to steal their money. They then chopped up the dead bodies and prayed over them. They were particularly fond of cutting up bodies, and did so with the founder’s girlfriend as well. The founder was captured by police and sentenced to life in prison. At age 41, he ended up committing suicide in his jail cell.

4 Necrophagy - Aghori Babas

Via pixshark.com

Necrophagy, or the practice of consuming the rotting and decayed flesh of the dead, is a ritual among the Aghori Babas in Varanasi, India. Since they think that the biggest human fear is the fear of death, they consume dead bodies in the hopes of achieving enlightenment and eliminating that fear. The Aghori actually keep an eye out along the waters of the Ganges River in India. When a dead body floats into their territory, they go into the waters and pull them out. Then in a ritualistic practice, the members consume the dead flesh. These dead are usually victims of leprosy or lethal snake wounds.

3 Sun Dance - Native AmericanTribes

Via prezi.com

The Sun Dance ritual is performed by some groups of Native Americans. The ritual involves being pierced with a spear-type weapon, which is connected to a rope attached to a pole. The whole contraption is supposed to represent the Tree of Life, which is an earthly spirit. The ritual is done to give honor to the Great Spirit, and while the participant tries to wriggle free from the spear lodged in their chest, they perform a sort of shuffle, or dance. This can end up taking hours of pain and discomfort. Others stand by and watch the Sun Dance be performed.

2 Self-Flagellation - Shi’a Muslims

Via friendlyatheist.tumblr.com

Self-flagellation, the practice of flogging oneself, is a ritual that is performed by some members of the Shi’a sect of Islam. They perform this self-flagellation during Muharram, the Holy month. The ritual is meant to be performed in remembrance of Hussein, whose grandfather was the Prophet Muhammad. As groups and groups of people slash away at themselves while wearing white garments, they scream out and walk through the streets. Their swords and blades are usually attached to them by chains, and they appear to be in a dazed Bacchus trance. It is said that they do not feel the pain of the deep cuts and wounds.

1 Voodoo - West African Vodun

Via en.wikipedia.org

In some regions of West Africa, people take part in the practice of Voodoo. Vodun is a religious sect in Africa that involves using an individual as a means of communication with a spirit. The person is a sort of human vessel or medium and allows the others to perform a ritual to the Earth Spirit, who is called Sakpata. The person who serves as the spiritual vessel is brought into the forest and stay there for three days. They receive no food, no water, and they become unconscious through a ritual. After three days, another ritual is performed to bring them back to a state of consciousness and they can return to the community.

Sources: all-that-is-interesting.com, britannica.com, atheism.about.com, listverse.com

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