Over the course of history, the evolution of culture and religion has determined society to condemn certain practices that, at one point or another, were perceived as normal/natural. However, just because people consider a behavior unethical or unacceptable, that does not necessarily entail it can be classified as taboo.
In order for a custom to earn a place in the category of taboo subjects, it also needs to be repugnant and abhorred by the general public up to the point when people naturally refrain from bringing it up in a conversation. Let’s find out the top ten things that scare and unsettle most of us.
1. Cannibalistic rituals
Few people nowadays would have the “stomach” to engage in cannibalistic practices. However, cannibalism has been recorded numerous times throughout history and there are also examples of such acts in the animal world. The most common reason for eating a member of your own specie in the animal kingdom is survival or, in the case of the praying mantis, part of the mating ritual. However, cannibalism among animals is fairly rare because it would be a threat to the survival of the specie. For humans nowadays, cannibalism is part of religious rituals and certain tribes in Papua and India still practice them. In the early days, starvation and war also determined people to resort to it.
2. Incestuous sexual conducts
Incest entails engaging in sexual intercourse with a member of your immediate family (parents, siblings, first cousins, etc.). Even though earlier history can present numerous cases when certain cultures perceived incestuous sex as normal and it was utilized by monarchs to preserve the blue blood pure, nowadays we all know that inbreeding is one of the main causes for the birth of children with congenital defects. However, although in most parts of the world incest is prohibited by law, there are no legal consequences in countries such as China, France or Russia, providing that the act is consensual.
Murder may not be regarded as taboo in the event that the act is performed as self defense or in times of war, but there is no social or legal justification for it otherwise. The reason for this is rather simple: if the state would tolerate even one such behavior, it would eventually cause anarchy among the people and the resulting consequences would be dire. Murders are all the more taboo if the death of the victim is violent and painful.
4. Sexual fetishes
Contrary to popular belief, not only behaviors like pedophilia, bestiality, scatophilia or necrophilia have made their way in the sexual taboos. In fact, the only sexual preference that is generally perceived as normal is heterosexuality. In spite of the numerous movements supporting the idea that homosexuality is natural or that masturbation is not a sin in the eyes of God, people still openly refrain from discussing these topics in public. However, the former fetishes bring along legal punishments as well as social stigma.
The sanctity of life has determined most popular religions to prohibit suicide, because it is considered a spiteful action against the god who has offered you the gift of life. Needless to say, tolerating or encouraging suicide would also be counterproductive for the long term survival of human kind. This is also why suicide is illegal in most parts of the world, even though a person who has decided to commit the act doesn’t probably have a lot to fear after he goes through with it, providing of course that he is successful.
6. Dead bodies
Few of us would feel comfortable in the presence of a dead body and even fewer would actually touch it. Nobody can say for certain what it is exactly that frighten us about the dead, especially when we should be more afraid of the living. It is likely that the religious ceremonies and the methods utilized to dispose of the corpse are meant to ensure that the spirit is at rest and that the dead will not return from the grave to haunt us. In addition, the bacteria cultures that begin to develop after death, constitute a source of disease after a certain period. However, even though the body does not begin to decompose immediately after death and the harmful microorganisms take some time to grow, we still naturally refrain from touching corpses and individuals who work in autopsy rooms are usually shun by society.
7. Eating the flesh of a carnivorous animal
It is widely believed that the flesh of carnivorous animals contains many harmful substances and eating it is harmful for the human body. With the exception of bears, crocodiles, ducks, foxes and fish, few carnivores end up part of our normal diet.
8. Certain categories of beverages and aliments
There are numerous aliments and beverages that are considered illegal or that are prohibited by the members of certain religions. For instance, a Hindu will never touch beef, while a Muslim or a Jew will always refrain from eating pork. In addition, you won’t see a true Muslim believer drinking alcoholic beverages or a faithful Sikh smoking.
9. Weddings between interracial/inter-religion couples
You will be surprised but this is still prevalent in many cultures today. Most societies and religions prohibit or discourage the marriage between interracial couples and people with two religious backgrounds for one simple reason: the loss of cultural identity. When the two spouses have completely different sets of values, their adjustment to the new married status becomes difficult. At the same time, their children will be forced to choose one religion or the other, which will not only generate conflicts but also waters down the numbers of followers of the shunned certain faith.
10. Normal bodily functions
Even though they are part of the body’s mechanisms, bodily functions are not exactly the best topic in a conversation because the vast majority of people perceive them as repulsive. We may accept the fact that bodily functions are normal in private, but we avoid thinking about our friends or family members on the toilet or changing a tampon because the mental picture is simply disturbing. The same goes for things like accidental flatulence, but an informal gather will probably tolerate and even find it hilarious, in spite of the fact that the person doing feels extremely embarrassed.