Daily Archives: March 10, 2009

Where’s the Honey, Mummy?

monk_mummy_3While we are still on the mummy theme, I saw on the PT site that a few Buddhist temples in northern Japan house a number of “living mummies.” In an attempt to achieve Nirvana, these monks had to undergo a gruesome three-step process:

1) Eat a diet of nuts and seeds, exercising vigorously for 1,000 days to rid the body of fat.

2) Eat only bark and roots for the next 1,000 days while sipping on poisonous tea made from the sap of the urushi tree. 

3) Finally retreat to an underground tomb and meditate until dead. Leave for 1,000 days and voila, if the corpse is still well preserved, then they are deemed to be a living mummy.

This reminded me of the medieval delicacy of mellified man described by Mary Roach in her gloriously hilarious book, “Stiff.” Mellified man was a delicate sweet used for medicinal purposes and was allegedly prepared in the following way according to the Chinese Materia Medica (1597),

“… In Arabia there are men 70 to 80 years old who are willing to give their bodies to save others. The subject does not eat food, he only bathes and partakes of honey. After a month, he only excretes honey (the urine and feces are entirely honey) and death follows. His fellow men place him in a stone coffin full of honey in which he macerates. The date is put on the coffin giving the year and month. After a hundred years, the seals removed. A confection is formed which is used for the treatment of broken bones and wounded limbs. A small amount taken internally will immediately cure the complaint”

Such an account seems entirely fanciful but there was a roaring trade in the apocatheries of Europe for elixir made from North African mummies. Mummy elixir was so popular that it created a black market trade with grave robbing and faked mummies, a situation that has not changed today. Today, the practice is more motivated by selling corpses to gullible collectors rather than those seeking a quick human nibble. Needless to say, this all smacks of human essentialist reasoning where eating human flesh is believed to bestow some magical power.


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