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.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Where’s the Honey, Mummy?

  1. there are no honey faeces at the gimcrack😦

  2. Arno

    Not just eating it though: famous magician Aleister Crowley claimed that there is no better parchment for writing magical figures or talismans on than bits of ancient mummy skin when performing sex magic, whereas Eliphas Levi describes the use of the skin of a sacrifice (along with the nails from the coffin of an executed criminal) to create a magic circle to summon the devil with ( in Chapter 16, page 87 ). Obviously, the bones of the dead were also used as a tool to summon the dead with as well (chapter 13 of the above mentioned book).

    All of it is very much in line with the idea that parts of the dead can be used as magical artifacts, like the Hand of Glory. It’s interesting in what ways humans try to manipulate that thing that they fear most – death. …sucks to be a frog though.

  3. Woah, mellified man? I have got to get me some of that. I bet it tastes just like cotton candy and burlap.

    I’d be curious as to what parts of the world this would have been practiced. I can’t imagine the Christian world being too jazzed about drinking mummyjuice.

    Would this have been a predominantly middle/far eastern practice?

  4. My mind is swirling with goofy dietary ideas at the moment. Like how some people think their farts smell like rosebuds. If eating honey for a month will turn your pee to honey, then all those folks have to do is eat rose petals. I wonder what will happen if I exist on chocolate and champagne.

  5. poietes

    First, I’m glad that I just finished my bowl of cereal. Second, I kind of wish that I hadn’t eaten that bowl of cereal before reading this.

    Third, can we submit names for people we wish to become living mummies? I have a few that I would like to nominate.

    And finally, I don’t care if he drank faery meade and ate honeysuckle for a month, I’m not touching his feces . . .

  6. brucehood

    Ok.. I think I have grossed a few out with this post so I will try in future to raise the tone a little.. well I have a few more similar tales to share.

  7. Arno

    As a matter of fact, Insignificant (or should I call you Nobody? …either way, interesting name!), European people did practice medical cannibalism, as Bruce mentions in a different blog post. Dr. Sugg wrote an academic article in 2006 on medical cannibalism as well, and claims it was very wide-spread.

    It’s probably a consequence of sympatheic magic laws mixing with body-mind dualism into a single coherent framework that believes that both life and death are special states (in that even dead bodies still have a residue of the living in them), and that association with bits of others can help heal your broken bits.

  8. brucehood

    Yes, insignificantnobody, Arno is right. Pope Innocent drank the blood of young boys on his deathbed.. thanks A. I forgot I posted that.

  9. Arno

    Gah! Completely forgot about this! In line with the Buddhist mummies are the Incorruptables. In Catholicism, there is the belief that the bodies of certain Saints never decomposed after their death, suggesting that the bodies were under divine protection and that the deceased were saints! Here is a quick list of the ‘Incorruptables’.

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