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DThorn's avatar

What are some archaic practices/beliefs still used in modern society?

Asked by DThorn (168points) February 23rd, 2011

For my English class we’re doing a project on archaic practices/beliefs in the modern world and why they still exist. It’s based off a book we just read called “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini. In it some practices like

-Stoning of women
-Forced dress code
-Combination of Church and State
-Forced Religion

are seen in the book. My teacher wants us to pick 3 other practices that are still used today. They can’t be too broad or too narrow, enough to write a nice research paper on as well as make a Power Point on.

I’ve thought up of one so far; Sacrificing animals (In Islam, Hinduism, native traditions etc)

Can you guys please help me think up of a few more?

I’m accepting any answers since all I need is a list of practices which I will then narrow down to one by next week.

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46 Answers

6rant6's avatar

People put corpses in wooden boxes, bury them in the ground, mark the spot with a rock (sometimes with carvings on it) and return to the place to “talk with” the dead.

6rant6's avatar

People gathering for meals often pause before the meal to speak to some supernatural power. This may happen even though many of the people there don’t believe that anyone is listening, but my be afraid to oppose the ritual for fear of upsetting those who do believe.

Along this line, people may say “Bless you” to some one who sneezes in reference to an ancient belief that sneezing might allow the soul to escape. This practice continues even among people who do not believe in the existence of a soul.

Finally, people may seek to have domestic relationships “blessed” by a religious figure in a place where people regularly congregate for communion and worship. Even people who don’t attend such services may seek to have a union “blessed” in one of these facilities.

mammal's avatar

You’re picking specifically those archaic beliefs that are contentious, but sure, Christenings. what are the point of Christenings? Women taking the surname of their male spouse. English public schools are brimming with pointless, obscure traditions dreamt up by adolescent kids with too much money and too little motherly love. But worst of all the English Monarchy, that is the most scandalous, another obsolete tradition ridden institution.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Belief in gods, capital punishment, belief in ghosts, banning women from the armed services, arranged marriages (in some parts of the world), and prostitution have all been around for centuries, and are outdated, archaic practices/beliefs (although it could be argued that prostitution still has a useful role to play in modern society).

TexasDude's avatar

Divination in the form of Tarot readings, palmistry, astrology, etc.

meiosis's avatar

Capital Punishment



augustlan's avatar

English barristers (lawyers) still dress like this.

seazen's avatar

Quite the iconoclastic thread thus far. I don’t know if the OP meant actual rituals as well, but the “toes being the new nose” in plastic surgery has me rather miffed. What women (feel they) must do…

DominicX's avatar

Circumcision is the one I thought of immediately. Marriage itself is also quite old-fashioned but still remains as both a legal and traditional practice. Saying “bless you” when people sneeze is another one; I still say it sometimes but I think it’s stupid at the same time. I don’t consider it “manners” in the way saying “thank you” acknowledges that you are grateful for something someone did for you; it’s just superstition that really has no meaning.

Fyrius's avatar

Lots of religious people still gather in a house of worship on a weekly or otherwise regular basis.

Muslims still won’t eat pork, while any health-and-safety reasons not to do so have been long since eliminated.

Some people still believe the relative positions of the stars from our vantage point can predict the future. A lot of people don’t really believe it but want to read the predictions anyway.

A lot of people believe in a cosmic force called “Luck”, which determines the outcome of various deterministic but difficult-to-predict events. It is believed that the side a die lands on, the symbols a casino machine shows, the lamp that is activated in a traffic light and various other such things are actually determined by the Luck of the person who benefits from or is harmed by them, rather than by gravity and momentum or by internal mechanisms.
Many of them believe a person’s Luck is improved by horse shoes and four leaf clovers and worsened by ladders and black cats.

Most of us still practically believe planet Earth is all there is to the universe. We know vaguely that there’s some other stuff up there, but we’re not really aware of any of it, and most people don’t care. That stuff belongs in sci-fi movies, it’s certainly not part of the real world.

We shake hands and greet each other by waving. We applaud. Those are ancient customs too.
Military people salute each other with a gesture that was originally intended for opening the visor on the helmet of a suit of armour. Or so I’m told.

thorninmud's avatar

The sexualization of the human breast.

Use of makeup.

Female genital mutilation.

Oh, and I’m told some people still send letters and have land lines

WasCy's avatar

Anything that people believe in for “luck” is ancient superstition – or based on those superstitious beliefs.

Kids still believe in monsters under beds and in closets when they’re probably sitting on the couch in the living room watching television.

Ideas about caste, class or status of other people (or oneself) that makes them somehow ‘better’ than oneself (or others).

Wedding rings. The idea of marriage itself as a civil institution isn’t particularly ‘archaic’ – it’s still a useful enough custom that keeps it from being archaic – but the idea that it has to be symbolized in particular ways is.

The idea that it takes a particular course of education and internship in order to be able to prescribe simple medication and perform even simple operations, such as stitching a cut. I wouldn’t want a heart surgeon who had only read about the operation in a book, but almost anyone can dress a wound or even administer antibiotics. (The same principle applies to lawyers.)

JLeslie's avatar

Corporal punishment of children is still legal in all 50 states in the US and many countries around the world. Corporal punishment in schools is legal in about half of the states.

Some people still believe illness is a punishment from God or the work of the devil.

JLeslie's avatar

@6rant6 I didn’t have my marriage “blessed” by a rabbi, I just had it conducted by a rabbi out of tradition. I actually ddn’t care who married us, my husband was the one who wanted it religious and traditional, in retrospect I am vey happy we did it that way.

Which makes me think that the traditions that are not really hurting anyone, what’s the harm if people want to maintain them?

incendiary_dan's avatar

Ignoring cultural relativism.

kenmc's avatar

In Nigeria, they still burn suspected witches.

Warning: Link is very NSFW or NSFAnyone, really.

Seriously, it’s fucking horrifying. Watch at the risk of your own mental health.

6rant6's avatar

@JLeslie Who said they were hurting anyone? You can like them without them being modern or “reasonable”. If your husband feels his marriage is more likely to succeed, or “be fruitful” et cetera because it was in a temple, then I think he’s superstitious. If he tries to force his kids to get married in a temple, then we have an issue.

I see someone put dancing on this list. it’s old, sure, but archaic? Seems to fit out time as well as it did Plato’s.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Wives taking their husbands last name in marriage i didn’t tho

JLeslie's avatar

@6rant6 That’s my point, I don’t think he thinks it affects our marriage at all that a Rabbi did it, no superstition involved (it was in a hotel by the way not a temple) he just liked the ceremony of it. From what your wrote I felt, and still do, that you think all people who have religious ceremonies do it so their marriage is “sanctified by the church” just in case or something like that? It isn’t always the case.

6rant6's avatar

@jleslie No, I don’t think that. But certainly, many of those in attendance think that is what is going on even if the lead actors don’t.

JLeslie's avatar

@6rant6 Really? Interesting. I guess since I am a reformed Jew and most of my family is, I never thought of it that way.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Wow, apparently I’m pretty archaic… I was married in a church, I took my husband’s name and was happy to do so, I love my wedding ring and feel naked without it, I have tattoos, I have piercings, I actually (God forbid) have a land line, I say “bless you” when someone sneezes, I’ve had my tarot cards read, I own my own black cat to sort of “override” the black cat superstition (lol), I believe in ghosts/spirits, I wear makeup, I plan to be cremated when I die and have a lovely ritual performed where my favorite music is played and my ashes are dumped in one of my favorite locations…... but as far as life goes, and with some of the crazy shit that I’ve seen, I consider myself to be pretty freakkin normal.

To answer the question with an “abnormal” practice, any sort of ritual where a sacrifice is offered up, be it human or animal. Also, someone above mentioned the burning of witches, which is a ridiculous practice. And I’m not trying to stir up a racist hornet’s nest here, but pretty much everything about the way middle eastern women are treated is archaic/outdated/ignorant.

JLeslie's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate Yeah, for me, in my head, archaic doesn’t fit unless it is specifically abusive or oppressive. I took my husband’s name, loved having matching wddding bands at our wedding (simple bands no stones). What I care is the people do it of their own free will and there is no requirement by the family or the state for any of these things, and hopefully no social pressures. People do what feels right for them as individuals. What is archaic to me I guess, as I think about it, is people thinking they can decide for others how they should live.

6rant6's avatar

OP just asked for “archaic” practices, not “abusive” or “oppressive” or “wrong” or “abnormal”. No need to get defensive.

The actual dictionary definition of archaic has absolutely no negative connotation associated with it. It just means it’s linked to long ago. Writing your own definitions kind of makes communications difficult, doesn’t it?

6rant6's avatar

It’s funny how people see their own rituals as “normal” and those of other tribes as “abnormal”.

Speaking in tongues, drinking human blood, recitations in languages few understand, men in dresses, ritualized fasting, geometric medallions to curry favor with a deity… these all seem strange to me. But some still consider them “mainstream.”

I say “Bless you” when someone sneezes, although I would be hard pressed to explain what I think I’m doing. It’s archaic – it has roots in beliefs from long ago that I do not hold, have never held. It’s strange, it’s archaic, but I do it.

JLeslie's avatar

Not defensive, just explaining how I thought about it. The OP in his original question seemed to name things that are going out of style as we progress as a society.

Your comment reminds me of the Nacirema Tribe written about many years ago.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

syzygy2600's avatar

Some of these things are not archaic just “things I don’t agree with.”

Take capital punishment for example. Science tells us that serial killers will never change and will always be a danger to others. There is no logical reason to keep them alive, and it’s for the greater good of society for them to be destroyed. How is that archaic?

Now, capital punishment for stealing a loaf of bread, that’s a different story.

6rant6's avatar

@syzygy2600 Perhaps “Death by firing squad” and “Death by hanging” then?

DThorn's avatar

Thanks so much for all your help guys, I’ve created a nice list that’ll be researching up on and eventually I’ll pick one to do my project on.

All great answers by the way.

mattbrowne's avatar

People chatting with each other on the sidewalk or the subway, without cell phones or iPods or Mp3 players constantly plugged into their ears as they go about their daily activities.

meiosis's avatar

@syzygy2600 As 6rant6 said, archaic doesn’t have any negative connotations

However, capital punishment most certainly does. There is no moral relativism over pre-meditated killing when there is no sense of self-defense involved. It’s simply wrong. I don’t want to live in a society where we don’t let the immoral force us to join them in a race to the bottom.

For sake of argument I’ll accept your (profoundly unchristian) premise that ‘Science tells us that serial killers will never change and will always be a danger to others” How, exactly, does science tell us this? Could it be by studying and evaluating the psychologies of serial killers? Which is, of course, impossible if they were simply ‘destroyed’.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Keeping in mind that “archaic” must mean “very old” in the context of this question. Its other possible meaning, “no longer in use,” would make no sense given that we are being asked for archaic practices that are still in use. It may still mean “old-fashioned,” in which case we might be looking for things that are resistant to major changes (even if technology has changed certain aspects of them).

As such, morality might be a good example of an archaic set of beliefs and practices. It has been around for a very long time, and its substance remains fairly consistent even as the justifications given for it change.

meiosis's avatar

Oops, there was an extraneous “don’t” in that last comment. It should have read:

“I don’t want to live in a society where we let the immoral force us to join them in a race to the bottom.”

6rant6's avatar

Personally, I don’t see capital punishment as archaic. As a society, we make all kinds of decisions that doom people to death – health care, placement of traffic lights, military operations. It’s just that the victim is nameless and faceless. In my mind, it’s worse to condemn an unknown random innocent than a specific evildoer. We could save the lives of innocents by putting down the worst criminals and using the money saved or recovered to fund social or infrastructure programs.

That being said, the US’s administration of capital punishment is horrible, pathetic, and inhuman. But in theory, I think there’s a place for capital punishment.

Ron_C's avatar

Piercings, burials, prayers before sports contests, Christmas and other religious displays, Federally mandated religious holidays like Christmas. Tax deductions for religious organizations regardless of their contributions to charity.

Soubresaut's avatar

I’m late to this question, but

The idea that the only motive that will work in society is an artificial, exterior one (money). Archaic and still very much prevalent.

A link to an interesting video about motivation.
It’s already on my Fluther story but I don’t expect anyone to have read that, so there it is above.

WasCy's avatar

Excellent link, @DancingMind. Thanks much.

DThorn's avatar

Just thought you guys would like to know I picked “Sacrifice of Life” and my project is going incredibly well.

Thanks for all the help.

Fyrius's avatar


augustlan's avatar

@DThorn Thanks for the update. Please let us know how it all turns out. Good luck!

DThorn's avatar

Here’s an update:

I ended up receiving 4 A’s and 2 B’s on the project. Not sure what the grades are exactly but I know the B’s were due to my presentation itself. I’m a rather shy guy in person so I stuttered a bit and lost my train of thought when I looked at my classmates during the presentation.

Thank you for your help guys, I doubt I could have survived this class without you.

augustlan's avatar

Way to go! :)

SpatzieLover's avatar

Congrats! Glad to know your efforts paid off @DThorn

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