The Holy Foreskin

I won’t mince words, the title speaks for itself. I’m going to tell you the story of the holiest foreskin in Christianity. This is the legend of the holy prepuce, the holy hood of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, Christ, the J man, was Jewish, and like all Jewish boys, eight days after his birth, his family circumcised him. This ritual, called a briss, has been a Jewish tradition for thousands of years, continuing from roughly 2,000 years before Jesus was born, all the way up to today. According to the tradition after the ceremony, the foreskin is wrapped in a simple cloth and buried. However, Jesus wasn’t just any ordinary Jewish baby. According to legend, a woman who recognized the importance of this baby took the foreskin, and saved it in a jar of preservation oil. If christian doctrine is to be believed, Jesus’s body physically ascended to heaven, but a few parts of him remain. There’s some blood, his umbilical cord, and, you guessed it, his foreskin.
The first known appearance of the devotional dirt jacket comes from the famous emperor Charlemagne or Charles the great. According to his account, he was visited by an angel that gave him this messianic magician’s cloak as a gift, that he then re gifted to pope Leo III upon his famous coronation in 800 AD. It is from here the legend says the holy foreskin went to Rome. Maybe. There’s actually another story that the hallowed turtleneck that went to Rome was a fake, and that Charlemagne kept the real one. He took it deep into  rural France, and hit it in a church in Conques. They claim to still have it today in a special box… that no one can look in. However, the most accepted story is that the angelic beanie went to Rome.
It was after this when the foreskin enjoyed centuries as one of the world’s tip top holy relics, a cut above the rest, if you will. It even enjoyed a few centuries in the Vatican’s sanctum sanctorum, the holy of holies, where the most important relics in christendom reside to this day. 14th century doctor of the church Saint Catherine of Sienna claimed that she was the spiritual bride of Jesus, and that in a dream he came to her and gave his invisible foreskin as a wedding ring. She claimed to be able to see it on her hand her whole life. If you ask me, it seems like she got shafted on that wedding gift.  In the 15th century, the foreskin went to England to help Henry V’s queen Catherine of Valois get pregnant. There’s a joke here, but I don’t know what it is yet, it’s on the tip of my tongue though.

There were sceptics of this claim that the immaculate jacket was on earth. Some theologians like Leo Allatius in the 17th century wrote a long essay making the case that the foreskin did indeed ascend to heaven along with Jesus’ body, and became the… rings of Saturn

In the medieval and early modern period, relics like the foreskin were the source of big money. Churches collected all the remains and belongings of saints, apostles, and holy figures they could, and watched closely for miracles. Well known relics would draw huge crowds from christians on pilgrimage, and that meant big bucks for big ticket relics. Churches on occasion would even steal relics from each other, in a medieval heist movie we are tragically deprived from. So, it’s no surprise then that you found a few… duplicates. Not only were there as many as 21 godly kenny’s around Europe, and several heads of John the Baptist. Some claimed this was just a miracle, more just didn’t pay much attention to it.

As the enlightenment began to take hold, claims about the holy hood began to experience criticism. Protestants mocked it mercilessly, and the church became more and more uncomfortable with the concept of the foreskin of christ being on earth. It actually caused a lot of theological issues because Catholics believe in something called transubstantiation. Catholics debated to which degree this was literal or metaphorical, but when catholics take the eucharist, eat this bread for it is my body etc, some theologians believed that the wafer actually became a hunk of jesus meat sometime when going down the throat. The Prepuce muddied this debate because it meant that the eucharist could happen in a very literal way.
Another blow to the prestige of the prepuce was when German mercenaries sacked rome in 1527. Among the objects stolen was the seraphic skin ring. It went missing for a number of decades until it resurfaced in a small village called Calcata 30 miles outside of Rome. But more on that later.

The church spoke about it less and less, and eventually in the year 1900 the church banned discussion of the holy foreskin, claiming that acknowledging it would turn it into an “irreverent curiosity”. Speaking about the foreskin would result in excommunication, and during the second Vatican Council, or Vatican 2, they increased the sentence to some sort of special super excommunication. 
However, much to the chagrin of the Vatican, the foreskin in Calcata remained a local relic. They couldn’t refer to it anymore as a foreskin, nor let anyone see it except for one day a year. They could only whip it out on January first, during the no longer observed festival of the circumcision of Christ. It was a local oddity for a tiny village and no one paid attention to it, so the Vatican didn’t make a big fuss.
This would change, when Calcata was moved in the 1960s due to fear of an earthquake destroying it. In the new village, 60s beatnik types moved in and curious about the foreskin began to write about it for a wider circle. It became increasingly popular, and the Vatican became increasingly displeased with its presence.
In 1983, the local priest Dario Magnoni claims that his home was broken into while he was away visiting Rome, and the holy foreskin he for some reason kept in his wardrobe was stolen. Who knows, maybe he was trying for a pregnancy. People suspected that the priest sold it, or that thieves took it to sell on the black market. Some blamed neo-nazis or satanists, but the suspect most people believe took the foreskin today was the Vatican itself. They claim that Magnoni took the foreskin to the vatican during his trip, and that they are holding onto it, making sure such an embarrassing relic never sees the light of day again. At least one author, and one National Geographic documentary have circumscribed the globe  to find it, but they hit a dead end instead of a bell end.
The holy foreskin is an interesting artefact to discuss, because of the strange relationship christianity has with circumcision. Many churches and artists had paintings depicting the circumcision of christ, and celebrated it for centuries, but had no requirement of it for their own people. Catholics believe that the circumcision has been replaced by the baptism. Moreover circumcision was a symbol of Judaism, and often used as another weapon in the arsenal of anti semitism during times like the Spanish Inquisition. As early as the 5th century, Christians were distancing Jesus from his Jewishness. Some arguing that because his father was not human, he wasn’t really Jewish. The circumcision of Christ was then in an uncomfortable position and needed explanation. Hard to do when there’s 21 foreskins dancing around Europe.

I know this all sounds silly, and it is, but it’s just one example of the power of relics in pre-enlightenment christianity. The foreskin is one of many relics that were not only big business, but to many devout followers of christianity a physical connection between the earthly and the divine. Often they’d be literal sources of protection, or used in healing. People would wear the bones of saints to protect them from harm, and to this day people touch relics for healing purposes. There’s one strange story of monks who dropped a saint’s bones in a barrel of wine and drank it to protect them from a disease outbreak. It’s important to see these practices as an example of how the past really is in many ways like visiting another planet, in this case, the rings of Saturn. We have a hard time imagining it, but the line between natural and supernatural didn’t exist, and scientific ideas on how disease and health worked were centuries from forming. The foreskin is just a strange example of that. Religion is always way bigger, more complicated, and full of way more discussion, debate, and interpretation than they look from the outside.

This video took a lot of very particular expertise. I want to give a special thanks to Andrew Henry from the channel Religion for Breakfast. He runs a channel that’s a secular study on religion and he gave me a lot of help with the research for this video. Check out what he’s up to and tell him I sent you!
If you have any comments about the puns in this episode, some of which may have seemed forced, or force-kin, please direct your complaints and/or tip-of-the hats to myself and ARTexplains in the comments. Don’t worry, we’re already extremely pleased and ashamed at ourselves.



Did Native Americans have Calendars?

You asked for more indigenous technologies, and so today I’m going to tell you about how native american peoples kept track of time.

Let’s start by talking about mesoamerica. Their primary tool for keeping track of the sun, moon and planets? A simple but powerful invention known as the Almanac. The word might not ring a lot of bells for you, except for maybe a vague memory of Back to the Future, but almanacs are a pretty important part of pre-internet culture. They’re books that document something day to day, like sports scores, or weather for farmers. This helps a lot when trying to predict the weather in the future for planting and harvesting.

One of the oldest almanacs in human history comes from mesoamerica. You might’ve heard about how the Maya were obsessed with the movements of the stars and planets; this is how they did it.

Their almanacs contain astronomical movements, especially of the planet Venus. I guess the Maya really liked that bright little planet. The almanacs were made up of 260-day cycles that they called day-counts, and each day had a special meaning based on its location within 13 cycles of 20 days. That sounds weird, but let me explain it like this. I’m writing this video on a Sunday, which is day 1, or is it seven? Of a 7 day cycle within a 31 day cycle. If anything, the Maya calendar is a bit more consistent. When the 260 days were up, the almanac started over again. Some archaeologists think that the length of this cycle is based on the duration of human gestation, or more likely the orbit of Venus. Some Maya people use almanacs today for a similar purpose.

The almanacs weren’t just limited to the Maya. Many mesoamerican societies had a class of special calendar priests. They used these almanacs combined with knowledge of the local deities to set the dates of religious rituals, predict the future, name children, and determine lucky or unlucky days for certain activities. In the Aztec culture, these priests were called tonalpohualli. 

These almanacs would be gathered into books, and though most of them were burned by Spanish conquistadores, a few have survived such as one of the most famous, the Codex Borgia. The earliest almanacs date from around the year 600 CE, predating the earliest European ones by as many as 500 years.

These almanacs were used to keep track of some of the world’s most sophisticated calendars. In mesoamerica, there were actually three. The first is that 260-day Venus cycle I mentioned. The first known carving of that calendar was found in the Oaxaca valley in modern day Mexico. Its age is estimated to be between 2.5 to 2.6 thousand years old.

Secondly, there was a solar calendar, made up the familiar 365 days. The year was divided into 18, 20-day months and was used for more secular activities. It mapped the days for activities like planting crops and organizing farmer’s markets.

Lastly, there was a mysterious calendar that tracked the moon. It consisted of months that alternate between 29 and 30 days in length. Though there’s not much to say about it, as ethnoastronomers, a real field, have no idea what it was used for.

What makes these calendars so fascinating is just how accurate they were. Without telescopes, or even the concept of fractions they made a calendar so precise that the length of a year was only 19 minutes off. At the time of contact this feat had only been rivaled by the Chinese. While the Chinese had the math and telescopes to measure the cosmos, Mesoamericans did it with only shadow casting devices, observations, and really good record keeping.

As far back as 2,400 years ago, we have records that the Venus and sun calendars were used side by side. Their interlocking systems meant that the combined dates repeated only every 52 years. They call this span a calendar round. Think of a mayan calendar as wheels within wheels within wheels, spinning faster the deeper you go. It’s kinda like a clock with a lot of hands.

The Maya used these calendar rounds to keep track of historical events, and they called them xiuhmolpilli, or roughly translated, a year-bundle. They had an even longer one called the baktun cycle, or the long-count calendar, but it had fallen out of favour by the time the Europeans arrived. This is the one that reset like a clock striking midnight back in December of 2012. Yeah, that’s what that whole thing was about.

Just a small interjection rant. Some people think that this is a Mayan calendar, sometimes even Crash Course says that it is, *clip* but this is all wrong. This item is currently in the national anthropology museum in Mexico City, a place I have been and everyone should go to once in their life. Archaeologists call it the Aztec Sun Stone. The stone is a 3.6 meter, 23 tonne basalt slab that is one of the most iconic symbols in Mexico. It’s even on their money. It’s not so much a calendar though as it is a depiction of the Aztec creation myth. So, it's not Maya, and not a calendar. Ok, rant over.

    Let’s get out of mesoamerica and look at some other calendars. Some of the oldest in the Americas come from modern day Montana and Saskatchewan. These are medicine wheels, and the stone spokes on these wheels were aligned with the rising of stellar constellations on the summer solstice, effectively showing where you were within the year. These wheels are typically found in pretty remote areas, on hills or bluffs to make it easier to see the stars. 
One of the biggest ones in Montana is called the Bighorn medicine wheel and thought to be several hundred years old based on how it’s aligned with the stars. Another wheel in Moose Mountain Saskatchewan is estimated to be 2,600 years old. That’s around the time the Buddha died.

Down in south America, the Inca people had an empire in the Andes mountains. Around the year 1000 CE they made a calendar of their own. This calendar mostly focused on the length of days, running from the summer to winter solstices. They even measured these with roads that led to the famous temple of the sun. The Inca also measured moon phases to determine when religious festivals would take place. 

If you ever go on… sigh… History Channel and see the crazy alien man, you might have heard about the Nazca lines. These are earth mounds that make pictures created around 2.4 to 2.6 thousand years ago. Despite probably not being messages to outer space gods, there is a theory that the Nazca lines did have astronomical purposes, and might have served as calendars in their own right.

In the American southwest, the Anasazi built a calendar in modern day Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. It’s called the Sun Dagger calendar, and is at least 700 years old. They took large rock slabs, and arranged them in a way so that when the sun shined on them, shafts of light would fall on a carving of a spiral made in a cliff. The angle of the light would change through the seasons, and fall on different parts of the carvings. If you can read it, you can actually tell not just the seasons, but specific dates.

Further east, the Mississippians, yes I will make a video about them someday, made their own calendar near modern day St. Louis, Missouri. Archaeologists nicknamed it Woodhenge. It’s an oval shaped pit in the ground, that once contained a circle of wooden posts. The posts were aligned to the position of the sun for the solstices and the equinoxes. These circles also had a centre post, on which a Mississippian astronomer could observe the sunrise.

Ok, rapid fire now, let’s talk about the Hopi. They didn’t build calendars as much as use geological markers and the sun to gauge the time of year. To their southwest were the San Francisco Peaks. Notches and mesas in the mountain and the sunset worked as a landscape calendar. They also would watch the sky for the rising and falling positions of the sun and moon to find when plants needed to be planted. Some experiments done by archaeologists show that this was a pretty accurate way to prevent your crops from freezing. 

In a more modern context, A Ho-Chunk, or Winnebago spiritual leader made a calendar stick in 1800 that marked solar and lunar calendars based on the leader’s observations. Astronomers have determined this to be the most sophisticated and accurate north american calendar.

    Lastly, the Lakota have their own sophisticated calendar. It has 13 months or moons, and each moon is 28 days long. The year begins in the spring, and focus around the seasons of planting and hunting. They knew on certain months when to change lifestyles. Different Lakota groups might have different names for these moons, but they function the same.

I know that this was a bit of a strange video. Calendars? Really Tristan? But I think that these show just how sophisticated a lot of indigenous cultures are, and showcase the impressive achievements that make them work. These societies to this day are really amazing, and these calendars show just how much of a cultural feat something as simple as keeping track of time is. Something we today really take for granted.



When Capitalism Almost Disappeared

In the early years of the 20th century, a spectre was haunting Europe. The forces of victorian capitalism, and industrialization resulted in a lot of wealth, but for very few people. Many worked very long hours, in dangerous conditions. They produced giant amounts of wealth that only went to their bosses.
Enter the mid-19th century philosopher Karl Marx. He wrote that this increased inequality would not be able to sustain itself, and that at some point in the future, workers of the world would overthrow their rulers, and implement a new world order. One without inequality between anyone. A state called communism.
By the First World War, many activists across the world were seeing this battle between distant monarchs as the ultimate sign that it was time for the world order to change. In the age of nationalism, they believed in creating governments working to make the world into that communist dream Marx wrote of. Governments moving in this direction are the dictionary definition of socialists. 
The idea was to create a Communist World Revolution, overthrowing capitalism all over the planet, and organizing a truly global working class against the bosses, kings, and presidents that ruled over them for too long. This is the story of that revolution.



How Merchants Replaced Kings

This is part two in a hot potato history series with Cypher over at Cynical Historian. Each week we’re going to alternate talking about major revolutions in world history. What we are talking about today is where we see a major shift in who holds the power in society. A new class of wealthy people arose, and because of changes in economics and technology, became extremely powerful, in many ways toppling the rule of kings and emperors.



Youtubers United Episode 4: YOUR New Tube Resolutions 2017!!

The guys talk about Tristan’s New Video, New Tube Resolutions, and review a fan’s channel. Send us your New Tube Resolutions @ytunitedpodcast

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What is the Alt Right? A History of American Hate Groups

This video, I build upon the research I did for my project for Awesome video, and look into the history of America's hate groups. These range from history deniers; to people in white hoods; to the current usage of Pepe the frog. Let's go on a depressing but interesting look at them.



Introducing Youtubers United

Hey blog readers!

I wanted to take this moment to introduce you to a new podcast project by myself and Will from Political Junkie. The show is called Youtubers United, where two growing youtubers talk through the long path to going full time. We discuss the different strategies and discussions youtubers need to know about, and give dubious advice. The show is on itunes, or you can listen on youtube. Here is the first episode to check out!



Southern Poverty Law Center: Project for Awesome 2016

Things are looking a little scary these days. Since the election, over 700 hate crimes against racial minorities, LGBT people, and Muslims have been reported. With the new government coming in January, things are looking pretty bleak for those that would be victims of hate. In these sorts of times, when maybe we can’t rely on the government to help stop hate groups, we need to turn to those who have been fighting them all along. I want to talk to you guys about the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC is a nonprofit that works to help further the causes of Civil Rights in the south. Often they do this with public interest litigation, to fight hate groups where they show up around the country. They are known for victories against white supremacist groups, and with groups like them actually on the rise, we might need to tap them in before long.