Examples of taboos on holy or religiously influential people?
March 1, 2015 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Maori chiefs were taboo'd from eating inside their houses, the Jewish Kohen (priests) couldn't handle dead bodies, and clerical classes across religious traditions have required celibacy -- does anyone know of any other examples of taboos on holy or religiously influential people? The cultures can range from contemporary big religions (e.g. Abrahamic) to the animism of small-scale societies - all examples are welcome!! THANKS!
posted by mrmanvir to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
On the other hand, Yoruba kings' feet were not allowed to touch the ground when he was wearing his crown.

Also, although I can't find a link for it, there is a tradition that very few people were allowed to look upon the face of the king, who wears a veil of beads on his crown, and there is a legend of how a slave of the king's took advantage of this to usurp him. I think I read that in Samuel Johnson's History of the Yorubas.
posted by glasseyes at 2:36 PM on March 1, 2015

IIRC from the book Zealot, only the highest priest could enter the innermost sanctum of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to make sacrifices. This room was so sacred that the priest wore a rope while inside, so that if he died suddenly the other lower priests could haul him out without having to enter.
posted by Melismata at 2:58 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bede tells us that Coifi, the high priest of the Germanic religion in Northumbria, was forbidden from bearing a weapon or riding a stallion (he could ride a mare). After he converts to Christianity he very conspicuously does both.
posted by Thing at 3:26 PM on March 1, 2015

The Oracle at Delphi, though she might have had a family before becoming a high priestess, had to give up everything, including her identity.
posted by xingcat at 3:32 PM on March 1, 2015

The flamen Dialis, ancient Roman priest of Jupiter, had a number of restrictions placed on him, including not being allowed to spend the night out of the city, ride a horse, see a dead body, and some others. Julius Caesar was originally nominated to fill this priesthood, but was stripped of it by the dictator Sulla; how different Roman history might have been had he actually filled it is left as an exercise for the reader.
posted by lysimache at 3:57 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do historically vague/fictional taboos count?

Odo of Bayeux was the brother of William the Conqueror. As a Christian priest, he was forbidden from spilling blood. He is depicted holding a club in the Bayeux tapestry, possibly in a creative interpretation of the rules.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:34 PM on March 1, 2015

Kohanim have a lot of rules. They can't marry divorcees, for example. There is also a concept of a Nazir, which is an ancient jewish holy status that is not hereditary (you can choose it for yourself, or your child). They can't have alcohol or cut their hair (Samson is a well known example).
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 10:29 PM on March 1, 2015

Here's another Yoruba example which I don't have an online reference for. When a priest of Esu is dedicated, a pellet of ritual ingredients is placed at the crown of his head, under the skin of the scalp. Then his head is shaved apart from the lock of hair over the place where the charm is. The lock must never be cut, as this would nullify his power. I've often wondered whether a ritual like this is at the bottom of the Samson myth.
posted by glasseyes at 2:55 AM on March 2, 2015

The Brahmin caste in India, according to Britannica, has "numerous taboos, many of which relate to diet and contact with lower castes. Most Brahman castes are strictly vegetarian, and their members must abstain from certain occupations. They may not plow or handle any impure material, such as leather or hides..."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:52 AM on March 2, 2015

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