The Seven Most Unusual Religious Rituals And Beliefs

Published December 16, 2011
Updated November 7, 2023

Strange Religious Rituals: Happy Science Religion

Happy Science

Though not particularly unusual in belief, the recognition of this as a real religion is confounding. The Happy Science religion was established by a Japanese man, Ryuho Okawa, who believes it’s his mission to bring happiness to all of humanity. It became an official religion in 1991 and has over 12 million followers.

The religion’s core belief is that people should “explore the right mind” and “principles of happiness” through love, wisdom, self-reflection and progress. The creator believes he can channel the spirits of Muhammad, Christ, Buddha and Confucius. The only prerequisite to join is “an aspiration to seek the way and contribute to a realization of love, peace and happiness on earth”.

Pus-licking and Scab-Eating

In medieval times, the wider population essentially scorned lepers. However, it was common practice for female saints to care for those affected by licking the pus from their wounds and eating their scabs. This was seen as a sign of extreme holiness. Luckily, no pictures exist of this practice.

Unusual Religious Rituals and Beliefs: Flagellation

Unusual Religious Rituals Self-flagellation

The practice of self-flagellation for religious purposes has a long history. It was a common practice in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, but it truly found its form during the 13th and 14th century.

Self-flagellation began as a form of penance by radicals in the Catholic Church: zealots would lash themselves in public as a demonstration of piety. Great processions – some with 10,000 participants – passed through cities with crosses and banners, beating themselves with leather thongs while chanting hymns and calling forth other zealots.

If you enjoyed reading about some of the weirdest religious rituals and beliefs, be sure to read about the most unusual rites of passage, infamous cults, and the six most fascinating drinking rituals!

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.