Smoke the Vulture, Man

For millenia, mankind has believed that by studying the nature and/or the body parts of birds, they could get in touch with the gods or nature (a practice known as extispicy). The logic goes like this: 1) God(s) live in the sky. 2) Birds, too, live in the sky. 3) Birds, therefore have insight into the will of god. 4) Since birds cannot speak to tell us anything first hand, we will need to study them to learn more about the will of god(s). While the study of the flight pattern of birds (known as augury) may pass as ancient science, since birds may fly away from approaching storms, or migrate in anticipation of seasonal change, on the whole, avian divination is pure superstition, plain and simple.

The practice of bird dissection to tell the future  may sound like an ancient rite that died out with the invention of the scientific method, or at least with the invention of ridicule, it is still being practiced today:

“As the World Cup launches in South Africa this week, conservationists fear that gamblers looking for a little extra luck will turn to a source those of us in the West might not expect: the practice of smoking vulture brains.

The custom stems from the traditional medicine known in South Africa as muti. The vulture brains are dried, ground up and then smoked in cigarettes which supposedly give the users visions of the future. In addition to dreams of winning lotto numbers or sports teams, practitioners say the practice can give users an edge on taking tests or help their business attract more clients. A tiny vial of vulture brains sells for around $6.50, according to an article from AFP.”

Ah, magical thinking.

It may sound silly, but keep in  mind that no one is going out of their way to smoke the brains of a specific bird for the purp0ose of telling the future unless they really believed the world works that way. Stay in school, kids.

It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
— Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

Explore posts in the same categories: Superstition in the Modern World

One Comment on “Smoke the Vulture, Man”


  1. […] for: a bear might be thought of as powerful, a bird as crafty, etc. And, some people believe, if you ingest a portion of that animal, you too can inherit that essence. This yearn to steal the mojo from your favorite animal can lead […]


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