Facts

The Mysterious Alchemist Named Basil Valentine

Basil Valentine was supposedly a Benedictine monk born in 1394. He wrote a number of works on the medical properties of antimony (which undoubtedly killed more people than it cured) and the keys to discovering the Philosopher’s Stone, but no one’s sure who he was or if he even existed. It’s been suggested that the name is a pseudonym for other scientists and chemists of the 14th and 15th centuries, but that’s debated, too. Some of his works mention things like tobacco and the land that would become America, so we’re not even sure when these enigmatic works were written.

The Surprisingly Religious History Of Butter

For something that’s mostly overlooked until you make toast, butter has a rather ancient history. Much of it is the stuff of sacred religious rites and beliefs. In ancient Tibet, the bodies of lamas were boiled in butter before being embalmed, and butter lamps and sculptures celebrated the victories of the Buddha and were thought to help focus the mind during meditation. It was a part of Hindu sacrificial rituals, mentioned numerous times in the Bible, made from milk collected by mythical Icelandic milk thieves, and used by the Bretons as a currency and a medicine.

How Galileo Advanced Science By Measuring Hell

In defiance of Church dogma, Galileo Galilei advanced our view of the universe with his heliocentric model of the solar system, making him one of history’s greatest scientists. But Galileo was also a man of his time, steeped in religious superstition. In his most bizarre investigation, Galileo took Dante Alighieri’s description of hell—Inferno—quite literally and attempted to measure its exact dimensions. While Galileo’s project may look ridiculous today, it inadvertently formed a foundation for modern science and engineering.

The 19th-Century Attempt To Build A Mechanical Messiah

When John Murray Spear started receiving messages from the spirit world, some of them were from a community called “The Electricizers.” Led by Benjamin Franklin, the spirits guided him in building a mechanical messiah that would come to life and produce all the free energy the world needed, ushering in a time of prosperity and paradise while putting an end to slavery. Spear hooked himself up to the messiah and a “New Mary” gave symbolic, spiritual birth to it, but it never came to life. Ultimately, the messiah was destroyed by a rampaging mob of non-believers or possibly by Spear himself.

The Parents Of Mexico’s ‘Disappeared’ Are Still Searching

For years, drug cartels have terrorized Mexico with extortion, kidnappings, and murders. On September 26, 2014, it reached a flash point when students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, a teacher’s college, descended on Iguala in southern Mexico to protest unfair employment practices. As the protesters rode in buses, municipal police and unidentified masked men fired on the students, killing some and kidnapping others. With ties to drug gangs, corrupt local officials are believed to have played a significant role in the massacre. The parents of the 43 disappeared are defiantly insisting on answers and justice. A quieter group of parents, The Committee of the Other Disappeared, aren’t seeking justice, but instead a proper burial for the bodies of their missing children. The government has been criticized for its lack of action.

The Greek General Who Served Athens, Sparta & Persia

Alcibiades was a prominent Athenian general during the Peloponnesian War against Sparta. After being accused of an act of gross vandalism and sentenced to death, he fled to Sparta, gave the Spartans useful advice against Athens, and slept with the queen. After earning the king’s ire, Alcibiades fled to Persia, where he advised a local governor and seeded an oligarchic coup in Athens. He eventually fought for Athens again but was murdered in 404 BC.

The Most Isolated ‘Stone Age’ People Still Around

The isolated Indian Ocean islands known as the Andamans and Nicobars are home to some of the remotest tribes on the planet. While some, like the Jarawa and the Nicobarese, have been in contact with the rest of the world and have suffered dearly for it, the Sentinelese remain mysterious and isolated. They’re known to kill any outsiders who come close, and when helicopters flew overhead to check on them after the 2004 tsunami, the would-be rescuers were greeted by a familiar hail of arrows.

The Magic Well That Turned Objects To Stone

In 1630, Sir Charles Slingsby was given the cave and well associated with the birth of Mother Shipton, said to be a witch, soothsayer, and fortune teller. He recognized the well for the gold mine it was. Any object left in the waters would be covered with lime and “petrified” within only a few months. Slingsby began charging people to check out the well and created the first paid tourist attraction.

Pennsylvania’s (Not So) Secret Underground Base

Raven Rock Mountain Complex is a military base in Pennsylvania that has been referred to as an “underground Pentagon.” Security is tight, but the base itself isn’t very well-hidden. Razor wire fences and guardhouses stand out clear as day. Personnel allowing visitors to use guardhouse phones and posting information about conferences at the base hasn’t helped, either.

The Weirdly Successful Conspiracy Theory About an Entire German Town

In the 1990s, a group of college students decided to poke fun at Usenet conspiracy theorists by starting their own rumors. They said that the German city of Bielefeld didn’t exist, and as people came forward to say it really did exist, the whole thing spiraled into a set of rumors and theories about why people’s minds were being manipulated into believing that the city was real. It was rumored to be the site of an extraterrestrial compound, a secret tunnel to Atlantis, and even the site of a sleeping dragon and a sect of knights. The obviously fake story—and its satirical spirit—has had some staying power, though, with Chancellor Angela Merkel even expressing her doubts the city exists.