Legend: Egyptian explorers find and eat a jar of honey, then discover a child’s body was stored inside it.
Example: [Keel, 1957]
Origins: Although it may sometimes
seem to us that we live in a world where anything goes and there is no practice that is not accepted by some significant portion of society, we still have a few taboos that are nearly absolute. Cannibalism is one of those taboos, and since urban legends often focus on those who are seen to have crossed socially forbidden boundaries, the urban folklore canon includes several well-known legends featuring people eating other people.
Most urban cannibalism legends — such as one involving a cremated relative’s ashes or a dead worker found in a factory vat — deal with accidental occurrences, however, cases in which bodies were consumed because they were mistaken for, or stored in, something normally considered a type of food. While “real” cannibalism may be horrifying, tales of the accidental variety have a vicarious impact on the audience because they convey the shocking message that “this could happen to
The example quoted above, from the 1957 book Jadoo (“The Astounding Story of One Man’s Search Into the Mysteries of Black Magic in the Orient”), bears a strong resemblance to a more familiar legend about imbibers drinking from a barrel of alcohol which also contains a corpse. Both tales play on the concept of
“accidental” cannibals’ unwittingly ingesting a foodstuff that had been used as a preservative for human remains.
Although the 1957 telling sets the Egyptian version as something that happened “not too long ago,” the same account appeared in a book published in 1893, which in turn cited Abd
Abd el-Latif relates that an Egyptian worthy of belief told him that once when he and several others were occupied in exploring the graves and seeking for treasure near the Pyramids, they came across a sealed jar, and having opened it and found that it contained honey, they began to eat it. Some one in the party remarked that a hair in the honey turned round one of the fingers of the man who was dipping his bread in it, and as they drew it out the body of a small child appeared with all its limbs complete and in a good state of preservation; it was well dressed, and had upon it numerous ornaments.
What horrified us eight centuries ago is something we find just as horrifying today.
Last updated: 30 July 2004