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Maschalismos is the practice of physically rendering the dead incapable of rising or haunting the living in undead form.


The term maschalismos comes from the Ancient Greek word and was also the term for procedural rules on such matters in later Greek customary law. It has widened to include the customs throughout the different cultures of the world in ritually mutilating their dead to prevent their wrath from affecting the living.

Function of custom

Such acts considered maschalismos were not limited to folkloric physical risings but also meant to escape the ill will of those wrongfully slain by a murderer after death.

Modus Operandi

One common method was the cutting off of the feet, hands, ears, nose, et cetera, tying them under the armpits of the corpse all strung together. The piercing of the infant Oedipus' feet at the time he was abandoned may be considered a kind of maschalismos on the still-living.


In the Moluccas, a woman who has died in childbirth is buried with pins stuck through the joints, and an egg under the chin and or armpits; believing that the dead fly like birds and the presence of eggs will bring out maternal instincts which make the ghost not leave the eggs and thus stay with its former body.

In Europe, it was sometimes common that suicides were buried with a stake driven through the heart (see vampires cases), the body buried upside down, or the head cut off and placed between the legs; still practiced in many parts of Britain as well as the continent is tying together the feet or large toes of the dead.

The Omaha, a tribe of American Indians, slit the soles of the feet of those killed by lightning; the Basuto and Bechuana slit the sinews and spinal cord of their dead; the Herbert River aborigines of Australia beat the body enough to break its bones and fill incisions made in the body with stones. Further forms of maschalismos are equally common among peoples the world over.


In Aeschylus' tragedy Choephori and Sophocles' tragedy Electra, Clytemnestra performs maschalismos on the body of Agamemnon after his murder, to prevent his taking vengeance on her.


  • Leach, Maria (editor). The Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. Harper San Francisco, 1984. ISBN 0-06-250511-4
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