A young alcoholic in Burma was fired from his truck driving route. With no money or prospects, he returned to the local monastery, where he had been educated, for food and shelter. One of the monks there was a master fortune-teller; he could draw up star charts, read palms, and the people respected him. The young drunk watched him, wrote down everything the monk told his customers, studying which people needed which types of messages, how to satisfy them, yet keep them coming back. When he was confident enough, he started wandering around festivals to tell fortunes, and got quite good at it himself. He soon moved back to Rangoon and set up shop in the shade of the banyan trees at the zoo.
In one of those [Varanasi] temples we saw a devotee working for salvation in a curious way. He had a huge wad of clay beside him and was making it up into little wee gods no bigger than carpet tacks. He stuck a grain of rice into each—to represent the lingam, I think. He turned them out nimbly, for he had had long practice and had acquired great facility. Every day he made 2,000 gods, then threw them into the holy Ganges.
–Mark Twain, Following the Equator
“It is said that no snakes enter the city of Aleppo, and if any of its soil is sprinkled on a snake it dies immediately. No gnats are ever found in it, and if a man puts his hand outside its walls a gnat might alight upon it; when he brings it inside, the gnat flies away.”
–The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, trans. Elias Muhanna