Taboo locks

Taboo rooms
Certain rooms or spaces could be protected by taboos. These included holy rooms (in shrines), palaces (gates), cities (gates), treasuries or vaults, food stores, gardens and private rooms. The inner sanctum of a shrine, the room containing the actual idol, was also a taboo room, which only the King and sacrificial priests were allowed to enter.

If a room or limited space behind a door or gate bore a taboo, which served as a lock on the door or gate leading into it. It could not be opened by any unauthorized person.

Taboo rules
An object, person or place could be declared taboo. The power of taboo came from a force called mana, which could only be applied by special priests. Breaking a taboo would annihilate the offender, or else the person would be required to go through some sort of purification ceremony to eliminate the dishonor he brought upon himself. This ceremony could even be the death penalty. Often the fear of the mana was so strong that those who broke the taboo could actually be frightened to death. Thus, a taboo was a ban protected by supernatural forces. It was also a strong social censure. Taboo rules have existed in all cultures, and have the same character as societal duties. Some taboos lost their edge over time.

The word taboo
The concept of taboo has existed in all cultures, but the word itself comes from proto-Polynesian and proto-Oceanic languages’ tapu or tabu, meaning sacred or forbidden. The word referred to places in the jungle where holy spirits lived (usually indicated by an object, like a large shell or an inscription on a rock). These places were off-limits except when ceremonies were conducted there. German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt explained that taboos were initially intentionally evoked fears of a demonic power believed to be concealed in a taboo object. For example, some Nuba people in East Africa believed they would die if they entered the home of their priest king. 

Divine taboo
Often priests invoked a taboo, but kings and tribal chieftains could also do so, and to some degree even everyday people. Kings had total power and were the highest court. Some elevated themselves to the status of gods or demigods, or a god’s representative on earth and conveyor of laws. The strictness by which a taboo was observed depended on the influence of the person who invoked it. Taboos could apply to entire rooms or parts of them, forever or for a limited time. Divine icons, temples, kings and chieftains and their families, names and property were always taboo.

Sometimes the word taboo is accompanied by “God” or “divine”, which is misleading because the concept does not inherently imply a relationship to any divinity or even awareness of one. The Latin word sacer, like the French word sacre, means both “sacred” and “cursed”. A taboo quite simply meant don’t! The sacredness of the taboo rules made them an unconditional duty. Death would befall anyone caught in the proximity of the holy object without the necessary blessings.

Classic taboos
The classic Greek myths and legends reveal a lot about the taboos and superstitions of the era. The Greek gods interacted directly in people’s lives, sometimes as friends, sometimes as enemies, either protecting or punishing. For example, Homer tells us in the Odyssey (approximately 8th century BC) that it was taboo to ever leave Hades. The locked doors of the netherworld were eternally guarded by the faithful three-headed dog Cerberus.

In the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus knew that after leaving the netherworld it was taboo to turn around and look at his love. 

When the rebellious Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, he was breaking the taboo of Zeus, king of the gods. His punishment was to be chained to a mountainside, where an eagle hacked away his liver each day, and each night it grew back to be hacked away again.

The Bible also contains taboos. Genesis, chapter 2, verse 17 tells about the fall of man. For Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it was taboo to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. “You shall not eat of this fruit; if you do you will surely die.” The punishment went into effect outside of Paradise.