This weekend marks the time of the Hajj, a core pillar of Islam in which great tides of humanity venture to the ancient city of Mecca to honor God. Predating Mohammed's birth by centuries, the pilgrimage comprises several days of rites, from congregation like snow on Mount Arafat and the ritual stoning of Shaitan to the circling of the sacred Kaaba (the shrouded cubical monolith Muslims pray toward daily) and kissing the Black Stone (colored by the absorption of myriad sins, and believed by some to be a fallen meteorite). While the city has modernized to handle this largest of annual gatherings -- building highway-scale ramps, gaudy skyscrapers for the ultra-rich, and tent cities the size of Seattle -- it remains mysterious, as unbelievers are forbidden from entering its borders. Richard Francis Burton became famous for touring the city in disguise to write a rare travelogue, but contemporary viewers have a more immediate guide: Vice Magazine journalist Suroosh Alvi, who smuggled a minicam into the city to record The Mecca Diaries [alt], a 14-minute documentary of his own Hajj journey. Browse the manual to see what goes into a Hajj trip, or watch the YouTube livestream to see the Grand Mosque crowds in real time.
An American Sadhu - A seeking of holiness, resulting in disillusionment and abandonment. A very good read about one man's experience meeting a guru and his disciple, and ultimately coming full circle to "you get the guru you deserve".
Worship in Lifting Holy Hands. Lifting hands over the head and waving them is a taught religious practice. It does not normally happen (except in utter lostness and hopelessness) unless it is in response to a charismatic leader with whom the worshipers have developed a too-close connection.
The real Vatican is in Kansas. "On July 16, 1990 the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church elected David Bawden as Pope Michael, ending an almost 32 year long interegnum."