History has no shortage of cult leaders and dictators who have claimed to be gods, either as part of a delusion or as a power grab. Other people, however, have found out that through no fault of your own, you can be revered as some religion's immortal deity. All you need is to be in the right place at the right time. Like ...
6Capt. James Cook
When the sails and masts of the famed British explorer Capt. James Cook's ships were first spotted off Hawaii in 1778, one islander described them as "trees moving about on the sea." When Cook eventually checked out the islands himself on Jan. 16, 1779, he was greeted by thousands of Hawaiians in canoes, presenting lavish prizes.
They weren't just being generous hosts; it turns out that those sails and masts on Cook's ships looked virtually identical to contemporaneous imagery of the Hawaiian god Lono.
This is Lono. Guess what he is god of?
Lono is a sex god, and his job is to cruise around on a rainbow and sprinkle the world with ... you don't want to know. By arriving not only on a vessel that looked just like Lono, but also on the same day as his annual festival "Lonomania," Cook presumably responded with the loudest "Hey everybody, we're all gonna get laid!" this side of Caddyshack.
Thus the captain, tempted by the perks of being a penis-king, decided to go along with the charade by allowing himself to be smeared with pig fat, and then showing off some fireworks he happened to have in his boat.
Capt. Cook ... the world's first Texan?
Unfortunately for Cook, the Hawaiians were pretty pissed when he paid them a second visit, and not just because of the mounting list of paternity suits awaiting him. Cook's fleet had suffered a heavy battering during a wild storm, and the Hawaiian natives were deeply offended that Cook's ships had returned in such poor condition. Instead of pig fat and flower necklaces, the natives were waiting for him with clubs and daggers.
The instant Capt. Cook realized that his fertility feast-days were over.
Cook tried to explain that it was due to the shitty weather he had recently experienced on his rainbow, but the islanders wouldn't have it. Cook was "clubbed, repeatedly knifed, half-drowned and battered about the head with a rock," at which point we imagine the islanders realized that the man was not a god after all. The fraud was subsequently scarified, torn to pieces, eaten and whatever they didn't finish was made into trophies. The lesson? It is entirely possible to pretend to be a god, but just politely leave after your festival is over. It's not the sort of thing you can keep up forever.
Visit beautiful Hawaii!
5World War II Military Equipment
If this isn't the strangest story to come out of World War II, we'd like to hear the one that beats it.
World War II had the unintended consequence of bringing the world together more quickly and efficiently than the Internet ever could. As nations vied for control of the globe, thousands of young servicemen found themselves trudging through remote parts of the world that, until now, hadn't seen so much as a Coke can, let alone a bazooka.
"Holy shit -- dragons!"
For the isolated tribes of Micronesia, this was something akin to if we found out tomorrow that our solar system is a booming interstellar trade hub for some galactic empire we just hadn't spotted until now. The best explanation at the time was that these pale-skinned interlopers were supernatural beings.
The result was what were known as cargo cults -- new religions that sprang up among the natives to worship these strange beings and the mystical artifacts they left behind (shell casings, spark plugs, cigarette butts, etc.).
The thing is, the cults weren't some temporary craze that died out after the war ended -- for decades, tribes would build crude imitations of things such as landing strips and airplanes, hoping to persuade their "gods" to return and resume dumping their strange gifts all over the villages.
Perhaps the most notable cargo cult is the so-called John Frum movement, named after an unknown U.S. serviceman who may have introduced himself as "John from America." Not only did his encounter with the inhabitants of Tanna Island in Vanuatu eventually result in a religion that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, but "John Frum" still enjoys his own holiday, complete with parades, makeshift Army uniforms and a U.S. flag probably made of bark.
On the lighter side, followers of a separate cult on Vanuatu more recently adopted Queen Elizabeth II's husband, Prince Philip, as their lord and master once word reached them that he matched their long-lost deity's description as "white guy married to a rich lady."
Still beats Scientology.