#3. Hernan Cortes
When Hernan Cortes sailed up to the coast of the New World to meet with (and utterly destroy) the Aztec Empire, he had no way of knowing the astounding coincidence he was stumbling into. Of all the days of the year he could have picked, it just so happened that the Aztec calendar had just ticked over to "1 Reed, 9 Wind" -- the exact date that Quetzalcoatl the Feathered Serpent was expected to return from his study abroad in "the Abyss" to reclaim Mexico.
Which, judging from this picture, was not a very good thing.
In addition to having to fight giant head-eating snakes, according to the Aztec tabloid Codex Chimalpopoca, 1 Reed was prophesied to be "bad for kings." With so many stars aligning against him, it should come as no surprise that Moctezuma II of the Aztec Triple Alliance -- the largest and most powerful empire in the Western Hemisphere -- spent most of the early year sleeping with a razor-sharp macana under his pillow.
On 9 Wind, the same day that Quetzalcoatl was expected to come in "from the East," a bunch of conquistadors led by Cortes arrived from Spain. Even more coincidentally, the same day on Cortes' calendar just happened to be Good Friday, so according to tradition, he wore a black outfit that day. As it happened, in awaiting their god's return, the Aztecs were watching the sea for a white guy wearing black. Wait -- wasn't he supposed to be a snake, you ask? It's not our job to explain how this makes sense.
Also, while not pictured, Cortes was also wearing the same amazing hat.
Unfortunately for the Aztecs, being mistaken for a god gave Cortes just the leverage he needed to conquer and wipe out the Aztec Empire with a force of only 500 men, a detail that the prophecies would have been wise not to have left on the cutting room floor.
#2. Dead Dinosaurs, Elephants and Others
You may think of the digging up and examination of dinosaur bones as a recent thing, but we now know that people have been poking around the bones and fossils since at least 300 B.C. According to the fourth-century Chinese historian Chang Qu, the origin of the dragon legend can be traced to ancient discoveries of the bones of these giant lizards.
We don't see it.
Dragons are, of course, sacred, mythological creatures in many cultures. That's why many villagers in China, who really don't know any better, still confuse dinosaur bones for dragon bones and treat them accordingly: They grind them up and eat them, believing that they have miraculous healing powers (note that dieticians often advise that we not try to consume anything that has been out of the refrigerator for a quarter of a billion years).
That's far from the only case of supernatural creature mistaken identity, by the way. The dwarf elephant (or, more acceptably, the vertically impaired elephant) is a prehistoric ancestor of the regular old elephants we have today. Human beings have been digging up their remains for well over 2,000 years, but aside from paleontology not having been invented yet, the additional problem is that these people lived in ancient Italy and Greece, where human beings had never seen an elephant before. So what do you suppose they assumed when they dug up huge skulls that looked like this:
Also, vampire fangs.
It is believed that the concept of the Cyclops from Greek mythology comes from the skull of the dwarf elephant, whose immense nose hole and almost nonexistent eye sockets make it look like the head of a giant with one huge central eyeball.
That's not the only mundane creature to be treated to a case of epic supernatural misidentity. Whenever some awesome skeleton nobody recognized was discovered, it was almost guaranteed to have an epic story attached to it. For instance, it's believed that the giant tusk of the narwhal whale was the origin of the unicorn myth.
Still not seeing it.
#1. Lakshmi Tatma
At the tail end of 2005 in a small village in India, Shambhu and Poonam Tatma welcomed their second child into the world: Lakshmi, named after the Hindu goddess of wealth. It's more than just a really pretty name -- Lakshmi, the goddess, has four arms and legs. And so did their daughter.
Now we're seeing it.
Lakshmi was actually born with a "parasitic twin" who donated her arms and legs to the girl to create the rare birth defect. As a result, the girl wound up being revered throughout India as the living incarnation of the beloved goddess. See, not only did she look like Lakshmi, but it turned out that the girl was born during the Diwali festival, which is when Lakshmi the goddess supposedly visits homes to bless them.
No doubt about it, that is one happy octobaby.
Although Lakshmi was born into utter poverty, the overwhelming fame she brought her family was enough to assemble a team of doctors to successfully give her reconstructive surgery. Her father insists to this day that "I believe with all my heart that Lakshmi is indeed a goddess," and frankly, we're running out of evidence to suggest she isn't. All we know is that if this girl wants to be elected anything from homecoming queen to president of Earth someday, she has a following 1 billion strong in India alone hanging onto every little thing she does. Which is nice.
Also, she is adorable.
Be sure to get our new book, and become a god among men.
To learn about more bizarre mythical beings, check out Bukkake of the Gods: Japan's Insane Creation Myths. Or learn why Jesus was way more awesome than we originally thought, in 5 Real Deleted Bible Scenes In Which Jesus Kicks Some Ass.
And stop by Linkstorm to discover how you can trick an unsuspecting tribe into worshiping you.
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