5 Ridiculous Origins of Famous Urban Legends

#2. The Illuminati Was Dreamed Up by a 20th Century Paranoid Anti-Semite

The Legend:

When you woke up this morning and had your breakfast cereal, it's only because the Illuminati decided to let you live another day. It's the Chuck Norris of conspiracies -- an all-powerful, all-encompassing shadowy entity that runs everything and has leverage everywhere. Their ultimate goal is something called the New World Order, which is basically a planet-scale re-enactment of 1984.

Chuck Norris is the likely choice for America's Big Brother. Think about it.

The organization is said to be led by the queen of England (so that's what a queen does), and lists of known members include pretty much everyone of influence who isn't her. This flowchart should clear things up for you ...

Illuminati Members
C'mon, Zombie Pope, get your act together. The Queen Mother is counting on you.

The Ridiculous Origin:

Nesta Webster was a 1920s British historian, writer, propagandist and Nazi sympathizer who had a less-than-secret vendetta against Jews. If you're unfamiliar with the Roaring '20s, you might be wondering how such a person could gain influence in pre-WWII Britain. If you've read The Sun Also Rises, or a biography of Henry Ford, you know that anti-Semitism was up there with stupid-looking pants and the Charleston in terms of things rich white people lost their goddamned minds over.

Webster was married to a superintendent of the British police, which rendered her pretty much untouchable, and she was even tight with Winston Churchill a few decades before he came to his goddamn senses. While Webster wasn't the only crazy anti-Semite working at the time, she used an ability to weave far-reaching conspiracies and a willingness to have sex with powerful men to become hugely influential. And then she got really crazy.

The deuce, you say!

While laboring in the bullshit mines of run-of-the-mill anti-Semitism, Webster struck gold when she proposed an elaborate historical bad-guy cult that worked in alliance with the Jews and was responsible for everything bad that had ever happened. She was studying a fringe conspiracy theory that the French Revolution was secretly orchestrated by a tiny, long extinct secret society called the Bavarian Illuminati, when she decided "What if that, but like the Jews are in on it, too!?"

Thankfully, Cracked Conspirologists have charted out who really runs the world.

Noticing that people rather liked her theory that the decisions they disagreed with were secretly decided at secret meetings they weren't invited to, she started expanding it to include various other historical events she deemed unsavory. The theory was too elaborate to blame just the Jews and Illuminati, so she had to construct a vast network of secret societies, all working together. Basically, if you dared to dabble with suspicious concepts such as "science" and "free thought," you were in on the conspiracy.

Pretty much all the legends of the Illuminati in today's public consciousness and popular culture can be traced back to Webster, who greatly exaggerated and even completely fabricated the facts. Her massively ballooned, cartoonishly evil version of the Illuminati is the version that Americans first heard about, and the one whose mythology has since been further twisted by various authors.

You have to admit, the U.N.'s logo is pretty supervillainy.

The moral of the story: You can get away with saying some pretty crazy stuff if you fuck the right people.

#1. Gray Aliens Came from a TV Show

The Legend:

The strength of the alien abduction theorists has always been their consistency. The aliens always come for you in the middle of the night, take you up in their spaceship and usually stick things in uncomfortable places. But the strangest thing is the way that the aliens, nicknamed "The Grays," always look almost exactly the same in everyone's descriptions. They're shorter, thinner humanoids with long fingers and big upward-sloping eyes.

The last thing your anus will ever see.

Victims would always have these memories come flooding back after the fact, and it seemed strange that aliens who can cross the vast distances of space apparently don't possess the memory-wiping ability of 10 beers. But if a bunch of unrelated people get held up in the same way, and the guy who does it looks identical in every description, you're going to have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The Ridiculous Origin:

Almost all of the tropes of the modern alien abduction story come from one place: The Barney and Betty Hill abduction of 1961. The Hills were driving along when they got chased by mysterious lights, had a bout of "missing time" and were later hypnotized into remembering all the usual alien abduction stuff we already went over.

Betty & Barney Hill Archival Collection, via Huffington Post
"They were doing a study on the anuses of middle America."

It was the first significantly publicized abduction in history, and very few since have deviated from the formula. The Hills were even the first people to identify the gray aliens we all know and love today.

Now, the idea of an alien abduction itself wasn't all that new, as Buck Rogers comics from the 1930s had featured pretty much that exact thing with the "Tiger Men from Mars" story line.

Buck Rogers
Mars needs women, and they're sick of asking nicely.

But gray aliens? Who had ever heard of such a thing? Not only that, but they were peaceful. Up until that time, pop culture had featured little green men with wrinkled foreheads, catlike eyes and sharp teeth who came to wreck shit.

The Hills had totally undermined the typical alien with something no one expected. No one was thinking about gray aliens with large eyes and no noses. No one except for the costume designers working on a popular sci-fi anthology series called The Outer Limits, anyway.

Twelve days before the Hills described their alien encounter under hypnosis, an episode of the show titled "The Bellero Shield" aired, and it featured a peaceful gray alien with large eyes and no nose.

Wikipedia Commons
"How does he smell?" "Quite pleasant, really."

And, on top of that, even the guy who hypnotized the Hills into "remembering" their experience thought the whole thing was bullshit, pieced together by various anxieties and experiences in their everyday lives and conflated with a nightmare that Betty Hill had a few nights after the "incident" had occurred. Experiences, presumably, like the television shows they watched a few nights beforehand. Just imagine what the UFO culture would be like if they'd watched I Love Lucy instead.

For more from Ashe, check out Weird Shit Blog on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. Pauli Poisuo unveils very different kinds of mysteries at Year of the Fat Bastard. You can read more of his Cracked articles here.

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