The 6 Strangest Ways Anyone Was Ever Mistaken for a God
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 ...
Capt. 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!
World 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.
Haile Selassie I
In 1930, Haile Selassie I, also known as Ras Tafari Makonnen, came to the throne as King of Ethiopia. He was pretty popular at home, but little could he have known that he was about to become much, much more popular on a far-away island called Jamaica, where a revered orator named Marcus Garvey had just off-handedly prophesied that a black king in Africa would literally be Jesus. (Yes, the famous one.)
This whole messianic mix-up occurred when Time magazine ran a cover story on "His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and Elect of God." A bunch of Garvey's followers put two and two together and got ... well, we're not sure exactly.
A black king in Africa isn't the biggest stretch as far as prophecies go, so it's really just a matter of good timing that awarded Selassie the title of God-incarnate, and determined that Marcus Garvey was the reincarnation of John the Baptist in the eyes of thousands of people who started calling themselves Rastafarians. The fact that Selassie was really an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and a mortal didn't seem to make a dent on the Rastafarian community.
Furthermore, pictures like these with Aslan were not helping.
But since Selassie did not want to disrespect his adoring crowd -- yeah, that's the reason -- he decided to just go along with the whole thing. He even visited Jamaica in 1966, finding himself swamped at the airport by fanatic Rastafarians, smooth reggae beats and what has been described as "a haze of ganja smoke." The day was made into a holiday.
Of course, things hit a sour note on Aug. 27, 1975, when Selassie's death shocked the world ... except for the Rastafarians. They had a backup theory to explain this inevitability, maintaining to this very day that his death was a hoax and that he will stop playing around and return one day to unite the world.
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.
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.
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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