5 Totally WTF Myths That Pop Up In Every Culture Worldwide
In today's hyper-connected world, it's not surprising that some legends transcend borders and become known across different cultures (like Santa, or Jesus, or Jackie Chan). What is surprising is that the same thing was already happening back when going to another continent was about as feasible as going to the moon. Somehow, there are incredibly specific -- and deeply weird -- myths that happen to turn up in places separated by both time and distance.
Evil Fanged Vaginas Are Weirdly Prolific
Across thousands of miles and hundreds of cultures, men have gazed upon the female body and thought, "I have never been more terrified." How else can you explain the legend of the fanged vagina, which has found its way across practically the entire world?
Only the details vary. In some versions, the vagina itself has teeth, while in others, there's a fish or a snake living in there and biting off any member foolish enough to come poking in. It would almost seem like empowering feminine symbolism in another context, but since most storytellers were men, the heroes of the myths were usually cunning men who had to defeat the deadly vagina to get the girl.
For example, in a myth from the Native American Zuni tribe, clever twins make fake dicks out of wood and have sex with some predatory women until "their teeth were all worn out." A slightly less mean Apache myth has the hero tricking the four deadly "vagina girls" into eating some sour berries, which puckers them right up until they can "no longer chew, but only swallow."
On the other side of the globe, a Japanese legend claims that a demon hid all up in a local lady and killed her first two husbands by, sure enough, chomping their boners. Somewhat unhappy with this turn of events, the woman seeks help from a local blacksmith, who builds a steel penis which breaks the demon's teeth (which is absolutely going to be our excuse the next time we ask our local blacksmith for an unbreakable iron dildo).
A similar iron penis legend can be found in the Indian town of Dantipur. Then there's the nearby legend from Chattisgarh, wherein the hero simply yanks a snake out of there with a stick and makes it magically fix all the dicks it had eaten.
But the gold medal definitely goes to Maori mythology, which has the hero Maui crawl into the vagina of a sleeping goddess to win immortality for humans (thanks?). Unfortunately, a bird cracks up laughing at the sight, and the goddess wakes up and bites Maui in half with her obsidian cooch fangs. And that's why we're not Highlanders. We feel like there might be some hidden subtext to all of these stories, but if so, it currently escapes us.
There's A Near-Universal Legend About A Guy Getting His Eyes Gouged Out After Building Something Awesome
Let's say you're a powerful ruler, and you manage to find this once-in-a-generation genius who can build absolute masterpieces for you. After they finish the first one, do you A) ask them to do another one, obviously, B) give them a shitload of money so they can live in comfort forever, or C) start gouging out eyes and cutting off hands to keep your thing special? The last option is a surprisingly popular answer, according to an oddly pervasive myth.
Take St. Basil's Cathedral (1561), aka that building people keep thinking is the Kremlin. According to a story that's widely repeated to this day, Ivan the Terrible rewarded architect Postnik Yakovlev for this feat of engineering by blinding him. If that's the case, Yakovlev must have been an even better architect than Ivan imagined, because he went on to design other buildings. And yet the myth has continued to spread, probably because of how well it fits in with Ivan's nickname.
This isn't the only tale of a European ruler paying his contractors by mutilating them. Supposedly, after Master Hanus finished Prague's famous astronomical clock in 1410, the city's councilors paid a group of goons to sneak into his bedroom late at night and blind him with a piece of iron. Again, there's no truth to this (the clock was built by Mikulas of Kadan and Jan Sindel), but every part of the story, down to the weirdly specific method of blinding the guy, is still repeated today. Why, there's even a jolly stop-motion film about it:
Skip ahead to 8:41 for the most horrifying stop-motion puppet show since the last one we showed you.
Lest you think this is strictly a European myth, the Beiteddine Palace in Lebanon (1788) has the same story. Emir Bashir Shihab II had the place built as the Lebanese version of the Playboy Mansion, with a grand apartment, a harem, and a guest house that dwarfed many castles. To make sure no other ruler copied his style, the emir reportedly ordered that the head architect's hands be cut off. The architect wasn't blinded, though, so at least he could see his brand-new stumps.
But the Taj Mahal (1653) has all of them beat for the sheer scale of its mythical cost. Unlike his wimpy other counterparts, this mythical version of Shah Jahan didn't merely mutilate the head designer. Supposedly, every single one of the craftsmen had their eyes gouged and their hands cut off to make double sure they never built anything similar (they could have worked with their feet, though). Considering there were 20,000 workers, this must have taken a while.
In this case, the message behind the legends seems straightforward: Craftsmen, always get paid up front.
There Are Tons Of Stories About A God Stealing Fire To Give It To Mankind, Then Getting Punished In An Overly Elaborate Way
You would think our ancestors would be pretty proud that they discovered fire, considering how enormously useful it is (can you even think of a problem that can't be solved with enough fire?). That's why it's so weird that different cultures kept making up myths about how we were far too stupid to come up with fire, so some god or celestial being had to steal it for us.
The two most well-known examples of this are Prometheus of Greek myth, who stole fire from the gods to give to humans, and (thanks to the movie Moana) Maui of Polynesian myth, who stole it from the ducks. Sorry, the mud hens. Yeah, that sounds more dignified.
The cultures that created these myths were separated by at least three oceans and a continent, so it's already weird that they'd both believe it -- but they're far from the only ones. You can find the legend of a trickster god stealing fire for mankind everywhere from the Ojibwe people of North America (the story of Nanabozho), to Georgia in the Caucus mountains (Amirani stealing a piece of the sun), to India (Matarisvan, who brought down the hidden fire from Heaven to Earth), to the Cherokee (Grandmother Spider hiding fire in a clay pot, giving it to people, then offering free pottery lessons). Even Jewish mythology claims this, saying that the fallen angel Azazel stole the knowledge of working the forge from Yahweh to give to humans, in order to corrupt us and turn us away from God and to sin. And that's why you see all those kids today forging things instead of going to church.
What's even weirder is that giving humans the knowledge of fire tends to be followed by cruel and unusual punishment, usually for all eternity. Prometheus was chained to a rock and had an eagle eat his regenerating liver forever. Amirani was tied to an iron pole that would sink deeper into the mountain every time he tried to free himself. Nanabozho had his fur set on fire as he ran back to the humans. Azazel was bound in a jagged rocky tomb in the desert until the Day of Judgement.
So what caused this myth? Maybe this is based off of a primitive fear of fire, knowing that it's necessary to survive, but also could burn an entire village down with a single stray spark. We give praise to the figure who gave it to us, even as we know the gods had a good reason to keep it to themselves. Or maybe a time traveler just hopped around to all these cultures with a lighter, and then got arrested by the time cops. We know which we choose to believe.
Want To Keep A Tomb Safe? Apparently You Bury It Under A River And Kill Everyone
All good myths contain an element of truth. In this case, it's that elaborate tombs are a really, genuinely stupid idea. Sure, you may have been King Swordagon of the Fuckspear people in life, but in death, you're nothing but some asshole buried with a bunch of gold under some monument that basically doubles as a "Free Gold Here" sign. The local kids are going to be sledding down a hill in your sarcophagus in under 20 years.
As a result, the burials of famous warriors soon become shrouded in legend. As in, literally one legend. For some long-forgotten reason, some of the most legendary warlords in history were supposed to have been buried in the same oddly specific way: 1) A mighty river was diverted from its course while a tomb was dug in the riverbed, 2) the river was then returned to its original course to hide the tomb beneath the water, and 3) all the workers were murdered to protect the secret location. Which seems like overkill, in more than one sense.
The earliest version of the story involves the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh. In a fragment dating from at least the 17th century BCE, Gilgamesh is buried under the Euphrates. Later, the Visigoth leader Alaric was said to have been buried under the Busento, after which all the workers involved were massacred. Attila the Hun was supposedly dumped under yet another river, after which the workers were also murdered, but probably twice as hard.
Yet another version involves Genghis Khan, with the added detail that the warriors who killed the workers were themselves killed by another group of warriors ... who were then killed by another group of warriors ... and so on, until the legend kind of tails off (presumably because everyone in Mongolia was dead).
Even the prophet Daniel got upgraded to a river burial in Medieval Islamic accounts, although they left out the traditional massacre. Maybe it was implied by then.
It's worth noting that none of the legends are considered credible by historians. They mostly don't even make sense. How does killing workers keep the location secret? Someone still had to be there to kill them. Also, a big pile of dead workers seems like kind of a giveaway.
Every Culture Has Gruesome Stories About Killing And Mutilating Giants
Remember when you were a kid and made up that story about kicking the ass of the biggest kid in school? It turns out our ancestors were as full of shit as we were. If anything, they were even bigger liars, since they claimed they were performing noogies on giants.
Most cultures have a concept of a being superior to men (no, not women) causing havoc until we bring them crashing down in brutal fashion using our guile and cunning. Look at David and Goliath. In the Bible, Goliath is the champion of the Philistines, and threatens the Israelites' way of life in a West Side / East Side type of conflict. In the end, David defeats him using nothing but three rocks -- the one he fires with a sling, and the two in his pants. Then he saws Goliath's goddamned head off.
In old-timey Europe, there was a whole slew of legends and fairy tales about brave heroes fucking up the giants who ostensibly went around eating cows and kidnapping women back then. In England, King Arthur cut one's balls off while Jack killed and outwitted a whole bunch.
In Germany, the Brave Little Tailor tricked two into killing each other, then carved their hearts out for good measure.
In Norway, the stock boy hero tricks a giant troll into cutting his stomach open to win an eating match.
While these specific stories originated in the Middle Ages, anthropologists from Durham University claim the root of this tale is actually over 5,000 years old. Across the pond, some Native American tribes passed down tales about having to defeat the man-eating giants who were the original inhabitants of the land. And in Norse mythology, Midgard (Earth) was created specifically to protect our squishy human selves from evil giants. Thor himself faced them in both battles of wits and straight-up battles. If Thor: Ragnarok was more faithful to the source material, the movie would have ended with Thor smashing Hulk's skull with his hammer.
It's possible that all these tales are based on distant memories of early man prevailing over our uglier, stronger prehistoric competitors -- so by slaying those giants, we're truly getting rid of a part of ourselves. We suppose it's also possible that these stories were all based on a real, regular-sized dude, and they kept making the guy bigger with every telling until eventually he was the size of a skyscraper.
For more on the vagina dentata mythos, we'd be remiss not to suggest the movie Teeth.
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