The only trustworthy clue about a local myth is that it's local. That's why it'd be an extra waste of time to go looking for Excalibur in Argentina, or the lost city of Atlantis in the Gobi Desert or the Garden of Eden in Daviess County, Missouri. But logic has never gotten in the way of a treasure hunter, who will roam far and wide to find their fabled destinations -- even when their GPS has been telling them to turn back for the last eight thousand miles.
Travel to the North of Japan and you'll find the sleepy little village in the Aomori Prefecture. And if you happen to be Christian, you can go and pay your respects to the grave of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who Christians believe took his divine body back to heaven, but the people of Shingo believe got his ass buried in their backyard.
According to Shingo legend, Jesus, or as he was known to the locals, Daitenky Taro Jurai, spent his biblical "Lost Years" studying abroad in Japan. (We'll assume, since this was in 21 A.D. Jerusalem, that his Dad gave him directions). Years later, when the time came for JC to be nailed to the cross and complete God's plan, he instead let his younger brother Isukiri take the fall and fled Israel. On the blessed lamb, Jesus decided to lay low by returning to the "sacred land" of Japan, carrying nothing with him but a lock of his mother Mary's hair and the severed ear of his crucified bro. After four years of schlepping, he reached the Nipponese shores, settled in Shingo, married a local farmer's daughter, had a bunch of kids and died at the ripe age of 106.
How do locals know so much more about Jesus than all the master theologians combined? In 1936, scholars uncovered the "Takenouchi Documents," a series of mystical papers that include the journal and the last will and testament of the Messiah -- signed "Jesus Christ, Father of Christmas." Sadly, this irrefutable evidence was accidentally completely destroyed during World War II, but a celebrity cosmo-archaeologist (who wasn't even alive back then) managed to save his transcription. Not that the non-charlatan needed it -- proof of Christ's life in Shinto is everywhere. Like in his grave, or his second grave filled with loose hair and an ear. Or the Legend of Christ Museum, where pilgrims can learn about the adventures of Japanese Jesus for only 100 Yen.
Christ's presence is also felt in the villagers themselves, who historically were set apart from other Japanese one-horse-towns by adopting Christ's clothing, culture and, most importantly, his DNA. The last blue-eyed descendant of Christ is still alive and well in Shingo -- and his garlic farm is doing great. Are any of the people of Shingo actual Christians? God, no. But they do their best to approximate the foreign faith and honor the bones of the dead Messiah. Specifically, during the Christ Festival in the summer (Jesus loved the hot weather).
On the surface, Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland, is just another tourist trap -- a place once home to knights, clerics and quests now home to a B- gift shop. But in the bowels of this keep, ancient magic still resides, an arcane stone that was once guarded by a mighty dragon, that can heal the sick and protect entire cities. The only problem? The few people who believe that aren't allowed inside the castle walls.
You don't expect medieval European castles to be holy pilgrimages to New Age hippies, and neither did Wawel Castle. But according to mystical scholars/dowsers/people who sell holistic mandrake root at $40 per pound, the Polish royal keep harbors one of the seven chakra stones, supreme sources of energy spread across the world. The Wawel Chakra, hidden deep within the very same 11th-century foundations which were once guarded by a mighty dragon (just about the one thing western and eastern mythology have in common) is fabled to emanate powerful aligning energy, boost your aural frequency, protect entire cities and grant powerful healing magic to those near it.
But hippilgrims seeking to uncover this powerful artifact cannot simply enter the keep, as towering guards and powerful clerics patrol the grounds for interlopers. (Specifically, museum staff and a bunch of old Catholic priests.) With the Medieval St. Geron Castle built atop the chakra source, this twice hallowed ground attracts both old and new school faith healers from all over the world, and the former has little patience for the latter's healing stone bullshit. As such, New Age visitors to Wawel must be content with leaning against the outer walls of the keep, hoping that some runoff chakra energy will rub off on them.
In the mountains of Transylvania, where the rain never ends and the thunder claps at appropriately dramatic moments, rests a dark keep shrouded in ill intent. There, according to the petrified Romanian peasants, lies the castle of the man, the mist, Count Dracula himself. And if you believe that, the Romanian tourist board has some overpriced postcards to sell you.
In the 1960s, Communist Romania was starting to flirt with capitalism again, seeking ways to court foreign money into the struggling nation. And what better way to boost its Transylvanian tourism than to lean heavily into its popular Dracula mythos and turning it into the premier travel destination for New Romantics and future goths? Unfortunately, while Bram Stoker had modeled his vampire on a real Romanian monster, Vlad "The Impaler" Dracula, the Count's castle had been a pure work of fiction. And they couldn't use old Vlad's haunt, the ominously named Poenari Castle, as their tourist trap for two reasons: Firstly, it wasn't located in Transylvania (Vladdy ruled over neighboring Wallachia). And secondly, it didn't look so hot after part of it fell off the cliff in 1888.
Meanwhile, Transylvania had a perfectly preserved mountain fortress just sitting there -- the appropriately neo-Gothic Bran Castle, renovated by Queen Marie, Romania's most well-beloved queen right until she was kicked out by the Commies. Not wanting to look a seized means in the mouth, and perhaps to put the final nail in the coffin of the regency, the Communist Party of Romania redubbed the royal keep "the real Dracula Castle," despite it looking like a Disney hotel during the daytime.
Did it matter that Bran Castle is over a hundred miles away from the village of Piatra Fantanele, the true setting of Bram Stoker's Dracula? Or did it matter that Vlad the Impaler likely never even set foot in Bran Castle, what with him having a stake-on-sight rule for his neighbors? Not to the money-hungry Communist party. And neither to the tourists, it seems, who still flock en masse to Dracula Castle and adjoining museum to learn the fake history of a fake Romanian in a fake haunted keep.
Viking culture is still present in much of our modern society, in the form of superheroes, skiing and the sophisticated barbarism that's a visit to IKEA. But these Nordic warriors also left another visible mark on the world, littering the north of Europe with runestones, large slabs of stone honoring their great achievements. But it might be that one of the greatest enduring monuments to that most violent and assertive culture in the world might not be found in Scandinavia but on the humble shores of Canada.
As your DNA test might show, the Vikings got around. Centuries before Columbus, they were the first ginger guests of the American continent, landing their longboats on the Northeast coastline as early as the 11th century AD. But their time was brief and cursory. The only known Viking camp was found at L'Anse aux Meadows on the Newfoundland peninsula, with no (physical) proof of them ever making their way inland. But according to one rogue Canuck archaeologist, while they didn't have the time to build a proper settlement, they did build a 4,000 pound stone behemoth to honor their greatest god, a landmark better known as The Hammer of Thor.
In 1964, while following the Arnaud river north of the village of Kangirsuk on the Ungava Peninsula of Quebec, archeologist Thomas E. Lee stumbled upon the 10 foot-tall-stone formation. Its protruding cross piece making the monument resemble a hammer -- or tomahawk, for that matter. When he asked the local Inuit about it, they just shrugged and claimed it was like that when they got there. And since Lee was in Ungava on a hunch that the area may be the site of the first-ever American-Viking contact, this unclaimed hammer-looking stone pile was all the proof he needed to see that Mjolnir had landed here in the New World.
Did the Viking explorers really take the time to build some sort of heaving shrine 800 miles away from the only camp we believe they ever established? Other historians are more skeptical. They point to the historical precedent of the inuksuk, stone cairns like The Hammer of Thor, which were a prehistoric practice by the First Peoples that predates the Viking arrival by millennia. These inuksuks were a sort of Stone Age signpost, often placed on the border of territories as a warning to trespassers -- like, say, at the mouth of a river near the coast. In that light, The Hammer of Thor could either be the unlikely proof of a Viking incursion or the very reason that never happened, since a warning written in stone that seems to say: "You're about to get hammered" is definitely a message that visiting Vikings would've understood well.
By now, we all know the Nazi top brass were the original sci-fi nerds with a superiority complex, believing in the occult power of their blood as much as they did in eugenics. But they picked up most of this pseudo-wizardry from the older German Thule Society (who have a very familiar-looking logo) which had taken its name from the mythological Thule, the alleged cradle of Aryanism.
Since Nazis are all about tracing back bloodlines (and snuffing them out if they're 1/16th Jewish), the thought of finding Thule was too good to pass up. And Heinrich Himmler and his Thule Society bros knew exactly where to look: Tibet. Or, at least, slightly underneath it. The theory behind this ticks just about every box on the crazy occult nut job checklist: Nazi occultists believed that Tibetans were racially pure not because they lived on the remote roof of the world but because they too descended from the Aryan race (tick) who must've relocated to Shangri-La (tick) when their hometown of Atlantis was destroyed (tick) after which they burrowed from the mountains straight into the Hollow Earth (double conspiracy tick) to found the underground society of Agartha or Thule (tick), and, if found, the remnants of this civilization would unlock the magic in the blood (tick) of all true Ubermenschen.
By the late 1930s, the Nazis decided to send an expedition to Tibet to prove that SS stands for Super Saiyan. But Himmler was as good at picking henchmen as he was at picking winning ideologies. The man they sent was famed hunter and reluctant Nazi Ernst Schafer. But when Schafer reached the Himalayas in 1938, he immediately pulled a reverse Indiana Jones, ignoring the search for Shangri-La and spending all his time collecting valuable historical, biological and anthropological data -- all while footing the Third Reich with the bill.
Even though Schafer returned without having found their birthright, the occult-obsessed Nazis never stopped pouring research money down the Thule hole -- not even during the war. Who knows, a little less funding into Hardy Boys adventures and more into their rockets and many of us would be speaking Thulian today.
Sir Charles George Gordon was the very model of a modern major general. He had information, vegetable, animal and mineral. He even found their place of birth from studying quotes biblical, which made him drag his sweaty British ass through islands tropical.
Major-General Gordon was a typical Victorian soldier, but not a typical Victorian Christian. As a reincarnation-believing, throne of God seeking cosmologist, he was obsessed with finding mythical locations from the Bible, especially the Garden of Eden. In 1881, this quest led him to the shores of Praslin, a small island in the Seychelles archipelago east of Africa. And as he wandered through the Valley of May, the isle's lush primordial jungle, he knew he had found the biblical birthplace of mankind and rib-womankind.
But an English tourist being so bowled over by an island climate more pleasant than a damp sock that he thinks it's the Garden of Eden isn't a very convincing argument. Luckily, Gordon had found tangible proof of Paradise in the palm trees of Praslin, which he claimed were the fabled Trees of Knowledge whose Forbidden Fruit damned Adam and Eve by imparting them dangerous wisdom. And by the looks of this fruit, that wisdom had to do with boning.
What Gordon actually held in the palm of his hand wasn't heaven on earth, but part of the Darwinian nightmare that is tiny island flora and fauna. The coco de mer, also known as the love nut, is a rare type of gigantic double coconut (that can weigh up to 65 pounds) whose trees only grow on Praslin and one neighboring island. But with the tree not only bearing a (sch)longish male flower and a female fruit that looks like a front bottom, but also being home to a particularly charismatic large golden-eyed snake, you can forgive the God-struck Gordon for thinking this seductive spot had something to with the original sin.
For years after, Gordon proselytized his discovery in print, but while achieving some popularity among his fellow biblical cosmologists, his Garden of Eden theory was widely ridiculed by learned members of British society. Still, when the major general finally kicked it, he died believing he had seen Paradise on earth, and that whatever came next would be even better than a trip to the Seychelles. Not a bad way to go.
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Top Image: Wikimedia Commons/Vilowiki