1. The Flood
Everybody knows about Noah’s Ark, but Jehova isn’t the only god to ever say “screw it, let’s start over.”
The Cree tell a story about how the trickster Wisakedjak pissed off the Creator so much he flooded everything and Wisakedjak had to rebuild it from scratch.
According to the Mayans, the gods have already destroyed the world twice, once by water, which means that we’re all currently living in the Third World.
In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh runs into an old immortal named Utnapishtim, who has to build a boat and fill it with animals and plants to save from the oncoming flood.
And even the Greeks got in on the flood action when Zeus decided to get rid of everyone after a fiasco involving Pandora’s Box. Only one man and his wife survived … by building a sturdy boat and weathering the deluge.
2. What If God Was One Of Us?
Gods absolutely love pretending to be humans and then busting other humans for being dicks, apparently.
In Greek mythology, Zeus visits a king named Lycaeon, to check up on his hospitality skills. Lycaeon, who is not that great of a host it turns out, tries to have him killed in his sleep and then feeds him dead babies. 🙁 Zeus gets fed up – figuratively and literally – and turns Lycaeon into the world’s first werewolf.
The Norse have basically the exact same story. Odin shows up at a king’s house to scope out his hospitality, and ends up tied to a wall, getting alternately stabbed and set on fire for eight solid days. And what does he do when he finally runs out of patience? He turns the king and everyone else in the house into, you guessed it, wolves.
Old mythology is full of stories like this, probably because everybody thought it was a good idea to scare each other into being good hosts.
3. Whoops, Incest!
Other than murder, incest is one of the few things that’s a pretty big no-no wherever you go, so it makes sense that everyone would have stories about it.
The Greeks have the most famous example of this: Oedipus kills his dad, boinks his mom, and ends up stabbing his eyes out with knitting needles when he figures it all out.
But people in myths are accidentally banging their siblings all the time …
The Finnish hero Kullervo is ultimately undone when he picks up a stranger in his sled and has sex with her. She ultimately kills herself when they find out they have the same parents.
In the English Arthurian legends, King Arthur doesn’t kill himself when he finds out he banged his half-sister Morgause, but the child she bears – Mordred – does end up destroying his kingdom and ending his life, after Arthur tries to have him abandoned on an island with a ship full of other babies, so there’s that.
4. Stealing Fire From The Gods
It’s like, we all know fire is important, but do you really have to steal it? Couldn’t you just ask nicely?
In Greek mythology, Prometheus gets sick of how cold humans are, so he steals fire for them and ends up getting chained to a rock forever while an eagle eats his liver.
Meanwhile, in many Native American stories, Coyote or Rabbit does the exact same thing with pretty much no consequences.
5. Going to Hell For A Visit, With Predictable Results
One of the unavoidable truths of life is that people die. If you’re a mythological hero, though, you apparently don’t have to take death for an answer. But that doesn’t mean the gods will be happy about it.
In Greek mythology, Orpheus descends to Hades to retrieve his lover Eurydice, only to lose her at the last second when he looks over his shoulder.
The Mayan ball players Hun Hunapú and Vucub Hunapú piss off the lords of the dead so much that they get challenged to a ball-playing match in the underworld. The penalty for losing (which they do) is death.
The Sumerian goddess Inanna tries to visit her sister Ereshkigal in the underworld, but after stripping butt naked in order to make it down to her sister’s palace, she gets killed for the effort.
Orpheus becomes immortal through his art, the Hunapu brothers father posthumous sons who avenge them and salvage their remains, and Inanna exploits a divine loophole to return to the land of the living. Basically, if you’re in a myth, dying isn’t a big deal.
6. Littering Saves The Day
Believe it or not, The Fast and the Furious did not invent the high speed chase. Before Vin Diesel, before Tokyo Drift, cultures around the world were telling a type of story known as the obstacle chase.
Basically, someone pisses off a terrifying monster – like a witch or a bear or a floating head – and as they desperately try to get away, they throw seemingly useless objects behind them like the powerups in Mario Kart.
In Iriquois legends, the hero will often throw a rock which turns into an enormous mountain range.
A little Russian girl fleeing from the witch Baba Yaga throws a comb which becomes a thick forest.
In the Germain Fairytale “The Master Maid,” the Maid turns a flask of water into a whole dang sea.
The moral of these stories is simple: littering is always bad, unless you are being chased and the litter is magic.
7. God Takes Mortal Form, is a Huge Jerk About It
It makes sense that gods would want to send versions of themselves to earth, in mortal form. What makes less sense is how badly they behave once they’re there.
In Greek mythology, Hercules strangles a bunch of snakes as a baby, then gets a little older and murders his wife and kids.
Hindu mythology has a story about how Baby Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu steals so much food from his neighbors that one of his permanent divine names becomes “Butter thief.” This escalates to a point where he threatens to kill his own mother when she tries to stop him.
Some stories in the Christian tradition don’t always make Jesus Christ look that great either. According to the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, young Jeezy spent his youth alternately murdering and resurrecting his playmates, basically just because he could.
You can’t even punish these godlings by killing them, because the other thing these stories have in common is that the main character ultimately dies and gets resurrected. Hercules becomes a constellation, Krishna just moves on to another incanration, and Jesus does his Jesus thing.
8. The Hero’s Journey
Pretty much every culture seems to have very similar ideas about how a hero’s journey is supposed to go.
This type of myth alone could warrant an entire article (in fact, a whole book has been written on it, called The Hero With a Thousand Faces), but let’s just compare two major mythological heroes:
Moses, deliverer of the Jews, and Siddartha, the founder of Buddhism.
Both are visited by divine messengers informing them of their purpose (Moses’s is a burning bush, Siddartha’s is a wise hermit.)
Both are super reluctant to follow their calling (because burning bushes and hermits aren’t necessarily very trustworthy).
Both go out into the wilderness, endure starvation and hardship, and ultimately meet with divine revelation at a sacred, natural location (Moses on Mt. Sinai where he gets the ten commandments, Siddartha under the Bo Tree where he formulates the 8 Noble Truths.)
Neither one is sure whether they should share this revelation with regular people, but they do it anyway, and that’s where two of the world’s major religions come from.
Those aren’t the only examples of the hero’s journey, though. Compare Moses to Luke Skywalker, or Rapunzel from Tangled, or … you get the idea.
9. Here’s How The World Ends … OR IS IT?
World religions LOVE to talk about the end of the world.
Remember that whole 2012 fiasco? That was based on the Mayan prediction for the end of the world.
Remember the Rapture fiasco a year or so later? That was over some questionable math based on the Christian book of Revelations.
This winter, some amateur prophets predicted that we had reached Fimbulwinter, the Norse Winter To End All Winters, first sign of Ragnarok.
But if any of these people turned out to be right, it would have been totally fine. Granted, each prediction calls for a large part of the world’s population to be drowned, murdered, or set on fire, but the other common thread between all these stories is that the world keeps chugging along afterwards.
The Mayan calendar is all about an endless series of worlds, attempts by the gods to get it right next time. The book of Revelations never actually says the earth will be destroyed, and the Norse believe that at least two humans – Bor and Bestla – will be protected from the worst of Ragnarok inside an invincible forest. So you probably won’t survive, but at least someone will.