Top 10 Myths With Surprising Origins
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Top 10 Myths With Surprising Origins

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
The explanations for these popular myths…. surprisingly make sense! For this list, we'll be looking at some of the mythological beings and ideas that have simple reasons as to why people began believing in them. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Myths That Have Surprisingly Logical Origins.
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Script written by Garrett Alden

Top 10 Myths That Have Surprisingly Logical Origins


Huh, well that actually kinda makes sense. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 myths that have surprisingly logical origins.

For this list, we’ll be looking at some of the mythological beings and ideas that have simple reasons as to why people began believing in them.

#10: Unicorns

While it wouldn’t surprise us if someone stuck a horn on a horse’s face just for funsies, the origin of the unicorn myth isn’t quite that funny or straightforward. Several likely explanations exist and the truth could be one of them, or a combination of all of them. Firstly, unicorns could simply be an exaggeration or misinterpretation of descriptions Europeans got of rhinoceroses from India or Africa - or even the extinct Siberian rhino, which was also called the Siberian unicorn. Another common animal associated with the unicorn myth is the narwhal, whose horns were often used as evidence of their supposed existence.

#9: Giants

Fee-fi-fo-fum, we smell the blood of exaggeration! In mythology, giants are usually massively oversized humans, typically depicted as having their own often aggressive culture. However, much like their inverse fictional counterparts, the dwarves, giants owe their origins to real life medical conditions. Gigantism is a real thing that affects people who produce higher than average growth hormones, resulting in heights of 7 to 9 feet, and other larger than typical body conditions. It’s easy to see how ancient folks seeing such people could have blown their proportions out of proportion.

#8: Cyclopes

This is a weird one. Cyclopes (the plural of Cyclops) are large, often gigantic mythical creatures with a single large eye. Their legend originated in Ancient Greece, but that culture may have gotten the idea from even further back than that. It’s believed that the ancient Greeks may have found fossilized remains of mammoths, mastodons, and other extinct elephantine species. These animals had human-like bones, and their large skulls had a single open space in the front where their trunks came out of; lending the impression of an enormous, singular eye socket. Look at a tuskless mammoth skull and a cyclops isn’t hard to see.

#7: Cursed Mummies

Despite mummies’ origins in antiquity and numerous warnings against grave robbery inscribed in their tombs, the concept of curses exacted by Egyptian mummies is a relatively recent concept, historically speaking. The nineteenth century saw a number of fictional works about resurrecting mummies using both science and magic. Curses and bad luck associated with entering mummies’ tombs persisted throughout the same period, but reached new heights after a pattern of sudden death was observed in those who disturbed King Tutankhamun's tomb. Of course, the majority of these can be explained by coincidence, despite suggestions of toxins unleashed from unearthing the tombs.

#6: Witches

Cackling female magic users prone to riding broomsticks and stirring fiendish concoctions in cauldrons, witches are far from the supernatural beings they’re depicted as in folklore and fiction. Many women have been accused of witchcraft throughout history and were often executed in horrific ways ranging from burning at the stake to drowning. However, most of those accused simply practiced some form of herbal medicine or science, or else displayed pagan beliefs. Others weren’t witches, but rather women who rebelled against men or the church; leading those in power to use accusations of witchcraft to see them killed.

#5: Dragons

Large snake or lizard-like creatures, winged or not, are found in mythologies across the world. Dragons have inspired fear and imagination in many people and cultures, but why and how? The explanation lies in real world reptiles. Dragons are likely an exaggeration or expression of humanity’s fear of large reptiles like crocodiles or snakes. Alternatively, they could be a misinterpretation of fossilized bones from dinosaurs or other prehistoric reptiles like pterosaurs. Human imagination is known to run wild at the slightest suggestion, and bones from long-dead creatures clearly send them into overdrive.

#4: Werewolves

A fixture of horror stories, werewolves are people who transform into wolves or wolf-like creatures during a full moon. However outlandish that might sound, the inspiration from werewolves comes from a real medical condition. People with Hypertrichosis grow hair in places most humans don’t, including on their faces. When they weren’t relegated to sideshow acts in circuses, those afflicted would often only go out during the night to avoid prying eyes or persecution. This, combined with the belief that wolves howl at the moon, likely explains how werewolves became associated with the lunar phase.

#3: Demons

Demons are a variety of mythological entities, usually associated with evil and/or the underworld. In Western societies in particular, they are described as being able to possess people to commit strange or evil acts. In reality, behavior ascribed to demons was nearly always some kind of mental or physical illness that was not yet understood. Even today, some religions still practice exorcisms and other cleansing rituals instead of getting those afflicted with these conditions the medical help they need. When faced with behavior that is strange, logic is unfortunately slow to set in.

#2: Mermaids

Aquatic, primarily female beings usually depicted with fish tails and human torsos, mermaids are said to lure sailors to their deaths or else inhabit entire underwater societies. The mythos that has given rise to these fantastic undersea temptresses is generally easily explained by seamen mistaking fish or aquatic mammals like dolphins or manatees for having a feminine shape, as discerning forms through water is rather difficult. We’re guessing cabin fever and poor nutrition didn’t exactly help their powers of perception either. This reasoning is also a sound explanation for other aquatic mythical monsters, like sea serpents.

#1: Vampires

Undead creatures that sleep in coffins, are sensitive to light, and who feed off the blood of the living to survive, vampires have fascinated and horrified people for centuries. Despite their fantastic powers and abilities though, vampires have surprisingly down to earth origins. The nightwalkers’ behaviors are likely the combination of stories involving premature burials as well as rabies outbreaks that drove people to bite one another in frenzies. Rabies has also been linked to light sensitivity and bloody frothing at the mouth. Most importantly however, vampirism likely stems from a lack of understanding for human decomposition in bygone societies, namely the manner in which nails and teeth become more prominent, like those of Nosferatu.

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