USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘myth’


Polybius is an urban legend videogame–meaning a video game that is only rumored to have existed.


What’s Polybius?

BA: Polybius is a video game, supposedly made by SEGA, that caused the kids to play it to have seizures. They say there’s only been one Polybius cabinet–this was the 80s, when games were in cabinets in arcades, like Pac Man and Asteroids and stuff…and this cabinet was in Portland.

Why was there only one cabinet?

BA: There was only one cabinet, because that’s how they tested the game before release. It was a big game by a big company, and it used new graphics technology, so they just secretly tested it under a fake name…if the game passed testing, it wouldn’t be called “Polybius”. But… the kids who played it got addicted to it and had seizures. People reported seeing men in suits watching them play, and some say it was the United States government watching to see the effect of the game, to somehow use it as a weapon. Anyway, they scrapped the game and hid it from the records once the kids had seizures, so they couldn’t get any bad press, so nobody’s heard of it since.


The mystery of Polybius originated on the internet in discussion boards in 1998. It’s since snowballed to a huge essential question: “Is Polybius real or fake?”. Some claim that it is a fabricated story based on the overwhelmingly negative reception of the early testing stages of Tempest, while others claim to have been part of the developer team responsible for the game.

There are some slight references to Polybius in popular culture, such as a background joke in The Simpsons and the plot of a long-cancelled G4 series, Blister


How the Kiwi Lost It’s Wings


How the Kiwi Lost It’s Wings

One day Tanemahuta, the god of the forest, rounds up all of the birds and says that there are too many bugs on the floor of the forest eating the trees. If one of the birds doesn’t go down to eat all of the bugs, the trees will all be killed and the birds will have nowhere to build their nests. First he asks the Tui, but the Tui says that he’s too afraid of the dark on the forest floor. So Tanemahuta brands him as a coward with a white scarf (white tuft) around his neck. Then he asks Pukeko “will you come down to the forest floor.” And Pukeko says “no the mud is too rough and it will hurt my feet.” So Tanemahuta curses Pukeko so that he now lives in swamps. Then he asks Pipiwharauroa, who says, “no I can’t, I’m building a nest.” And then he curses Pipiwharauroa so that he can never build a nest again. Then he asks the kiwi. And Kiwi knows that somebody has to do it, so he will. So then he grows thick legs, and a long beak to put in the mud and to get rid of his beautiful feathers for ugly brown ones. And then Tanemahuta rewards the kiwi by making him the most beloved bird in the world.


Informant & Context:

My informant for this piece is a USC student from New Zealand who lived in Auckland for 18 years. The story she is telling is a Maui origin story about how the Kiwi lost its wings and became the bird of New Zealand. A more complete version of the story can be found here:



This is a very interesting story about an act of selflessness. It is interesting to me, not only because I do not have anything similar to say about the bald eagle and how it became the symbol of America, but also because the story originates from the aboriginal Maui people of New Zealand. My informant is a white New Zealander, who is not part of that group, however she called this a traditional New Zealand story—implying that all of New Zealand culture is shared.


The Crows and the Serpent


The Crows and the Serpent

This story is from the Panchatantra tales. In indian culture when the kids are going to bed, parents will read out of this book. All of the stories have morals to them. In that story pretty much what happens is there are a bunch of crows living in a tree. One day a family of snakes moves under the tree. So then obviously the crow family is really mad about that, because snakes eat crows. So the next day crow parents go out in the morning to search for food for their kids. They come back later and all their babies are gone–because the snakes ate them. So then they have more kids and decide to come up with a way for the snakes to not attack them. So then the mom decides to stay in the nest when while the dad searches for food–but because she’s alone, the snakes attack her and eat all their babies again. So they have to come up with a new plan to save their next babies. So they call their friends over who are foxes. They tell the foxes about how the snakes keep eating their babies. The fox tells them to use their brain. He says that all the royal families bathe really early in the morning, and leave their jewelry on plates. So he tells the crows to steal one of the necklaces and drop it into the snakes’ home. So the crows wake up really early the next day, before the snakes are awake, and steal a necklace from one of the royal families. Some guards are chasing them as they fly away, and then they drop the necklace into the snake hole. The guards then have to kill the snakes to get the jewelry out of the whole, which they do, and the crows stop having their babies eaten.

This moral of this story is to use intelligence over physical strength.

Informant & Context:

My informant for this story is an Indian-American student at the University of Southern California who grew up in Seattle, Washington. She grew up in a fairly culturally traditional Indian household. This story comes from a set of stories that many Indian parents read to their children.


The thing that stands out to me the most about this story is that the crows are the heroes. In many stories in western culture, crows are often the antagonists—the same can be said for foxes.

The story has a very concise message: Use intelligence to solve your problems instead of strength.


Cherokee Myth of Fire

The informant for this piece is my aunt, who worked for the Cherokee Government for several years and is still heavily involved in the organization. She grew up in Tulsa, OK, but has also lived extensively in Tahlequah, OK.

In this piece, my aunt discusses the Cherokee myth of where fire came from. The story also explains why certain animals look the way they do.

AJ: Growing up, especially in your grandmother’s day, we didn’t really share stories from the old days. A lot of your ancestors saw those stories as going against the word of God.

Me: Because they had converted to Christianity.

AJ: Right, so those stories didn’t get passed around as much. I remember a couple. One of them was a story on how fire was made.

Me: Can you tell it to me?

AJ: Yes. I looked it up to make sure I was remembering correctly. Okay, so in the beginning there was no fire and the world was dark and cold. Then, the Thunders sent lightning and put fire in the bottom of a sycamore tree. This tree was located on an island in the middle of water, and the animals could not get to it, so they held a council to decide what to do. The White Raven offered to go, but when he landed on the sycamore tree, the heat of the fire scorched his feathers black so he returned without fire… so that’s how ravens became black, too.

Me: Interesting.

AJ: Okay… so the raven came back without fire. Next, the screech owl went, but when he looked down into the tree, a burst of hot air shot up and burned his eyes, which are red to this day. The hoot and horned owls went next, but the smoke blinded them and the ashes caused white rings to form around their eyes.

Me: So this is sort of the story of how we got fire and how animals came to look the way they did.

AJ: Yes! Isn’t it creative?

Me: Very.

AJ: The black racer and the black snake both tried but where both burned black for their efforts. Finally, the little water spider spun a tusti bowl on her back, and crossed the water to the island, and put one coal in her bowl and brought fire back to the animals. Isn’t that cool?

Me: Yeah. You’re right, it was very inventive. So, did Mimi tell you that?

AJ: Yes. I think I asked her about a story one time and that was one of the few she knew. Like I said, she didn’t learn many growing up, but I guess a few slipped out every now and then. We kind of hold on to them tightly since we have so little.

I think the major reason my aunt loves this story is the creativity involved in it. The way the story explains why some animals are the color that they are did not have to be included, but she appreciates that it was. I also think she likes it because it’s part of our heritage, and it makes her feel connected to her past that she tells this story. She might not feel as if she is as connected as she could be due to what she mentioned about how the stories were not passed down at one point, so knowing this story is extremely important to her. Personally, I think the story is very creative and it makes me proud to think that my ancestors were really great at telling stories, because that exactly what I want to do in my life.

Here is a website that also tells the myth:


The Myth of Suha and the Superstition Mountain Flood- Pima Indian Legend

“After man was created near the Verde and Salt Rivers by the Great Butterfly, the Earth Maker became mad at mans behavior and decided he might drown them. He decided to warn them through voices in the wind and called out to Suha, a Pima Shaman. The North Wind came to him first, telling the people to change their ways or else they would be destroyed by floods. He warned his people but they didnt change their ways. The East Wind came next with its warning but Suha was unable to change his people. The North and South Winds later came, but with no avail. The South Wind then warned Suha and his wife to gather spruce gum and stock it with nuts, water, and deer meat to nourish them when the food would come, for he and his wife were obedient to the warnings. A flood later came, destroying the valley due to the peoples selfishness. He and his wife crawled into their gum ball and closed the door tightly, waiting for the floods to subside. Finally, the rains subsided and they landed upon Superstition mountain and descended onto the valley where they created a new people that prospered there for thousands of years.”

            When I visited my family in Arizona over spring break, my aunt told me this story after taking a hike through the Superstition Mountains. She has always been fascinated by Native American legends and myths, especially those of the Navajo, Anazazi, Pima, and Hopi for whom Arizona was called home. My aunt was born in California but moved to Arizona with my uncle in the 90’s due to his job. She had been a stay at home mom, but after my cousin grew up she decided to take a job as a librarian and read several books about Native American folklore, learning hundreds of stories about the origins of man and the creation of the earth.

I found this myth particularly interesting because its not the first time I’ve heard a version of it. It sounds almost identical to that of Noah and the Ark, though with different motifs. Water is a universal symbol for purification, so it’s no surprise that it is the medium of choice across cultures when retelling the cleansing of the earth. The Epic of Gilgamesh from Mesopotamia is also another similar story I can think of that too utilizes a great flood. It’s fascinating to see that both the New and Old World came up with almost identical stories to describe the history of earth and its people despite lacking contact until the 1500’s.


Inuit Creation Myth

“So in the beginning there were giants. On one winter evening, a mother giant and a father giant had a baby girl and named her Sedna. Throughout the first winter and then as she grew up, she got bigger and bigger, eventually growing larger than her mother and father. She grew so big that she couldnt find any more food to eat. Her parents managed to wrap her in a large blanket and pushed her to their canoe. In the dark of the night, they paddled out to see and when they were out of sight of land, they dumped her out of the canoe and left her to drown in the cold water. As they paddled away, Sednas huge hands wrapped up and grabbed the canoe, shaking it vigorously. Her parents sliced at her fingers with their knives, but when each chopped off part of her body fell into the ocean, it changed into an animal, with one becoming a whale, seal, walrus, and salmon. Sedna then swam to the bottom of the ocean and stayed there, living in a hut that fish built there. Whenever people are hungry, they can ask Sedna to send more food.”

The informant told me this myth when I told him about my folklore collection project upon getting back to my apartment for class one evening. My friend told me that he had learned this myth about Sedna creating all the animals in the world from his grandfather. His grandfather was a fisherman and the son of an Inuit mother and British father. When my friend visited him when he was younger, his grandfather would always love to tell him and his brother about his Inuit heritage. The informant’s grandfather had originally lived in Gillam, Manitoba before moving to Calgary in search of better opportunity, so many of the stories he told often reflected how his grandfather probably missed his old way of life. My friend recalls his grandfather sitting on his rocking chair with a glass of beer in his hand as he recited his stories for hours, always laughing at some of the ridiculous questions the informant and his brother would ask at the end of each story. My friend says he liked hearing these Inuit stories because they made him feel more connected to his ancestors while also highlighting the diversity Canada’s peoples.

Though I had heard a few Native American legends told in class over the course of the semester, I had never such a complete story. As someone who lacks exposure to most things outside of the European tradition, hearing a creation story such as this seems almost confusing and improbable, as I’ve been taught to think of creation in terms of science and evolution or via the Bible’s rendition. I was unaware that stories like this existed, and its cool to hear other people’s explanations for how the world has come to be. For another version of this myth, see Sedna: Goddess of the Sea, a book by Joel Rudinger.

Rudinger, Joel. Sedna Goddess of the Sea. New York: Cambric Press, 2006. Print.

Folk Beliefs

Thors Hammer

Treat is a new friend of mine. We shared two classes this semester. He’s a sophomore transferring from Norwich University. He is in the same NROTC unit I’m in here at USC. He’s lived in some very interesting places like Italy and the Netherlands. They move around to such cool places because his father is in the military and that’s where his father got orders to. Treat really likes ghost stories and Mythology. It was not hard interviewing him in the least bit. He had stories I had never heard of or could’ve even imagined.

Treat is also a Pagan. He believes in Norse ‘Mythology’. Oden and Thor and all the other gods of Asgard resemble a huge part of who he is. Treat started practicing in his sophomore year in high school. Below he told me the story of Thors Hammer.

Mjölnir the Norse word associated or given to Thors Hammer. In Translation in means “that which marks and pulverizes to dust”. Treat tells the story of how it came to be: Loki bets with Sindri and his brother Brokkr that they could never succeed in making anything better or more beautiful than Odins spear. Sindri and Brokkr accept the bet and start crafting some magic. The two workers worked until they made thei masterpiece.

Loki in the form of a fly came by and bit them yet they continued to work. Sindri takes out a boars shining bristles (Gullinbursti) and puts it into the forge along with the pig skin. Then they put fold. Loki in the disguise of the fly comes back and bites Brokkrs neck twice. But he stilled worked.

Then Sindri takes out Odins ring – this ring duplicates 8 versions of itself every ninth night. Lastly, Sindri put iron into the forge and they stop. Loki comes in one last time and bites his brother in the eye. He stops working and blood runs down his face. It was a hair too soon. When he took the hammer out it could only be wielded by one hand!

“They still won the bet – it’s Thors Hammer” said Treat. Loki get’s his mouth shut as a means of losing the bet. mjolnir_1



Winken, Blinken, and Nod

About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.

I got Max to tell me a bedtime story his grandmother used to tell him a long time ago.

Max: “There were once three children: Winken, Blinken, and Nod. They were bored of their dull, ordinary lives and sailed out to sea in a wooden boat to find their fortune. While they were out adrift, Winken, Blinken, and Nod found three beautiful golden nets that they decided they would each use to catch all the fish in the sea.”

“They used their nets to capture as many fish as they possibly could, and soon the ocean was empty. Not satisfied with that, the three sailed into the night sky to catch the stars themselves. They began to round up the stars, but soon the night sky was black.”

“Lost in the cosmic abyss, the fishermen couldn’t find their way home. Tired and bloated from collecting all the fish and stardust, the trio dosed off. As they slept, the stars and the fish began to unravel from their nets. As the fish fell, the became shooting stars, which shot Winken, Blinken, and Nod to the moon. There Winken and Blinken became the eyes, and Nod the mouth, of the Man in the Moon. If you look out into the night sky, you can still see them, smiling at their catch.”

I asked Max if he knew where it came from, but he had no idea. His grandmother is long since passed away, and he thinks that she carried on the tale from her mother. It’s a very sweet, but kind of melancholy story. It has almost some mythic proportions, explaining the origin of the Man in the Moon.


Radha and Krishna

“So, um, a lot of Hindu culture and mythology surrounds the stories of Radha and Krishna. Krishna is the ideal image of masculine perfection, with wit, charm and flirty ways and stuff. He loves Radha, who is married to another man, but he cannot help but flirt with the other ladies of their town either. Their love represents love that transcends boundaries of society and marriage but is eternal and strong. There are many songs and dances about these two and they’re two of my favorite gods to study.”

The informant said that she heard many variations on the love story as a child, but each one had this basic structure. It is fun and playful story about an illicit love, but it is also important because the characters take on great significance for the Hindu religion. The informant said that Krishna was supposed to represent the feminine side of God, and Radha the masculine. Sometimes they are even referred to as one God instead of two. I think this is one of the many differences between Christianity and Hinduism, because in Christian texts and stories, men often take on the prominent role, and God is depicted as a man. I think that the blending of the masculine and feminine deities indicates a willingness to give women as well as men large roles in the religion.


Hindu Myth: How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head

Contextual Data: My family isn’t particularly religious, but my parents both grew up in India and they were raised in Hindu households, and so, over Spring Break, I asked my mother if there were any Hindu myths that she remembered particularly well—if there was one she wouldn’t mind recounting for me. The following is an exact transcript of a myth she told me about how Ganesh, the well-known elephant God, got his elephant head.

“So Shiva is the destroyer, right? So he was supposed to have a temper… or flare-ups or whatever. So Ganesh is Shiva’s son. So Shiva went away to the mountains—Shiva’s wife is called Parvati. So, and their son is Ganesh. The elephant god that everybody’s house you see in. So when Shiva went away to the forest for whatever — I don’t know what reason, but he was away for a while, and then when he came home, Ganesh was a little kid, so they — living in the mountains in the Himalayas or whatever. So Ganesh was playing at the entrance of the cave, and he didn’t recognize his father, because he must have gone away — he was a little kid and he must have gone away for a certain period of time or something. So when he came back, he wouldn’t let him enter the cave. He’s saying, ‘Who are you?’ And, you know, ‘You can’t come in,’ and that kind of thing. So apparently Shiva got angry at him. Like, ‘Who are you to tell me not to come into my own house?’ kind of… And in his anger he’s supposed to have chopped away the kid’s head [Mimes cutting across the throat]. And when the wife hears the commotion and comes out and says, ‘What have you done? This was our son.’ You know… So then to bring him back to life, he cuts a head off the nearest thing he finds, which is an elephant—cuts off his head and puts it on Ganesh’s he—this thing [Gestures to neck].”

- End Transcript – 

When I asked my informant about the significance of this, she said that it related to ideas of Ganesh as the “god of obstacles”—that he’s the figure in the Hindu religion that’s traditionally thought of as either introducing or removing obstacles from an individual’s life and from a family’s home. Many family’s hang up pictures of Ganesh as a way of honoring him and respecting these obstacles that he’ll either introduce or remove from the home. It also may speak to the perceived relationship of the son to the household—that when the father is away, he is meant to protect the household and act as a protector to his mother.

When I asked my informant where she first heard this story, she mentioned that it was just something she kind of grew up with—it was everywhere. In India, these types of myths were often rendered in comic books, so she may have first either encountered it in one of these books, or heard it from her parents. For the most part, she says there’s little, if any, variation in this story. In general though, the myth is one that people in India tend to know really well because Ganesh is so meaningful to them and because the Hinduism is an important part of the culture in many regions of the country.