7. Pregnant by Snow and/or Ice (European folklore)
Cheating wives make up some whoppers about how they got pregnant while giving their husband the cold shoulder, but the phrases “I ate a snowflake” and “I fell into a snow bank” must take the cake.
Though there are many variations of “The Snow Child” all over Europe, the basic premise is mostly the same: man travels for several months, or years even, comes home to find his wife has given birth and knows the child can’t possibly be his. Wife claims it was a winter miracle.
In many of those versions, the husband takes the child out for a bit, comes back alone and claims that the child melted. Some retellings take this a step further by having the husband sell the child into slavery, then claim the child melted.
But they don’t all end that way. A Bukovina tale called “The Snow Daughter and the Fire Son” begins with a childless couple taking a stroll outside their cottage. The wife swallows an icicle that’s fallen from their roof and gives birth to a “snow daughter” nine months later.
Well, there is something phallic about icicles…
6. Eating a Flower (Norwegian folklore)
We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales about swallowing seeds and having a tree grow in your belly, and those were all completely untrue. But, according to the fairy tale realm, if you eat a flower, you’ll either have A) a snake or B) twin daughters: a pretty one and an ugly one.
A is the case with “Prince Lindorm,” in which an infertile queen receives the help of a wise woman in getting pregnant. She’s instructed to eat one out of two flowers—a red one or a white one—to conceive a baby. In a classic case of bad fairy-tale judgment, she eats both and gives birth to a lindorm—that is, a snake. But he eventually gets married and morphs into a handsome human prince, so it’s all good.
This method of conception is also found in the story of “Tatterhood,” where an infertile woman again defies the advice of a wise woman and eats two flowers instead of one. Consequently, she has twin girls: one normal, healthy, and beautiful, the other ugly and riding a goat with a wooden spoon in her hand. (The story doesn’t detail the delivery, but it’s safe to say it was more painful than the average birth.)
5. Putting an Almond on Your Breast (Greek mythology)
Contrary to what Game of Thrones would tell you, castration doesn’t make you unable to bear children—at least not if your penis is buried and grows into an almond tree.
In Greek mythology, that’s what happened to the hermaphroditic deity Agdistis. The gods, who were fearful of this strange being, had her male reproductive organ ripped off, thus rendering her female. But her male part lived on and sprouted into an almond tree.
Once the almonds were ripe, a nymph named Nana put one on her boobs, where it dissolved and impregnated her. (Some versions claim it dissolved in her lap, which makes a little more sense.) Nine months later, she abandoned her weird almond-baby, named Attis, and he was raised by a male goat. Well, his life was off to a promising start.
But the weirdness doesn’t end there. Attis grew up to be inhumanly handsome, and his relatives sent him off to be married to a princess. But the now-female Agdistis fell in love with him—that’s right, she fell in love with her son—and she showed up at the castle while the marriage-song was being sung. Somehow this made Attis go insane and castrate himself right there.
I suppose the moral of this story is “When picking almonds, use protection. Otherwise your almond-child will have a future ridden with incest and self-mutiliation.”
4. A Shower of Gold (Greek mythology)
We all know Zeus, the ultimate womanizer, would stop at nothing to get laid. He’s turned himself into a swan, a bull, and an eagle (among other things) to hide his philandering from his jealous sister/wife Hera—and his lovers are usually okay with bestiality, so that works out well for him. So of course, Zeus is not one to admit defeat when the object of his affection is locked away in a tower.
King Akrisios of Argos heard from an oracle that he would be murdered by the son of his daughter, Danae, so he locked her up in a tower to prevent her from ever being pregnant. But the ever-resourceful Zeus found a way to impregnate her: he made it rain gold, the gold fell on Danae, and she conceived Perseus. Guess a gold shower goes over better than a pearl necklace.
Once Akrisios found out of Danae’s pregnancy, he placed Danae and Perseus in a chest and floated them out to sea. But they survived and washed up on the island of Seriphos, where Perseus grew up. In addition to slaying Medusa and rescuing Andromeda, Perseus did in fact end up killing his grandfather, because there’s no room for functional families in Greek mythology.
3. Stepping on a Footprint (Chinese folklore)
In China, the mythological founder of agriculture is Houji (also known as Qi), who apparently discovered cereal crops. So we’ve got him to thank for our favorite childhood breakfasts like Lucky Charms and Cheerios.
Some versions of his origin story claim that he was one of the sons of Emperor Ku. Others, however, attribute his birth to the immaculate conception of Emperor Ku’s infertile wife, Jiang Yuan. She was out for a stroll on the countryside one day when she happened upon a large footprint, apparently left by the sky god Shangdi. So she stepped on it and was overcome with a strange sensation.
Soon afterward, Jiang Yuan discovered she was pregnant. After Houji was born, she became a running contender for Mother of the Year, as she abandoned her baby boy three times. Impressed that he survived all three times, Jiang Yuan decided to keep him, realizing that there was something special about her little boy. (Apparently being born of a footprint wasn’t special enough.)
2. A Snake Siding into a Uterus (Italian folklore)
Mythology and folklore has no shortage of bestiality: Leda and the swan (Greek), Loki and the horse (Norse), women and donkeys (Mexico). Italy, however, takes it further with “Biancabella and the Snake,” the story of a marquis’s wife who was just dozing off in the garden when, unbeknownst to her, a snake slithered up inside her and coiled up in her womb.
Nine months later, a baby named Biancabella was born with a snake coiled around her neck. The snake slithered away, only to return ten years later and claim she’s her twin sister. Yeah.
So this snake-sister, named Samaritana, sticks around for a while, making Biancabella do her bidding. Then she disappears for a time, abandoning Biancabella as she prepares to wed the King of Naples. Biancabella, after enduring years of her snake-sister’s passive-aggressive alienation, considers suicide. Only then does Samaritana show up and suddenly, for no reason at all, transforms into a human woman.
1. A Ball of Hummingbird Feathers (Aztec mythology)
Once upon a time, according to the Aztecs, a goddess named Coatlicue was sweeping up a temple when a ball of hummingbird feathers fluttered down from the heavens. She picked it up, tucked it into her belt, and soon found herself pregnant. But that’s not the weird part.
Coatlicue already had 400 other children: the 400 stars that made up the universe. For some reason they weren’t happy about another sibling, so they did the only logical thing and conspired to kill her. But that’s not the weird part.
So, with her daughter Coyolxauhqui leading the charge, Coatlicue’s children all assembled and stormed into their mother’s home armed with weapons, ready to kill her and her unborn child. But then Coatlicue’s son—the great warrior Huitzilopochtli—burst out of her womb, a fully grown man, wearing armor and carrying weapons, and killed them all. Yep, that’s the weird part.
Not bad for a man fathered by feathers.