A God Guise is a character pretending to be a supremely powerful being, or who is somehow mistaken for one. If the deception is intentional, this is almost always done to influence someone's actions. After all, who but a Nay-Theist would dare to refuse a directive from a god?
The God Guise can be carried out in a variety of ways ranging from good use of a Convenient Eclipse, a fancy costume with special effects, to an impressive display of Sufficiently Advanced Technology. Less gullible victims might issue a God Test to challenge the pretender's claim to divinity.
A common way to invoke this trope is for the characters to run into a Cargo Cult, whereupon the less technologically advanced society mistakes them for deities. The subsequent plot either requires the lead characters to convince the "primitive" culture that they are not gods, or else have them exploit the error for their own ends. The trope may be used to set up An Aesop about lying/taking advantage of others.
Also see Scam Religion, Ancient Astronauts, Cargo Cult, Engineered Heroics. Humans Are Cthulhu is when primitive civilizations assume technologically-advanced humans as this.
Contrast with God in Human Form, God for a Day, A God Am I, and Unwanted False Faith.
Not to be confused with Like a God to Me, or with good guys.
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In the opening to Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward and Alphonse Elric stumble upon a small town that worship a new religion founded by an out-of-town priest, who seems to flagrantly violate Alchemy's "immutable" laws.
Nausicaa in the Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind manga. But no matter how many prophecies she fulfills, or how many people start dropping on their knees to deify her, she's adamantly opposed to be seen as either this or The Messiah. She succeeds with the god part, at least.
In One Piece, the villainous Enel uses the electrical powers granted to him by the Goro-Goro Fruit to enslave the citizens of the flying island of Skypeia by convincing them (and himself) that he was a God. Note: this makes more sense to native Japanese speakers, as the word "lightning" literally translates to "heaven-energy". In addition, Enel's phrase "ware ga kaminari" has a dual meaning of "I am God"/"I am lightning".
Then later on, Bartholomew Kuma teleports resident living skeleton Brooke to an island right in the middle of a Satanic summoning ritual. Given that he is a walking, talking skeleton, they mistook him for the demon they meant to summon and ask him to smite their enemies. Of course, the first thing he does is see a young lady and request to see her panties. And then he starts composing a song while the (male) cultists show him their boxers, apparently desperate to get him to do some smiting.
In the second-season Pokémon episode "Meowth Rules!", Team Rocket's Meowth ended up on an island where the natives worshipped a giant golden Meowth. Naturally, he wasted no time taking full advantage of this. When Jesse and James arrive, he has them tossed out. But after the natives discover he doesn't know the Pay Day attack (which creates money out of thin air) and throw him into impossible fights to make him learn it, they save him. Awwwww.
One of the episodes of the first season of Vandread combines this with Cargo Cult. The Nirvana crew descends upon an aquatic planet who mistakes them for their "God" and prepares for sacrifices for them. They don't mind the crew too much when they mentioned that they weren't the Gods, but they do mind when the aforementioned crew was "hurting their true Gods". The Gods that they refer to? The machinelike Harvesters.
One episode of Dennou Coil, which has an illegal beard arrive - it's infectious, sentient, and worships the owner of the face it's on as a god. The characters' beards eventually start digi-nuclear warfare with each other using Inter-Facial Ballistic Missiles...
This can also be understood as an Inverted Trope - after all, to the digital beings, the humans were in many ways god-like.
Done with a Shout Out to Real Genius in Incredible Hulk #384, when an inch-tall Hulk secretly perches on The Abomination's shoulder and pretends to be the voice of God to stop a kidnapping.
One major story arc in The Tomb of Dracula comics started as a result of Count Dracula appearing before a Satanic cult preparing a sacrifice to give to their dark master. Afterwards, Dracula says that he is in fact the Devil, and that the cult should serve him.
In the Marvel Universe, the Eternals are an immortal race of super-beings (not aliens themselves, but created by aliens) who are worshiped as Gods. The original series was a riff on books like Chariots of the Gods, which started the Ancient Astronauts trend of the early 70s.
Later comics show the Ancient Astronauts, the Celestials, are Gods, who keep the universe running.
Speaking of Phoenix, in the canon run of the mutant titles Shi'ar renegade Deathbird once came knocking with her own method of drawing power from a divine entity called "Phalkon". It turned out to be Phoenix. The Phoenix Force had manifested in the Shi'ar galaxy long before it ever got involved with anyone from Earth.
The backstory of the Micronauts says that before their ancestors settled the Microverse, they made a pit stop on ancient Earth, where some of them were mistaken for the Hindu Gods.
The Cloudcuckoolander villainess White Rabbit became the goddess of a primitive tribe in the Savage Land.
Storm of the X-Men was worshiped as a rain goddess by African tribes.
An issue of Excalibur reveals an island nation whose inhabitants saw the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men lineup in their first battle, against Krakoa, the Living Island. They are worshiped as Gods: Nightcrawler, who later became a priest, doesn't seem to mind spending a vacation enjoying this fact. He has to defeat another living island first, though.
Captain America's nemesis Baron Zemo escaped to the Andes after WWII, where he was regarded by natives as a God.
Back when Green Lantern Kyle Rayner had become the God-like Ion, there came a moment when Superman admonished him for already having his own religion.
People in glass houses should not throw stones. Superman had the bad luck of being mistaken for a god sometimes. Even Batman, a Nay-Theist, once thought to himself that it's easy to think of Clark as a god while watching him lift up buildings to rescue people. This reached a head in issue 72 of Superman/Batman, when Superman was mistaken for a god by a crazed cult that tried to burn Lois at the stake for rejecting Superman in favor of Clark Kent thus preventing the birth of their messiah. Fortunately Superman intervened, though Lois was well on the way to saving herself at that point.
Besides, aren't you the guy who came back from the dead, like that other guy?
Kamandi had this, with Ben Boxer having to prove that he was "The Mighty One" to a tribe of intelligent apes. Ironically, the legends of "The Mighty One" were a Future Imperfect version of Superman!
One of the several reasons turning the DCU Daxamite, a former offshoot of the main Kryptonian race known for their wanderlust and spacefaring abilities, into a race even more xenofobic than their Kryponian ancestors. Even the most good natured of them couldn't deal with the consequences of being seen as gods.
The Ur-Example is Bal Gand, female ancestor of the superhero Valor, squad leader of an expedition to Earth. Landed in the Aztec Empire, appalled by the countless human sacrifice she received as a "goddess" and unable to prevent people from worshipping her and her crew, she eventually elected to leave Earth for good with her still unborn son, reasoning she'd prefer having him grow as a commoner in their home planet rather than a fake demigod among his father's race.
In Watchmen, some of the Viet Cong prisoners who surrender to Dr. Manhattan appear to consider him a god. Given his god-like powers and interest in creating life, this could be a subversion.
Some people in America start referring to him as God as well.
However, Jonathan himself tells Janey that he is not sure if there is a God, and "if there is, I am not him". Manhattan is powerful but not omnipotent, note and this is without appealing to the ridiculous, as in "Can an omnipotent God create a beef burrito so hot that He can't eat it?" as it's stated in-text that if the Soviets ever fired their entire nuclear arsenal at the USA, Manhattan would not be able to stop them all. Of course, that's based on his current level of extra-temporal perception and control over his Reality Warper powers, both of which seem to grow over the course of the story with no currently-apparent upper limit.
The Phantom plays this... weirdly; the Phantom's suit is modeled after a certain tribe's death god, and later Phantoms have had run-ins with said tribe.
Almost inverted at some point, as the local tribes are friends of the Phantom and know that he's not a god, but that's the reputation he spreads with the civilised world.
Lampshaded and averted by The Red Wing in issue #2 —Dominic's father, having time-crashed into a Mesoamerican city, is afraid that he'll be mistaken for a god due to his appearance and his technology. Therefore, at the first signs that this is happening, he draws blood from a native priest and then cuts himself to show that he's just as human as they are.
In the world-jumping plot arc of Sigil, Space Marine Sam Rey arrives in the middle of a Dark Ages-esque battlefield (from Brath), and uses the power of his Sigil to frighten away the invaders and earn worship from the locals. However, he explains to the local leaders as soon as possible that he's no god, just very, very lost (... and pretty good at helping people). They aren't convinced, mostly because he does help them and even helps take down the opposing army's "god", one of the First.
In Danger Girl: Revolver, Abbey is taken to be a sun goddess because she has blonde hair.
In 2000 A.D., in one of Alan Moore's stories about Abelard Snazz, the sleazy genius is mistaken as a god by the unluckiest planet in the universe. Their luck only gets worse.
In one issue of Paperinik New AdventuresTwo hijacks the body of a droid of the Time Police and ends up involuntarily in the Old West,where a tribe of Native Americans start workshipping him.
In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfic ''Trust, Celestia warns Trixie of falling prey to this trope. Celestia herself is one, but by her own internal dialogue, apparently unwillingly, trapped by her own web of lies from long ago, but allowing the deception to continue to avert civil war and give the people hope.
Film — Animated
In An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Tiger is worshiped as God by a tribe of Native American mice because he bears a striking resemblance to a rock formation.
Ice Age: The Meltdown has a similar situation with Sid and a race of mini-sloths. Subverted in that the mini-sloths are the only ones who know the scientific reason for the impending ecological disaster. Ironically played straight, in that their solution is to sacrifice their fire-king, Sid, to a volcano.
Also seen in the full-length animated feature The Road to El Dorado, where con artists-cum-explorers Tulio and Miguel allow the residents of the titular city of gold to believe they are incarnations of the Gods that built the city. Rather heavily based on the Real Life treatment the Spanish got when they encountered the Aztecs (see below).
Throughout the film, several characters begin to doubt their claims, but let it continue, as the two Spaniards are pretty harmless. Then the head priest sees one of the bleed after a heated ball game. Gods aren't supposed to bleed, right?
The chief was hinted to have known that it was all a ruse, but went along with it because the more benevolent "gods" cared more about the citizens of the city than their traditions, which required ritualistic sacrifices (something the resident priest was all too happy about). A little silliness was a small price to pay when the strangers brightened the lives of all your citizens.
In Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Robot Buddy C-3P0 was mistaken for God by the Ewoks (with a little extra help from Luke's Jedi powers), because he was really shiny. This kind of thing is apparently common enough that his programming has specific reservations toward Impersonating a Deity.
The Man Who Would be King with Sean Connery and Michael Caine. Two ex-British soldiers take over an isolated, mountainous country when one of them is mistaken for a God descended from Alexander the Great. It's based on the 1888 short story by Rudyard Kipling.
Which is in turn based on the real-life Kefir tribe of Afghanistan, who consider themselves long-lost descendants of Alexander the Great.
The proof of divinity comes in two forms. Connery's character survives an arrow to the chest because it happens to hit his bandolier, and later, when the natives go "pitchfork" and intend to execute him, they see the Masonic pendant he wears exactly matches the carved Masonic symbol Alexander left behind, which only the oldest priest knows about.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. A powerful alien trapped on a planet pretends to be God to trick the protagonists into carrying it to freedom aboard the Enterprise.
Kirk: "What does God need with a starship?"
In an Expanded Universe trilogy, it's revealed that The One (as he is called) really does believe He's God (and yes, He insists on capital "H"). This is despite the fact that the Q Continuum pretty much wiped the galaxy with Him and trapped His head at its center.
In Mad Max:Beyond Thunderdome, Max happens upon a tribe of youngsters (the two "tribal elders" are almost certainly in their late teens), where they believe him to be a messiah-like man named Captain Walker. To hear them tell it, Captain Walker was in charge of a "sky raft" (commercial jet plane) that got brought down by a "gang called Turbulence" after the "pocky-klips" (apocalypse). Walker and some of the others who weren't "jumped by Mr. Dead" formed a rescue party and set out for parts unknown, with him promising that he would return one day to lead the others to "Tomorrow-Morrow Land" (ironically, the world as it used to be). At the end of the story, a painting of Captain Walker is revealed by the story-teller, and Max looks just like him. Though they don't have a "pitchfork party", the tribe is quite disillusioned when they learn that Max isn't Walker.
The painting of Walker isn't quite so prophetic as it sounds: the kids probably painted it while Max was unconscious. (Otherwise, how would they have known about the monkey?)
The 1989 John Milius film Farewell to the King fits this trope to a T. Nick Nolte, playing a marooned US soldier evading the Japanese, is captured by natives on the island of Borneo. He is saved by tattoos he had gotten in a drunken stupor in the Philippines, which the natives consider to be marks of a God.
Subverted in Fitzcarraldo. In order to get the manpower to haul a 320-ton ship up a mountain in the Amazon rainforest, Fitzcarraldo and his crew try convincing a bunch of natives who conveniently have a legend about a divine power with a white vessel that Fitzcarraldo is a God. The natives inform them that they weren't born yesterday, but decide to help out anyway in exchange for ice.
The backstory of the original The Wicker Man describes how the first Lord Summerisle introduced new crops and farming methods, as well as his Pagan faith. When the crops were incredibly successful, he had no difficulty convincing the locals that there was a connection between their survival and the appeasal of Celtic deities.
Thor tends in this direction. While the Asgardians in the comic book are Physical Gods, in the movie they avoid that designation—one talks about humans "worshiping us as gods", but doesn't claim to actually be one. (A human character specifically invokes Sufficiently Advanced Technology.)
Even given a lampshade in The Avengers when Black Widow describes the Asgardians as "basically gods" and Captain America blows it off saying there's only one God, and He probably doesn't dress like that.
Loki later makes a claim that he was only trying to rule the Earth like a god should when Odin bellows that the Asgardians are not gods.
Ghostbusters: Ray gets chewed out for not trying to pull this on Gozer:
Winston: Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes!
In a sort of Fake-Out Opening for the theatrical trailer of the 1997 comedy Bean, it is shown that Mr. Bean is worshipped as a god on a remote Pacific Island. No explanation is given, but perhaps it is because Bean is totally bizarre (by the standards of any culture) and thus frightening to the natives.
Older Than Feudalism: In The Bible, Barnabas and Paul are briefly worshiped as Jupiter and Mercury by the people of the city of Lystra. (They obviously did not approve...)
Angels would on occasion receive this treatment when they appeared to man. They would always be quick to point out that they are just messengers and that the worship should be directed elsewhere.
In the first book, the main characters deliberately use their advanced technology to make the primitive inhabitants think they're deities — a technique they call "the God Gambit". Unfortunately it backfires because Louis can't keep a straight face.
Played straight with considerably more success in the sequel novel The Ringworld Engineers. This time, they wisely keep the "god" off camera—Chmeee, the ferocious carnivorous eight-foot-tall Kzin, presents himself as the god's servant, reacting with obvious awe and fear to The Voice from their transport ship. Almost falls through when the leader of the giants claims that Rishathra is a requirement for any agreement (even an agreement with a god). Since Chmeee is a Cat Person, he can't have sex with a hominid. So Louis comes up with an alternative. He "creates" a mute human servant for himself calling him Wu (of course, it's just Louis himself staying mute so as to not give away his voice), who ends up having Rishathra with one of the leader's wives to seal the deal.
Mildly subverted with the Bene Gesserit's Missionaria Protectiva, wherein false legends were implanted in various cultures all over the galaxy by a cult specifically so that its members could fulfill them to take advantage of the natives in an emergencies. Then massively subverted when Arrakis' version of the Missionaria Protectiva turns out to be right.
In a Galaxy of humans using enhanced perception to guide their future, the Fremen — whose name, almost certainly, was chosen originally to denote their status as Free Men — were Zensunni (Islamic-Buddhist) settlers who were driven out and "denied the Hajj" in religious warfare. When they hid in plain sight on Arrakis, the combination of their culture, their ecology, and their stumbling on the Bene Gesserit methods of foresight and accessing the lives and knowledge of previous generations of women (and men, in certain cases) allowed them to not only ride out the Missionaria Protectiva, it allowed them to gleefully await the entire Galaxy painting itself into a corner!
Averted twice in The Science of Discworld II, where the Lecturer In Recent Runes proposes that the wizards proclaim they're the creators of Roundworld so its natives will cooperate. A double aversion, as the wizards really did create Roundworld (though they're not Gods), and Genre Savvy Ponder Stibbons shoots down the idea, saying that mortals who claim to be gods are likely to come to the same bad ends on Earth as they would on Discworld.
In the Enid Blyton adventure story The Secret Mountain, published 1941, this is how the main characters escape from the titular mountain. They find out that there's to be a solar eclipse the next day, so at the appropriate moment their father throws his hunting knife off the mountain. The lights go out and the tribe think he's killed the sun, at which point the "big white bird" turns up to carry the heroes to safety before the tribe realize they've been had.
Given that the royal family from The Chronicles of Amber can walk across the The Multiverse as one of their powers, is it really surprising that they've chosen to go to worlds where they just happen to resemble the local gods? (This includes both for reasons of in a little private A God Am I time and to recruit huge, fanatically loyal armies in an attempt to claim the throne.) The Multiverse in question is "Shadow," the vast number of worlds radiating away from Amber, the True City. The Amberites' ability to walk between worlds is half-blurred into creating these worlds to order. Which is to say, the natives may have a point in this case. The Amberites themselves don't really know, either.
Lord of Light features a whole pantheon of mutated humans who use their powers (and hoarded advanced technology) to pass themselves off as the Hindu gods.
Played with in Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, where the Scientific People have rituals built around the scientific paphernalia of the ship, but don't worship or deify the main character at any point. Although in the end they consider him a holy man...and they might be right (in a sense).
In Isaac Asimov's Foundation, during an early phase of their history (as the infrastructure of the galactic empire was crumbling) the people of the Foundation provide prosperity to their neighbors while keeping them dependent on the Foundation. This is done by reducing the operation of technologically advanced equipment to rituals governed by a religion operated by the Foundation, with acolytes as technicians who can run and (sometimes) repair equipment, but who don't understand how it works.
Leading to a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Salvor Hardin when the Anacreonian leader tries to invade the Foundation with a ship that the Foundation had rebuilt for them.
For it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science, that it works, and that such curses as that of Aporat's are really deadly.
The H. Beam Piper short story, The Return, subverts this trope somewhat, with a group that worships Sherlock Holmes. When a group of people who have preserved pre-war tech begin attempting to bring the country back together, the cultists are the most technologically advanced of the mini societies that formed when the war destroyed the government, having progressed all the way back to using flintlocks and crop rotation. This is partially owing to their deity: skepticism, logic, and deductive abilities are cardinal virtues in their society. While they have the standard response to the people with high tech (ie confuse them for their God (and Watson)) reincarnated, it is tempered with enough skepticism and an assumption that if the two scientists are really their gods, the evidence will eventually present itself.
James P. Hogan's Giants Trilogy of science fiction novels includes as one of its premises that all Earth's religions are differet God Guises deliberately started by a different, extraterrestrial branch of humanity in order to retard Earth's cultural and scientific development.
In the early Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, the Yuuzhan Vong mistook Jaina Solo for Yun-Harla, their Goddess of Deception. This gave the New Republic an advantage, as the Yuuzhan Vong were incredibly frightened and demoralized at the thought that one of their deities had turned against them. The Jedi Ganner Rhysode sacrificed himself in an incredibly epicYou Shall Not Pass moment. The Yuuzhan Vong were so impressed by his bravery and strength that they added him to their pantheon as The Ganner, the warrior who guards the gate to the underworld. Onimi, the true leader of the Yuuzhan Vong, reveals that he thinks every Jedi is an avatar of a god, and that if he can kill them all, he can become one himself.
The Thrawn Trilogy also had Thrawn making use of a race that worshiped Darth Vader as a god. Leia managed to sabotage this by going right to the leaders of the race and saying, "Screw Thrawn, I'm Vader's daughter."
This is also how the SithOrder got its start. After being defeated by the Jedi Order in the war known as the Hundred Year Darkness, a group of Dark Jedi were exiled from republic space in the hopes that they would learn the error of their ways and return to the Jedi Order. Instead, they landed on the planet Korriban, and encountered the native Sith species. Seeing that the Sith were very technologically undeveloped, some of the Dark Jedi got the great idea to pose as the gods of the Sith through use of their force powers and technology. This is also where the term "Dark Lord of the Sith" comes from, as the title refers to the reigning God Emperor of the Sith people.
In David Weber's Heirs of Empire, the third Empire from the Ashes book, the Lost Colony natives of Pardal decide that the stranded off-world protagonists are angels, which does not sit well with the repressive theocracy governing the planet; the end result is a full-scale religious war. Harriet and Sandy insist that they not be called angels, but the locals only humor them to their faces, and aside from the insistent terminology the crew largely goes along with it anyway.
In Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthurs Court, a late 19th-century American is sent back in time to the Dark Ages and becomes an important member of King Arthur's court, using his advanced scientific and political knowledge to greatly improve the quality of life of the kingdom, while also discrediting Merlin (revealed to be a fraud) with his own advanced technology and intelligence that makes him look like a true Sorcerer. In the end, he's kicked out of the kingdom and he and a small number of his allies make a defensive position with 13 Gatling guns, dynamite, and electrical wiring that allows them to defeat 30,000 of England's soldiers.
The short story "Assumption" (scroll down) by Desmond Warzel features a literalCargo Cult (in that they worship an actual piece of cargo), but eventually becomes more like this trope — a person becomes an object of religious awe because of her advanced technology (she descends from the sky).
Since a number of the Wild Cards forms and/or powers resemble figures or symbols from various religions, not surprisingly a number of them have been given (or have deliberately cultivated) religious roles. Nur Al'Allah was the most blatant example.
Not compared to the Living Gods of Egypt, a group of Aces and Jokers (many of whom have animalistic mutations) who claim to be the reincarnation of the Egyptian pantheon. As you might imagine, this leads to... issues when the Nur Al'Allah's Caliphate starts to make headway into Egypt.
This is how the angels in His Dark Materials created the Abrahamic religions. The first of them all convinced the ones that were born after that he was the supreme creator and being, and so he came to rule them. Later, when the rebel angels gave sentience to mankind and other races, all he had to do was to send his agents and see the awestruck people convert to his cause.
The witches in Lyra's world worship deities based on real life Finnish mythology, but no indication about their nature is present. One of said witches does, however, kill the false gods that a human tribe worshipped - tigers.
In the fourth book of Tales of the Magic Land, Urfin Jus uses a lighter to convince a savage tribe he's the god of fire, and uses them to launch a conquest. Unfortunately for him, while lighters are unknown in the Magic Land (his came from an outsider), matches are sold in every shop, so after a short while, the army starts to smell something fishy...
The Dresden Files has the Lords of Outer Night, the heads of the Red Court who posed as the Mayan pantheon - the Red King is implied to have done a stint at Kukulcan. Played with in that there's a point where the Lords of Outer Night show fear in the face of a divine assault, and Harry wonders if they just picked up the mask when the actual deities got out of town and they're afraid they're being called on the carpet.
The Strugatsky Brothers' Noon Universe novel Hard to Be a God is all about this. Explorers from Earth find a world of Human Aliens stuck in the Middle Ages. During a climactic battle, the explorers bring their ship with the running lights on right above the battlefield, resulting in everyone dropping to their knees.
The Aleksandr Zarevin's Lonely Gods of the Universe, the Ollan refugees pretend to be gods to the ancient Atlanteans. For reference, the security guard sent with them is called MarsAres. They also call the hill when they have their palace Oll-ympus after their homeworld.
Also, their home country on their planet is called Atl. They decide to call their new home "Atl-antis" in her honor.
Played with in the Doctor Who novel "Shining Darkness", where the natives of one planet VERY eagerly collect and cast off religions like they were baseball cards.
One Marra in The Madness Season poses as a god on a primitive colony planet. When he is finally "defeated", he even does a convincing impersonation of the Burning Bush.
In John Carter of Mars, there are several levels of this. The Therns (White Martians) present themselves as gods to the other Martian races, in spite of actually being only technologically advanced and strategically-placed mortals (though, judging from the Thern princess Phaidor, at least some of them buy into their own hype). The Therns in turn worship the goddess Issus, who is actually only a very manipulative, very evil old woman- whether she simply deified herself or impersonated a pre-existing god isn't elaborated on, as she's been in the role for time-out-of-mind.
In Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, Hunahpu Matamoro is a native Mayan (in fact, he's named after a heroic figure in Mayan mythology). He is chosen to be one of the three people to be sent into the past to the conquest of either the Americas by Europe or of Europe by the Native Americans. His task is to found a new empire with different values from the bloodthirsty Aztecs and Tlaxcalans (mainly, those that combine Mesoamerican culture with a more temperate version of Christianity). In order to do this, he appears to a bunch of Zapotec villagers as a king (named One Hunahpu after his mythical figure namesake) who has come from Xibalba, the Mesoamerican underworld where the gods live, as an emissary from the gods. After proving his divinity through the use of technology he brought with him (a flashlight and some medicine), they accept his claim and start to follow him. Also, thanks to the technology that allows future people to view any event in the past as a video stream/recording, he knows everything about each villager. It also helps that Hunahpu is a full head taller than an average Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican.
One of the first things Hunahpu does is, essentially, call the bloodthirsty and powerful (in the minds of the villagers) Aztec god Huitzilopochtli his bitch.
In the novel Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein, scientists pretend to be priests of a god called Mota (atoM) and some others to conceal their new super-science and overthrow an invasion of America.
In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol stories, all the time. Babylonian recruits are told the Time Patrol is about a war of the gods. Two agents go to Dark Ages England and leave their hosts with the claim to be gods (checking on Sacred Hospitality, no doubt). Two agents appear as angels and tell a king not to try to kill his grandson.
In Fox Tails a rogue AI creates robotic duplicates of the four goddesses in their 'verse's religion. They are Nigh Invulnerable, breathe aerosolized opiates, and when hacked into and released from his control turn out to believe they are the real thing.
Search for the Nile: The protagonist accidentally ends up wearing the disguise of a panther-bodied supernatural being, scaring an African tribe. The shaman isn't fooled though.
In Andre Norton's Forerunner Foray, Turan and Vintha, actually reanimated by the minds of future espers, claim to be not gods but directly and miraculously sent back from death by the god Vut. As they are actually searching for an alien artifact, there are some weak spots in their story. Turan's widow Zuha, who hated him, claims it's all Necromancy.
Zigzagged in Cthulhu Mythos stories with the cults that spring up around the extradimensional aliens known as the Great Old Ones. Either they're so far beyond human concerns that they don't even notice when people try to worship them or they actively encourage it for their own ends (seems to generally be the case with Nyarlathotep). Or sometimes they really are gods (as Yog Sothoth and Azathoth seem to be, being living embodiments of universal principles. Maybe).
Five Weeks in a Balloon has the protagonists dock their balloon near an African village; the natives think that the Moon has come down to them, and that the heroes are "sons of the Moon". The protagonists enjoy it for a while, but the jig is up once the real Moon rises in the sky.
Live Action TV
This trope can be found in almost every incarnation of Star Trek.
"Who Watches The Watchers?" features a specific discussion of this trope: that is, how do you talk a race out of this without destroying them? At the climax Picard is only able to convince them that he is not a God by daring the religious zealot to shoot him with the bow and arrow he was threatening someone else with. He takes the shot and is shocked to see Picard lying on the ground and bleeding. This only really works because this species tends to adopt mostly rational ideas. They voluntarily gave up religion in favor of pragmatism even before reaching the Industrial Revolution.
The episode "Devil's Due" had the crew tangling with an alien con-woman who took advantage of a civilization's legend of a past Deal with the Devil to pose as said "devil" (she claims to be several others as well, including the actual devil) and thus literally claim ownership to the entire planet.
In "False Profits", a couple of Ferengi are mistaken for Gods thanks to their magical replicator.
The far better "Muse" has B'Elanna crashing on a planet and being mistaken for an 'eternal' (a powerful being of legend) by a local poet, who uses her logs to write a play. There's a certain amount of give-and-take (the poet needs inspiration for his play which he hopes will turn his fickle warlord patron away from war; B'Elanna needs help repairing her shuttle) before the two gain a mutual respect, with B'Elanna even providing a literal Deus ex Machina at the end.
Star Trek also subverts this, to a degree, with the Federation's Prime Directive — since it's all-too-easy to get a swelled head from being called "God", the Prime Directive forbids starship captains from interfering in a lesser-developed culture, to protect both captain and alien from the effects of Pseudo-Godhood. Coincidentally, Gene Roddenberry's first-hand experience and unease with real-life Cargo Cults is said to be one of the things that inspired the Prime Directive in the first place. But to the audience it comes off as really more of a weird Lampshade Hanging, as this is ignored whenever the plot demands.
The prime directive is handled differently by many people in the Federation. Generally, it's accepted as an underlying principle for self-determination (the Federation does NOT interfere in internal wars or politics of other civilizations, even if their own interests are at stake). But in the field and on the front-lines, it is commonly believed that, like principles such as "do not lie" and "do not kill", there are situations where morality calls upon one to violate one principle to uphold another (such as helping evacuate people from a pre-warp planet doomed by natural disaster when they call out desperately for help). The theory in the instance of people actually ASKING for help is that it's OK to provide limited assistance in a life-or-death situation, but it's not OK to make global changes in their culture that go beyond making sure they don't all die. Even then, it's best to do it in such a way that they won't realize that outsiders did it.
Seen repeatedly in Stargate SG-1 (as well as the original Stargate movie) — usually, anyone who comes through the Stargate is automatically assumed to be God. (This is perfectly in tune with the plot, however. The Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who stole the gates have invested a lot of energy in making this happen; it's less a God Guise than somebody else's Path of Inspiration.) The Goa'uld at first used this trope to maintain their positions of power, but most of them actually came to believe their own propaganda. Ba'al is one of the few exceptions. Vala actually impersonated the Goa'uld (Qetesh) who once controlled her for a while, acting as a god to the people of a particular planet.
Your mileage may vary on the definition of a "god" but, as far as The Powers That Be behind the show are concerned, the Ancients and Ori are NOT gods, so the entire Ori arc consists of SG1 trying to unmask a colossal God Guise.
Interestingly, a later episode has the team go back to a world where they left ex-Colonel Maybourne and find out that the has adopted a variation of this. Since he can read Ancient (he taught himself when he was still on Earth), he is able to make predictions based on some writings he found by a time-traveling Ancient name Janus. The villagers make him their king and he lives in luxury (the ending reveals he has multiple wives). However, when a Goa'uld threatens to take the planet, Maybourne has no choice but to try to get his people to leave by convincing them that all he told them came from the tablet. While they understand, they refuse to let him step down, as everything he did after becoming king (e.g. a crop-rotating system, a watermill) are all his accomplishments.
The Doctor Who serials The Myth Makers, Underworld, and many others.
A variation appears in "The Face of Evil", where the Doctor is instead mistaken for The Evil One (and the resemblance is not a coincidence).
In the serial The Aztecs, Barbara is mistaken for the Aztec deity Yetaxa and tries to use her position to change the Aztec Empire.
Used again in the new series episode "The Fires of Pompeii", wherein the Doctor and Donna become the household Gods of a Roman family they rescue from the titular Doomed Hometown.
Subverted in The Time Monster. The Master materialises his TARDIS in Atlantis, convinced he'll easily dupe these primitives into thinking he's a God, but the wily king sees through his charlatan's tricks and laughs off an attempt to hypnotise him. To add insult to injury, as the Master is being led off by the guards he runs right into the Doctor and Jo Grant whom he last saw in his inescapable Death Trap. The Master is so speechless with fury that Jo has to provide his retort: "How about: Curses! Foiled Again!"
Subverted in Genesis of the Daleks. The Daleks originally come from the practical necessity of the Kaled race needing travel machines and life support systems to cope with the results of the mutations caused by an ongoing nuclear war; their creator, Davros, actively attempts to set himself up as a God, leading a race of machine creatures built partly in his own image to conquer the universe. He neglects to realise that, in practice, the genocidal racism he instills in his creatures (as a way of inspiring them to conquer other worlds) also extends to him and the Daleks gun him down at the first opportunity.
Although he comes back several times, he never learns from this and ends up killed or enslaved by them every time.
Magnus Greel posing as Weng-Chiang; though he doesn't try to hide his identify from Chang, to whom it makes no difference anyway as Greel has risen him up from his humble life as a Chinese peasant to someone who performs before royalty.
Doctor: "You know he's not a god, don't you?"
Chang: "He came to me like a god, in his cabinet of fire!"
In The West Wing, a reporter reveals that he was once mistaken for a deity by a primitive tribe.
Though since he was flirting at the time, this may have been facetious.
In the British children's program Roger And The Rotten Trolls, all one needed to do to become a God-king of the trolls was to stand in the middle of an abandoned quarry and yell "Roger was here", as the trolls had an ancient document (graffiti on the wall of the quarry) that said those exact words.
Subverted by Red Dwarf: Through a twist of fate, Rimmer ends up on a world where, somehow, he spawns a new civilisation from clones of himself and installs himself as their God-leader. He defines perfection in looking and acting exactly as he does (being a snivelling coward, for example). His followers are so fanatical, however, that he himself is deposed for being "imperfect" and gets thrown in a dungeon.
In the Farscape episode "Jeremiah Crichton", John Crichton gets marooned on a planet which turns out to have religious iconography drawn from contact with the Rygel's race, the Hynerians. Surprisingly for the usually shallow ex-monarch, while Rygel expects to be treated like royalty, he is actually profoundly offended that his ancestors would allow themselves to be taken for divinity. He's even more shocked when he discovers that the ancient Hynerians actually intended this: the natives of the planet were the loyal subjects of one of Rygel's ancestors, marooned on the planet with no way of escaping, advancing technologically, or even contacting other cultures — all so they could act as eternal worshippers of the Hynerian empire.
In Smallville, a Kryptonian visitor to Earth became the basis for God of an Indian tribe's religion, and a prophecy about him (or someone like him) returning some day to save the world.
In the Season 10 episode "Harvest", a village of murderous religious fanatics have this reaction when a depowered Clark Kent survives being stabbed and set on fire (his powers came back, allowing him to heal).
In the Angel episode "Over the Rainbow", Cordelia is made a goddess by the people of Pylea, as the result of her visions. Unfortunately, the power behind the throne is a Religion of Evil; when she tries to assert her authority, it's quickly demonstrated to Cordelia that she's actually a Puppet King.
The Twilight Zone episode, "The Little People". Two astronauts repairing their ship on an alien world find a civilization of people the size of ants. One of them, Peter Craig, decides he is meant to be their god, to the point of forcing these tiny people to build a Terran life-sized statue of him. His partner, William Fletcher, is disgusted, and eventually leaves without him when Craig refuses to go. Then the other aliens land to fix their ship.
In an episode of My Name Is Earl, Earl used a walkie-talkie to transmit messages through his religious cranky landlady's hearing aid to get her to do nice things for him and his friends. She later became a nun...and Earl had to tell her what he did, thus shaking up her faith.
In the Highlander: The Series episode "Little Tin God", Duncan flashes back to a time when he visited South America and found that an Immortal named Gavriel Larca had conned a tribe into worshiping him. The tribe eventually turned on him when he couldn't heal them from a plague. In the present, Larca goes back to his old tricks and cons some people into believing he's God, then sends them to kill Duncan, claiming he's Satan. Duncan and Joe later muse that worship is a great temptation for any Immortal.
Pixelface: In "High Spirits", the angry ghost of a pharaoh mistakes Rex for an Egyptian god after Romford falls out of the ceiling and gets stuck on his head. It Makes Sense in Context.
The Vorlons appearing as angels (widely believed to be divine agents of God), or their equivalents in non-human cultures, in Babylon 5.
Once Upon a Time's third season episode Ariel has the Evil Queen disguise herself as Ursula, the ancient goddess of the sea, to trick Ariel into helping her capture Snow White. The real Ursula is not happy about this: she makes herself known to Regina, threatening her that if she ever tries impersonating the goddess again, Regina will find out just how real Ursula is.
Myth & Religion
Accodring to the Book of Revelations, during the "End Times", there will be many people who will claim to be Jesus on his Second Coming. On top of that, the Anti Christ will also claim to be a god. These people will all be false deities of one kind or another.
Parodied in The Far Side when two jungle explorers come across natives so gigantic only their feet and calves are shown in-panel. One explorer says to the other, "With any luck, they'll revere us as Gods."
In the Ravenloft setting, the Barovian church of the Morninglord was founded by a semi-addled priest who, as a young boy, had been rescued from certain death by the vampire elf Jander Sunstar. Although the faith resembles the Forgotten Realms' worship of the God Lathander, artwork and tales of Barovia's version depict this deity as resembling Jander Sunstar.
1st Edition module A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords. The illusionist Wimpell Frump uses an illusion to pose as the demon lord (and gnoll deity) Yeenoghu in order to command the loyalty of the gnolls guarding the underground Throne Room.
In Exalted, certain characters can take on a group of people who worship them as gods, granting them an extra boost of power. In fact, the Lunars, as part of their social-engineering long game, are not above posing as Gods to influence the development of a burgeoning culture.
Mind you, many of the Exalted can fight the creators of the universe and win, so it's not that huge an imposture.
And considering that Gods and Exalted literally differ only in that Gods are immortal and Exalted aren't, it's even less of a stretch.
Classic Traveller Double Adventure 6 Divine Intervention. The PCs must get a device into the chambers of Orobid, the High Priest of the Church of Stellar Divinity. The device will appear to be a manifestation of Orobid's deity and give him orders that will benefit the PCs' patron.
MegaTraveller supplement Vilani and Vargr: The Coreward Races. At the end of the Long Night, an offworlder from a high tech world came to the low tech world Sikilar and used high technology to make the natives think he was an angel. He used this authority to set up a strict religious dictatorship that continues to the current day.
Warhammer 40,000's Imperium of Man has a lot of worlds where technological advance is intentionally 'capped' at a certain level, because it's a lot easier to get the raw resources from the world (and manage the population) by letting the indigenous people stay at a stone age/medieval level and think you're gods (or at least servants of the gods): You just have them bring you what you want as 'offerings' whenever your spaceships make planetfall. Space Marine chapters in particular make use of this trope on the planets they administer: By encouraging primitive warrior cultures to dominate the planet and then spreading legends that the mightiest warriors can go to this or this place or do this or this brave deed in order to get 'chosen' and get a chance to join their gods, they ensure a steady stream of willing recruits.
In addition, the Black Library novel Dead Men Walking featured a cult which worshipped the Necrons as "Iron Gods".
This was how Goge Vandire was able to convince the Sisters of Battle (then Brides of the Emperor) to join him. He declared himself being protected by the emperor and had his bodyguard shoot him with his sidearm. Vandire later remarks on the backwardness of the cult, and how they didn't know about the Conversion Field built into the Rosarius (a symbol of faith and badge of office) carried by senior priests.
Pathfinder gives us Razmir, the "Living God", who used his "divine power" to take over a small kingdom and convert it to his worship. In reality, Razmir is merely a very powerful Evil Sorcerer, and his "faith" is maintained through rigorous Soviet-style "re-education".
In Magic The Gathering, the villain Yawgmoth is worshiped as a God by the race of minions he created, even though he never becomes a Planeswalker, which are the wizards of god-like power who oppose him.
In Chrono Cross, the inhabitants of El Nido seek guidance from the Goddess of Fate, going so far as to directly ask for advice from the aptly-named "Records of Fate". Little do they suspect that they're actually communing with a Master Computer from 1400 years into the future, the artificial intelligence FATE.
In The Journeyman Project 2, one of the possible game-overs is the result of the player creating a time paradox if he gets himself discovered while time traveling to a pre-Columbian Mayan City. The Have a Nice Death screen reveals that, because of your time travel suit, the natives mistake you for a god, and shows them building a statue dedicated to you.
Skies of Arcadia features the Native American-inspired land of Ixa'taka. When the player's party arrives, the natives mistake the silver-clothed Mysterious Waif as their goddess, due to an ancestress of her technologically advanced people helping subdue a thousand foot rampaging monster millenia ago. Subverted in that, even though she tries to convince them she's not a goddess, by game's end, only the king and main priest believe her. Everybody else happily continues to treat her as a deity.
Star Control 2 has the Umgah do this to the Ilwrath by means of a powerful hyperspace transmitter. As a joke, they tell the Ilwrath to go to war with the neighboring Pkunk (although some believe that the Umgah meant to tell the Ilwrath to attack the Yehat, who would have made mincemeat of the evil spiders, and the Ilwrath misinterpreted the instruction). If the player gets that transmitter, they can pull the same trick, and tell the Ilwrath to attack the warlike Thraddash, leading the two bloodthirsty species to annihilate each other.
The native Nali in Unreal are a simple, agricultural race with very limited technology. When the Skaarj come in, blasting them with advanced weaponry and soaring the skies in spaceships, they immediately see them as evil demons or gods from the skies, and see you as the Nali's messiah. The Nali also have some advanced technology and believe such objects are sacred relics.
Also the gods in Atlantis Evolution, who are not gods at all.
During world generation in Dwarf Fortress, demons will often take over civilizations by pretending to be one of their gods. You can speak to these "deities" in Adventure Mode, as well as take quests from them or slay them.
She presumably knows why, but she isn't exactly the sharing type.
Gunnerkrigg Court has an interesting subversion: The Court robots think Kat is an angel, partly because she's a Wrench Wench, partly because she has a lab in front of a tomb they're obsessed with (and lets them in whenever they want), and partly because she's one of only two people at the school that treats them with kindness. No, really, one oftwo.
"We appreciate you expediting matters, ye old god."
It happens again with a tribe of goblins. This time Cale tries to invoke the trope by suggesting that he will coincidentally resemble one of their gods and that they will eventually worship him, therefore they should cut to the chase and start worshiping right now. They do, they worship Tim, and try to have Cale for lunch.
Lampshaded in The Order of the Stick, when Vaarsuvius says that Elan being worshipped as a God by a primitive tribe would indicate that the webcomic had lost its last shred of originality.
But don't worry, they didn't. They worshiped his felt hand-puppet. Because it's hat was like the islands one mountain, it's eyes and mouth shaped like the three patches of jungle, and it's three buttons like the three reefs to the south of the island.
They used to have their own god. Worshiped a giant bull. That ended sometime around the washed up cargo of burger buns and individually wrapped cheese slices...
Interestingly enough, Elan ALSO worships his own hand puppet. But that's just because he has the brains of a five-year old.
Elan later creates another puppet for them to worship — Giggles, the Clown God of Slapstick. The tribe likes him better than Banjo since his idea of a good time is hitting people with a stick and they like hitting things.
Schlock Mercenary sort of subverts this trope. While the primitive natives of a backwater planet do revere the mercenary company, they view Schlock as... the excrement of a huge and very sick pack beast. Aforementioned natives also throw their mercenary-given robot messiah into a volcano, so you know that they don't have the proper viewpoint about things.
In Wapsi Square, many ancient deities seem to have been this. Most were created by a far older civilization.
In Yamara, the titular protagonist had ascended to Godhood for a storyline, and accidentally had a religion grow around her by the time she returned to normal — except for the three wishes she was granted as a "parting gift". She finally tries to talk her followers out of it with a heartfelt and humble speech — which she ends by saying "I wish you all the finest things in life" when she's on her last wish. An audience member says, "Whatta kidder!"
The Funworm in Oglaf inverts this trope. It looks like a crappy parade costume, and most people dismiss it as such, but it's a real god who assumes the form of a mundane thing for the sake of tricking people.
The Archai originally suffered from being inadvertently treated as gods by modosophonts, in Orion's Arm, as a result of their attainment of Sufficiently Advanced technology after having crossed several singularities. For a while the archai tried to convince people that they were not actually divine, but then later gave up and let the modosophs believe whatever they wanted. Thus, they're now often referred to as "AI Gods".
In Red vs. Blue, Church ends up possessing a piece of ancient alien technology (a Forerunner Monitor, although it's never called that in the show) and a pack of vicious aliens start treating him as their god. Revealing that he's not actually a god but is just hijacking the technology they worship would inevitably lead to the aliens ripping the Reds and Blues apart, so Church has to keep up the disguise. It kind of goes to his head eventually.
In the episode of The Simpsons where Apu's married, Homer tried to put a stop to the wedding by dressing as Ganesha. No one is fooled (indeed, anyone with a passing familiarity with Hindu mythology would know he got the characterisation all wrong).
As an angry guest put it: "You are not Ganesh! Ganesh is graceful!"
In another episode, Bart plays with his Mr. Microphone by telling Rod and Todd next door (who were listening to the radio) that he's God, and tells Rod to walk through a wall which he will make vanish. So Rod walks into the wall.
Lisa, in one Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons. An accident with her science fair project creates a race of miniature people, who think she is God for stopping Bart destroying them.
A later Treehouse of Horror episode had Homer convince Ned that he is the voice of god and instructs Ned to murder anyone he dislikes. Ned does not appreciate it when he learns the truth.
What about the episode where they outsource the nuclear plant to India and Homer pretends/thinks he is a god.
In the Futurama episode "Godfellas", Bender ends up drifting in space, where he becomes God to the Shrimpkins, a race of miniature people who end up settling on his body. His bad advice results in the Shrimpkins wiping themselves out through a nuclear holocaust.
At the end of Beast Wars, the resident Chew Toy Waspinator is shown being worshiped as a God by the protohumans.
Even earlier in the Transformers mythos, the G1 second-season episode 'The God Gambit' has a tribe of Rubber-Forehead Aliens on the moon Titan worshipping a statue that looked vaguely Transformer-like, before actual Transformers crash-landed there and made Astrotrain their new god.
In the animated series Storm Hawks, the inhabitants of the Terra Vapos just happened to have a legend depicted on a series of murals that had Finn as a great hero that would save them... by being eaten.
In one episode of Teen Titans, Raven crash-lands on a planet inhabited by tiny aliens, and is worshiped as a God simply for being more than three inches tall.
Toot from Drawn Together ends up in India and is worshipped by Hindus as a talking cow.
In Kim Possible, technologically advanced but naive alien Warmonga sees an image of Dr. Drakken in a transmission and believes him to be the "Great Blue", who according to prophecy will lead her people in conquest.
Warmonga is tricked again when Shego, unwilling to let someone else beat Kim, calls Kim's friends for help. One of Kim's brothers, wearing a blue school mascot outfit, convinces Warmonga that he is the real "Great Blue", causing her to abandon Drakken as a fraud and (as the "Great Blue" directs) leave.
In an episode of South Park, Cartman creates a civilization of "sea people" in his aquarium. When their culture reaches the Classical Age, he discovers that they know of his existence and are worshiping him as a God. Later, the "sea people" on the other side of the aquarium start worshiping Tweek. In the end, they suicide-bomb each other, followed by a nuclear exchange that destroys the aquarium.
Episode "The Infinite Vulcan". The Phylosians are very reverent toward Keniclius 5, despite his predecessor having caused all their problems in the first place.
Episode "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth". In the Back Story, an alien named Kukulkan was considered a god by the ancient Mayans.
One episode of Avatar The Last Airbender has Katara disguising herself as a local deity, The Painted Lady, in order to attack a Fire Nation outpost and inspire the locals who worship the goddess. Though she's eventually exposed, the villagers ultimately forgive her.
One of the short comics released had Sokka being mistaken for being the Avatar. He doesn't seem to mind. Hilarity Ensues.
In one minor gag/plot point, an immigration officer doesn't believe Aang is the Avatar because people have taken to dressing up just like him in hopes of getting free passage. (Why he doesn't demonstrate with some bending, nobody knows...)
Happens to Dagget in The Angry Beavers. He and Norbert were after "knots" in the wood, and Dagget pushed one out of a tree (sacred to a bunch of female raccoons on the other side) and wound up in their land with the knot balanced on his head. He rather enjoyed being "The Mighty Knothead" until he learned that he had to become the boyfriend/husband of The High Priestess.
In another episode, Dagget has ingested a large amount of a stupidity-inducing potion...except that he was already pretty stupid to begin with, so it actually made him a super-genius. He then ponders what happened to Norb (who responded to the potion exactly as expected). Cut to Norb on a Mayincatec pyramid, being fed fruit, with the worshippers bowing down and repeating his mantra: "DUUUHHH!"
In the GI Joe A Real American Hero episode "G.I. Joe and the Golden Fleece", several Joes and COBRA members get sent back in time to Ancient Greece. The locals mistake the Joes as a whole for Jason and the Argonauts, Lifeline for Asclepius the God of Healing, Sargent Slaughter for Heracles, and the COBRA forces for various monsters.