When the writers take aspects from an intricate mythology or religion, twist their original meaning, and misuse them out of context for something far from its original purpose. It can be people, places, objects, anything up to and including God. Maybe they didn't check their facts, or maybe they did after all, but They Just Didn't Care, assuming that they didn't need to be accurate if they were using names and figures in a new context and purpose. It's not necessarily Faux Symbolism because often they don't even pretend to have intended some deep religious meaning behind it.
To be fair, many ancient sources don't agree on the specific interpretations of individual myths and legends, and many ancient writers would interpret them to prove whatever point they were trying to make. For example, most contemporary portrayals of the sorceress Medea have the deaths of her children be an accident, or a case of mistaken interpretation where the children turn out all right at the end. It wasn't until Euripides' play that Medea was turned into the purposeful murderess of her own offspring (even if she had the tiniest bit of sympathetic motivation for doing so), making this Older Than Feudalism.
This frequently happens to any god, no matter how benign, who happens to have any dominion over death or the underworld, due to Bad Powers, Bad People.
In Western media, due to the Jesus Taboo and the like, pagan mythologies are more susceptible. The Japanese, on the other hand, have no qualms about bizarre portrayals of Christianity — or Shinto, for that matter.
When this kind of thing happens in real life, it's more commonly known as cultural appropriation and typically involves taking something (say, a myth or ritual item) from a specific culture or belief system and stripping it of all or most of its significance, Bowdlerizing it, and/or dumbing it down to make it marketable to the masses.
Pandora Jewelry. Sounds innocent enough... but if you know the actual myth of Pandora, it is HILARIOUS. The SparkNotes version? Woman opens tempting-looking box and unleashes evil upon the world.
Might be Fridge Brilliance if you know the myth. The original Pandora (her name means "all-gifted") was a Honey Trap: the gods covered her with finery, including gold and jewels, before sending her out to distract mankind.
That cherub on the valentine? Not a cherub. A cherub has four heads and a flaming sword.
Really the flying babies ought to be "putti" (singlular: putto) but that term is hardly ever used outside of discussions of Renaissance art.
Anime & Manga
Pick an anime, any anime, that attempts to tackle any mythology other than Japanese. The ones with Christianity-related themes are the most notorious offenders. In Japan, Christianity is considered an exotic religion, similar to Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca and other Eastern or pagan religions in the West.
Ah! My Goddess. The goddesses are named after the Norns (Verthandi, which contains sounds not available in Japanese, was not checked against the original Norse, creating "Belldandy" in the translation). Aside from having the three far more involved in human affairs than the dispassionate Norns would be, it is clear in Norse mythology that far from having to answer to a father-god, the Norns' judgment cannot be countermanded by any deity.
Particularly since Norns were the equivalent of the Greek fates, and in supernatural powers terms could only really predict the future, each one predicting its own personal strand of the future as they weave together. They were Jotuns (giants), though, so they could quite easily kick the shit out of any pitiful human that dared trespass on their well.
Not just the future. It is commonly believed Örlaganornirnar wove the web of fate. Urðr, whose name means that which has happened, wove the past, Verðandi, that which is happening, wove the present and Skuld, that which should happen, wove the future.
Well, seeing that the sisters, who are never referred to as Norns, are really only named afterthe Norns.
But it is mentioned that they are given powers aligned with the past, present and future, which is why in the issue where they begin to lose their powers, Urd starts getting younger, Skuld gets older, and Belldandy simply gets sleepy (Urd is going backward, Skuld is going forward, and Belldandy simply stops).
In Digimon Adventure, Centaurmon is the monster based on the Centaur that lives in a Labyrinth. One really wonders if the designers were instead thinking of the Minotaur.
In Aquarian Age, the "Age of Aquarius" is... a secret war that's gone on for thousands of years. As opposed to, y'know, a time of peace and prosperity that's recently begun or about to begin.
Or the Industrial Age or the Renaissance, for that matter. None of the hypothesized starts to the Age of Aquarius are thousands of years ago (1433 being the earliest outlier). The most cynical interpretation of the Age of Aquarius, though not very popular, happens to be...a world run by power-hungry elites who seek absolute power and the abuse of knowledge to win wars, though this interpretation only appeared after the series came out.
Genmu Senki Leda includes two characters named Lingam and Yoni, which are not only symbolic for Hindu deities, but refer to the male and female sex organs.
In the original myths Hades was the God of Underworld, his default shape was humanoid (but like all Greek deities he was a shape-shifter), and even though he was not exactly a nice guy, he was not worse than his relatives. In the Mazinverse he is a God of Evil whose (unchangeable) shape is that of a giant being of fire and wishes conquering the surface world.
Kinnikuman blundered badly with this. Supposedly, there are lots and lots of gods out there of various planets, yet there's still Satan, and he's still the mastermind of all the Akuma Choujin/Demon Supermen. But Choujin don't go to Hell, they go to an underworld led by Choujin Enma. Then there's Ashuraman, who at least is correct in his depiction as a three-faced, six-armed individual. Of course, then we find out about his teacher, Samson Teacherwho later becomes Satan Cross, one of the final Big Bad's subordinates, who displays similar similar anatomy but has no reference to biblical Samson or Satan at all.
In Cardcaptor Sakura there's a scene of Eriol expressing the spirit of church hymes... Except he totally didn't do the research, and winds up describing Shinto instead of Christianity.
Played for humor in Baccano! where Isaac and Miria start talking about Romance of the Three Kingdoms but then begin confusing it with Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari (he begins claiming the three characters are represented by a snake, frog, and slug) and then claims Liu Bei fought alongside Billy the Kid.
Yu-Gi-Oh! with Egyptian mythology, paying only basic homage to it and basically crafting its own mythology with the Egyptian background being only color flavor at best. The God Cards are a mixed bag: The Winged Dragon of Ra is the most accurate, though Ra having a Dragon is alien to the mythology; Slifer is just an in-joke by the developers while in Japanese it is "Saint Dragon of Osiris"; Obelisk is named after a type of monument the Egyptians made.
The original Thor was a bearded Fiery Redhead, which was symbolic to the Norse. Though Marvel didn't originate the idea, their Thor is clean-shaven and blond, which meant something completely different to the Norse. Likewise Sif's signatures were her long golden hair and demure demeanor. The Marvel version is a Xenafied brunette.
Though characters change their appearance often, and Thor has, on occasions, grown a beard. Sif's hair was actually explained to initially be blond, but that was changed after Loki cut it off.
In the original story, Sif was blonde, then Loki cut all her hair off, after which he was required to replace it. He had the dwarves forge her hair of pure gold, and that is the golden hair she is known for. She was never brunette in any of the original lore.
Loki is Odin's adopted son, rather than his blood brother, as he is in the myths. (And ergo he should be Thor's step-uncle)
Loki is also a Trickster, not an outright bad guy.
Kind of justified in that Ragnarok is a cyclical event that results in a new version of the Norse gods appearing every thousand or so years, with change, both physical and familial, occurring each time they get, for want of a better word, reincarnated.
The Ragnarok manhwa has the stoic Loki and the woman Fenrir, which people like to pair up. In mythology Loki was a trickster god and Fenrir was not only his son, but an absolutely giganticwolf
Hell, Loki was a chick at one point!
Well he was a horse (in the original myth) at one point. A female horse. A pregnant female horse. And is mentioned in one poem to have gone to Earth in the shape of a human woman, who married a farmer and happily popped out babies for eight years, though the actual myth in which this happens has been lost.
Thor villain Amora the Enchantress is based on Freya, who was indeed an enchantress, but she was never evil. And what kind of name for a Norse goddess is Amora, anyway?
She was kind of evil.
Freyja shows up later as a separate being.
DC Comics has this too. Hera as a kind, merciful goddess, Zeus as a wise and good-natured god, although this is within the parameters of how ancient Greeks saw them. More glaring is that Ares, who according to Greek mythology was the Amazons' ancestor and one of the gods they supposedly worshipped most, is their inveterate enemy in Wonder Woman.
Done a bit better in the 52niverse, which follows Greek mythology a lot more closely.
In one issue of The Sandman, Loki is making a Badass Boast, and he references his children but claims that Fenrir is called "Sun-Eater". In Norse myth, Fenrir is destined to kill Odin at Ragnarok. His son Skoll is the one that eats the sun (his other son, Hati eats the moon).
Might be slightly justifiable: fathers are notorious for constantly mashing their children's birthdays, hobbies and friends together and getting the wrong answers without a bit of help via being given the stink-eye to keep things straight. And, in Loki's defence: he had a lot of children as both Dad and Mum: must be a bit hard to keep track...
Marvel Universe versions of Ares and Achilles both mentions fighting side by side at Troy. In The Iliad Ares was in Trojan camp.
Averted, though it's not obvious at first, in Watchmen. Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias's mutant pet lynx is named Bubastis, presumably after the Egyptian goddess Bast. It's frequently assumed to be this trope, as Bast was the goddess and Bubastis was the name of the city sacred to her, but Veidt largely frames his Egyptian references through a Greek context, and the Greeks used the same name for the goddess as the city- much as Ozymandias itself is the Greek name for Ramses The Great.
In Aeon Natum Engel Gendo lampshades the reputation of the Necronomicon as instantly driving the reader insane when it actually doesn't do that. Reading between the lines may cause this though.
Vampire Chronicles fanfic Rose Petals from a Vampire introduces an ancient Egyptian male vampire love interest for the Mary Sue. Since Enkil and Akasha in the books were identified with Osiris and Isis, the author thought it would be a good idea to name said vampire after another Egyptian deity, Nephthys. Good idea, except that Nephthys is a goddess.
It's not more wrong than identifying Enkil with an Egyptian god, which is right for the specific canon, but Enkil's just another spelling for a Babylonian god.
He was not the legitimate child of Zeus and Hera, but rather the product of one of Zeus's many affairs with human women. This, rather than a magic potion, is why he was not immortal.
He performed the famous twelve labors as punishment for having gone insane and killing his own wife (read Megara) and children because Hera struck him with temporary insanity to kill them, rather than to build a reputation as a hero.
That's right, Hera absolutely hated him, being the child of Zeus and another woman, and fought her hardest to get him killed. She was not in any way a mother figure.
The movie also places Narcissus on Mt. Olympus with the gods; he was not a god in the Greek myths. He was a mortal who was made to fall in love with his own reflection.
Pegasus has absolutely nothing to do with Heracles. He was captured and tamed by Bellerophon. And then they exploded, to make the story shorter.
Also the idea of having Megara be an independent woman is so wrong as to actually be hilarious - the original myth's version of her stays true to the values of ancient times, in which women were considered to be basically breathing objects. She was given to Heracles as a trophy for defending Thebes and had, in no way, sold her soul to Hades. And, of course, as mentioned above, Heracles kills her.
Unlike the others, the change in Hades isn't even Disneyfication. He wasn't an evil god, (he was downright nice compared to some of the otherGreek Gods, Zeus in particular) nor did he have any antagonistic relationship with Heracles. In fact, he was vital in helping Heracles finish his last labor. More info Said labor was "bring me Cerberus." Heracles went to the Underworld and asked to borrow him, and Hades pretty much said "Bring him back when you're done" - which Heracles did.
The Mask refers to Loki as the Norse "god of darkness". Loki is not a god of darkness, or arguably a god at all, for that matter. (To the extent that he's anything, he's a herald from the gods, not of them.) The closest thing to a god of darkness in Norse Mythology is Nótt, the personification of the night.
Loki, while being a Jotun is also a god, being listed as one of the Aesir in the Gylfaginning, and is a trickster god. He plays an incredibly crucial role in the myths, and one much greater and very different from that of a herald.
In Son of the Mask, Loki is Odin's son (in the Norse myths, he's actually a Jotun fostered by the Aesir, of which Odin is the foremost). And the creators apparently didn't even bother to research the series' own "mythology", presenting Loki and the Mask as separate entities, while the original film established that Loki was trapped within the Mask.
Clash of the Titans makes so much hash of its source material that an exhaustive catalog of the errors would be a challenge. Considering that the errors begin, in a way, with the title of the film, this should not be too surprising: the film considers a Titan to be just about any large, disagreeable monster such as the Kraken (which is Scandinavian, anyway; the creature depicted by the movie is actually supposed to be Cetus) or Medusa, while in Greek mythology the Titans were an early group of gods. The main storyline follows the main events of the Perseus myth, but also muddles together unrelated stories, such as Pegasus, as well as nonsensical elements that appear nowhere in any of the cobbled-together myths, such as a mechanical owl.
The inclusion of Pegasus is especially ironic given that that the original winged horse sprang from Medusa's remains.
Ray Harryhausen even acknowledged the fact that the Kraken never appeared in Greek mythology. Cetus, the sea monster that Perseus killed in the myth was more akin to a sea dragon. Ray simply didn't want to create another dragon, so he decided to use the Kraken, a far more unique menace. It was purely an aesthetic decision, although it doesn't at all resemble a squid or octopus like the mythological Kraken.
Not to mention that Medusa's lair is apparently in/near the Underworld, Perseus hated all the gods, he ends up with the wrong girl, and Pegasus isn't the unique child of a very unique mother, but rather a name for winged horses in general...a myth-loving person may cry like a baby by the end of the movie.
Sci Fi Channel's original monster movies based on mythological creatures might do anything. Their depiction of Cerberus is especially bad, what with it guarding a Hun weapon in Romania instead of the gates of a Greek underworld, and everything...
Almost any Western movie ever, when it comes to Kali, the Hindu Goddess of death, destruction and disease, but also the Goddess of mercy and forgiveness and good health. More on her on That Other Wiki. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Check. Stranglers of Bombay? Check. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (animated Kali by Ray Harryhausen)... Check. Shiva more raises confusion, maybe because theoretically he's most capable of destruction, but very rarely cares to blast anything, when compared to other deities.
To oversimplify the issue, Durga fought demons so strong she has to be reborn in the form specifically prepared for this task, while Kali slaughtered lesser foes. Kali is also a mother figure — which makes her sort of "universal Mama Bear," but then it's only to be expected that she can be utterly horrifying and widely admired.
Mostly, these confusions arose because Hinduism itself (as most Europeans know it) is a result of several transformations. First was Vedanta introduced in VIII century AD, last was "Hindu Reformation" of late XIX - early XX. For one of local interpretations, there's guy who grew there and spoke their language and his Shiv and the Grasshopper, where neither Shiv nor Parbati are portrayed as anything anywhere near "gods of destruction," but "Shiva the Preserver" was invoked. BTW, he's blue-necked because he drank primal poison capable of wiping out the rest of the universe. But if you see Trimurti as personification of Guna (3 flavours of prime driving force), it makes sense that face of Tamas is a pinnacle of body's force ("food giver," Great Ascetic, creator of dance) and raw force as such (ultimate not-to-be-trifled-with but not very actively dangerous power, both "Destroyer" and "Preserver" depending on situation)... and, well, have such an outstanding "significant other."
The villains in Temple of Doom were Thugee (although highly distorted ones, no Thug would be stupid enough to act openly), and at least some of the real members of the group claimed to worship Kali as death. The problem is, the movie treats this as being the correct and only interpretation of Kali, who is actively evil and makes people Brainwashed and Crazy with her blood.
For further mythtaken-ness, The Temple of Doom has Shiva as the one true God of Hinduism and Kali as his enemy.
What may confuse people more is that there is an entirely different figure in Hindu mythology named Kali, who actually is evil. It doesn't help that Indian civilization goes back a really long way, and people there commonly name their kids after gods, and they have quite a lot of kids and quite a lot of gods.
The killer Kali statue from Golden Voyage of Sinbad may be an in-character example, as the evil wizard who controlled it showed few signs of being Hindu, although he did recognize what goddess the statue represented. Animating the thing was just a convenient way for him to impress the local savages and create a many-sword-wielding Mook.
The green-painted savages who worshiped the statue weren't intended to be typical of Kali-worshipers either; they're just a Stone Age tribe that'd moved into the ruins and adopted the statue as a deity because it looked impressive.
The plot-driver in Raiders of the Lost Ark is that the Ark of the Covenant is some sort of magical weapon, and would make its owner invincible. In fact, one instance in 1 Samuel where the Israelites tried to use it as a weapon merely caused the Ark to get very angry at their disrespect and let them lose the battle. Given the Ark simply wiped out the Nazis who opened it, though, perhaps the part of retaliating against its owners was indeed noted.
Neither does the "Holy Grail as granter of eternal life" seen in the third movie. The writers came with that after toying with the idea of having Indy retrieve the Holy Grail in the Action Prologue and then going to look for some version of the Fountain of Youth in the movie proper. Somebody suggested to mix the two, and the rest is History.
Mission: Impossible II: Anthony Hopkins's character mentions that Spaniards honor the Saints during the Holy Week of Seville by burning their effigies. He's probably confused with the Fallas of Valencia, a different city where effigies of celebrities and politicians are burned — nothing to do with religion. This character is shown to be a jerk, but he should know the name of the city he's visiting, and people were in fact burning some effigies in the streets of Seville for some reasons we Spaniards cannot even imagine.
Another confusion happens in a second Tom Cruise movie, Knight and Day (which at least filmed a couple of scenes in Seville). Nope, San Fermín is not the national holiday of Spain or something like that. It's a local holiday in Pamplona only.
The Mummy Returns has Anubis as a "dark god". To make it even worse, someone was described as selling his soul to Anubis. Anubis carries all the souls of the dead to the underworld, but he isn't in possession of those souls, nor is there any equivalent of hell in the Egyptian afterlife (undeserving souls are simply fed to a monster; yes, it sounds awful, but think about this: it's not eternal).
To clarify, the closest thing to a "dark god" in the Egyptian pantheon was Set, who was still a figure of benevolent worship, and not completely evil, depending on which myth you read, although he was pretty much universally a jerkass, sometimes acting as Ra's bodyguard, only to turn around and murder Osiris (although he recovered), only to turn into Horus' Butt Monkey for a while while acting Chaotic Stupid (seriously, trying to make a canoe out of stone?).
The first film also has Imhotep being terrified of cats, due to the claim that they are the guardians of the underworld. The Duat (underworld) in the actual myths was guarded by monstrous serpents, and someone in Imhotep's position, having assisting in the murder of the Pharaoh, the living incarnation of the sun god Ra, was guilty of the single worst crime imaginable, and there was a punishment reserved specifically for people who had committed this particularly horrid type of blasphemy: to be tied with one's arms behind one's back in the underworld in a position designed to cause terrible pain while having a multi-headed serpent eternally breathe fire into your face.
"The Book of the Dead" is not a physical book; it's a collection of death-related texts from tomb walls and coffins (and it's really called "The Book of Coming Forth By Day"). Plus, even if it were a single artifact, it wouldn't have been the codex-style "book" seen in the film, as that format wasn't used till the late Roman Empire.
The only way to enjoy the first two Mummy movies is to turn off every neuron you have that knows anything about actual Egypt. In the third one, you need to turn off China as well.
Xanadu has Hera and Zeus claim that, as gods, they are above emotions. Yes, the god who would hit anything with a vagina (and Ganymede) and the goddess whose vengeance for being cuckolded would make Lorena Bobbitt cringe claim to be emotionless.
Name a Mesoamerican god. Quetzalcoatl. Name that only one thing you know about Mesoamerican religions. They practiced Human Sacrifice. So that's it! You'll place the climax of your movie on a scene featuring a human sacrifice to Quetzalcoatl! Except that's just wrong. Quetzalcoatl did not demand human sacrifice. He allegedly disliked it, and was "fed" on birds and butterflies only. Better candidates for your classic Religion of Evil scene would be the god of war Huitzilopochtli or the god of water, Tlaloc. A lot of movies like Apocalypto and other media botch this (notice Apocalypto takes place in Mayan lands, and Quetzalcoatl is thus referenced by his Mayan name, Kukulkan).
More than that, Aztec priests took the names of their gods, and one named Quetzalcoatl tried to end the human sacrifice. He was executed as a heretic for this, naturally.
The Exorcist: Admirably, instead of choosing a pagan god to turn into a demon, they used an actual evil spirit from Mesopotamian mythology as the one who posseses Regan. However, Pazuzu was the exact wrong choice, since out of all Mesopotamian demons, he's the only one known to protect children (mostly against his wife, Lamashtu, who would have been a more appropriate choice).
It's possible, of course, that this would have been deliberate on the part of the author, if he wished to tap into the common belief among some Christians that the various pagan deities might actually have existed, but were actually demonic deceivers. In that case, the 'protects children' itself would have been a deceit.
Immortals takes a lot of liberties with Greek mythology.
Mixing up Heracles with Hephaistos, among so many other things.
According to the myths, Heracles DID get to ascend to a higher plane of existence.
The movie tries to make Zeus out to be NICE GUY. No research books were consulted in the scripting of this movie. Really, Zeus was still bit of a Jerk Ass in this movie, but still nowhere near Zeus proportions.
The minotaur being a guy with a wire-mesh bull mask instead of a half-human/half-bull,Theseus being a mortal instead the son of Poseidon, Hyperion being a evil king instead of the Titan of Light, the complete invention of the Epirus Bow... the list just goes on.
In Stargate, the symbol they keep referring to as "The Eye of Ra" is actually "The Eye of Horus" and is also known as the "Wedjet".
There's a brief but oft-quoted speech in the inspirational sports movie Remember The Titans where the coach of the titular football team encourages his players to aspire to be like their mythical namesakes, who were "greater even than the gods". He apparently forgot the part about the Titans being the fallen predecessors of the Gods. And the part where the leader of the Titans, Kronos, was defeated and imprisoned by his son after trying to cannibalize his own children.
The Lightning Thief: The story centers around a summer solstice deadline, but Persephone is shown living in the underworld with Hades—something that's supposed to happen during the fall and winter months. What makes it stand out more is that she does acknowledge that she gets time away from Hades... though exactly when that is is never expanded on.
The most likely justification is that, wiith the impending war between the gods brewing, Hades kept her in the Underworld to keep her with him (she does imply this).
The Wendigo is identified as a Comanche myth in The Lone Ranger, but it is actually Algonquian, who were prominent in what is now the northern US and Canada, and the Atlantic coast - it's indicative of long winters and desperation.
In The Chronicles of Prydain, the characters have names from Welsh mythology, and like other Hijacked by Jesus examples, the name of the god of death is given to a Satanic character. Comparatively, the honorable Aragorn is named Gwydion, who was actually more like Loki/Hermes in the mythology. At least Lloyd Alexander admits he's playing fast and loose with the Welsh mythological canon. To quote him: "Prydain is not Wales—not entirely, at least. The inspiration for it comes from that magnificent land and its legends; but, essentially, Prydain is a country existing only in the imagination."
Michael Chabon's novel Summerland takes place in a world that cheerily mashes together Native American and Norse mythology. This leads to the reveal, utterly brain-breaking if you know your mythology, that Coyote Changer is also Loki and the Devil. Seriously. (And for its next trick, the rules of the Universe are based on those of baseball).
In Immanuel Velikovsky's supposedly nonfiction book Worlds in Collision, he put forth a pseudoscience explanation for various cataclysms based on the idea that Venus was the Roman version of the Greek Athena. In fact Venus is the Roman equivalent of Aphrodite, a fact that even bad pop song writers should be able to tell you.
Early in his writing career, Robert E. Howard realized he was horrible at making up names. So the Conan the Cimmerian stories are liberally sprinkled with historical and mythical names for characters and places that don't necessarily relate to the narrative context.
In some cases (particularly with the Aesir and the Vanir tribes) that what we know of ancient mythology is actually half-remembered tales of real events from the Hyborean Age. So in the Conan universe, we're all guilty of this trope.
Justified in Fred Saberhagen's Books of Swords trilogy, as, while Vulcan is, as pointed out in the essay at the end of the first book, more like a Norse Jotun in personality than the Vulcan of Greco-Roman myth, since it is ultimately revealed that the so-called "gods" are really just the product of human dreams, and presumably myths can change in thousands of years.
Herman Melville betrayed his (or his character's) ignorance of Greek mythology when, in Moby-Dick, he had Captain Ahab compare the ship's blacksmith to Prometheus.
Unles of course he were not trying to refer to Hephaestus but trace an analogy with being infused with the fire of the gods (which will be akin to the character´s ego). Is hard to say in any case, as by that point Ahab is mad as a cow and in that particular chapter he digress a lot.
It's definitely the latter given that Melville was a classically educated man.
"Chapter 108: Ahab and the Carpenter: The Deck—First Night Watch":
What's Prometheus about there? —the blacksmith, I mean —what's he about? He must be forging the buckle-screw, sir, now. Right. It's a partnership; he supplies the muscle part. He makes a fierce red flame there! Aye, sir; he must have the white heat for this kind of fine work. Um-m. So he must. I do deem it now a most meaning thing, that that old Greek, Prometheus, who made men, they say, should have been a blacksmith, and animated them with fire; for what's made in fire must properly belong to fire; and so hell's probable.
Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree features a downright painful mangling of Egyptian mythology. It equates Osiris with Ra, as well as equating Osiris' resurrection with both the cycle of day and night and the changing of the seasons.
One can forgive Dante's merging of Greek and Christian takes of the afterlife and mythology in The Divine Comedy as creative liberty, but one cannot forgive him for his use of the centaurs in the outer ring of the seventh circle of Hell, for one distinct reason: he put Chiron, a Defector from Decadence and revered healer and sage, as the leader of the centaurs driving the damned back into the boiling blood river, and put Nessus, known for raping Hercules' second wife and tricking her into poisoning Hercules to death, as the one the one who helps Dante and Virgil across the river. Apparently, all Dante ever knew about them was that they were both centaurs and Nessus carried someone across a river one time.
Consider also that: 1) Nessus helps Dante and Virgil only because he is ordered to — by Chiron; 2) Dante had no direct access to the original Greek myths and knew them only through Latin authors.
He should know enough about Chiron from Statius' Achilleid, though — and Dante was fond enough of Statius to retcon him into a Christian.
Consider further that in Dante, people are in Hell because God wants them there. Easing their suffering would be an evil act, approving of their suffering is just. Chiron being the leader of the centaurs in administering the punishment could actually mean that he is closer and more obedient to God.
You can blame Lafcadio Hearn for the fact that any Westerner who's heard of the mujina probably has it confused with the noppera-bō (or "faceless ghost"), and for mislabeling the nukekubi as rokuro-kubi.
Bridget Wood's Celtic fantasy novels. But hey, it replaces all semblance of plot with bestiality and gory rape, so that's all right then.
Some criticisms of Twilight actually have the criticizers run afoul of this just as much as Stephenie Meyer did. No, Vampires did not sparkle, but has anyone (who hasn't played Ben Jordan) who says vampires couldn't go out into the daylight ever heard of a Strigoi? Or even read the Bram Stoker novel? Not to mention, some of the werewolf myths actually were just men who shifted into wolves.
In Twilight, Meyer describes varacolaci as being "a powerful undead being who could appear as a beautiful, pale-skinned human", while they are more famously known as wolf demons that cause solar and lunar eclipses by swallowing the sun and moon respectively. They also appear as dry pale-skinned humans, not beautiful. In Breaking Dawn and Midnight Sun, Meyer cites the incubus and succubus as vampires who are known in mythology as being promiscuous and seduced women and men, respectively. Both of them were demons who were believed to be the cause of nightmares and wet dreams. Also in Breaking Dawn, the cleaning lady at Bella and Edward's honeymoon site believes that Edward is a "libishomen", described as "a blood-drinking demon who preys exclusively on beautiful women". In reality, lobishomen (the real name of the libishomen in mythology) were monkey-like werewolves.
One of those is actually justified; Edward implied that myths about incubi were made up by humans based on vampires like him. The other cases are valid, though, and there was also a mention of 'actual' werewolves that operate on 'full moon and silver bullets' logic. The silver bullets are more of a Hollywood concept.
Related to the above, the fandom of Dracula, rather than the author, are widely guilty of this. Adaptations have flanderized sunlight into vampire kryptonite, but Mythology Marches On, and Stoker's vampires are merely weaker in sunlight. The original Dracula is also destroyed by a knife through the heart rather than a stake. Sharp steel or iron objects like needles or knives are effective vampire kryptonite in Slavic mythology, yet adaptations, sequels, and even "scholarly" annotated versions of the novel jump on the lack of a wooden stake as proof that Dracula is Not Quite Dead.
The characters of Atlas Shrugged use the idea of Atlas holding up the celestial sphere as a model of great men being constrained by the demands of lesser beings. If Atlas ever got tired of the weight, all he'd have to do is shrug it off and it'd be the end for them, right? Well, in the original myth, Atlas was holding up the sky, and he was doing so at the command of the gods, as punishment for siding with the Titans in the Titanomachy. For added giggles, this had the side effect of preventing Gaia from doing the nasty with Ouranos and creating more problems for the gods. Additionally, shrugging off the weight without someone else to hold it for him (like Heracles in one of the myths) would only result in Atlas and everyone getting the sky dropped on them. Ironically enough attempting to "Go Galt" and separate yourself from the rest of society in real life can have similar messy consequences since many of those other beings are responsible for ensuring that "great men" have nice things (Who Cleans Galt's John?). In any event, Atlas was eventually turned to stone by Perseus anyway, making the shrugging a moot point.
Harry Potter novels tend to attach the names of mythological creatures to beings unrelated to them. For example, "boggarts" are small, dwarf-like creatures, not shapeshifters.
An In-Universe example occurs when Snape says that a Kappa is a Mongolian beast, not Japanese, in an offhand comment, correcting a student in one book. The side bookFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them states that Kappas are actually Japanese, with a note from Harry in the margin stating "Snape hasn't read this book either".
In 'Hush, Hush'', the characters constantly turn to the Book of Enoch as a reference for the rules of fallen angels. This is reinforced by the fact that the only fallen angels we see are ones who procreated with humans to create the Nephilim (as recorded in the Book of Enoch). According to the book though, the angels did not fall because of lust for human women, but because they were supposed to watch over the Garden of Eden and instead tempted Eve with the apple so that they could lay claim to Earth. We later find out that the fallen angels get shots at both becoming a guardian angel (saving a human life) or becoming a human (killing a Nephilim), the latter situation allegedly having been recorded in the Book of Enoch. There is no such story there, and in fact the Book makes it very clear that the fallen angels have absolutely no chance of redemption at all.
In Petronius's The Satyricon, Trimalchio narrates a skit about the Trojan War to his dinner guests and completely butchers the mythology. This was a satire of nouveau riche merchants, whereas proper aristocratic Romans would've received an education in Greek literature and philosophy.
Lampshaded and deconstructed in Simon Green's "Razor Eddie's Big Night Out", in which H. P. Lovecraft's fish-demon conception of the god Dagon has become so well-known in pop culture that the original Dagon, a human-looking, inoffensive agricultural deity, is being pushed out of the Street of the Gods as a result. Luckily for the original, Razor Eddie is a friend of his, and he's not fond of poseurs....
In the short story "The All Ireland Champion Versus the Nye Add", found in The Ribbajack, champion fisherman Roddy Mooney sets his sights on catching a Nye Add, which, according to him, is half woman and half fish. Said Nye Add reveals to the narrator at the end of the story that she is actually a kelpie. The problem is that Nye Adds (naiads) are not interchangeable with mermaids; they look exactly like human women and do not have fish tails; neither do real kelpies for that matter, which are water horses from Celtic mythology that lure children onto their backs to drown and eat them. Not to mention that naiads are from Greek, not Irish, mythology.
Piers Anthony had used "Alicorn" to refer to a Winged Unicorn - An Alicorn is actually the substance a unicorn horn is made out of. However, he wasn't the most popular one to use it (see below).
In The House of Night Sister Mary Angela, the Head Nun of the Benedict Abbey, calls Kalona a Nephilim. A Catholic Nun would know better then that and that the Raven Mockers, which are beings that part-Immortal/part-Human, are in fact Nephilim. Kalona even named his eldest son after a type of Nephilim.
While Stargate was arguably already pushing the "liberal" application of Egyptian mythology too far, Stargate SG-1 pushed it even further — and not just Egyptian, but many mythologies all over the world, shoehorning them into the premise of aliens impersonating gods. Of course, within its universe, it's the religions that are memetic mutations of the events that "really" happened, not the other way round.
Even there it's a little unclear. Sometimes the Goa'uld seemed to be impersonating or taking on the roles of mythological figures that existed before those Goa'uld came to Earth, while other times the Goa'uld seemed to be using their own names and identities which happened to inspire the myths we now know. That might be Depending on the Writer, or since the Goa'uld came to Earth now and then for thousands of years, it might just vary depending on the individual Goa'uld. The Asgard, though, unambiguously are open about their names, identities and goals, and their actions happened to inspire the Norse myths.
The Asgard used holoprojectors to disguise that they were small and grey, though. SG-1's position on the Goa'uld seems to have shifted over time. It was pretty clearly a case of the Goa'uld being the inspiration for mythology, but characters started quite pointedly saying the Goa'uld assumed the roles of gods. (Presumably someone became uncomfortable with the unfortunate implications for well, every religion in the world).
That might have been a matter of No Pronunciation Guide; The Matrix faced a similar problem where one of the hoverships was named The Mjolnir, but everyone called it The Hammer because no one on set could agree on how to pronounce Mjolnir.
The name "Mjolnir" actually means "hammer" or "crusher", and is cognate with the English words "meal/mill/miller".
Despite having approximately the same relationship to myth and history that spray cheese has to food, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess had a pretty good grasp of the personalities of the gods, spirits and other critters they appropriated from various mythologies. Zeus was a philandering jerk; Ares was bullheaded, aggressive, not too bright, and rotten to the core; Thor was bullheaded, aggressive, and not too bright, but at least well-meaning; and so forth...
While Xena usually has a (relatively) good grasp on mythology, the episode "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" included Bacchus as a demon lord of some kind, his Bacchae followers (Who should have been Maenads, since they're Greek, but Bacchae was the Roman name, just like Bacchus is for Dionysus, so points for keeping a theme I guess) as vampires, and, worst of all, dryads as skeletal harpies. What were they thinking?
That it was a Halloween episode.
The makers of Hercules took a look at Typhon – the biggest and most dangerous monster in all of Greek mythology, the greatest enemy ever faced by Zeus and the Olympian gods – and decided to make him into a dim-witted but lovable oaf. Apparently having him as a villain would have been just too awesome or something.
McMillan and Wife did an episode where Sally is stalked and kidnapped by "Satanists". They figure out who the bad guy is because he makes references to ancient Egypt — ancient Egypt being, according to the writers, the origin of Satanism. Eventually they learn that the stalker believes Sally to be the incarnation of an Egyptian goddess named Serena. Not only is the Egyptian mythos totally unrelated to Satanism, and "Serena" not an Egyptian goddess, but "Serena" isn't even an Egyptian name!
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Halloween episode is notorious among certain circles for portraying Janus as a god of chaos. Nothing could be further from the truth; while the "division of self" does fit the idea of people and their costumes becoming one, Janus could better be portrayed as a god of Order, not Chaos, especially in his role as god of portals, doors, and gateways.
Supernatural: The show started out with urban legends and was very faithful to them. It started doing the same kind of 'square peg into round hole' approach to its monsters-of-the-week as Charmed (ex. brain-eating kitsune) around the same time it started Going Cosmic and incorporating all kinds of mythology, no matter how awkwardly they fit the series.
One of the most talked-about examples is the episode "Hammer of the Gods", in which all pagan deities are man-eaters. It's vaguely interpreted that gods feast on human flesh when there's little faith left to sustain them... in which case, it's surprising to hear that all of India embraced Islam at some point in the history of the Supernatural-verse.
In the Halloween episode, they introduced a demon named Samhain as the origin of the holiday. That's bad enough, but what's unforgiveable is that they pronounced it phonetically. It wasn't an intentional sign of ignorance either. If Dean had pronounced it wrong it would be one thing, but Sam the research geek and the angels of the Lord also said it phonetically. In case anyone doesn't know, the correct pronounciation is "Sawin".
A season 8 episode mentions Prometheus as a love interest of the goddess Artemis, when Artemis was, among other things, the goddess of chastity.
Charmed: In "Oh My Goddess!" it's said that the Greek gods were actually mortals the Elders infused with power in order to stop the Titans. This is not a problem in itself — the problem is that Gaea was stated to be one of these mortals, when in mythology she wasn't an Olympian, but the mother of the titans.
A rare case of Frasier fudging (or at least not being characteristically pedantic about) a classical reference; he refers to a hot day as "like the "Ninth Circle of Hell". This is a reference to Dante's Inferno, where the Ninth Circle is described as being incredibly cold.
Myths & Legends
Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda is one of the main sources of Norse Myth. However, Snorri wrote them down in the 13th century just as Europe became obsessed with the Greek myths, and after Christianity had largely replaced the old beliefs. So, to make the legends respectable, he claimed that the Norse Gods were actually the heroes of the Iliad, who came north after the events described by Homer, and, because the Greeks were so great, they were able to convince the locals that they were gods. In one of the most hilarious trees in the Epileptic Forest, he claims that because Thor was sometimes referred to as Asa-Thor ("The AesirÁs, Thor"), that he was clearly Hec-Tor. (Never mind that Hector dies at the end of the Iliad.) Okay, half the countries of Europe were claiming descent from some hero or race of Greek Myth at that time - the Britons claimed to be descended from someone called Brutus who, after the Trojan war, got swept out to sea and ended up in Britain; The Declaration of Arbroath says the Scots were descended from the Scythians (I can only presume because Kenneth Mac Alpine played the same "Invite the chieftains to a party, get them drunk, then slaughter them" trick on the Picts that was played on the Scythians in Herodotus: there's very little other mention of the Scythians). So why not claim you're descended from every single Greek hero?
Texts such as the Lebor Gabala Erenn are essentially the Celtic(mainly Irish) equivalent of the Eddas; and also have a rather incoherent Christian time line tacked on. Interestingly, the author of the Book of Leinster was so afraid of being branded a heretic after listing the Tuatha De Danann that he added the disclaimer "Although the author enumerates them, he does not worship them."
Norse myths continued to suffer: In Victorian times, the Poetic Edda — an ancient collection of the Norse heroic legend — was re-discovered. Richard Wagner made them into operas, threw in some German myths, and we get the Ring cycle, which... well, it resembles the originals in places, but it's essentially a complete rewrite of the myths.
And Wagner's Spiritual Successor to the Ring cycle, Parsifal, is the myth of the Holy Grail remade in the image of the Bayreuth Theater. At least Wagner didn't invent the Sadly Mythtaken Arabic etymology of Parsifal's name.
Wagner's Ring is something of a cross between two versions of the same story, and Wagner's own personal sensibilities (the stories being the Middle High German Nibelungenlied and the Scandinavian Völsunga saga) It is very likely that the two stories share a common origin. Both purportedly feature the Burgundian realm by the Rhine and feature Attila as a minor character (Etzel in the Nibelungenlied, Atle in the Scandinavian version).
Any later work that describes Circe as a "sorceress." In The Odyssey, she is a goddess (although presumably a minor one, since she lives on her island rather than on Olympus).
She is daughter of Helios, the Sun god, and Perse or Perseis, one of the thousands of daughters of the Titans Okeanos and Thetys, and thus the daughter of a major and a minor deity.
Pick any media where Anubis appears. The mistaken uses of Anubis as evil, tremendously powerful, or the chief god of death in the Egyptian pantheon are so rampant and constant that they qualify as perhaps one of the most egregious examples of Critical Research Failure in current culture. To be specific: Anubis was the guardian of the resting places of the dead, and the judge of dead souls. These were his only roles, making him a minor deity in the everyday life of the egyptians, but more important when it came to death, which the Egyptians were morbidly obsessed with - hence he appears all over their tombs and therefore has become very recognizable. The chief deity of the dead was Osiris, and nothing to do with death was inherently evil. In actuality, given his role as guardian Anubis could be considered one of the more benevolent deities of the Egyptian pantheon, so long as you don't mess with his charges.
An interesting aversion was the Disney's Gargoyles cartoon. Anubis makes an appearance, and has to repeatedly point out that he isn't good or evil. He does what he does, which was, in the Gargoyles universe, wielding power over who lives and who dies, but that power was applied indiscriminately. Though surprising for a Disney cartoon aimed more or less at younger viewers, it wasn't all that odd for Gargoyles to try and make a point like death isn't inherently good or evil.
Age of Mythology averts this. Anubis appears as a minor god, and isn't so much as mentioned by name in the campaign. The Guardian Statue that appears briefly, bears some resemblance to him, and the protagonist's former archnemesis, who appears in two flashbacks, where he's killed, dressed like his followers, but that sums up all references made to him in the story. The god of the dead is Osiris, and he's on the heroes' side. The God of Evil who aids the villains is Set.
Another interesting quasi-aversion is Stargate SG-1. While the semi-AscendedGoa'uld Anubis is in fact evil—indeed, the Big Bad, and a pretty scary one at that—Anubis is simply the worst of a bad bunch, all of whom pose as ancient gods, and all of whom are evil (except for the Tok'rarebels, of course), regardless of the alignment of the mythological gods: Heru'ur, another antagonist, is a stand in for the unambiguously-good Horus; the same goes for Ba'al (who is unquestionably evil before his Character Development and Enemy Mine). To the writers' credit, they have DanielJackson occasionally try to remind us that the Anubis the Egyptians believed in was not evil.
It's important to point out that Egyptian beliefs differed from nome to nome, and suffered MASSIVE retcons as time went by. Anubis was originally the God of the Underworld, but when the cult of Osiris (who was originally a water deity) rose to prominence, they retconned Anubis as the Embalmer. They did the same thing to Horus and Set, who were the guardians of Ra's solar barge, and turned them into Osiris' son and evil brother. Mythology marches on.
Just about every Western work with Kali (the Hindu night-goddess) in it. Mostly this is due to exaggerated stories about the Thuggee cult and general Western misunderstanding of Hindu deities. Several Hindu deities assume terrifying forms to slay demons. One Hindu writer tried to explain this idea by saying that Kali can be like a cherished watchdog: to you, the dog will be cuddly and loving and a great friend, but furious and dangerous to anyone they think might harm you. Moreover, Kali's chopping off of heads symbolizes her chopping off bad thoughts and inflated egos, and her chopping off of hands symbolises her cutting off bad deeds.
Strangely enough, World Wrestling Entertainment has been doing their part to correct this misconception (albeit unintentionally) by crafting a Heel-Face Turn for the Punjabi wrestler "The Great Khali" in 2008 and having him fight Kane, who is literally known as "The Devil's Favorite Demon."
While he is often treated as a Buddha (a person who attained enlightenment), and sometimes as an incarnation of Maitreya, many depictions of Budai (also nicknamed the Laughing Buddha) usually by people with little to no knowledge of Buddhism, will treat him as THE Buddha, the deity Buddhists worship. In reality, the Buddha (Siddharta Gautama) is not worshiped as a deity at all, but rather revered for his wisdom and as an example of enlightenment.
An apocalypse is simply knowledge acquired, or a revelation if roughly translated. If talking of the Apocalypse from The Book of Revelation specifically, then that's supposed to be the end of the world and any so called Postapocalyptic setting that takes place where it happened is sadly mythtaken.
On that note, "Armageddon" properly refers to the place of a battle during the end of the world, not to the end of the world itself. The name means Mount Megiddo, a place in Israel inhabited from 7000 BC to 586 BC, with the area resettled by a kibbutz in 1949 AD.
Whoever started the idea that the Maya calendar predicts an apocalypse in 2012 did not do the research. 2012 is the umpteenth anniversary of the creation of the universe in the Maya calendar, the end of one bak'tun (394.25 years) and beginning of the next one. It has nothing to do with the world ending. If ancient Maya calendars stop at 2012, it's because it was still a long way off and they weren't trying to create an infinitely long calendar.
Modern depictions of Classical Mythology usually make the Titans a species of Giant. But in the original Greek myths the Titans are all gods, not Giants. Only in the last years of Classical antiquity did writers start getting them confused with the Giants, because both fought wars against the Olympian gods, and both were defeated. In fact some Greek gods, including some with significant worship such as Rhea and Hecate, were considered Titans who sided with Zeus in his war against the other Titans. The sun god Helios and moon goddess Selene are also Titans.
The notion of "foo dogs" is a Western misconception, based on the mis-identification of Chinese guardian lion spirits' statues as canine. The existence of several Asian dog breeds that were named for, and bred to resemble, such divine leonine protectors has only exacerbated the misconception.
Aztec lore and mythology often gets this treatment as well, and the guy who gets the brunt of it is poor Quetzalcoatl. Many works of fiction have depicted Quetzalcoatl as an evil being, when in reality he is the most merciful and bloodless member of the entire pantheon. His sacrifice demands included such things as tortillas, butterflies, birds and snakes. One wonders why someone wouldn't just use one of their gods who actually did demand human sacrifice.
The whole sacrifice angle seems to have put a black mark on the Aztec pantheon as a whole, but in their religion there was a very good reason for it. Without sacrifices, the gods would lose their strength. Without it, they would be unable to keep the tzitzimime, star daemons, from descending upon the world and tearing it apart. Then the whole Universe would go kaput. In their eyes, sacrifice was for a noble cause (The Aztecs were just far more enthusiastic about the amount of people they sacrificed in contrast to their neighboring societies).
Part of the misconceptions may also be due to the demonization and simplification of the gods by European invaders. Aztec deities were by no means "evil". All of them had good and bad traits. Even the gods of war and darkness governed vital aspects of the world that could be considered good, such as courage and the sun. The good gods have had their petty, jealous and occasionally cruel moments as well.
An extremely common misconception is that Charon ferries the dead over the Styx. In fact, it is the Acheron (which is, incidentally, an actual river in Greece) that serves as the "border" between our world and the Underworld.
Dungeons & Dragons does this quite often, usually because it runs on what's fun, interesting, and useful rather than what's accurate (especially since, given these are other worlds, they can take refuge in In Name Only).
D&D has angelic beings known as Asuras and Devas. Both of which are the names of benevolent spirits... But in different cultures (Iran and India respectively) both which use a variant of the OTHER name for a class of EVIL spirits.
The angels themselves lack faces, at least in 4th edition, where Devas are metal-skinned humanoids with hundreds of past lives.
There is a monster called a Medusa, which is ye olde snake-headed woman; in the original mythology, Medusa was an individual's name, and she and her sisters were collectively called Gorgons. D&D has creatures called "gorgons," but the mythic creature they most closely resemble is the catoblepas.
And the catoblepas is a completely different creature that looks like a cross between a warthog and an apatosaurus.
Tiamat, the goddess of evil dragons, is named after the Babylonian figure that — despite being the mother of dragons and serpents, as well as most other creatures — never had a serpentine appearance, much less that of a multi-headed dragon.
Although this specific depiction was invented by Dungeons and Dragons, and helped popularize the idea that she's a dragon, the idea of her as a dragon or sea serpent does predate Dungeons and Dragons. It mostly owes to the specific mention of her as the mother of dragons and sea serpents in the Enuma Elish — but this was just because she was generally the mother of monsters.
The writers of The Real Ghostbusters had one Mesopotamian-mythology-themed episode in which Marduk fights against Tiamat—and Tiamat had the form of a five-headed dragon! It's unlikely (but conceivable) that this was a Dungeons & Dragons reference as such; more likely, someone was familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons version of Tiamat and thought that the idea of Tiamat having five heads was authentically a part of the historical Mesopotamian version of the deity.
Tiamat of the Sumerians and later Babylonians is often conflated with the Ugaritic god Lotan (in The Bible, God defeats both of them). Lotan was in fact depicted to be a multi-headed dragon and sea god, who was defeated by Baal Hadad.
Bahamut, the benevolent god of good dragons, is similarly named for the giant fish/whale/turtle (depends who you ask) of Arabian myth, which carries the world on its back. Think 'Behemoth'.
Some people have also been getting angry at Final Fantasy for spreading the image that Bahamut was a dragon. Lies. Bahamut's been listed as a benevolent dragon in Dungeons and dragons canon since the 70s - Final Fantasy was just based off of Dungeons & Dragons second edition.
A minor interesting note, though, is that some time ago, D&D added a character named Kuyutha, Exarch of Bahamut (his champion of sorts), whose name is based on Kujata, the giant bull who rests on top of Arabian Bahamut.
The lamia is a monster that, depending on the edition, is: a woman's upper body with a snake's tail instead of legs; a female lion-taur; or a woman who can turn into a swarm of insects a la the Mummy. In Greek mythology, Lamia was a woman transformed into a child-killing demon, and later a whole class of quasi-vampiric spirits were called lamiae (singular lamia).
Lamia also got confused with the Kabbalistic Lillith, a different child-killing demon, at some point.
Just to keep score, the snake-woman's real name is "Echidna," the liontaur is "Urmahlullu," and the swarm-shifter is "Totally Awesome."
In fact, D&D ended up wielding this trope against itself. In the first edition of AD&D, the demons didn't have species names; they were simply "Type III Demon," "Type VI Demon," and so on, in order of increasing power. Balor, Vrock, Marilith, and all those were the names of particular demons, samples (or possibly leaders) of their respective types. In the 2nd edition of the game, the given names had morphed over to be applied as species names of the entire Type, so all Type VI Demons were now called Balors, etc., and the "Type ___" designations went by the wayside.
Speaking of the Fomorians... As of 4th Edition each Fomor has a cursed Evil Eye that gives them a magical power, but also a painful curse. This was originally a quality of only Balor, but it was too cool a concept not to apply to the whole race.
Changelings in D&D are humanoids that are part human and part doppelganger. Changelings in folklore are fairy children used as decoys for stolen babies. Magic: the Gathering has the same problem (using "changeling" to mean "a creature that changes").
Then there are kobolds. The name originally referred to a type of elf or brownie from Germanic folklore, usually found in a house, on a ship, or in a mine. It was applied to a race of small, dog-like, savage, cowardlyMooks. Then 3rd Edition came along and turned them reptilian (though they were scaly even back when they were dog-like), with possibly-true delusions of draconic relations. Then 3.5 and 4th Edition went and made those relations unequivocally real...
Don't forget that it depicts Odin and Apollo as Chaotic Good. Or that it gives Hercules and Thor high Wisdom scores. Or that Hephaestus has a base speed twice as high as a human's.
D&D is also responsible for re-perpetuating Hearn's confusion of the mujina with the noppera-bō.
An early Deities and Demigods features Lakota mythology. Suffice it to say, it is full of errors, many dealing with Character Alignment.
Scion has a deliberate example. In Judeo-Christian tradition, cherubim are the second-highest rank of angels. When Thoth used angelic ranks to classify the Hands of Aten (which locked their power levels), however, he used "cherubim" for the lowest rank. The reason? Ever since Raphael, humans have associated "cherub" with winged babies (which themselves are derived from the Greek Erotes), and so the idea has more resonance than "cherubim" as kick-ass angel warrior, trapping the Hands thus named in a weakened state.
The vampire clan of warrior-philosophers turned rebel-anarchists are the Brujah, derived from the Spanish word for "witch". While somewhat applicable, Brujah vampires have the most physically-based set of Disciplines (vampire powers); most other clans have far more overt mystical powers (e.g., the Tremere, the clan of vampire wizards, can actually throw fireballs).
Gilgul is a concept of reincarnation in Jewish Kabbalism, but in the Mage: The Ascension it refers to the most severe punishment among Awakened: the removal of a mage's reincarnated Avatar. It's almost like referring to extinguishing a flame as "The Ignition".
A few relating to the Tzimisce vampire clan of East European vampire sorcerers and Body Horror makers:
Vozhd is an old Slavonic word meaning "leader", but refers to giant, barn-sized Body Horror monstrosities the Tzimisce create by merging several dozen people or animals together.
Bogatyri was a term for a group of medieval Russian folk heroes, but in the Old World of Darkness refer to a race of blonde giants who served the Tzimisce.
Szlachta is a Polish word referring to a historic class of nobility, but refers to ghouls fleshcrafted by the Tzimisce into pure killing machines.
Tengu are depicted as street rats who care little for religion, and yamabushi are described as a type of oni that disguises itself as an evil tengu. A yamabushi is actually a type of hermit-monk in the Shugendo religion, also known as a shugenja. Tengu themselves generally appear in myth as exaggerated yamabushi, even more distant and spiritual than their human counterparts, with elements of The Trickster.
Shikigami are portrayed as a race of tiny rock-men skilled with improvised weapons. In Onmyodo a shikigami is any creature bound to a spellcaster as a servant, making it essentially identical to the Familiar of the wizard and sorcerer (but not witch) classes.
Played with in The Rainmaker, where Starbuck tells Lizzie the story of Melisande, wife of King Hamlet, who was "the fella who sailed around the ocean and brought back the Golden Fleece." Lizzie is quite aware that Starbuck is making up things as he goes, like the Con Man he is.
To give a few examples: the game claims Ragnarok will be between the Aesir and the Vanir (the original has the Aesir against the Jotuns), Surt was in frost-encased Jotunheim (when Surt was a fire giant), and makes Frey and Freya into Aesir (they're Vanir). Oh, and Odin has both eyes.
Even worse, in the original Japanese version, Frey and Freya's names were swapped. In either case Frey is female and doesn't really fit the mythological figure, but although Freya is an appropriate name for the chief goddess, it's not an appropriate name for a glorified gate guard.
In Heroes of Might and Magic, Nagas are portrayed as the Dungeons and Dragons monster, Mariliths. In fact, Nagas and Garudas are presented as Anthropomorphic monsters often. Garudas have actually been brought back to their origins because this ties better with the possibility that they might be Ancient Astronauts.
The third game also has "Gorgons" that are giant metallic bulls, just like in D&D.
In Final Fantasy, Shiva is a goddess of ice and snow and not the eight-armed male Hindu god of destruction. However, this mythtake is explainable: "Shiva" is a pun on the phonetically similar "Shiver" (ice, snow, shiver — get it?).
Revenant Wings plays around with this however in that there are 3 Shiva Summons. Shiva, Shivar, and Shivan. (Shiva, Darling Shiva, and Baby Shiva in the Japanese version) Shivar is male. (And Stated to be Shiva's Lover, while Shivan, again female, is her child)
Several Final Fantasies also mess with Celtic mythology for a bit, including summons such as Cú Chulainn and Máel Dúin. This gets somehwhat weird when it turns out Máel Dúin (or Maduin, or Madeen, depending on the translator) is actually important to the plot in FFVI and FFIX. (It gets even weirder when the only instance of the halfway correct translation of the character's name is a recurring random enemy called "Maelduin," who is a blind fish).
Then there's Odin and his steed Sleipnir, the latter of which keeps losing or gaining limbs with each interpretation. Odin himself always has both of his eyes, he has all of a sudden grown horns, and he is never found wielding his spear Gungnir, but rather the instant-kill sword Zantetsuken.
In most of his appearances, his summon does a die roll and on success it uses Zantetsuken ("Iron-Cutting Sword"), killing everything on the screen, and on failure uses Gungnir, which hits one random enemy for a fair amount of damage. Zantetsuken ("Iron-Cutting Sword") is a reference to Gram, given to Sigurd, broken, and when it was later reforged, it split the anvil in half.
In Final Fantasy VII at least, he only uses the spear against enemies immune to instant death, there's no die roll involved.
Final Fantasy VIII has the Guardian Force Quetzalcoatl (actually "Quezacotl" since there was only room for 9 letters), a bird-like Energy Being that shoots off lightning at foes. It was named after the Mesoamerican god whose name means "Feathered Serpent" and was the patron god of wisdom, knowledge, and the morning star.
In Final Fantasy XI Garuda is shown as another female deity when all research points to Garuda being male.
Probably more of a case of "Blind Idiot" Translation; earlier FF games are full of errors and oddities, Final Fantasy VII being no exception.
Bahamut is most famous for being the king of dragons in this series, and one of the most powerful summons ever. The actual Bahamut is a giant fish that supports the earth and has the head of a hippopotamus.
Titan is an earth elemental, the only connection to the original myth being the name of its attack: Gaia's Wrath. Which is probably a complete coincidence.
Gorgons are oxes wielding petrification breath, as opposed to snake haired ladies with petrifying gazes.
Succubi are... female vampires, as opposed to Horny Devils. Made even weirder when non-succubi female vampires appear in Order Of Ecclesia. Sometimes they do make reference to them attacking in someone's dreams or sleep, however.
Persephone is a demon maid if her description is anything to go by. In practice, she's a Ninja Maid. She's supposed to be Hades' wife...
According to the official Castlevania time line, Bram Stoker's Dracula is canon to the series. Except they base it more on the movie (wooden stake as opposed to a Bowie Knife), have Quincey Morris' son witness the death despite the fact that he didn't even exist in the book, and Dracula is necessary to be defeated every time he's resurrected, which can fit in with the movie, but NOT the book, where killing Dracula frees his soul. And even though its an Informed Attribute, he can apparently turn into a Wolf.
God of War does this with Greek mythology, generally making it Darker and Edgier while excising some of the squick. But, like the TV Hercules example above, it generally hits on the established personalities of the deities.
God of War makes an all-too common mistake modern adaptations of Greek myths often make (mainly due to Values Dissonance): depicting the Greek pantheon as ruthless tyrants who oppress and abuse humanity. The truth is that Greek myths were lighthearted, reflecting the general disposition of the people who invented them. The Darker and Edgier elements were first conceived in the dark ages.
Actually it's somewhat justified in the ending of the final game where it turns out all the gods, including Zeus, were infected by humanity's evils after Kratos opened Pandora's Box in the first game.
In Too Human, the Jormungandr is a type of massive war machine created by Ymir, of which only one survives to the time of the game. This is particularly jarring, as prior to this, the game gets a surprising amount of Norse mythology right, and most of the divergences were necessary to the altered setting, or to the story they wanted to tell.
For instance the Aesir are cyborg super soldiers who defend post-apocalyptic humanity from robotic "giants". But still resurrecting Baldr during the Fimbulwinter instead of after Ragnarok is new.
The final boss of Breath of Fire I is Tyr, the antithesis to the Dragon clan... an evil she-demon, with dragon like powers... Tyr, however, was the Norse god of single combat, victory, and heroic glory. He also had his hand bitten off by Fenrir when they tricked the wolf into allowing himself to be chained. This may have been an attempted Woolseyism: her Japanese name (Myria) doesn't seem to be a reference to anything.
Except, of course, to myriad, which could be a reference to the demon called Legion, for he is many.
There is actually a male Skadi in Nordic myth; they're just very, very obscure. The Wrath character could have been named for them.
Wrath Of The Lich King is full of Nordic mythology counterparts, but they generally get it right. Freya (fertility) as a guardian of nature, Loken is a trickster, and so on.
World of Warcraft also uses a large amount of monsters inspired by D&D, which in turn are often named after various mythological beaings but have very little resemblance with the orginal stories.
Devil May Cry. Beowulf, the hero of the Geats in the old English poem, is actually a dog-demon thing that becomes gauntlets and greaves that glow with light in this series. Geryon, the monster from Greek mythology said to be a giant with human heads, and then later described in the Divine Comedy as a winged beast with the tail of a scorpion but the face of a man, is really a horse-drawn carriage.
It's been suggested this is a case of the names being swapped through mistranslation: Beowulf shares a few characteristics with the Geryon described in Divine Comedy (he has a small scorpion-like tail), and Geryon is described as being a steed to noble heroes, possibly the Beowulf from the poem.
On the other hand, the original game hits close to accurate with Alastor, a sword found impaled into a statue of the Judge of Death: in demonology, Alastor is the name given to the supreme arbiter of the court of Hell. Or, alternately, Hell's chief Executioner. Furthermore Alastor is a Greek term for "avenger", notably both a title given to Zeus and the name of a man executed by Zeus, which would explain the lightning attacks in the game.
Also, Beowulf's name and design really make no sense at all when you discover where his likeness came from. His original inspiration was almost certainly Pazuzu, a Babylonian demon of disease, who literally looks exactly like Beowulf. Scorpion tail? Check. Two pairs of wings? Check. Claws on the feet and hands? Check. The face of a dog? Check. Yet despite all of this, they name him Beowulf, and call him a demon of light.
It's interesting with the weapon Ifrit. The weapon gives you control over fire, in addition to increasing your physical strength. Ifrit were known to be very extremely physically strong, and were considered to be demons, but the fire doesn't really fit unless it was a reference to One Thousand and One Nights, where an Ifrit turns itself into fire when confronting a woman, only to be reduced to ashes as a result. Fridge Brilliance sets in when you realize that it was attempting to inflict the same fate on Dante by possessing him, but since he is, well, Dante, he's able to resist it, and control it himself.
Naming a succubus Nevan really doesn't make sense at all.
Shin Megami Tensei, pretty much in every single one of its numerous incarnations, does this to some extent. However, they're generally excused for their creative license for the sheer amount they get right, especially given the prevalence of this trope. As the massive bibliographies for the games included in some of the Japanese-only companion books clearly indicate, this is not so much a mistake as Rule of Cool. Rather disappointingly, though, especially with its traditionally major role in the franchise, Cerberus remains some sort of lion-wolf with only one head in all but three games, due to its portrayal in the original Digital Devil Saga novels and anime from which the video games took off.
As an example of minor deviancies, Metatron is adorned with crosses despite not being in Christian canon. Many games also mistake the Zhu Que or Suzaku with Feng Huang.
Darksiders: can top any of the above for bizarre portrayal of Tiamat — at least the "dragon" bit has some basis from misreadings of the Enuma Elish and confusion with Lotan. In Darksiders, Tiamat is a giant bat monster.
That's only the tip of the iceberg as far as Darksiders is concerned. For a game that is obstentially based off of The Book of Revelation, it bears very little resemblance to it.
There's a small amount of justification, in the implications that Man's knowledge of Armageddon is either fragmented, misconstrued or outright lies, and to top it all off, the ACTUAL plan for Armageddon has been thrown completely out of whack as part of the Big Bad's scheme, so even if mankind knew all of the original concept it would STILL be wrong!
The Battle of Olympus isn't as bad as some examples on this page (apart from the necessary change of having Orpheus fight monsters that were killed by other heroes in the actual myths, and placing some creatures and characters in the wrong locations), but still has a few clangers. Gaia is depicted as a sexless-looking, hostile golem, rather than the goddess of the Earth. On a smaller scale, Orpheus' love interest is renamed Helene (Eurydice who?), the Hydra has only one head, Prometheus is guarded by the Nemean Lion rather than savaged by an eagle, and Circe is depicted as an old crone instead of The Vamp. Hades is the Big Bad, but that's somewhat justified by his kidnapping of Helene being modelled on that of Persephone in the myth.
Golden Sun doesn't even bother with accuracy, as many of the summon names were pretty obviously assigned based on what sounded cool. Possibly justified — it's emphatically not set in our world, and it may be some figures of their world just so happen to have the same name as ours, despite widely different roles.
Boreas, minor Greek god of the north wind, is a giant snow-cone machine in the Golden Sun universe. That is all.
Until Dark Dawn, in which he became a giant, literal Iron Horse. Wait, what?
Only thing they got right about Boreas is that it is the wind the brings winter, fitting the ice theme.
Ramses is a ridiculous giant head with even more ridiculous floating fists.
Perhaps the most hilarious example occurs with the summon Neptune (derived from the Roman name for the god of the sea, Neptunus). At certain point in Golden Sun: The Lost Age, you fight a boss named Poseidon, which is the same entity only now under its Greek name. You can technically have the summon attack itself.
Never mind that the Neptune summon is a giant whale with a Wave Motion Gun for a blowhole.
Coatlicue, the devouring Aztec goddess with snakes for head and clothing, a statue of whom was allegedly excavated by archaeologists who were so disgusted by it that they immediately buried it again, is a Magical Girl who pours Water of Life to heal your party.
Dark Dawn does change the Horny Viking Thor's beard from blonde to red at least. He swaps out his hammer for a giant turbo fan in the process though.
Kid Icarus. The queen of the underworld is Medusa, Pluton is a common enemy that steals your weapons, Pandora is a giant soap bubble and goddess of calamity and deceit, and Tanatos is a snake that lives in Medusa's hair.
Kid Icarus: Uprising either fixes these, changes them, or plays them for laughs. Palutena herself is supposed to be Pallas Athena, but is now pretty much a different character entirely (her most notable trait? She's a Troll). Hewdraw was supposed to be Hydra, but now is a flying 3 headed dragon with a Multiple Head Case, one of which has a british accent. Tanatos decides to add the much needed "h" into his name, stating it's for "Hamaaaaazing!", and is explained to be a shapeshifter, with his original role of God of Death intact. Medusa is brought closer in line with the original myth, being cursed to take a monsterous form by Palutena for her vanity, she still has snake hair but is less monsterous since her return. She still has the face of a monster and her head can detach itself from the body, and after she dies its revealed she was not the queen of the underworld at all. Its Hades, who just used her as a distraction.
Pit himself is an angel, despite the fact that there are none in Greek Mythology. He's actually closer to a cupid due to his use of bows, and has been depicted as shooting heart arrows at times. Uprising plays with this by keeping the fact that he's an angel, and then making the Angel Bow shoot hearts to keep the discrepency up.
Of course, the game gets its name from Icarus, who was not an angel, but a human whose wings were made of wood, feathers, and wax and attached to his arms. In the myth, Icarus flew too close to the sun, causing the wax in the wings to melt, and then he fell to his death. Conversly in the original game, Pit's wings were generally useless, but he shared his mythological namesake's tendency to fall to his death.
One of the bonus shorts that promoted the game had Thanatos attack humans with Trojan Horses, except they were clearly horse shaped wooden AT-ATs.
The Grim Reaper is a race, called Reapers. And they're evil. They don't bring death (though they can), but rather harvest souls of the dead, presumably for use by the malevolent underworld gods.
Two high end level magic spells (only found in two special MagicWands) in Shining Force III where Tiamat (shaped like a technicolour dragon) and Thanatos (who took the form of a giant shimmering purple giant that attacking by swirling tentacles at foes).
In the first Tomb Raider game, Lara enters a room labelled "Thor" in an ancient temple complex in Greece and has to deal with smashing hammers. This was acknowledged by the creative team and corrected to "Hephaestus" in Tomb Raider: Anniversary
In Jet Dream, Athena appears before Harmony to deliver cryptic clues in the fashion of the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart in DC Comics' The Haunted Tank feature. And also to show Harmony new outfits designed by her readers. The supposed writer of Jet Dream identifies Athena not as the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare, but as a "ghost-girl warrior of olden times."
Lampshaded and averted in Spinnerette , when Heather asks her roomate Sahira (who is hindu) why she hasn't likened her to a Hindu goddesses (since she has six arms), Sahira laughs it off and tells her she only bears the most superficial resemblance to a Hindu Goddess, and it would be like saying she looks like Jesus because she grew a beard.
Ennesby: The reverend offers a tutorial on mythological and religious metaphors you might be interested in.
Kevyn: Yea, though I waltz through the valley of the chattering death...
Erotic works in the furry fandom sometimes use part-animal gods as sex symbols, regardless of how much sense it would make (although Zeus was famous for shape shifting and then having sex, so this isn't anything new). Anubis: Dark Desires, an erotic comic book anthology, is a prime example. Except, weirdly enough, apart from the erotic aspect, those stories remain fairly true to the mythology.
ZEUS: Well, technically, our parents were the Titans, but your hellrobes don't go too well with my sparkle armor, so maybe that counts.
Pandora's Box in Danny Phantom. For one thing, it turned Pandora into a Badass supernatural being who guards the Box from being opened. In the actual myth, Pandora is the first woman in the world, and she opens the Box because she can't resist the Schmuck Bait.
Gargoyles portrayal of most mythic beings, for example Sleipnir having four legs instead of eight. However Gargoyles does not claim to represent the myths, but rather the "real" events that evolved into the myths, so this is mostly deliberate. The various gods and such were clearly presented as being related to The Fair Folk of European folklore, in keeping with the show's world-spanning Crossover Cosmology. And not everything is different from the myths: for example, Anubis is quite neutral and emphatic about his nonpartisan role, not evil as in many modern stories. Also, the series' co-creator has explained that the error involving Sleipnir's legs was due to the animation company being unable to animate an eight-legged horse, and presenting him as a four-legged one was better than not having him at all, or just using crappy animation. He stated he would've greatly preferred an eight-legged horse, but had no choice. So, he hand waves as best he can in his mind: like all the other Third Race, the horse is also a shapeshifter.
Kim Possible repeats the usual error in making Anubis a demonic figure of menace instead of a sedate guide.
Mummies Alive! did this with Egyptian mythology in so many ways: Egyptians believing in reincarnation, Ancient Egyptian deities behaving more like rogue mystic entities behaving loosely like their mythological namesakes (when Anubis, god of the dead, is portrayed as a moronic entity with a dog motif, you know it's bad).
When Anubis is portrayed as god of the dead, or god of death, you also know it's bad. That role belonged to Osiris; Anubis was a very minor god of embalment.
An episode of Tutenstein has Set trap Ra for Apep — he'd never actually do this, as Set and Apep are mortal enemies and Set has the role of fighting Apep off during Ra's journey through the underworld during the night. (This is sometimes believed to be The Artifact of an earlier role of Set as a positive chaotic figure, opposed to Apep's negative chaotic aspect — others argue that it's just a mythological instance of Summon Bigger Fish) The show actually lampshades this, however.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic uses "Alicorn" to refer to the winged unicorn who act as royals. While far from the first to make this error (See "Literature" above), it became the most popular, causing no shortage of people familiar with mythology to tear their hair.
In an odd inversion, it's well-known amongst the fanbase that "alicorn" does not refer to a winged unicorn but a horn's material. Fans ignore it and use "alicorn" anyway, to the point where it's become Ascended Fanon. Prior to Friendship Is Magic fans often used "unipeg" or just "winged unicorn" to refer to such ponies.
Daedalus was a skilled and cunning craftsman in Greek Mythology, not the flying sorcerer who's only motivation is The Evulz that The Mighty Hercules would have you believe.
Fairly common in the Scooby-Doo franchise, sometimes justified by the purveyors of the Scooby-Doo Hoax Of The Week being ignorant about the legends they're emulating.