A Cargo Cult is a group of people worshiping, by way of imitative ritual, some misunderstood object as a deity.
The name comes from a documented effect that World War II military forces had on natives of various South Pacific islands. Sixty years after the war, some tribes in Vanuatu are still building elaborate fake airfields and praying to idols shaped like DC-3 cargo planes.
There is a mythical character they call "John Frum", who they believe to be the source of their prosperity. Some anthropologists think this may have been the result of American soldiers introducing themselves as "John, from [America]".
Many Cargo Cults are distinguished by a mixture of native spiritual systems with elaborate economic rituals, as capitalism has come to replace military power as the force of the developed world that is most heavily felt in daily life. Such rituals have the aim of appropriating the perceived power of the symbols.
Cargo Cult can be a metaphor for superficial imitation of a process without basic understanding of its mechanism. Those South Pacific natives weren't worshiping cargo for nothing. They observed how military forces were constantly getting food and supplies without doing any actual (by their standards) work. The only explanation that made sense was "military activity is some kind of religious ritual rewarded by spiritual deities with all the goods". So, with the military forces gone, natives have tried to reproduce the rituals - that includes imitation landing strips, wooden radio towers, coconut headphones and body paintings in the form of military insignias. The metaphor originally was coined by Richard Feynman, who used it in the phrase "cargo cult science".
Compare Mighty Whitey and Insufficiently Advanced Alien. Contrast with Sufficiently Advanced Alien. If the society worshiping the religion is post-apocalyptic, try All Hail the Great God Mickey! If the religion worships technology itself rather than as a means to an end, you have a case of Machine Worship.
Note: This trope is for objects being worshiped. If characters pretend to be, or are just mistaken for gods, the trope is God Guise.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann had an underground village that worshiped Agodego, a "face-God", a Gunman that had fallen into the village long ago. At the end of the episode, it was revealed that Magin the high priest knew what it really was, and only used the religion to help enact the harsh rules that were vital for Adai's survival. He ends up saving the day when a Beastman attacked the village and was fighting Gurren Lagann to a standstill, when Magin piloted Agodego and threw the enemy's Gunman into a deeper cave that was sealed off by it..
- In Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the atomic-powered, biomechanical Humongous Mecha are refered to as "God Warriors", and the Master Computer that's been running things behind the scenes has a cult that worships it.
- In one of the episodes of the first season of Vandread, the Nirvana crew descends upon an aquatic planet who mistakes them for their "God". They don't mind when the crew mentioned that they weren't Gods, but they do mind when the aforementioned crew was "hurting their true Gods". The Gods that they refer to? The machinelike Harvesters, the same ones that the Nirvana crew have been fighting for at least 5 episodes, who came there for the people's spinal cords (which they knew and willingly offered as part of the religion).
- One of Kino's journeys takes her to a country calmly awaiting the imminent apocalypse, as foretold in their holy book of prophecies, which is revealed later in the same episode to actually be the stream-of-consciousness work of a great but grief-stricken poet whose mind snapped when his wife died in childbirth.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Setsuna takes his devotion to Gundams to almost Ave Machina levels, shown by his complete and utter awe when he first saw the 0 Gundam in action right after he declared there is no God, as well as his repeated declarations of "I am Gundam", meaning the complete submission to Celestial Being's ideals by becoming the very symbol of the eradication of conflict (that is, a Gundam). Based on his reaction to the works of Ali and the Trinity team, using a mobile suit even remotely similar in appearance to a Gundam to shed blood just for the hell of it borders on blasphemy to him - seeing that Setsuna is Kurdish and spent an unknown amount of time as a fanatical Child Soldier who killed his own parents in the name of God, he's capable of one hell of a devotion.
- In Attack on Titan, it is explicitly stated that humans built the three enormous walls keeping the titans out, yet there is still a religion worshipping the walls as gods and/or the work of gods. However, there is increasing evidence that the walls were in fact built by someone else, and the Wall Cult seems to know a lot more than they are letting on.
- Later chapters reveal there is a grain of truth in their words, but the atrocious, bloody history behind the 'miracles' has been completely whitewashed; the 'goddess' Ymir is real, but was merely a slave who accidentally discovered and merged with an eldritch symbiote that turned her into the first Titan. Then her master-husband used her to build the Eldian empire, and ultimately discarded her corpse to be eaten by their own children so the Eldian royal-bloods would have Titan-Shifting powers, which includes the king who ordered his Titan minions to literally form a stone wall with their latent powers, which was sculpted into its modern form by men. Then Eren takes control of Ymir and everything goes to hell as the wall explodes.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion has shades of this, especially SEELE. They refer to the creatures and events of the series in religious terms but their so-called "Angels" are actually pieces of alien biotechnology used to terraform planets (although since life on Earth was created by them they could be said to be gods of a sort). Their "Dead Sea Scrolls" are actually a poorly translated instruction manual.
- In Chapter 8 of Dr Stone Reboot Byakuya, the final panel shows a star sign being set up, as Rei's light signal does its annual appearance. The human survivors have noticed Rei's light signal, they just can't explain what it is.
- Captain America was worshiped by a tribe of Eskimos after WWII while he was still frozen in a block of Arctic ice. Part of why he eventually thawed was because Namor, furious at what he perceived to be the Eskimos' idiocy in their choice of religion, hurled Cap's ice block into the ocean, and the currents pulled it into warmer climes. A much later story had a young man of the tribe utterly bewildered that his grandfather still worshipped Captain America.
- The Tower King, a strip that ran in the British comic book Eagle, was set on an Earth that had collapsed into anarchy when a malfunctioning solar-powered satellite somehow bathed the Earth in radiation that made the production of electricity in any form impossible. A cult worshiping electricity set itself inside a power station, carefully maintaining the generators and pretending that electricity still existed.
- The citizens of the "Expanding Tiger Empire" in Kamandi worship a deactivated nuclear missile, referred to simply as the Warhead. They utter such oaths as "by the mighty Warhead!", etc.
- A nuclear weapons-worshipping civilisation turned up in one issue of the Dutch comic Storm.
- In the backstory of Jaune Arc, Lord of Hunger, after some spacers dump the Mask of Darth Nihilus into Remnant's atmosphere, the mask's container crash-lands near a monastery. The monk who finds the mask assumes it's a gift from the Brother Gods and converts his religious sect into a death cult centered around worshipping Nihilus's mask.
- Reimagined Enterprise: In "Ex Machina" the crew encounter a group who formed a cult around the Borg after their psychics intercepted a Borg transmission.
- A weird pseudo-following surfaced sometime in the Naruto universe over the Ninja Log, all stemming from one Crack Fic that fashioned an entire LOG RELIGION centering over "The Log". Originating on Fanfiction.net, it has since gone viral, with many, many different works either mentioning "The Log", hinting at the log, or even directly referencing the log.
- In the Judge Dredd fanfic Highway Don't Care the crazed inhabitants of the ruins of the Cedar Point amusement park worship "The Great Coaster" and use the slogans of the park "Ride On!" and "Thrills Connect" as religious mantras. The dour hero of the piece, Judge John Cornelius, appears as the anti-messiah "The One Without Fun" who heralds the coasterpocalypse via the destruction of the tea-cup ride.
- In the Pacific Rim fanfic Domovoi, there's an island in the Pacific whose natives worship the Jaegers, the Humongous Mecha who protect humanity from the Kaiju. Subverted when it turns out the Jaegers are alive after all, and at least one is not amused at being turned into a shrine.
- Mondo Cane: New Guinea tribesmen worship the cargo planes that land at Port Moresby, and build their own imitation runway, hoping to lure a cargo plane to land.
- In Men in Black II a race of tiny aliens living in a rental locker worship a watch that K left behind. When K retrieves this watch, J replaces it with his own, becoming a new deity for the locker people. They also treat a video rental card as if it were the Ten Commandments, interpreting the words in their own way. For example, "Be kind! Rewind!" is seen as "Reconcile your past in order to move into your future!" and "Two for one every Wednesday" means "Give twice as much as ye receive on our most sacred of days. Every Wednesday." Unfortunately, things start to get nasty with "Large adult entertainment section in the back."
- In Rango, the animals treat human artifacts like pipes this way for their "divine" ability to provide water in a desert. Verges on Humans Are Cthulhu at points.
- In Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Taylor uncovers a group of humans survived the apocalypse but had been turned into disfigured mutants. They worship an intact, unexploded bomb which they keep enshrined in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
- Depending on your interpretation of "object", the Ewoks bowing down to worship C-3PO in Return of the Jedi counts as this.
- The Nibiruans in the opening sequence of Star Trek Into Darkness begin worshipping the starship Enterprise after seeing it rise out of the water. In keeping with the Prime Directive, a big deal is made out of keeping the starship out of the view of the primitive Nibiruans who have "barely invented the wheel". Funnily enough, the name of the the primitive human-visitor-worshiping aliens seems to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to Nibiru, the home planet of alien visitors revered by Ancient Astronaut theorists.
- The Gods Must Be Crazy revolves around a Coke bottle thrown from an airplane into an African tribe, who see the bottle as this. Later becomes subverted when the elders see the bottle as an ill omen because everyone is fighting to use it, but they think their gods sent it to them by mistake (hence the title).
- Mad Max Franchise:
Slit: By my deeds I honor him, V8.
- Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome features an isolated tribe After the End who worships a jet airliner as their personal Mecca and its pilot, Captain Walker, as a God who will guide them to "Tomorrow-morrow Land"—that is, the world of skyscrapers and urban life that no longer exists.
- The fetishisation of V8 engines in Mad Max: Fury Road, seen when War Boys gather their steering wheels from an altar-like pile (Immortan Joe of course plays right into this, due to his God Guise).
- In Will Self's novel The Book of Dave, a contemporary London cab driver's diary has become a Holy Book five hundred years in the future, with savagely satiric results.
- Larry Niven and Steven Barnes:
- Dream Park, , features a virtual reality-enhanced live-action roleplaying session based around the real-world Cargo Cult.
- In the time travel mini-Game which the Sands brothers and Eviane play early in The Barsoom Project, the cave-dwelling young savages are actually the offspring of time travelers who got stranded as children. They grew up thinking of the chamber where their parents' non-functional time machine is located as "church", and go there to pray.
- Christopher Moore's Island of the Sequined Love Nun uses the WWII setup of cargo cults, with a tribe of natives who worship the pilot Vincent and his plane, the Sky Priestess.
- The Store-living Nomes in Terry Pratchett's Nomes Trilogy worship Arnold Bros (Est 1905), who built the Store. The Floridian Nomes in Wings worship Nassa, the god who makes clouds. The Nomes living on the streets of Blackbury seem to have been too busy trying to survive to come up with a religion, although the way they treat the Thing comes close.
- Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination has the Scientific People, the descendants of a research team that crashed in the asteroid belt, and whose rituals are built around the scientific paraphernalia of the ship.
- The Mystery of Death, AKA the Technologists of The Darksword Trilogy, fetishized technology into a spiritual belief system.
- Han Solo and the Lost Legacy featured a group of cargo cultists who were the descendants of the crew of the treasure-laden starship of an ancient warlord; they lived on a backwater planet for generations, maintaining sacred "landing fields" complete with mock-ups of spaceships and ritualized "communications procedures".
- In the third Empire from the Ashes book, the people of Pardal worship an ancient defense computer as the voice of God, using the "Holy Tongue" (the language of the former Fourth Imperium) to speak with it in such holy rituals as... "System Test"... and "High Fire Test". That same religion also condemns developing technology as heresy. Sean and crew get mistaken for Demons by the entire population and later for Angels (and their champions) by the rebels.
- The short story "Assumption" (scroll down) by Desmond Warzel features a literal Cargo Cult (in that they worship an actual piece of cargo), but eventually becomes a God Guise — a person becomes an object of religious awe because of her advanced technology (she descends from the sky).
- The 1984 book Interstellar Pig by William Sleator featured a small spherical object with a face — referred to as the "Pig" — which was highly sought-after by several species. At least one, an all-consuming Hive Mind ooze called the "lichen", believed it was a god of some sort that would bestow upon them eternal wisdom. Of course it turns out that it's more like the Winslow than anything else — an incredibly annoying embodiment of ADHD that uses its reputation as an object of great power (religious or otherwise) to planet-hop like some kind of obnoxious freeloading tourist.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars novel The Master Mind of Mars. In the Martian city of Phundahl, the idol of the god Tur has a system of controls that allow the operator inside to control the idol's eyes and speak through its mouth. The protagonists use this to their advantage by pretending to be Tur and giving the Phundahlians instructions.
- Harry Harrison has a story where a man is sent to repair an ancient, Ragnarok Proof hyperspace beacon on a distant planet. It turns out the builders failed to notice a few stone age reptiles. Since then, the natives found the beacon (a huge tower), and made it a holy shrine (it produced an endless spring of water as part of its coolant system). One of the priests, while cleaning inside, hit the emergency shutdown switch. The protagonist pretends to be a sentry of heaven, sent to restore the spring. After he finishes the repairs, the reptiles attempt to keep him in as a permanent caretaker — in response, he claims the heaven is angry enough to forbid entry into the tower altogether (reinforced by him welding the door shut).
- Doctor Who Expanded Universe: In the novel Night of the Humans, the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond find themselves on a giant space junkyard in the year 250,339. They find a primitive group of humans living in the shadow of the Tower of Gobo, the hulk of a spaceship of the Gobo Corporation (or Gobocorp) that crashed there thousands of years ago. The humans are the descendants of the surviving crewmembers, having regressed into savagery. They worship Gobo, the clown mascot of Gobocorp proudly painted on the side of the ship, as their deity, believing him to have created them on Earth and who will eventually take them away to the mythical land of El Paso. The latter they got from a broken projector showing westerns with no sound, or as they call them "Stories". It helps that Westerns usually have clearly-defined good guys and bad guys, allowing the humans to interpret the good guys as Gobo's children/apostles and the bad guys as the Bad, the enemy of Gobo. Anyone who disagrees with the teachings or claiming that the junkyard is not Earth is considered a heretic and put to death, as they must be the servants of the Bad. Being a holy shrine to them, the Tower is off-limits to all. Only once does the current leader send a "word-slinger" (the only person per generation who knows how to read) inside. The latter quickly loses his faith after discovering the ship logs.
- The novel The Silent Stars Go By has a fairly sensible cargo cult; the Not-Quite-Lost Colony view their terraforming manual (the "Guide Emanual") as holy writ, which in a sense it actually is. Thinking of anything that isn't in the manual, unfortunately, is "unguidely" and therefore an abomination.
- Jack London's short story 'The Red One' is about a terminally ill European explorer who discovers a Melanesian tribe that worships a gigantic and seemingly extraterrestrial red sphere embedded in a hidden crater.
- Played with in the science-fiction short story 'Hinterlands' by William Gibson; this time, it's humanity who are on the receiving end, and by the end of the book we're still no wiser as to how the whole thing works or why. The rule is that you must travel to a set point in space and release a radio-flare; if you do, you 'disappear' and come back after a lengthy period of time, either dead or insane, but carrying a random alien object that might be valuable. More than a little unsettling.
- Robert Sheckley has a short story about a primitive civilization, which remembers that in the past (over five thousand years ago), they used to be visited by gods all the time. Now there is a religion based around a system of elaborate rituals which are supposed to be performed for the arriving "gods". However, for the past three thousand years, there has been a debate about whether all the rituals must be performed as always, or perhaps a feast for the gods must be prepared first. The story is centered on the debate continuing in front of two starving "gods" The newer point of "feast first" wins out in the end, and seems to win completely once the "gods'" behavior shows how pleased they are with the food and drink offered.
- In Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite, the ship that brought the original colonists is still orbiting Geta, a bright light in the sky. The Getans don't know what it is, but they know their ancestors said it brought them to Geta, so they worship it as a God.
- In Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen, the Lemurians have Sky Priests who guide their massive home-ships through the sea by using sacred scrolls handed down to them for many generations. The Sky Priests don't let anybody else see the scrolls, as they're the only ones who can read their holy tongue. When the men from the USS Walker arrive on one of the home-ships, they quickly find out that the sacred scrolls are old charts written in Latin, left there by a man who came over centuries ago on an East Indiaman. While the Lemurians accept the truth when told, the Sky Priests still bristle whenever they see a chart openly displayed for anyone to see, especially since those charts are in English.
- HG Wells had a short story "Lord of the Dynamos" in which an African tribesman transplanted to England ends up a slave in a power-generating plant. His poor English and his boss's enthusiasm for machinery result in the tribesman worshipping the main dynamo. He ends up throwing his boss into it as an offering, and later martyring himself across a high-voltage cable.
- The Clive Cussler book The Storm features a cargo cult in the climax of the book, one formed when a damaged, out of control American cargo ship fleeing Japanese attack ran aground on the island. The natives still had in their possession the top secret superweapon entrusted to them by the injured American sailors, which the main character uses to rescue a hijacked artificial island.
- Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods postulates at great length that every religion on earth is a cargo cult based around aliens possessing hilariously outdated sufficiently advanced technology who visited earth once, taught humans how to do civilization for reasons that are never adequately explained, and then left. Von Däniken's even mentions the John Frum cult as an easier-to-swallow example of a similar thing happening... and then proceeds to miss the point of the analogy entirely by implying that the effigies must have been left by the aliens because the natives were too backwards and stupid to have built them themselves. Coincidentally, the book is the Trope Maker and Trope Namer for Ancient Astronauts.
- The Death Gate Cycle: This is what the religion of the dwarves/Gegs of Arianus boils down to. They were originally brought by the Sartan to serve the Kicksey-winsey, a continent-sized machine meant to supply Arianus with water and the other worlds with various goods, but since the Sartan vanished they have taken to literally worshiping the Sartan, whom they remember as the Mangers, and the machine itself, complete with priests known as clarks. This is something the elves exploited by pretending to be gods, getting the Gegs to give them the precious water in exchange for ships full of garbage and refuse that the Gegs think is treasure.
- Borgel: Many characters worship and respect the Great Popsicle. Justified, as the Great Popsicle is the godlike essence of pure love in the form of a popsicle.
- Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series:
- "The Mayors": The priest of the Foundation's "religion of science" have only a superficial understanding of the Foundation's technology. This religion was created by the scientists of Terminus for the neighboring kingdoms without explaining the scientific principles behind the equipment. It was the most convenient way to spread atomic technology to the Four Kingdoms who have regressed into barbarism (The Galactic Spirit Did It). This story has Mayor Hardin showing the citizens of Terminus that this Scam Religion gives them power over the people of these kingdoms, if not the rulers.
- "The Merchant Princes": The "tech-men" of Siwenna, a hereditary sect of engineers and technicians, learn the operation of their nuclear power stations by rote. When Mallow asks what would happen if he destroyed a vital component, his guide's nearly incoherent rage indicates that they cannot actually repair anything important.
- The Red Dwarf episode "Waiting For God":
- The race of humanoids that evolved from Lister's pet cat discovered his plan to move to Fiji (which they called Fuschal) and open a hot dog and doughnut stand, and built an entire religion around it. They near-obliterated themselves in a holy war over what colour the silly hats for the wait staff would be, and then the survivors left to search for Fuschal using star charts left behind by "Cloister" — the old laundry list used by Lister to line the original cat's bed. The colours fought over were red and blue. Lister, however, intended them to be green.
- In the novelization, the cats are waiting for "Cloister", who has been frozen in time, but will one day re-emerge to lead them to "Bearth". The other cats believe exactly the same thing, except he was called "Clister". Naturally, they nearly wipe out their own species in religious war, then leave to find the promised land.
- An episode of Star Trek: Voyager has Chakotay and Seven crash land on a planet inhabited by primitive humans. Their women begin to wear bones and salvaged electrical equipment on their faces to match Seven's Borg implants, while the men begin to copy Chakotay's tribal tattoo.
- Doctor Who
- Serial The Face of Evil has both the Tesh and the Sevateem do this, to different extents. Played with a bit in that they're worshiping their own technology, just from a different point in time.
- In "The Doctor's Daughter", the humans and Hath have both convinced themselves that reclaiming "the Source" and denying it to the other race is a holy mission, having long since forgotten it's just a terraforming device both sides were intended to activate together.
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- Episode "A Piece of the Action" has the natives of a planet building their entire society in mimicry of a book "Chicago Mobs of the Twenties" left behind accidentally by an earlier starship. An incredibly info-dense book, too, as the locals even copy the fashions, automotive styling, architecture, and firearm designs of 1920's America. At the end of the episode Bones suspects he may have left some Federation tech behind, and wonders aloud if the locals might trade up from being gangster fanboys to being, well, Trekkies.
- This was eventually handwaved in one of the Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch novels: The ship in question suffered from a major engine problem and the crew spent a long time stuck there while they patched it up, enlisting the help of the locals and running off translated copies of every science and engineering textbook in the ship's library by way of payment. A bit of dialogue as the crew depart hangs a lampshade on the fact that they were unusually quick to pick up skills but had a tendency to imitate rather than innovate, and then they have an Oh, Crap! moment when they realise what else they left behind.
- In the third episode of Andromeda the crew comes across a group of children/descendants of the Commonwealth who have survived the past 300 in isolation. They can't read so all information has been pasted down orally making military orders into a religion. When Dylan turns up he's mistaken for a God and struggles to stop the children from destroying their enemies with solar-system destroying bombs he inadvertently unlocked for them.
- Blake's 7:
- In "Deliverance", the descendants of an After the End society await a god from the skies with the knowledge to launch the rocket with genetic bank to start their race on another world. Avon is entirely willing to take on the role. Likely an Invoked Trope as the scientist who built the rocket was killed off, and the survivors would know that only aliens capable of interstellar travel would have the knowledge to repair it.
- In "Power", another After the End society decided to destroy all their technology and start again from the beginning. The Hypercompetent Sidekick of local chieftain Gunn Sar has found a Master Computer room they missed, that he uses to secretly keep things running for their barbarian descendants.
- Averted with the barbarian chieftain Chel in "Aftermath". His response to 'outsiders' is to Kill 'Em All, as the prophecies have foretold that they've come to destroy his people. Given the way the Federation acts, it's hard to blame him.
- An episode of Legends of Tomorrow has a temporal anomaly sending a Furby-like toy called Beebo to approximately 1000 AD into Vinland, the Viking colony in North America. Beebo is seen by them as something of a god, and its preprogrammed phrases (such as "Beebo is hungry") are interpreted as a call to war and conquest, resulting the Vikings conquering the entire continent (naming it New Valhalla) instead of abandoning the colony and going home. Oh, and Christmas is known as "Beebo Day" in the altered timeline.
- Tales of the Gold Monkey: In "Black Pearl", Nazi scientists are working on a prototype atomic bomb and are using the natives as slave labor to mine radioactive minerals. On seeing the Sickly Blue Glow, they bow down and start praying.
Arrogant Nazi Officer: The fools! They think it is the light of God.
Nazi Mad Scientist: It is!
- Logan's Run: In "Man Out of Time", the tribe living in the ruins of David Eakins' Archive stronghold, the Sanctuary Project, worship the buildings, computers and artifacts contained therein and do not even know how to read.
- The Twilight Zone (1959): In "The Old Man in the Cave", Major French tells Mr. Goldsmith that there is a cult in what used to be Chicago that worships a statue made of fissionable lead as its god.
- The Twilight Zone (1985): In "The Beacon", the people of Mellweather have worshipped a lighthouse called the Beacon for 200 years. They believe that it is controlled by the spirit of their collective ancestor Seth Janes.
- Referenced by name in a few songs by My Friend The Chocolate Cake. A prime example is an antagonistic variation in "The Weather Coast":
I tell you there's been rumblings of a cargo cult
High up in the hills
They lost their bearings months ago
Now they're searching for them still
- Blue Öyster Cult. Although it's not mentioned in any song, the own name of the band and the cover of the album "Fire of Unknown Origin" imply on, well... a cult regarding a blue oyster.
- In The Bible, it's just referred to as idolatry, which is worshiping manmade objects as God, which God is strongly against and even equates to being the same as adultery, which here is being unfaithful to God. Even objects that were made by godly people like Moses, such as the bronze serpent which cured people who were bitten by fiery serpents who looked at it, ended up being worshiped as a god unto itself by the time King Hezekiah of Judah became king. He destroyed it and called it Nehushtan ("a thing of bronze") to mock the Jews for their idiocy in worshiping a lifeless object.
- The Mage: The Awakening Sourcebook "Summoners" has strange, otherworldly beings which resemble an Uncanny Valley version of planes and can be summoned to drop powerful items down on the summoners.
- Call of Cthulhu adventure Glozel Est Authentique! by Theater of the Mind Enterprises. In the distant past the people who lived in Glozel, France interacted with Phoenician traders. When the traders stopped coming the people created tablets with Phoenician characters on them to try to bring them back.
- Sufficiently Advanced includes Cargo Cults as one of the types of civilizations PCs can come from. Due to the hectic far flung nature of the diaspora, and the insanely advanced science of most of the cultures cargo cults are incredibly common, and the PCs can end up dealing with them fairly often.
- Interestingly, the original premise for the game was entirely based around cargo cults, until the creator had a better idea.
- The Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting mentions a Cult of Entropy in the nation of Chessenta. This cult worshiped a giant, explicitly nonsentient sphere of annihilation (basically an artifact that disintegrates anything that touches it). A 4th edition issue of Dragon magazine retconned this cult into worshiping a primordial embodiment of chaos that had been trapped in the form of a sphere of annihilation.
- A variation occurs in Exalted; before the rise of the Guild, there were many people who worshiped the Order Conferring Trade Pattern (an ancient series of magical financial networks) based on the mistaken view that the Pattern functioned by directly converting prayer into fiscal prosperity. Most of those cults are long since defunct, having proven easy marks for Brem Marst when he needed the funds to start the Guild.
- In Warhammer 40,000, man's comprehension of technology has fallen so sharply that humans believe that all technological devices have spirits that have to be appeased through prayer and worship before they will work properly. Although this is something of a subversion, since it actually works. While parts of the rituals are implied to be unnecessary and can be skipped over in an emergency, they also include everything needed to actually build and maintain all of humanity's advanced technology. In the case of Titans and Land Raiders, which are at least partly sentient, even the worship can be necessary since it isn't a good idea to upset a 100 metre tall robot with enough firepower to wipe out entire armies.
- A non-Imperial example: the Orks of Bloodaxe Clan imitate Human uniforms and military paraphernalia, believing them to be extremely powerful magic charms. This includes Nobs sporting looted Commissar caps to increase their leadership skills, Stormboyz ordering attack patterns nobody but the Nob is actually familiar with (and generally just boil down to "yell and charge" anyway), and any number of Orks adorning their guns with off-center targeting sights that they don't actually use anyway.
- Hollow Earth Expedition, supplement Mysteries of the Hollow Earth. Cargo cultist tribes live by collecting items from the surface world that reach the Hollow Earth as flotsam and jetsam or inside beached ships or crashed airplanes. They worship the gods that they believe send them the items and even create "landing fields" to encourage them to send more.
- In Rocket Age some of the natives of Io, a ruined wasteland of a moon, have taken to worshiping the detritus left behind by Earthling explorers, who looked very much like gods to them with their gleaming Retro Rocket.
- A few are known to exist in the BattleTech universe: one short story shows a group of people living on a Periphery planet who, after being stranded there long enough to lose written language and all metalworking ability and thus reverting to Stone Age technology level start a new religion after one of their members sees a pair of Battlemechs fighting. There's also the infamous novel Far Country, in which a jumpship malfunction strands the passengers on a distant planet where they discover a species of primitive, bird-like aliens who worship the wreck of an old, abandoned mech.
- The quasi-religious organization The Word of Blake is derisively called "toaster worshipers" both in and out of universe as a reference to their obsession with Star League technology. They don't quite worship tech, but it's close.
- The Fallout series features the Brotherhood Of Steel, a post-apocalyptic military order with shades of a technology-worshiping cult. Their goal is to prevent the mistakes of the past and stop anyone from abusing advanced technology, but how they go about this depends on the location and time period. Some chapters work to prevent the misuse of technology while defending and developing communities as pseudo-feudal overlords, while other branches have become paranoid isolationists who hoard technology, will forcibly confiscate anything more sophisticated than a pipe rifle from any wastelanders they encounter, and are even willing to kill anyone that might share their knowledge with outsiders.
- Fallout 3 introduces the Children of Atom, a cult that worships the unexploded atomic bomb laying at the heart of the settlement of Megaton. The group is initially more of a pest than anything, since its preacher continuously rambles about Atom's holy Glow, but the Broken Steel add-on reveals a darker side to the group when a member starts tainting purified water with radiation in her efforts to bring Enlightenment to the rest of the Capital Wasteland. They get worse in Fallout 4, where most cult members are hostile enemies who attack anyone they see with Gamma Guns and Nuke Grenades, while one group even attempted to get into a pre-War missile silo to grab its warheads. The branch encountered in the Far Harbor DLC is so eager to experience the glory of Division that they're willing to commit mass suicide by detonating a nuclear missile in the sub pen they're based at. Fallout 3 also has Sudden Death Overtime, a hockey-themed Gang of Hats. They have a rather misguided idea of what ice hockey was actually like, and are convinced it was about "icegangs" like them duking it out in massive arenas.
- In the Old World Blues DLC for Fallout: New Vegas, the lobotomites of the Big Empty have created a shrine dedicated to toasters, of all things.
- Fallout Tactics also featured a cult of Ghouls worshiping a nuclear weapon as a God, which they named Plutonius.
- In Fallout 4, the denizens of Diamond City, constructed in the ruins of Fenway Park, have a nearly religious appreciation for "The Wall" that protects them from outside attacks. This was actually the name of the ballpark's "Green Monster" before it got its signature paint job in 1947.
- In The Outer Worlds, the people of Halcyon colony have Undying Loyalty in corporate brands even when the people in charge of these companies are totally incompetent and usually working against their interests. They pepper everyday conversation with company slogans and often insult and fight with fans of rival companies.
- Horizon Zero Dawn:
- It is revealed that the basis for the Nora Tribe's All-Mother is actually the door to a vault that only responded to Aloy's presence. Though this is also an unusual example, in that the tribe got surprisingly close to the truth. The original Nora were Raised by Robots, including one named Mother. The is also a true AI, GAIA, who was in charge of terraforming the world as well as re-seeding the first generation of new humans. The Nora had no way of knowing about GAIA, but their myths of the All-Mother and her defeat of the Metal Devil aren't particularly far off.
- The Carja's worship of the Sun is apparently based on an old astronomy textbook, and when they found a shining tower they declared it a sacred site. The tower is actually part of GAIA's subordinate function MINERVA, used to shut down the Faro Robots that had destroyed the world. They also have a Devil-figure called the "Buried Shadow" that is the opposite of the Sun, the other half of nature that is part of the cycle of the world. HADES, one of GAIA's rogue subordinate functions, pretends to be the Buried Shadow to manipulate them. Interestingly, the myth of the Buried Shadow sounds quite a lot like HADES before it went rogue, with all the talk about destroying the world so that it can be remade again.
- Project Eden has the earth people, who live on the ground (everybody else lives in a really tall skyscraper) and mentioned they would be scared to live so high up, in case they fell down like the rubbish they collect.
- The Covenant from Halo. In addition to worshiping the Forerunners as literal gods, the Covenant hold all technology created by them as holy, to the point where any attempt to even just try to better understand, much less improve or modify, any technology reverse-engineered from Forerunner ruins runs a big risk of being seen as heresynote .
- The native Nali in Unreal are a simple, agricultural race with at best medieval Earth-level of technology, believe the extraterrestrial artifacts are sacred relics for instance, they call the Skaarj rocket launcher "the Stick of Six Fires", which "came from the Nali water god when the star fell from the sky", and put it on a holy pedestal.
- In Avernum 3 you encounter a Cargo Cult that seems to worship random junk they've collected or stolen from various places. They do worship some valuable artifacts as well, but that doesn't make them any less deranged.
- The Elder Scrolls
- The Imga, a race of intelligent "ape folk" native to Valenwood, revere the Altmer (High Elves) as the portrait of their ideal and seek to emulate the Altmer in any way they can. This includes shaving off their fur, powdering their skin, using noble titles with no idea of their meaning, and acting condescending and haughty towards humans and non-elves. In-game literature describes the attempts as pitiful.
- The Rieklings, a race of diminutive blue-skinned humanoids native to Solstheim who somewhat resemble "ice goblins", are known to scavenge and hoard detritus from the more civilized races which they then "form a strange attachments" to and have even been witnessed worshiping these relics. These items include all manner of Vendor Trash, to weapons and armor, to the remains of a crashed experimental airship.
- WildStar has the Ascendancy, a cult of augmented beings obsessed with turning everyone else into cybernetic horrors like them. They see omniplasm and augmentation as a means to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence they assume the Eldan had gone to.
- Tomodachi Life: a dream one of your island's residents can have involves them and their neighbors marching around a massive random item and praising it like a god.
"All hail the Virtual Boy!"
- After the End: A Crusader Kings II Mod features several religions with cargo cult-like traits. The Rust Cultists and the Atomicists are the clearest, with the Rust Cult holding reverence for the technology of old and the Atomicists worshipping the power of the atom (as represented by, amongst other things, old nuclear reactors). The Americanists are mainly All Hail the Great God Mickey!, but aspects of this trope creep in in their veneration for the surviving 'holy' texts and monuments of the Founding Fathers. The Consumerists raise consumerism to a religion inspired by the remnants of old shopping malls, but don't actually exist until several years into the game.
- When information about an upcoming Splatfest is announced in Splatoon, it is represented as a message "from on-high" coming through an old 1990s fax machine with candles ceremonially placed around it. In the single-player campaign, the Sunken Scroll depicting the fax machine even has a vague metaphysical blurb on it. Word of God states the fax machine is receiving and printing out various mundane arguments that were transmitted into space thousands of years ago, and reflected back to Earth.
- In Destiny, the Vex, an already advanced and incomprehensible race of robots, came across the Black Heart - a fragment of the Darkness even more advanced and incomprehensible they they were. They saw no other option than to worship it. This was later explained in the Book of Sorrows to be a subversion; after they encountered the Hive and their Religion Is Magic powers they tried it themselves, then kept doing it because it worked.
- PlanetSide has the Vanu Sovereignty, a cult of scientists, cyborgs and other weirdos who have been "touched" by the technology of the lost Precursor who once dwelt on Auraxis and now wage war with the goal of "enlightening" the rest of humanity, whether they want to be enlightened or not. It's heavily implied that the artifacts themselves have brainwashed the cultists and are driving them to spread their creed to the other humans on the planet.
- In Guild Wars 2 the Grawl will often form religions based on old statues or rock formations which they think represent a god. This has included an abandoned shrine of Balthazar, a crystal meteorite from the Searing, and a statue of the Norn Jora.
- In Red vs. Blue, some of the Battle Creek Grunts, most notably the Red Zealot, appear to worship their respectively coloured flags.
- Done in The Order of the Stick, when Elan visits an island filled with primitive orcs. At first, they treat him like any other human... until he brings out Banjo, when they start bowing in supplication. That's right: the orcs thought that Elan's kooky hand-puppet was a God. Of course, Elan also thinks Banjo's a God. He's actually pretty stoked that someone else is acknowledging it, although he's not so happy that the orcs won't give Banjo back. Technically, Banjo probably is a God. Possibly the weakest god imaginable, but, somehow, divine nonetheless. This is due to OotS using the Gods Need Prayer Badly rules.
Durkon: But...but thar na real gods! Thar puppets! Cannae ya see tha thar just puppets?!?
Elan: The only way to settle this dispute between two gods is with a pie-eating contest!
Durkon: PUPPETS CANNAE EVEN EAT PIE!!!
*Elan begins to freak out*Roy: ... And because he's a puppet.Elan: Oh boy, you had me worried there.
- Banjo's existence as a newborn god is discussed as a way to thwart stage four by replacing the Dark One's Divine Quddity with Banjo's in the ritual to seal the Snarl forever, but ultimately dismissed by Roy due to Banjo's lack of experience and followers.
- Demon Fist: The "Holy Relics" turn out to be high-powered technology. Examples include a semiautomatic pistol, a sniper rifle, and a nanomachine-encoded Pandora's Spear. No word on whether or not magic is just Pandoran technology as well.
- There's an actual Cargo Cult webcomic about an uncontacted tribe in the Pacific Islands who saw WWII soldiers radioing for supplies, thought it was some kind of ancient ritual, and managed to combine tribal magics with airline protocols to cause a weatherstorm that knocked a commercial airplane out of flight and onto their landing strip.
- Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger uses this trope to deconstruct the Alien Non-Interference Clause. The ANIC of that universe, the "First Law", was designed to stop con men from making use of this trope on less civilized worlds, not, say, prevent an alien probe from eating people of that world because they didn't have Faster Than Light travel. A later comic put the ship's captain on trial and found him guilty of eight million counts of negligent homicide for that stunt.
- The Twitch Plays Pokémon community memetically considers the Helix Fossil a deity. Later runs would add to this, creating an entire pantheon of fossil gods.
- SCP Foundation:
- Google now has a church.
- Inglip is about several conflicting cults of 4chan bloggers who all worship the Word Salad human confirmation demands of the Catchphalog anti-spam plugin some websites use. It spat out "[name of deity] summoned" one day, and they began praying to these imaginary gods, using Catchpha to supposedly receive edicts from them (such as "Do Cracke" and ordering its followers to have an orgy by using an obscure word for "party").
- In the original Transformers cartoon, the second-season episode 'The God Gambit' has a tribe of Rubber-Forehead Aliens on the moon Titan worshiping a statue that looked vaguely Transformer-like. Then Cosmos crash-lands on the planet, and they start worshiping him instead. He is deactivated at the time. Then Astrotrain arrives, and starts taking advantage of all this nonsense.
- Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers:
- In "Kiwi's Big Adventure", a tribe of Kiwis worship the Ranger Plane as a deity and expect it to give them back their ability to fly.
- In "The Case of the Cola Cult", a large group of mice in tunics worship a soda brand.
- In the Jonny Quest episode "A Small Matter of Pygmies", a tribe of pygmies worships airplanes: they have have small statuettes of airplanes in the place where they perform human sacrifices.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: All hail the Magic Conch!
- Given a quick jab in Futurama, which references the Planet of the Apes films (see above).
Fry: You guys worship an unexploded nuclear bomb?!
Vyolet: Yeah, but nobody's that observant. It's mainly a Christmas and Easter thing.
- In Thunder Cats 2011 the Book of Omens is an Ancient Artifact, the singular source of history, mythology and theology for the Cats of the kingdom of Thundera. Lost for generations, Shrouded in Myth, Famed in Story and dogged by skepticism, it's reputed to be a Great Big Book of Everything, the source by which its kings orate their history, a Tome of Fate to the order of Clerics who maintain its Ancient Traditions, and a source of fascination to those who believe its tales of Lost Technology. Two of Thundera's best generals were sent questing for it for years, but when Thundera is invaded by ancient Outside-Context Problem Mumm-Ra, head Cleric Jaga reveals that it's definitely real, and sends young Prince Lion-O racing to find it before Mumm-Ra can. Once discovered it appears to be a Blank Book, but is actually a Magitek computer that will reveal the key to defeating Mumm-Ra.
- In Rocko's Modern Life Heffer joins a cult that worships sausage.
- Taz-Mania: In "The Bushrats Must Be Crazy", the Bushrats start worshiping Jake's rubber duck.
- Similar to the example mentioned under Comics, in Batman: The Brave and the Bold features a group of humanoid tigers that worship a still-active nuclear warhead, referring to it by the letters painted on the side; "ICBM". The Joker, when traveling to said future, invoked the old "What does this button do?" gag, promptly blowing the planet to smithereens.
- In the episode "What Goes Down Must Come Up" of The Venture Bros., a group of orphans forgotten in a fallout shelter base a society and religion on a learning bed that plays fragments of educational videos about hygiene made by Jonas Venture for his son Rusty (and also on VH1 Classic). This gets complicated when the real, grown-up Rusty stumbles upon them and unplugs the bed. For bonus points, they also worship a nuke, but... oddly...
Cultist: He tuned Father out!
Rusty: Yes, I killed your God. Oooooo!
- Catdog features this. When the titular conjoined duo get stranded on an island surrounded by constantly speeding cars that inexplicably keep racing in a circle around the island, Cat crafts a God out of an old tire and some planks of wood. He prays to be told what to do and begins to hallucinate. The face that appears is that of a demonic looking panther with glowing red eyes. Its advice?:"eat each other."
- The animated short film Blind Eye follows two children who escape from an underground cult that worships a giant eye. Once they escape and reunite with their grandmother, they learn the supposed giant eye was really a small hole in the ground, and now their fellow escapees are blindly worshipping a new giant eye, which is actually the sun.
- As mentioned in the description, the John Frum cults. Frum himself is a sort of amalgamation of Uncle Sam, Santa Claus, and John the Baptist; the name is believed to be a corruption of "John from America", though another theory holds that it's based on a letter "from John". They believe he will return on a February 15th, celebrated each year as John Frum day. In some circles, John Frum is considered to be Prince Phillip's brother. A National Geographic reporter asked a John Frum cult leader how he could still keep a cargo cult going despite the modernizations that have come to his island. The leader replied "We've only been waiting for our prophet for 60 years. You've been waiting for 2,000."
- There's a (thankfully small) cult in Russia that worships Gadget Hackwrench. Seriously. So the next time you encounter a bit of Fan Dumb, just think of this group and realize that it could be worse.
- In pagan, medieval and Early Modern Europe (and also in North America) 'thunderstones' were occasionally unearthed: peculiar looking stones that were thought to be literally fallen thunder. They were believed to have magical properties due to being associated with thunder gods, and were used in amulets and other magic. In Scandinavia they might even be worshipped as household gods. As it turns out, the people who found these stones were half right in believing there was no way the stones could look this way through nature; while some of them were likely fossils, many of these weird stones were indeed not natural: they were neolithic stone tools.
- Among the Waghi tribe of Papua New Guinea, warriors paint their shields with the symbols of animals whose traits they wish to emulate in battle. When they first made contact with Western civilization during World War II, some American soldiers introduced them to the stories of The Phantom. The jungle-dwelling, Badass Normal masked hero became so popular among the Waghi that some warriors began painting the Phantom's face on their shields as a symbol of good luck.
- The Kastom people of Tanna, Vanuatu, had a myth about a deity who had traveled to a distant land and married a powerful woman. So, when Queen Elizabeth II visited with her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in tow, they took him to be that deity and to this day consider him to be a divine being.
- According to the Raelians Judaism and Christianity are this. Raelians believe that an alien race called the Elohim created life on earth, but over time, the species name was mistaken for the name of a deity, and assigned to the God of the Old Testament.
- The First Reformed Church of SpongeBob SquarePants.