Religion and mythology differ in scope but have overlapping aspects. Both terms refer to systems of concepts that are of high importance to a certain community, making statements concerning the supernatural or sacred. Generally, mythology is considered one component or aspect of religion. Religion is the broader term: besides mythological aspects, it includes aspects of ritual, morality, theology, and mystical experience. A given mythology is almost always associated with a certain religion such as Greek mythology with Ancient Greek religion. Disconnected from its religious system, a myth may lose its immediate relevance to the community and evolve—away from sacred importance—into a legend or folktale.
Religion is a belief concerning the supernatural, sacred, or divine, and the moral codes, practices, values, and institutions associated with such belief, although some scholars, such as Durkheim, would argue that the supernatural and the divine are not aspects of all religions. Religious beliefs and practices may include the following:
Some religions do not include all these features. For instance, belief in a deity is not essential to Buddhism.
The term mythology usually refers either to a system of myths or to the study of myths. However, the word "myth" itself has multiple (and some contradictory) definitions:
- 2007: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "Myth: "1 a: a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. b: Parable, Allegory. 2 a: a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially: one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society. 2b: an unfounded or false notion. 3: a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence. 4: the whole body of myths.
In regards to the study of culture and religion, these are some of the definitions scholars have used:
- 1968: The classicistRobert Graves defines myths as "whatever religious or heroic legends are so foreign to a student's experience that he cannot believe them to be true."
- 1973: Another classicist, GS Kirk, rejects the notion that all myths are religious or sacred. In the category of "myth", he includes many legendary accounts that are "secular" for all practical purposes.
- 1997: Folklorists define a myth as "a sacred narrative explaining how the world and humankind came to be in their present form".
- 2004: In religious studies, the word "myth" is usually reserved for stories whose main characters are gods or demigods.
- 2004: The classicist Richard Buxton defines a myth as "a socially powerful traditional story".
- 2004: Robert A. Segal, professor of theories of religion at the University of Lancaster, defines "myth" broadly as any story whose "main figures [are] personalities -- divine, human, or even animal. Excluded would be impersonal forces such as Plato's Good."
See also: Mythology
The relationship between religion and myth
The relationship between religion and myth depends on what definition of "myth" one uses. By Robert Graves's definition, a religion's traditional stories are "myths" if and only if one does not belong to the religion in question. By Segal's definition, all religious stories are myths—but simply because nearly all stories are myths. By the folklorists' definition, all myths are religious (or "sacred") stories, but not all religious stories are myths: religious stories that involve the creation of the world (e.g., the stories in Genesis) are myths; however, religious stories that don't explain how things came to be in their present form (e.g., hagiographies of famous saints) are not myths.
Most definitions of "myth" limit myths to stories. Thus, non-narrative elements of religion, such as ritual, are not myths.
Similarities between different religious mythologies
Given any of the above definitions of "myth", the myths of many religions, both ancient and modern, share common elements. Widespread similarities between religious mythologies include the following:
- Many religions involve an initial Paradise preceding ordinary historical time.
- Many religions involve the story of a god who undergoes death and resurrection (see life-death-rebirth deity).
- The mythical geography of many religions involves an axis mundi, or Cosmic Center.
- Many myths feature a global flood.
The similarities between cultures and time periods can be useful, but it is usually not easy to combine beliefs and histories from different groups. Simplification of cultures and time periods by eliminating detailed data remain vulnerable or flimsy in this area of research.
Contrasts between different religious mythologies
Though there are similarities among most religious mythologies, there are also contrasts. Many mythologies focus on explanations of the universe, natural phenomena, or other themes of human existence, often ascribing agency to one or more deities or other supernatural forces. However, some religions have very few of this kind of story of cosmic explanation. For instance, the Buddhistparable of the arrow warns against such speculations as "[Is] the world eternal or not eternal? [Is] the soul different from the body? [Does] the enlightened exist after death or not?", viewing them as irrelevant to the goal of escaping suffering.
In academia, the term "myth" often refers to stories whose culture regards them as true (as opposed to fictitious). Thus, many scholars will call a body of stories "mythology", leaving open the question of whether the stories are true or false. For example, in Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, English professor Howard Schwartz writes, "the definition of 'mythology' offered here does not attempt to determine if biblical or subsequent narratives are true or false, i.e., historically accurate or not".
Since the beginning of modern philosophy and science in the 16th century, many Western intellectuals have seen myth as outdated. In fact, some argued that the Christian religion would be better off without mythology, or even that Christianity would be better off without religion:
"[J. A. T.] Robinson argued in favor of 'the detaching of the Christian doctrine of God from any necessary dependence on a "supernaturalistic" worldview'. He understood this as a prophetic aspect of the Church's ministry to the world. [...] At this time atheism was regarded as the Christian Gospel that should be preached to the world. J. J. Altizer, for example, maintained [this] boldly by stating, 'Throughout its history Christian theology has been thwarted from reaching its intrinsic goal by its bondage to a transcendent, a sovereign, and an impassive God'. [...] [Dietrich] Bonhoffer called persistently for 'Religionless Christianity'."
In the 20th century, many scholars have resisted this trend, defending myth from modern criticism.Mircea Eliade, a professor of the history of religions, declared that myth did not hold religion back, that myth was an essential foundation of religion, and that eliminating myth would eliminate a piece of the human psyche. Eliade approached myth sympathetically at a time when religious thinkers were trying to purge religion of its mythological elements:
"Eliade wrote about 'sky and sky gods' when Christian theology was shaken at its very foundations by the 'death of God' theology. He spoke of 'God up there' when theologians such as J. A. T. Robinson were busy with erasing the mythical language of [a] three-storied universe that underlies the early Christian thought and experience."
Similarly, Joseph Campbell believed that people could not understand their individual lives without mythology to aid them. By recalling the significance of old myths, he encouraged awareness of them and the creation of myths for the contemporary age.
Most religions contain a body of traditional sacred stories that are believed to express profound truth. Some religious organizations and practitioners believe that some or all of their traditional stories are not only sacred and "true" but also historically accurate and divinely revealed and that calling such stories "myths" disrespects their special status. Other religious organizations and practitioners have no problem with categorizing their sacred stories as myths.
Opposition to categorizing all sacred stories as myths
Some religious believers take offense when what they consider to be historical aspects of their faith are labeled as "myth". Such believers distinguish between religious fables or myths, on one hand, and those sacred narratives which are described by their tradition as being history or revelation, on the other. For instance, Catholic priest Father John A. Hardon insists that "Christianity is not mythology. What we believe in is not religious fantasies, no matter how pious." Evangelical Christian theologian Carl F. H. Henry insisted that "Judeo-Christian revelation has nothing in common with the category of myth".
The roots of the popular meaning of "myth"
Especially within Christianity, objection to the word "myth" rests on a historical basis. By the time of Christ, the Greco-Roman world had started to use the term "myth" (Greek muthos) to mean "fable, fiction, lie"; as a result, the early Christian theologians used "myth" in this sense. Thus, the derogatory meaning of the word "myth" is the traditional Christian meaning, and the expression "Christian mythology", as used in academic discourse, may offend Christians for this reason.
In addition, this early Christian use of the term "myth" passed into popular usage. Thus, when essential sacred mysteries and teachings are described as myth, in modern English, the word often still implies that it is "idle fancy, fiction, or falsehood". This description could be taken as a direct attack on religious belief, quite contrary to the meaning ostensibly intended by the academic use of the term. Further, in academic writing, though "myth" usually means a fundamental worldview story, even there it is occasionally ambiguous or clearly denotes "falsehood", as in the "Christ myth theory". The original term "mythos" (which has no pejorative connotation in English) may be a better word to distinguish the positive definition from the negative.
Non-opposition to categorizing sacred stories as myths
Modern day clergy and practitioners within some religious movements have no problem classifying the religion's sacred stories as "myths". They see the sacred texts as indeed containing religious truths, divinely inspired but delivered in the language of mankind. Some examples follow.
J.R.R. Tolkien's love of myths and devout Catholic faith came together in his assertion that mythology is the divine echo of "the Truth". Tolkien wrote that myths held "fundamental things". He expressed these beliefs in his poem Mythopoeia circa 1931, which describes myth-making as an act of "sub-creation" within God's primary creation. The poem in part says creation is "myth-woven and elf-patterned":
- "... There is no firmament,
- only a void, unless a jewelled tent
- myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
- unless the mother's womb whence all have birth." - JRR Tolkien
Tolkien's opinion was adopted by another Christian writer, C. S. Lewis, in their conversations: "Tolkien explained to Lewis that the story of Christ was the true myth at the very heart of history and at the very root of reality."C. S. Lewis freely called the Christ story a "true myth", and he believed that even pagan myths express spiritual truths. In his opinion, the difference between the Christ story and pagan myths is that the Christ story is historically as well as spiritually true. "The story of Christ," writes Lewis,
"is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God's myth where the others are men's myths: i. e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call real things."
Another Christian writer, the Catholic priest Father Andrew Greeley, freely applies the term "myth" to Christianity. In his book Myths of Religion, he defends this terminology:
"Many Christians have objected to my use of this word [myth] even when I define it specifically. They are terrified by a word which may even have a slight suggestion of fantasy. However, my usage is the one that is common among historians of religion, literary critics, and social scientists. It is a valuable and helpful usage; there is no other word which conveys what these scholarly traditions mean when they refer to myth. The Christian would be well advised to get over his fear of the word and appreciate how important a tool it can be for understanding the content of his faith."
At a "Consultation on the Relationship Between the Wesleyan Tradition and the Natural Sciences" in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 19, 1991, Dennis Bratcher presented a discussion of the adaptation of Near Eastern mythical thought by the Israelites. Bratcher argued that the Old Testament absorbed Near Eastern pagan mythology (although he drew a sharp distinction between the literally-interpreted myths of the Near Eastern pagans and the "mythopoetic" use of imagery from pagan myths by the Hebrews). During this presentation, he gave the following disclaimer:
"the term 'myth' as used here does not mean 'false' or 'fiction.' Even in my old and yellowed Webster's, 'fiction' is the third meaning of the word. In its primary and more technical meaning 'myth' refers to a story or group of stories that serve to explain how a particular society views their world."
Some Jewish scholars, including Dov Noy, a professor of folklore at Hebrew University and founder of the Israel Folktale Archives, and Howard Schwartz, Jewish anthologist and English professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, have discussed traditional Jewish stories as "mythology".
Schwarz authored the book Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism. It consists of myths and belief statements excerpted from—and, in some cases, synthesized from a number of excerpts from—both Biblical and non-Biblical Jewish texts. According to Schwartz, the Jewish people continue to elaborate on, and compose additions to, their traditional mythology. In the book's introduction, Schwartz states that the word "myth", as used in the book, "is not offered to mean something that is not true, as in the current popular usage".
Neopagans frequently refer to their sacred stories as "myths". Asatru, a modern-day revival of Germanic Paganism, holds "that the Eddas, Myths and Norse Sagas are the divinely inspired wisdom of [its] religion".Wicca, another Neopagan movement, also applies the term "mythology" to its stories.
The Dewey Decimal system covers religion in the 200 range, with books on "Religious mythology & social theology", a subset listed under 201.
- Mythology of world religions
- "About Us". Ásatrú Utah. 30 December 2007 <http://asatruutah.org/about_us/>.
- "Religion". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. File retrieved 8 June 2007 .
- "Myth", Oxford English Dictionary ("OED"). File retrieved 2 June 2007. 
- Bierlein, J.F. Parallel Myths. New York: Ballantine, 1994.
- Bratcher, Dennis. "Speaking the Language of Canaan: The Old Testament and the Israelite Perception of the Physical World". The Voice. CRI/Voice, Institute. 30 December 2007 <http://www.cresourcei.org/langcaan.html#symbol>.
- Brown, Dave. "Real Joy and True Myth". Dave Brown's C. S. Lewis Page. 31 December 2007 <https://web.archive.org/web/20091026222931/http://www.geocities.com/athens/forum/3505/LewisJoy.html>.
- Buxton, Richard. The Complete World of Greek Mythology. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.
- "Myth", Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. File retrieved June 18, 2007.
- Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. NY: Penguin, 1991.
- Eliade, Mircea:
- Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism". Trans. Philip Mairet. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.
- Myth and Reality. Trans. Willard R. Trask. NY: Harper & Row, 1968.
- Myths, Dreams and Mysteries. Trans. Philip Mairet. NY: Harper & Row, 1967.
- Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader. Ed. Wendell C. Beane and William G. Doty. Vol 2. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
- The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Trans. Willard R. Trask. NY Harper & Row, 1961.
- Dundes, Alan. "Binary Opposition in Myth: The Propp/Levi-Strauss Debate in Retrospect". Western Folklore 56 (Winter, 1997): pp. 39–50.
- Frazer, J. G. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. NY: Macmillan, 1930.
- Kirk, G. S. Myth: Its Meaning and Function in Ancient and Other Cultures. Berkeley: Cambridge UP, 1973.
- Graves, Robert, "Introduction," New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (trans. Richard Aldington and Delano Ames), London: Hamlyn, 1968, pp. v-viii.
- Hardon, John A. "The Resurrection of Jesus". Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association. 30 December 2007 <http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Prayer/Prayer_029.htm>.
- Menion, Michael. Tolkien Elves and Art, in J.R.R. Tolkien's Aesthetics. 2003/2004 (commentary on Mythopoeia the poem).
- Mohler, Albert. "The Mythology of Star Wars: The Faith versus the Force". AlbertMohler.com. 30 December 2007 <http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2005-05-25>.
- Muthuraj, Joseph. "The Significance of Mircea Eliade for Christian Theology". Religion Online. 15 January 2008 <http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1901>. This article was previously published in Bangalore Theological Forum 33.2 (2001): 38-59.
- Pearce, Joseph. "J.R.R. Tolkien: Truth and Myth". Catholic Education Research Center. 31 December 2007 <http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/arts/al0107.html>.
- Robinson, B. A. "Deism: About the God who went away". ReligiousTolerance.org. 30 December 2007 <http://www.religioustolerance.org/deism.htm>.
- Segal, Robert A. Myth: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004.
- Schram, Peninnah. Review: Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism. University of Missouri – St. Louis. 30 December 2007 <http://www.umsl.edu/~schwartzh/bookworld.htm>.
- Schwartz, Howard. Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004.
- "The Parable of the Arrow" (adapted from the Majjhima-nikaya). Staffordshire Learning Net. File retrieved 2 June 2007.
- "The Wheel of the Year / the Sabbats". Wicca for the Rest of Us. 30 December 2007 <http://wicca.timerift.net/sabbat.shtml>.
- "What is Wicca?" Greywing's Wicca Basics. Manor House for Wiccan Studies. 30 December 2007 <https://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.geocities.com/athens/4177/wiccab.html%23Wicca&date=2009-10-25+12:46:39>.
- Wood, Ralph C. "Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien". Leadership University. 31 December 2007 <http://www.leaderu.com/humanities/wood-biography.html>.
- "Workshops and Talks". Deborah Lipp. Nightowls Webspace. 30 December 2007 <http://www.deborahlipp.com/workshop_talks.htm>.
- Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Princeton University Press, 1949. ISBN 978-0-691-01784-6
- Girard, René, Jean-Michel Oughourlian, and Guy Lefort, "Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World". Stanford University Press, 1987
- Goodwin, J., "Mystery Religions of the Ancient World". Thames & Hudson, 1981.
- Heidel, Alexander, "The Epic of Gilgamesh and Old Testament parallels". University of Chicago Press, 1963.
- Redford, Donald, "Similarity Between Egyptian and Biblical Texts—Indirect Influence?" Biblical Archaeology Review, 1987. (13:18-32, May/June)
- Wright L.M. Christianity, Astrology and Myth. USA: Oak Hill Free Press, 2002. ISBN 0-9518796-1-8
- Brantley, Garry K., "Pagan Mythology and the Bible". Apologetics Press, 1993. (Originally published in Reason & Revelation, July 1993, 13:49-53.)
- Robinson, B. A.,"Parallels between Christianity and ancient Pagan religions". Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2004.
- ^"Religion", Encyclopædia Britannica 2007.
- ^"Mythology", OED, 2007.
- ^"Myth", Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2007.
- ^Graves 1968, p. v.
- ^Kirk 1973, p. 11.
- ^Dundes 1997, p. 45.
- ^ abSegal 2004, p. 5.
- ^Buxton, p. 18
- ^Segal 2004, p. 5. See Buxton, p. 18: "There are three elements in [my] definition [of mythology]. The least problematic is the notion of story: a 'myth' is a narrative, a set of events structured into a sequence". (Bolding added)
- ^Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, 1967 p. 59.
- ^Eliade, Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, 1976, pp. 372-75.
- ^For some examples, see Bierlein 2004, pp. 121-27.
- ^"The Parable of the Arrow"
- ^Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 1, 8-10; The Sacred and the Profane, p. 95
- ^ abSchwartz, p. lxxviii
- ^See Armstrong, pp. 122-27. For example, an 18th century intellectual movement called deism rejected myths about divine intervention, limiting God's role to that of a first cause (Robinson), and a 20th century movement led by the theologian Rudolf Bultmann sought to "demythologize" Christianity, reinterpreting its myths as psychological allegory (Segal, pp. 47-51; Muthuraj). Some 19th and early 20th century secular scholars predicted that science would replace myth, even in religion. The anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor argued that science was pushing traditional mythology out of religion, which would henceforth consist only of metaphysics and ethics (Segal, p. 14). And the anthropologist Sir James George Frazer even wrote, "In the last analysis, magic, religion, and science are nothing but theories of thought; and as science has supplanted its predecessors, so it may hereafter be itself superseded by some more perfect hypothesis" (Frazer, p. 712).
- ^ abMuthuraj
- ^Segal, p. 3
- ^According to religious thought, said Eliade, myths establish models for human behavior, and "the more religious man is, the more paradigmatic models does he possess as a guide to his attitudes and actions" (Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, p. 100). Eliade believed that modern novels, ideologies, customs, and pastimes contain "mythological elements" (Eliade, Myth and Reality, pp. 181-93), and that some mythological elements fall within the "transconscious", which Eliade defined as a set of universal human images, symbols, and sentiments (Eliade, Images and Symbols, pp. 16-17).
- ^For example, Campbell claimed that mythology's primary function is "that of eliciting and supporting a sense of awe before the mystery of being" (Campbell, p. 519), and that mythology also serves "to initiate the individual into the order of realities of his own psyche" (Campbell, p. 521).
- ^Carl F. H. Henry, quoted by Mohler
- ^Eliade, Myth and Reality, 1968, p. 162.
- ^ abcGrassie, William (March 1998). "Science as Epic? Can the modern evolutionary cosmology be a mythic story for our time?". Science & Spirit. 9 (1).
- ^Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, 1967, p. 23.
- ^Menion, 2003/2004 citing essays by Tolkien using the words "fundamental things".
- ^Tolkien, Mythopoeia, circa 1931.
- ^letter to Arthur Greeves, quoted by Brown
- ^Greeley, Myths of Religion; quoted in Bierlein 1994, pp. 304-5.
- ^ abBratcher
- ^Schwartz, p. lxxv
- ^"About Us"
- ^"The Wheel of the Year / the Sabbats"; "What is Wicca?"; "Workshops and Talks"
- ^"Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system". Online Computer Library Center, 2005. (PDF)
For other uses, see Mythology (disambiguation).
Mythology refers variously to the collected myths of a group of people or to the study of such myths.
A folklore genre, myth is a feature of every culture. Many sources for myths have been proposed, ranging from personification of nature or personification of natural phenomena, to truthful or hyperbolic accounts of historical events to explanations of existing rituals. A culture's collective mythology helps convey belonging, shared and religious experiences, behavioral models, and moral and practical lessons.
The study of myth began in ancient history. Rival classes of the Greek myths by Euhemerus, Plato and Sallustius were developed by the Neoplatonists and later revived by Renaissance mythographers. The nineteenth-century comparative mythology reinterpreted myth as a primitive and failed counterpart of science (Tylor), a "disease of language" (Müller), or a misinterpretation of magicalritual (Frazer).
Recent approaches often view myths as manifestations of psychological, cultural, or societal truths, rather than as inaccurate historical accounts.
The term mythology predates the word myth by centuries. It first appeared in the fifteenth century, borrowed from the Middle French term mythologie. The word mythology, ("exposition of myths"), comes from Middle Frenchmythologie, from Late Latinmythologia, from Greek μυθολογία mythología ("legendary lore, a telling of mythic legends; a legend, story, tale") from μῦθος mythos ("myth") and -λογία -logia ("study"). Both terms translated the subject of Latin author Fulgentius' fifth-century Mythologiæ, which was concerned with the explication of Greek and Roman stories about their gods, commonly referred to as classical mythology. Although Fulgentius' conflation with the contemporary African Saint Fulgentius is now questioned, the Mythologiæ explicitly treated its subject matter as allegories requiring interpretation and not as true events.
The word mythología [μυθολογία] appears in Plato, but was used as a general term for "fiction" or "story-telling" of any kind, combining mỹthos [μῦθος, "narrative, fiction"] and -logía [-λογία, "discourse, able to speak about"]. From Lydgate until the seventeenth or eighteenth-century, mythology was similarly used to mean a moral, fable, allegory or a parable. From its earliest use in reference to a collection of traditional stories or beliefs, mythology implied the falsehood of the stories being described. It came to be applied by analogy with similar bodies of traditional stories among other polytheistic cultures around the world. The Greek loanword mythos (pl. mythoi) and Latinate mythus (pl. mythi) both appeared in English before the first example of myth in 1830.
See also: Legend and Folklore
In present use, mythology usually refers to the collected myths of a group of people, but may also mean the study of such myths. For example, Greek mythology, Roman mythology and Hittite mythology all describe the body of myths retold among those cultures. Dundes defined myth as a sacrednarrative that explains how the world and humanity evolved into their present form. Dundes classified a sacred narrative as "a story that serves to define the fundamental worldview of a culture by explaining aspects of the natural world and delineating the psychological and social practices and ideals of a society".Lincoln defined myth as "ideology in narrative form." Scholars in other fields use the term myth in varied ways. In a broad sense, the word can refer to any traditional story,popular misconception or imaginary entity. Due to this pejorative sense, some scholars opted for the term mythos. Its use was similarly pejorative and now more commonly refers to its Aristotelian sense as a "plot point" or to a collective mythology, as in the world building of H.P. Lovecraft.
The term is often distinguished from didactic literature such as fables, but its relationship with other traditional stories, such as legends and folktales, is more nebulous. Main characters in myths are usually gods, demigods or supernatural humans, while legends generally feature humans as their main characters. However, many exceptions or combinations exist, as in the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid. Myths are often endorsed by rulers and priests and are closely linked to religion or spirituality. In fact, many societies group their myths, legends and history together, considering myths to be true accounts of their remote past.Creation myths particularly, take place in a primordial age when the world had not achieved its later form. Other myths explain how a society's customs, institutions and taboos were established and sanctified. A separate space is created for folktales, which are not considered true by anyone. As stories spread to other cultures or as faiths change, myths can come to be considered folktales. Its divine characters are recast as either as humans or demihumans such as giants, elves and faeries.
Main article: Euhemerism
See also: Herodotus
One theory claims that myths are distorted accounts of historical events. According to this theory, storytellers repeatedly elaborate upon historical accounts until the figures in those accounts gain the status of gods. For example, the myth of the wind-god Aeolus may have evolved from a historical account of a king who taught his people to use sails and interpret the winds.Herodotus (fifth-century BC) and Prodicus made claims of this kind. This theory is named euhemerism after mythologist Euhemerus (c. 320 BC), who suggested that Greek gods developed from legends about human beings.
Some theories propose that myths began as allegories for natural phenomena: Apollo represents the sun, Poseidon represents water, and so on. According to another theory, myths began as allegories for philosophical or spiritual concepts: Athena represents wise judgment, Aphrodite desire, and so on.Müller supported an allegorical theory of myth. He believed myths began as allegorical descriptions of nature and gradually came to be interpreted literally. For example, a poetic description of the sea as "raging" was eventually taken literally and the sea was then thought of as a raging god.
See also: Mythopoeic thought
Some thinkers claimed that myths result from the personification of objects and forces. According to these thinkers, the ancients worshiped natural phenomena, such as fire and air, gradually deifying them. For example, according to this theory, ancients tended to view things as gods, not as mere objects. Thus, they described natural events as acts of personal gods, giving rise to myths.
See also: Myth and ritual
According to the myth-ritual theory, myth is tied to ritual. In its most extreme form, this theory claims myths arose to explain rituals. This claim was first put forward by Smith, who claimed that people begin performing rituals for reasons not related to myth. Forgetting the original reason for a ritual, they account for it by inventing a myth and claiming the ritual commemorates the events described in that myth.Frazer claimed that humans started out with a belief in magical rituals; later, they began to lose faith in magic and invented myths about gods, reinterpreting their rituals as religious rituals intended to appease the gods.
Eliade argued that one of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behavior and that myths may provide a religious experience. By telling or reenacting myths, members of traditional societies detach themselves from the present, returning to the mythical age, thereby coming closer to the divine.
Honko asserted that, in some cases, a society reenacts a myth in an attempt to reproduce the conditions of the mythical age. For example, it might reenact the healing performed by a god at the beginning of time in order to heal someone in the present. Similarly, Barthes argued that modern culture explores religious experience. Since it is not the job of science to define human morality, a religious experience is an attempt to connect with a perceived moral past, which is in contrast with the technological present.
Pattanaik defines mythology as "a subjective truth of people that is communicated through stories, symbols and rituals". He adds, "unlike fantasy that is nobody’s truth, and history that seeks to be everybody’s truth, mythology is somebody’s truth."
History of the academic discipline
Historically, the important approaches to the study of mythology have been those of Vico, Schelling, Schiller, Jung, Freud, Lévy-Bruhl, Lévi-Strauss, Frye, the Soviet school, and the Myth and Ritual School.
The critical interpretation of myth began with the Presocratics. Euhemerus was one of the most important pre-modern mythologists. He interpreted myths as accounts of actual historical events - distorted over many retellings. Sallustius divided myths into five categories – theological, physical (or concerning natural laws), animistic (or concerning soul), material, and mixed. Mixed concerns myths that show the interaction between two or more of the previous categories and are particularly used in initiations.
Plato famously condemned poetic myth when discussing education in the Republic. His critique was primarily on the grounds that the uneducated might take the stories of gods and heroes literally. Nevertheless, he constantly referred to myths throughout his writings. As Platonism developed in the phases commonly called Middle Platonism and neoplatonism, writers such as Plutarch, Porphyry, Proclus, Olympiodorus, and Damascius wrote explicitly about the symbolic interpretation of traditional and Orphic myths.
Interest in polytheistic mythology revived during the Renaissance, with early works on mythography appearing in the sixteenth-century, such as the Theologia Mythologica (1532). While myths are not the same as fables, legends, folktales, fairy tales, anecdotes, or fiction, the concepts may overlap. Notably, during the nineteenth century period of Romanticism, folktales and fairy tales were perceived as eroded fragments of earlier mythology (famously by the Brothers Grimm and Elias Lönnrot).
Mythological themes were consciously employed in literature, beginning with Homer. The resulting work may expressly refer to a mythological background without itself becoming part of a body of myths (Cupid and Psyche). Medieval romance in particular plays with this process of turning myth into literature. Euhemerism, as stated earlier, refers to the rationalization of myths, putting themes formerly imbued with mythological qualities into pragmatic contexts. An example of this would be following a cultural or religious paradigm shift (notably the re-interpretation of pagan mythology following Christianization).
Conversely, historical and literary material may acquire mythological qualities over time. For example, the Matter of Britain (the legendary history of Great Britain, especially those focused on King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table) and the Matter of France, based on historical events of the fifth and eighth-centuries respectively, were first made into epic poetry and became partly mythological over the following centuries. "Conscious generation" of mythology was termed mythopoeia by Tolkien and was notoriously also suggested, separately, by Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg.
The first scholarly theories of myth appeared during the second half of the nineteenth-century. In general, these nineteenth-century theories framed myth as a failed or obsolete mode of thought, often by interpreting myth as the primitive counterpart of modern science.
For example, Tylor interpreted myth as an attempt at a literal explanation for natural phenomena. Unable to conceive impersonal natural laws, early humans tried to explain natural phenomena by attributing souls to inanimate objects, giving rise to animism. According to Tylor, human thought evolved through stages, starting with mythological ideas and gradually progressing to scientific ideas. Not all scholars, not even all nineteenth-century scholars, accepted this view. Lévy-Bruhl claimed "the primitive mentality is a condition of the human mind, and not a stage in its historical development."
Müller called myth a "disease of language". He speculated that myths arose due to the lack of abstract nouns and neuter gender in ancient languages. Anthropomorphic figures of speech, necessary in such languages, were eventually taken literally, leading to the idea that natural phenomena were in actuality conscious beings or gods.
Frazer saw myths as a misinterpretation of magical rituals, which were themselves based on a mistaken idea of natural law. According to Frazer, humans begin with an unfounded belief in impersonal magical laws. When they realize applications of these laws do not work, they give up their belief in natural law in favor of a belief in personal gods controlling nature, thus giving rise to religious myths. Meanwhile, humans continue practicing formerly magical rituals through force of habit, reinterpreting them as reenactments of mythical events. Finally humans come to realize nature follows natural laws, and they discover their true nature through science. Here again, science makes myth obsolete as humans progress "from magic through religion to science."
Segal asserted that by pitting mythical thought against modern scientific thought, such theories imply modern humans must abandon myth.
Many twentieth-century theories rejected the nineteenth-century theories' opposition of myth and science. In general, "twentieth-century theories have tended to see myth as almost anything but an outdated counterpart to science […]. Consequently, modern individuals are not obliged to abandon myth for science."
Jung tried to understand the psychology behind world myths. Jung asserted that all humans share certain innate unconscious psychological forces, which he called archetypes. He believed similarities between the myths of different cultures reveals the existence of these universal archetypes.
Lévi-Strauss believed myths reflect patterns in the mind and interpreted those patterns more as fixed mental structures, specifically pairs of opposites (good/evil, compassionate/callous), rather than unconscious feelings or urges.
In his appendix to Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, and in The Myth of the Eternal Return, Eliade attributed modern humans’ anxieties to their rejection of myths and the sense of the sacred.
In the 1950s, Barthes published a series of essays examining modern myths and the process of their creation in his book Mythologies.
Following the Structuralist Era (roughly the 1960s to 1980s), the predominant anthropological and sociological approaches to myth increasingly treated myth as a form of narrative that can be studied, interpreted and analyzed like ideology, history and culture. In other words, myth is a form of understanding and telling stories that is connected to power, political structures, and political and economic interests. These approaches contrast with approaches such as those of Campbell and Eliade that hold that myth has some type of essential connection to ultimate sacred meanings that transcend cultural specifics. In particular, myth was studied in relation to history from diverse social sciences. Most of these studies share the assumption that history and myth are not distinct in the sense that history is factual, real, accurate, and truth, while myth is the opposite.
Christian theologian Conrad Hyers wrote that
...myth today has come to have negative connotations which are the complete opposite of its meaning in a religious context... In a religious context, however, myths are storied vehicles of supreme truth, the most basic and important truths of all. By them people regulate and interpret their lives and find worth and purpose in their existence. Myths put one in touch with sacred realities, the fundamental sources of being, power, and truth. They are seen not only as being the opposite of error but also as being clearly distinguishable from stories told for entertainment and from the workaday, domestic, practical language of a people. They provide answers to the mysteries of being and becoming, mysteries which, as mysteries, are hidden, yet mysteries which are revealed through story and ritual. Myths deal not only with truth but with ultimate truth.
Main article: Comparative mythology
Comparative mythology is the systematic comparison of myths from different cultures. It seeks to discover underlying themes that are common to the myths of multiple cultures. In some cases, comparative mythologists use the similarities between separate mythologies to argue that those mythologies have a common source. This source may inspire myths or provide a common "protomythology" that diverged into the mythologies of each culture.
Nineteenth-century interpretations of myth were often comparative, seeking a common origin for all myths. Later scholars tend to avoid universal statements about mythology. One exception to this modern trend is Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), which claims that all hero myths follow the same underlying pattern. This theory of a monomyth later fell out of favor.
In modern society, myth is often regarded as a collection of stories. Scholars in the field of cultural studies research how myth has worked itself into modern discourses. Mythological discourse can reach greater audiences than ever before via digital media. Various mythic elements appear in television, cinema and video games.
Although myth was traditionally transmitted through the oral tradition on a small scale, the film industry has enabled filmmakers to transmit myths to large audiences via film. In Jungian psychology myths are the expression of a culture or society’s goals, fears, ambitions and dreams. Film is an expression of the society in which it was produced and reflects the culture of its era and location.
The basis of modern visual storytelling is rooted in the mythological tradition. Many contemporary films rely on ancient myths to construct narratives. Disney Corporation is well-known among cultural study scholars for "reinventing" traditional childhood myths. While many films are not as obvious as Disney fairy tales, the plots of many films are based on the rough structure of myths. Mythological archetypes, such as the cautionary tale regarding the abuse of technology, battles between gods and creation stories, are often the subject of major film productions. These films are often created under the guise of cyberpunkaction films, fantasy, dramas and apocalyptic tales.
21st century films such as Clash of the Titans, Immortals and Thor continue the trend of mining traditional mythology to frame modern plots. Authors use mythology as a basis for their books, such as Rick Riordan, whose Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is situated in a modern-day world where the Greek deities are manifest, as well as his Kane Chronicles with the Egyptian pantheon and Magnus Chase with the Norse gods.
Modern myths such as urban legends shows that myth-making continues. Myth-making is not a collection of stories fixed to a remote time and place, but an ongoing social practice within every society.
Myth and religion
Popular culture and media
- Mythopoeia, artificially constructed mythology, mainly for the purpose of storytelling
- ^Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "myth, n. Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2003.
- ^Johnson, Samuel. "Mythology" in A Dictionary of the English Language: in which the Words are Deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers to which are Prefixed a History of the Language and an English Grammar, p. 1345. W. Strahan (London), 1755.
- ^Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language, p. 1345. W. Strahan (London), 1755. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
- ^Johnson's Dictionary, for example, has entries for mythology,mythologist, mythologize, mythological, and mythologically but none for myth.
- ^Lydgate, John. Troyyes Book, Vol. II, ll. 2487. (in Middle English) Reprinted in Henry Bergen's Lydgate's Troy Book, Vol. I, p. 216. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co. (London), 1906. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
- ^"...I [ Paris ] was ravisched in-to paradys.
"And ÞusÞis god [sc.Mercury], diuers of liknes,
"More wonderful Þan I can expresse,
"Schewed hym silf in his appearance,
"Liche as he is discriued in Fulgence,
"In Þe book of his methologies..."
- ^"mythology". Online Etymology Dictionary
- ^ abcdOxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "mythology, n." 2003. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
- ^Hays, Gregory. "The date and identity of the mythographer Fulgentius" in Journal of Medieval Latin, Vol. 13, pp. 163 ff. 2003.
- ^Fulgentius, Fabius Planciades (1971). Fulgentius the Mythographer. Ohio State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8142-0162-6.
- ^Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "-logy, comb. form". Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1903.
- ^Browne, Thomas. Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or, Enquiries into Many Received Tenets and Commonly Presumed Truths, Vol. I, Ch. VIII. Edward Dod (London), 1646. Reprinted 1672.
- ^All which [sc.John Mandevil's support of Ctesias's claims] may still be received in some acceptions of morality, and to a pregnant invention, may afford commendable mythologie; but in a natural and proper exposition, it containeth impossibilities, and things inconsistent with truth.
- ^Shuckford, Samuel. The Creation and Fall of Man. A Supplemental Discourse to the Preface of the First Volume of the Sacred and Profane History of the World Connected, pp. xx–xxi.J. & R. Tonson & S. Draper (London), 1753. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
- ^"That Mythology came in upon this Alteration of their [Egyptians'Theology, is obviouſly evident: for the mingling the Hiſtory of theſe Men when Mortals, with what came to be aſcribed to them when Gods, would naturally occaſion it. And of this Sort we generally find the Mythoi told of them..."
- ^Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "On the Prometheus of Æschylus: An Essay, preparatory to a series of disquisitions respecting the Egyptian, in connection with the sacerdotal, theology, and in contrast with the mysteries of ancient Greece." Royal Society of Literature (London), 18 May 1825. Reprinted in Coleridge, Henry Nelson (1836). The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Shakespeare, with introductory matter on poetry, the drama, and the stage. Notes on Ben Jonson; Beaumont and Fletcher; On the Prometheus of Æschylus [and others. W. Pickering. pp. 335–.
- ^"Long before the entire separation of metaphysics from poetry, that is, while yet poesy, in all its several species of verse, music, statuary, &c. continued mythic;—while yet poetry remained the union of the sensuous and the philosophic mind;—the efficient presence of the latter in the synthesis of the two, had manifested itself in the sublime mythusπερὶ γενέσεως τοῦ νοῦ ἐν ἀνθρωποῖς concerning the genesis, or birth of the νοῦς or reason in man."
- ^Abraham of Hekel (1651). "Historia Arabum(History of the Arabs)". Chronicon orientale, nunc primum Latinitate donatum ab Abrahamo Ecchellensi Syro Maronita e Libano, linguarum Syriacae, ... cui accessit eiusdem Supplementum historiae orientalis (The Oriental Chronicles. e Typographia regia. pp. 175–. (in Latin) Translated in paraphrase in Blackwell, Thomas (1748). "Letter Seventeenth". Letters Concerning Mythology. printed in the year. pp. 269–.
- ^Anonymous review of Upham, Edward (1829). The History and Doctrine of Budhism: Popularly Illustrated: with Notices of the Kappooism, Or Demon Worship, and of the Bali, Or Planetary Incantations, of Ceylon. R. Ackermann. In the Westminster Review, No. XXIII,Art. III, p. 44. Rob't Heward (London), 1829. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
- ^"According to the rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, Enos, discoursing on the splendor of the heavenly bodies, insisted that, since God had thus exalted them above the other parts of creation, it was but reasonable that we should praise, extol, and honour them. The consequence of this exhortation, says the rabbi, was the building of temples to the stars, and the establishment of idolatry throughout the world. By the Arabian divines however, the imputation is laid upon the patriarch Abraham; who, they say, on coming out from the dark cave in which he had been brought up, was so astonished at the sight of the stars, that he worshipped Hesperus, the Moon, and the Sun successively as they rose. These two stories are good illustrations of the origin of myths, by means of which, even the most natural sentiment is traced to its cause in the circumstances of fabulous history.
- ^ abGrassie, William (March 1998). "Science as Epic? Can the modern evolutionary cosmology be a mythic story for our time?". Science & Spirit. 9 (1).
- ^Lincoln, Bruce (2006). "An Early Moment in the Discourse of "Terrorism": Reflections on a Tale from Marco Polo". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 48 (2): 242–259. doi:10.1017/s0010417506000107. JSTOR 3879351.
- ^"myth". Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.). Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1993. p. 770.
- ^Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "mythos, n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2003.
- ^ abc"myths", A Dictionary of English Folklore
- ^O'Flaherty, p. 78: "I think it can be well argued as a matter of principle that, just as 'biography is about chaps', so mythology is about gods."
- ^"Euhemerism", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions