I think that the word myth gets used quite a bit these days, and in the wrong context. You often hear people say “it’s a myth” to refer to something that is too good to be true. Or some outlandish story such as a big fish story. Traditionally, a myth is a story that offers an explanation to something such as “enduring and fundamental human questions: How did the universe and the world come to be? How did we come to be here? Who are we? What are our proper, necessary, or inescapable roles as we relate to one another and to the world at large? What should our values be? How should we behave? How should we not behave? What are the consequences of behaving and not behaving in such ways?” (Leonard & McClure, 2004)
In an academic context, according to the text, a myth is “the study of myth is a field of inquiry that ranges from the earliest known history of humanity up to and including contemporary cultures and societies and even our own individual senses of self in the world.” (Leonard & McClure, 2004) My interpretation of the definition is that they are stories that have been passed around for years about and forming our culture and beliefs.
“Some of the recurring themes include a Golden Age, a fall from a heavenly state, resurrections from death, virgin births, worldwide floods, creation stories in which “one becomes two,” and a future apocalypse.”(“Analyzing Mythology”, n.d.). Many different cultures have some of the same stories with different details or characters. Usually they have the same outcome though. These myths help form the society and culture that they live in. It is they view certain things. According to Rosenberg, “In their theory, innate psychological characteristics, common to all human beings, determine how people throughout the world and throughout history experience and respond to the process of living. The contents of the collective unconscious are divided into archetypes—such as the mother, the child, the hero, the trickster, and the giant—but these are simply image frameworks.”
When I think of mythology and how people use them to explain the unknown or how mankind is shaped, I think of the Illiad and Odyssey, two unbelievable journeys that have lasting themes. “Many famous heroes walk through the pages of Homer’s Iliad. Achilles and Agamemnon, among the Greeks, and Hector, among the Trojans, must choose between their own desires and the needs of their people. Their war is ancient, but their agony is modern. Once again, the courage with which they meet the challenges in their lives makes them impressive, yet very human, models of behavior for all of us.” (Rosenberg, 2006)
Religion and Mythology
Religion and mythology share a very thin line that often intersected. Religion is in a sense the same thing as a myth; it’s a story that explains origins. Many religions were based around the mythology of the people, such as Egyptians. They had many gods and goddesses and they believed in polytheism, which allowed them to worship more than one god/goddess. There isn’t a lot of research that has a specific answer as to what is the relationship between religion and mythology. It seems to me that there would be an argument that they are one in the same, while others believe they are completely different. Since mythology is often thought to be untrue, many would not want to believe their religion has anything to do with mythology.
Many of the themes that are addressed by mythology are still very relevant today. “Rather, the American mythologist always saw myth as the story of the rugged individual who realizes his true nature through heroic struggle. Archetypal symbols and universals there may be, Campbell seems to say, but mythology is ultimately and always the vehicle through which the individual finds a sense of identity and place in the world.” (Leonard & McClure, 2004) People need to believe that the struggles they go through are common. Everyone needs to believe in something. The Trojans were tricked by a giant horse that they thought was a gift. Almost everyone out there can think of a time when they were tricked. It resonates with them.
The foundations of mythology were established many, many years ago. Almost every culture of people has their own set of myths that they believed in. While they had their own stories, many of them had the same explanation of something, such as creation. The themes were and are still today very universal. While mythology offers explanation to life’s questions, many cultures still had their own set of religious beliefs. Many of those beliefs intertwined with their mythology but not always. As mentioned before, the themes of mythology are universal. They are also quite timeless. Many of the same moral dilemmas or questions of life are the same and can still be answered by myths.
Leonard, S., & McClure, M. (2004). Myth & knowing: An introduction to world mythology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Rosenberg, D. (2006). World mythology: An anthology of great myths and epics (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: McGraw Hill. Analyzing Mythology. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mythome.org/mythII.html