Meaning of MYTH in English
a story, usually of unknown origin and at least partially traditional, that ostensibly relates actual events to explain some practice, belief, institution, or natural phenomenon, and that is especially associated with religious rites and beliefs. The word mythology denotes both the study of myth and the total corpus of myths in a particular culture or religious tradition. The authority of myth is implied rather than stated. Myths relate the paradigmatic events, conditions, and deeds of gods or superhuman beings that are outside ordinary human life and yet basic to it. These extraordinary events are set in a time altogether different from historical time, often at the beginning of creation or at an early stage of prehistory. Myths provide models for human behaviour, institutions, or universal conditions. Features of myth are shared by other kinds of literature. Etiological tales explain the origins or causes of various aspects of nature or human society and life. Fairy tales deal with extraordinary beings and events but lack the authority of myth. Sagas and epics claim authority and truth but reflect specific historical settings. The modern study of myth arose with the Romantic movement of the early 19th century, but interpretations of myth were offered much earlier. The influence of philosophy in ancient Greece led to allegorical views of myth or to the historical reductionism of Euhemerus (fl. 300 BC), who believed that the gods of myth were originally simply great people. The development of comparative philology in the 19th century, together with ethnological discoveries in the 20th, established the main contours of mythology, the science of myth. Since the Romantics, all study of myth has been comparative. Wilhelm Mannhardt, Sir James Frazer, and Stith Thompson employed the comparative approach to collect and classify the themes of folklore and mythology. Bronislaw Malinowski emphasized the ways myth fulfills common social functions. Claude Lvi-Strauss and other structuralists have compared the formal relations and patterns in myths throughout the world. Sigmund Freud put forward the idea that symbolic communication does not depend on cultural history alone but also on the workings of the psyche. Thus Freud introduced a transhistorical and biological conception of man and a view of myth as an expression of repressed ideas. Carl Jung extended the transhistorical, psychological approach with his theory of the collective unconscious and the archetypes, often encoded in myth, that arise out of it. Some scholars, like the German theologian Rudolf Otto and Mircea Eliade, a historian of religion, hold that myth is to be understood solely as a religious phenomenon, irreducible to nonreligious categories. Scholars of the so-called Myth and Ritual School contend that any myth functions, or at one time functioned, as the explanation of a corresponding ritual. That connections between myths and rituals often exist is undeniable, but which came first is far from certain. And although there are probably no rituals without accompanying myths, there are myths without apparent complementary rituals. Because they are thought to be the repository of truth and knowledge, myths are supposed to help control the universe or to make man's activities in it efficacious. Cosmogonic myths in particular, which relate the origins of the cosmos, are recited in many cultures in conjunction with the enthronement of kings or other events on which depend the well-being of the world. Closely connected to accounts of the origin of the cosmos are myths relating the origin of man or the institutions of society. Eschatological myths deal with the end of the world, while other myths explain the relation between eternity and mundane time. Myths sometimes revolve around cultural heroes, who made the earth habitable for mankind, or around great beings who made salvation from earthly existence possible. Myths explain how evil and death were introduced into life, or they may tell how fundamental knowledge was forgotten and remembered. a symbolic narrative, usually of unknown origin and at least partly traditional, that ostensibly relates actual events and that is especially associated with religious belief. It is distinguished from symbolic behaviour (cult, ritual) and symbolic places or objects (temples, icons). Myths are specific accounts of gods or superhuman beings involved in extraordinary events or circumstances in a time that is unspecified but which is understood as existing apart from ordinary human experience. The term mythology denotes both the study of myth and the body of myths belonging to a particular religious tradition. As with all religious symbolism, there is no attempt to justify mythic narratives or even to render them plausible. Every myth presents itself as an authoritative, factual account, no matter how much the narrated events are at variance with natural law or ordinary experience. By extension from this primary religious meaning, the word myth may also be used more loosely to refer to an ideological belief when that belief is the object of a quasi-religious faith; an example would be the Marxist eschatological myth of the withering away of the state. While the outline of myths from a past period or from a society other than one's own can usually be seen quite clearly, to recognize the myths that are dominant in one's own time and society is always difficult. This is hardly surprising, because a myth has its authority not by proving itself but by presenting itself. In this sense the authority of a myth indeed goes without saying, and the myth can be outlined in detail only when its authority is no longer unquestioned but has been rejected or overcome in some manner by another, more comprehensive myth. The word myth derives from the Greek mythos, which has a range of meanings from word, through saying and story, to fiction; the unquestioned validity of mythos can be contrasted with logos, the word whose validity or truth can be argued and demonstrated. Because myths narrate fantastic events with no attempt at proof, it is sometimes assumed that they are simply stories with no factual basis, and the word has become a synonym for falsehood or, at best, misconception. In the study of religion, however, it is important to distinguish between myths and stories that are merely untrue. The first part of this article discusses the nature, study, functions, cultural impact, and types of myth, taking into account the various approaches to the subject offered by modern branches of knowledge. In the second part, the specialized topic of the role of animals and plants in myth is examined in some detail. The mythologies of specific cultures are covered in the articles Greek religion, Roman religion, and Germanic religion. Additional reading Kees W. Bolle, Secularization as a Problem for the History of Religions, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 12(3):242259 (July 1970), a comparative study of secularization processes in various cultures and periods; Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (1978), especially ch. 1, The Discovery of the People, pp. 322, a discussion of the development of the study of folklore; Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual (1979, reprinted 1982), an attempt to relate myths to the biologic programs of action that lie behind them, and Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (1983; originally published in German, 1972), an account of Greek myths and rituals of sacrifice; Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, vol. 1, Primitive Mythology, rev. ed. (1969, reissued 1982), neo-Romantic and Jungian in interpretation, and The Way of the Animal Powers, vol. 1 of the Historical Atlas of World Mythology (1983), continuing a discussion of myths and culture; Henry Corbin et al., Man and Time (1957, reissued 1983), excellent contributions on mythologies concerning time in early Christianity, Islam, Mazdakism, and the Book of Changes; Friedrich Creuzer, Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Vlker, besonders der Griechen, 3rd rev. ed., 4 vol. (183642, reprinted 1973), a classic work; Marcel Detienne, The Creation of Mythology (1986; originally published in French, 1981), an analysis of mythos and the concept of mythology among the Greeks; Georges Dumzil, The Destiny of the Warrior (1970; originally published in French, 1969), on the problem of myth and epic in Indo-European studies; Alan Dundes (ed.), Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth (1984), treatments of the concept of myth by scholars from various disciplines; Mircea Eliade, Birth and Rebirth: The Religious Meanings of Initiation in Human Culture, trans. from French (1958, reissued 1975 with title Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth), indispensable for an understanding of myth in its relation to initiation ceremonies, From Primitives to Zen: A Thematic Sourcebook of the History of Religions (1967, reprinted 1977), containing a wide selection of mythological materials, Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries: The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities (1960, reissued 1975; originally published in French, 1957), of special interest for the study of myth in modern society, especially nostalgia for paradise and the function of psychoanalysis, Myth and Reality, trans. from French (1963, reprinted 1975), a collection of essays on myth, including an appendix on myths and fairy tales, an essay on the structure of myths, and a number of important observations on the continuation of myths in modern times, and The Myth of the Eternal Return, rev. ed. (1965, reprinted 1974; also published as Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, 1959, reprinted 1985; originally published in French, 1949), a discussion of cosmically and historically oriented myths; Burton Feldman and Robert D. Richardson (comps.), The Rise of Modern Mythology, 16801860 (1972, reprinted 1975), an excellent anthology with commentary and bibliography; H. Frankfort et al., The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man (1951), a discussion of the mytho-poetic ageneo-Romantic but still stimulating; Theodor H. Gaster, Thespis: Ritual, Myth, and Drama in the Ancient Near East, rev. ed. (1961, reissued 1977), a persuasive study on the historical relation between cult and drama (folkloric in character); Jack Goody, The Domestication of the Savage Mind (1977), a critique of Lvi-Strauss's views as expressed in The Savage Mind; Fritz Graf, Griechische Mythologie: Eine Einfhrung (1985), an excellent modern analysis of Greek mythology; Louis Herbert Gray (ed.), The Mythology of All Races, 13 vol. (191633, reissued 1964), perhaps the best collection and discussion of myths ever published in English; S.H. Hooke (ed.), Myth and Ritual: Essays on the Myth and Ritual of the Hebrews in Relation to the Culture Pattern of the Ancient East (1933), the manifesto of the Myth-Ritual school, and Myth, Ritual, and Kingship: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Kingship in the Ancient Near East and in Israel (1958, reprinted 1960), containing information on the myth of divine kingship; Werner Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers, trans. from German (1947, reprinted 1980), a discussion of the historical problem of the relationship between myth and philosophy; Karl Jaspers and Rudolf Bultmann, Myth and Christianity: An Inquiry into the Possibility of Religion Without Myth (1958; originally published in German, 1954), a discussion between the two authors on demythologization; Adolf E. Jensen, Myth and Cult Among Primitive Peoples (1963; originally published in German, 1951), important for the mythology of demi-deities and theoretical questions concerning myth and sacrifice; C.G. Jung and C. Kernyi, Essays on a Science of Mythology, rev. ed. (1963, reissued 1969; originally published in German, 1949), the basic introduction to the Jungian approach to myth; G.S. Kirk, Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures (1970, reprinted 1974), a discussion of the major modern theories of myth; Samuel Noah Kramer (ed.), Mythologies of the Ancient World (1961); Walter Krickeberg et al., Pre-Columbian American Religions (1968; originally published in German, 1961); Edmund Leach (ed.), The Structural Study of Myth and Totemism (1967), a discussion of structuralism; G. Van Der Leeuw, Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art, trans. from German (1963), an elaborate and imaginative work on the relations between religion and art in dance, drama, literature, plastic art, architecture, and music; Claude Lvi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (1966, reissued 1972), a fundamental analysis of primitive thought written from a structuralist point of view, and his 4 vol. study of the science of mythology, The Raw and the Cooked (1969, reissued 1986; originally published in French, 1964), From Honey to Ashes (1973, reprinted 1983; originally published in French, 1966), The Origin of Table Manners (1978; originally published in French, 1968), The Naked Man (1981; originally published in French, 1971), and Myth and Meaning (1978), reflections on some of the principal theoretical issues that have occupied the author; Charles H. Long, Alpha: The Myths of Creation (1963, reprinted 1983), the best and most available anthology of creation myths in English; Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion, and Other Essays (1948, reissued 1984), containing the influential essay Myth in Primitive Psychology; John Middleton (ed.), Myth and Cosmos: Readings in Mythology and Symbolism (1967, reprinted 1980), in which 18 well-known anthropologists present their views on myth, most of them on the basis of their own findings in a variety of nonliterate societies; Isidore Okpewho, Myth in Africa: A Study of Its Aesthetic and Cultural Relevance (1983); Walter F. Otto, The Homeric Gods: The Spiritual Significance of Greek Religion (1954, reprinted 1979; originally published in German, 3rd ed., 1947), mainly a treatise on the significance of Homeric mythology; Raffaele Pettazzoni, Miti e leggende, 4 vol. (194863, reprinted 4 vol. in 2, 1978), a classic containing an unsurpassed collection of myths and exhaustive bibliographies; Mac Linscott Ricketts, The North American Indian Trickster, History of Religions, 5(2):327350 (Winter 1966), an excellent essay on a puzzling character of North American Indian mythology; J.W. Rogerson, Anthropology and the Old Testament (1978, reissued 1984), on the relevance of 20th-century anthropology for the study of myth and ritual in the Bible; H.H. Rowley (ed.), The Old Testament and Modern Study: A Generation of Discovery and Research (1951, reprinted 1967), important for the problem of myth, directly and by implication; K.K. Ruthven, Myth (1976), a brief account of modern views of myth, especially the relation of myth to literature; H. Schrer, Ngaju Religion: The Conception of God Among a South Borneo People (1963; originally published in German, 1946); Thomas A. Sebeok (ed.), Myth: A Symposium (1955, reprinted 1974), in which nine specialists present their basic views of myths, fascinating because of the diversity; Stith Thompson (ed.), Tales of the North American Indians (1929, reprinted 1971), a readily available collection of North American Indian and other stories; RuthM. Underhill, Red Man's Religion: Beliefs and Practices of the Indians North of Mexico (1965, reprinted 1974), an introduction to North American Indian mythology, with superb bibliographies; and Jan De Vries, Forschungsgeschichte der Mythologie (1961), the standard work on the history of scholarship devoted to myth, Heroic Song and Heroic Legend (1963, reprinted 1978; originally published in Dutch, 1961), especially important for the relation between myth and epic (or saga), and The Study of Religion: A Historical Approach (1967; originally published in Dutch, 1961), a historical survey of scholarship devoted to religious phenomena, in which mythology is prominent. Kees W. Bolle Jonathan Z. Smith Richard G.A. Buxton Animals and plants in myth Animals and plants have played important roles in the oral traditions and the recorded myths of the peoples of the world, both ancient and modern. This section of the article is concerned with the variety of relationships noted between man and animals and plants in myths and popular folk traditions and in so-called primitive and popular systems of classification. Man has always been intrigued by the problem of boundaries: what distinguishes him from another man; what marks off his culture from another; what the dividing lines are between man and plants, man and animals, or man and his gods. At times he has maintained a rigid sense of separation and viewed the breaking of distinctions as transgression. At other times he has sought to cross the boundaries in order to gain power or knowledge. In some myths, he has glorified an age when distinct categories had not yet come into existence, and he has yearned for a return to this paradisiacal condition. In other traditions, he has viewed with horror the monsters that result when different spheres of being are mixed. According to a view prevalent in many traditional societies, man was formed by the gods. His history is given in the myths of the primordial establishment of things, and his solemn responsibility, along with every other living thing, is to fit himself within this given world. This does not mean that people living in such traditional societies lack distinctions. Among the African Lele, for example, animals are distinguished from man by their lack of manners, their immense fecundity, and by their sticking to their own sphere and avoiding contact with humans. Animals that violate this third characteristic are understood to be human-animals, the product of sorcery or metempsychosis (transmigration of souls). The Great Chain of Being that dominated Western thought throughout the Middle Ages made man both the highest of the animals and the lowest of the gods. Man's body was like that of the animals: corporeal, sensate, and mortal. Man's spirit or intellect resembled the gods: incorporeal, rational, and immortal. The great surge of ethnological and biologic data and theories from the 16th century on tended to undermine this point of view. New forms of men were encountered (e.g., the savage) who seemed to their first describers closely akin to the brute; new biologies were proposed that placed man wholly within the animal kingdom, merely as one species among many, and postulated man's descent from animals. More recently, psychology and ethology have emphasized the irrational (or brutish) elements in man and suggested close analogies between animal and human behaviour. Since the 18th century man has been defined in a new, nonbiological way: as a cultural being rather than as the inhabitant of a natural realm. There have been many forms of this dichotomy: man is the only being who has a language, uses symbols, employs tools, freely plays, is self-conscious, or possesses a history. Man, in short, creates himself as a cultural being in distinction to the animal or plant, which is created by its environment or heredity. These questions of man's identity and the way he resembles or differs from other sentient beings may be found in every culture and during every age. Man is a creature who tends to draw boundaries, both conceptually and practically. Not only does his being demand that he find a position in a complex system of relationships but also his social life and his biologic survival depend on the making of distinctions. To speak with the gods, have relations with another human, take possession of another's territory, or eat this or that plant or animal involves man in a host of decisions upon which his existence depends. One of his chief resources for answering such questions is that of the myths and legends mapping the world in which he dwells. Myths and legends concerning animals and plants employ a wide variety of motifs but express a limited number of relationships. Man, animals, and plants may stand in a relationship of (1) opposition or difference, (2) descent, (3) mixture, (4) transformation, (5) identity, or (6) similarity. These are determined by and expressive of the total worldview of a people. The hunter, for example, has a different understanding of the animal from that of the agriculturalist or pastoralist; the tuber planter has a different view of plants from that of the cultivator of grains. Even within these broad categories sharp differences occur. The Kalahari San of southern Africa, who, alone, naked, and crawling on the ground, blends in with his environment in order to kill an animal for food, reveals a way of looking at man's relation to nature different from that of the Masai tribesman of eastern Africa, who, costumed and walking upright as part of a line of chanting hunters in order to slay a lion as a symbol of his manhood, stands forth visibly as the ruler of the world through which he moves. The Cretan bull dancer of ancient Mediterranean culture, playing with the animal by somersaulting over his back, expresses a conception of man's relation to this powerful animal and the forces of fecundity and death that it symbolizes different from that of the Spanish bullfighter who slays the beast. Relationships of opposition or difference The fundamental religious boundary is that between the sacred and the profane, the sacred being conceived of as a sphere of power superior to or opposed to the mundane. That which is sacred may be either creatively or chaotically powerful. If the former, it is primarily expressed in creation myths; if the latter, in demonic traditions.
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