What is mythology?
Myths are generally stories based on tradition and legend designed to explain the universal and local beginnings (" creation myths and "founding myths"), natural phenomena, inexplicable cultural conventions, and anything elsefor which no simple explanation presents itself. Not all myths need have this explicatory purpose, however. Likewise, most mythsinvolve a supernatural force or deity , but many simple legends and narratives passed downorally from generation to generation have mythic content. The BrothersGrimm demonstrated that there is mythic content embedded even in the least promising fairy tales .
A fairy tale itself is not a myth. Other examples of materials with mythic content that are not themselves myths:
What human needs do myths satisfy? Myths authorize the cultural institutions of a tribe, a city, a nation by connecting themwith universal truths. Myths justify the current occupation of a territory by a people, for instance.
Mythology figures prominently in most religions , and most mythology is tied toat least one religion. Some use the words "myth" and "mythology" to portray the stories of one or more religions as false, ordubious at best. The term is most often used in this sense to describe religions founded by ancient societies, such as Roman mythology , Greek mythology , and Norse mythology , whichwere nearly extinct at one time. However, it is important to keep in mind that while some view the Norse and Celtic pantheons asmere fable , others hold them as a religion (See Neopaganism ). By extension, many people do not regard the talessurrounding the origin and development of religions like Christianity , Judaism and Islam as literal accounts ofevents, but instead regard them as figurative representations of their belief systems.
Some people, especially within "revealed" religions that are justified in terms of an authenticated scripture, may takeoffense at the characterization of any aspect of their faith as an expression of myth. An aspect of fundamentalism requires that every incidental element be accepted as literallytrue. However, most people concur that every religion has a body of myths that express deeper truths that are ineffable on thesurface level.
For the purposes of this article, therefore, we use the word "mythology" to refer to stories that, while they may or may notbe strictly factual, reveal fundamental truths and insights about human nature, often through the use of archetypes . Also, the stories we discuss express the viewpoints and beliefs of thecountry, time period, culture, and/or religion which gave birth to them; thus one can speak of a Jewish mythology, a Christianmythology, or an Islamic mythology, in which one describes the mythic elements within these faiths without speaking to theveracity of the faith's tenets or claims about its history.
Many modern day rabbis and priests within the more liberal Jewish and Christian movements, as well as most Neopagans, have noproblem viewing their religious texts as containing myth; they see their sacred texts as indeed containing religious truths,divinely inspired but delivered in the language of mankind. Others, of course, disagree.
Television and book series like Star Trek and Tarzan have strong mythological aspects that sometimes develop into deep and intricatephilosophical systems. These items are not mythology, but contain mythic themes that, for some people, meet the samepsychological needs. An excellent example is that developed by J. R. R.Tolkien in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings .
However, copyright law restricts independent authors from extending modernstory cycles. Some critics believe that the fact that the core characters and stories of modern story cycles are not in the public domain prevents the modern story cycles from sharing severalessential aspects of mythologies. Fan fiction goes some distance to relievingthis problem.
Fiction, however, does not reach the level of actual mythology until people believe that it really happened. For example, somepeople believe that fiction author Clive Barker 's Candyman was based upon atrue story, and new stories have grown up around the figure. The same can be said for the Blair Witch and many other stories.
Mythology is alive and well in the modern age through urban legends , scientific mythology , and many other ways. In the 1950s Roland Barthes published a seriesof essays examining modern myths and the process of their creation in his book Mythologies .
Mythologies by region
Asia (non- Middle East )
Books on mythology
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