What is a myth?
Myths are mankind’s answers to philosophical questions such as creation, origins, behavior, social rules and the afterlife. They facilitate the logic of not only our own existence but that of the universe and the world around us. Unfortunately many myths come to us only in the instant they are written down and we are never privy to them in their original forms. Myths have been the foundation for many religions, and many ancient cultures survived and thrived due to the certainty of their local mythologies. For many, ancient mythology is merely a tale with no foundation for conviction, as in an allegory. However, within each myth lies an impression of truth. These notions did not just appear from thin air, for there has to be some genuine source on which the myth rests upon. We are still a society of myth believers, whether we chose to realize this or not.
Despite similarities connecting myths of the many cultures, there is no proof that all share a precise launch point. Many of these myths run in the same vein, but their course takes a different journey, possibly depending on the culture’s location and advancement. The collective unconscious of a people, however, still plays in the midst. Not only is our existence a part of the collective, it is also our being at one with the universe. Primordially we all share common themes and elements in our dreams, and the communication relayed by them transcend all races. Many believe this in itself is the essence of mythology.
Cosmology is the term used in consideration of creation myths. Although there are many creation myths of all kinds, there are fundamental forms. There are those that declare the universe was created from a void, or chaos; while others reveal the universe was the mere thought of a supreme being. The bodily remains of a primeval god are often the resultant resources by which the universe was created; the Enuma-elish is a perfect example of this class of cosmology. Lastly, let us not forget cosmic copulation.
Through the origin myth we come to understand our station in conjunction with those of the gods. For the Greeks and Romans, calendars and life itself often revolved around the worship of significant cultural gods; and important displays in a gods honor was thought to bring favors and blessings.
Ceremonies and role playing was a resource by which the people became one with a god entity, thereby creating a better understanding of their own role in the lives of the gods. Characterization is not only synonymous with the theatre, but within ceremonies and rituals. Role play reaches far back in time and is a significant part of “tribal” custom even till this day.
The Greeks and Romans, for example, built their lives around their belief in myths. They built strong and remarkable cultures, and found many innovative ways to worship their gods through art, literature, competitive games and festivals. Here, once again, collective emotions and reactions play an important part in cultural mythologies. For the Greeks, their cosmological speculation evolved into their mythology which afterwards revolutionized itself into their religion.
Hermeticism, in short, is the belief that within a myth is a very complicated and mystical communication. By ways of unlocking and decoding their meaning allows entry into the portal of universal creation. Symbolism plays a key role in deciphering myths, and the ancient Greeks were believers that myths concealed secret teachings, as well as, believing their mythology was a bit hazy.
Euhemerism is the idea of Euhemerous, a Greek mythographer from the 4th century BC; his idea that myths are imprecise histories was previously suggested by Heredotus, who lived a century earlier. The idea behind euhemerism is that myths are based on actual people whom over the years of oral storytelling, transformed, ending with a final result of their reaching god status. These idealizations may be based on what that individual accomplished, or perhaps invented.
For others, personification is what some myths are built on. Ancient peoples worshipped the elements, so it is no surprise that they too should take on their due glory. Natural events and phenomena were, to the ancients, personal acts of the gods; and the stories that revolve such causes is what led to their becoming a myth.
Comparative mythology compares diverse mythologies from dissimilar cultures and seeks to find the ties that bind. Despite the many parallels, many modern day scholars tend to find disfavor in this approach. However, by doing so we are able to clearly see the many parallels, for without it would never know that the myths of many cultures are closely knit. Joseph Campbell’s innovative theory, monomyth, states that all “hero” mythology follows the same underlying pattern. His theory makes sense, though it is frowned upon by mainstream studies of mythology.
We may not realize the importance of mythology as we struggle day to day; but they do stream deeply within our subconscious. After all, they are the quiet knowing that we are never alone, for even our ancient predecessors have experienced the trials and tribulations of life.