Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


For the computer game, see Myth (computer game).
A myth is a lesson in story form which has deep explanatory or symbolic resonance for preliterate cultures, who preserve and cherish the wisdom of their elders through oral traditions by the use of skilled story tellers. Its truth is larger than the advent of critical history which may, or may not exist as in an authoritative written form which becomes "the story".(Preliterate oral traditions vanish as the written word becomes "the story" and the literate become "the authority"). Myth is simultaneously true at more than one level, for those who tell it, hear and delight in it, and understand it within their culture. Most often the term refers specifically to ancient tales from very old cultures, such as Greek mythology or Roman mythology. Some myths descended originally as part of an oral tradition and were only later written down, and many of them exist in multiple versions. In sociology a myth is a story that is important for the group that may or may not be true.

All cultures have developed over time their own mythology, consisting of legends of their history, their religions, and their heroes. The great power of the symbolic meaning of these stories for the culture is a major reason why they survive as long as they do, sometimes for thousands of years.

A collection of myths is called a mythos, e.g. 'the Roman mythos.' A collection of those is called a mythoi, e.g. 'the Greek and Roman mythoi.'

One notable type is the creation myth, which describes how that culture believes the universe was created. There is talk now within the scientific community about the time before the Big Bang. To those have been comfortable with the Big Bang as the ultimate solution and refuse to put it aside as new information may appear, the Big Bang has become a sacred myth. Not so long ago the Milky Way was the one and only galaxy; to suggest otherwise was almost unheard of sacrilege within the world of astronomy. Myths are often authoritative final answers with emotional ties. Another is the Trickster myth, which concerns itself with the pranks or tricks played by gods or heroes.

Joseph Campbell was considered by some people to be the world's leading authority on myth and the history of spirituality.

Table of contents
1 Historians' views on myths
2 Other uses
3 See also
4 Reference
5 External links

Historians' views on myths

Although myths are often considered to be accounts of events that have not happened, many historians consider that myths can also be accounts of actual events that have become highly imbued with symbolic meaning, or that have been transformed, shifted in time or place, or even reversed. One way of conceptualizing this process is to view 'myths' as lying at the far end of a continuum ranging from a 'dispassionate account' to 'legendary occurrence' to 'mythical status'. As an event progresses towards the mythical end of this continuum, what people think, feel and say about the event takes on progressively greater historical significance while the facts become less important. By the time one reaches the mythical end of the spectrum the story has taken on a life of its own and the facts of the original event have become almost irrelevant.

This process occurs in part because the events described become detached from their original context and new context is substituted, often through analogy with current or recent events. Some Greek myths originated in Classical times to provide explanations for inexplicable features of local cult practices, to account for the local epithet of one of the Olympian gods, to interpret depictions of half-remembered figures, events, or account for the deities' attributes or entheogens, even to make sense of ancient icons, much as myths are invented to "explain" heraldic charges, the origins of which has become arcane with the passing of time. Conversely, descriptions of recent events are re-emphasised to make them seem to be analogous with the commonly known story. This technique has been used by Right-wing conservatives in America with text from the Bible (e.g. Revelation), and was used in the Russian Communist era in propaganda about political situations with misleading references to class struggles. Even today the fitness of the Emperor of Japan is based partly on his distant descent from the Goddess of the Sun.

Other uses

Myths are not the same as fables, folktales, fairy tales, anecdotes, or simple fiction, but sloppy usage has blurred the distinctions in many people's minds. The term "myth" is sometimes used pejoratively in reference to common beliefs of a culture or for the beliefs of a religion to imply that the story is both fanciful and fictional.

Myth is often used to refer to a commonly held but erroneous belief. Compare urban myth, the secular mythology of modern culture.

The terms urban myth and urban legend are sometimes used to describe something that is false, but, strictly speaking, those can be either true or false as well.

See also


External links