Sunday, March 1, 2009

on myth...

Sources: I used wikipedia and my memory for this...

Myth is a common enough word but what do people mean when they use it ? The word myth is used in many ways, and it doesn't have a single meaning. Mythology (from the Greek μυθολογία , meaning "a story-telling, a legendary lore") refers to folklore, myths, and legends that a particular culture believes to be true and that often use the supernatural to understand natural events and/or to explain the nature of the universe and humanity. The meaning of the word myth has has changed over time. Here are some meanings of the word myth with the date of their entry (e.g. 1830 ) into the dictionary:
1a. "A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces or creatures, which shows or provides an explanation, or reason for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon", (1830 )
1b. "As a mass noun: such stories collectively or as a genre." (1840)
2a. "A widespread but untrue or story or belief” A lie.” ( 1849)
2b. "A person or thing held in awe or generally referred to with great admiration because of popularly repeated stories (whether real or fictitious)." (1853)
2c. "A popular idea of a person or thing which exaggerates or idealizes the truth." (1928)
When we use the word we will mean “myth” as defined in the first definition above and as a sacred narrative explaining how the world and humankind came to be in their present form. Unlike a folktale, the sacred nature of the basic plot and character elements of a myth cannot be changed.

Mythology or a collection or group of myths comes from the Greek word meaning "a storytelling, a legendary lore1. Legends and legendary lore are stories that have some historical basis and come from historical times. The people of legend may have existed ( Robin Hood and King Arthur are two examples2) and the plot or main character of a legend usually shows some commonly held value that a culture holds dear. Legends may evolve into myth, but the story of a legend usually unfolds in a realistic way even though it may include some magical or supernatural events. Myths, on the other hand, use supernatural beings and forces and are rarely realistic.

A story that is also a myth will be one or more of these things:
1. A story of beginnings; how existence, the world and everything in it came to be. Some myths explain the start of existence on earth and/or human existence– these are creation myths.
2. An explanation of the way things are in nature. Before scientific method and study, people tried to understand how things in nature work. Phenomena3 like thunder, lightning, wind, and rain were important but not understood. People made up myths to explain these and other powerful or quirky forces of nature.
3. Some myths are warnings about how people should behave by showing through story, the consequences of bad behavior of mythological characters like the first humans or gods and goddesses that run amok. Myths like this sometimes claim to relate the reason behind natural disasters like floods, volcanoes and tsunami.
4. Some cultures have myths to show correct human behavior as an explanation for the origins of their social customs and rituals.
5. Many myths show the origin and celebrate the existence of good things like the return of spring, or the goodness of sunlight or the reasons animals and plants grow and provide food.
6. Myths are usually not set in real time – they are said to come from before time or so long, long, long ago, no one remembers that time.
7. Some myths are simply sacred stories about the origin and “life” of gods, and goddesses. Stories about supernatural beings and other religious concepts are all part of a culture’s myths.

Myths are stories shared by a group of people and are an important part of that group's cultural identity Myths are stories told by people about people: they are about where we come from, why we are here, how the natural world came to be and how we cope with that world, and where we are all going.

1 comment:

Simon Brooks said...

Hi Norah - Great piece. You Sort Of duplicate the meaning of myth; not in a full sence, but in so far as you talk about the historical meanings (which is really interesting - could you shorten it?) and what it gernally means to people, or to you today. I would mention the ptiordial self that myths address and that they allow people to understand the wortld around them - they used to be for adults, but we ;know better' now, so are great for younger kids who might not grasp the ideas of things.
My tuppence worth. Great work.