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Mythology tells stories of ancient myths and legends.
Mythology is the "branch of knowledge that deals with myths; the study of myths." Mythology, in addition, refers to the body of myths from a particular culture or religion, (e.g., Egyptian mythology, Norse mythology, or Christian mythology). Mythology primarily focuses on stories that a particular culture has believed to be true and which may use supernatural events or characters to explain the nature of the universe and humanity.
In common usage, myth can mean a falsehood, or a fable - a story which is widely believed to be based on fact but which is not true. However, the academic study of mythology does not use these definitions. Mythography and comparative religious studies also acknowledge the cultural and spiritual value of all myth systems.
Essence of mythology.
Myths are narratives about divine or heroic beings, arranged in a logical manner, and passed from generation to generation and culture to culture in syncretic mimetic shifts (i.e., changes which attempt to include material from newly-absorbed cultures and to reconcile any subsequent contradictions). All sacred traditions have myths, and use of the term does not imply crticism or any depreciation in importance, as there often is in common usage.
Some myths descended originally as part of an oral tradition and were only later written down, many existing in multiple versions. Oral traditions may diminish, or in some cases vanish, as the written word becomes "the story" and the literate become "the authority"; however, this depends on the culture.
Most often the term mythology is used in a compound expression with another adjective to refer specifically to ancient tales from very old cultures, such as Greek mythology or Roman mythology.
According to Friedrich von Schelling in the eighth chapter of Introduction to Philosophy and Mythology,
The practice of classifying mythical narratives and figures is the work of the mythologist. Classification is based on a number of criteria, chiefly recurring themes and objectives, regardless of cultural, geographical, and chronological origins. An individual myth may meet the criteria of more than one of the following categories:
Other concepts of mythology.
Myths are not the same as fables, legends, folktales, fairy tales, anecdotes, or fiction, but the concepts may overlap. Notably, during Romanticism, folk and fairy tales were perceived by collectors such as the Brothers Grimm and Elias Lönnrot as eroded fragments of earlier mythology.
Mythological themes have often been consciously employed in literature, beginning with the works of Homer. The resulting work may expressly refer to a mythological background without being itself part of a body of myths (e.g., Cupid and Psyche). The medieval romance in particular plays with this process of turning myth into literature.
Euhemerism is the theory that mythology has its origins in history. It suggests that gods are deified heroes of the past, and when used, the term often refers to the process of explaining myths, putting topics formerly imbued with mythological qualities into pragmatic contexts. An example would be the reinterpretation of pagan mythology following the rise of Christianity. On the other hand, historical and literary material may become more myth-like over time; for example, the Matter of Britain and the Matter of France; based on historical events of the 5th and 8th centuries, respectively, were first made into epic poetry and over the following centuries became more mythical. "Conscious generation" of mythology has been termed mythopoeia by J. R. R. Tolkien, and also by the notorious Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg.
Mythology formation of myths.
What forces create myths? Robert Graves said of Greek myth:
Graves, who was deeply influenced by Sir James George Frazer's mythography The Golden Bough, agreed that myths are generated by many cultural needs.
Myths authorize the cultural institutions of a tribe, a city, or a nation by connecting them with universal truths. Myths justify the current occupation of a territory by a particular people, for instance.
All cultures have developed their own myths consisting of narratives 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. François-Bernard MÂche distinguishes between "myth, in the sense of this primary psychic image, with some kind of mytho-logy, or a system of words trying with varying success to ensure a certain coherence between these images.
A collection of myths is called a mythos (e.g., the Roman mythos). A collection of mythos is a mythoi (e.g., the Greek and Roman mythoi).
Joseph Campbell is one of the more notable recent authors to write about myths and the history of spirituality. His book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1948) outlines the basic ideas upon which he continued to elaborate until his death in 1987. These ideas, popularized in a series of books and videos, are considered to be inspirational rather than scholarly, and are more widely-accepted among the general public than in academic circles.
Mythology and religion.
Mythology figures prominently in most religions, and most mythologies are related to at least one religion. Note that here myth, refers to a spiritual, psychological, or symbolical notion of truth unrelated to materialist or objectivist notions. While there are many adherents of Abrahamic religions who regard the symbols and events surrounding the origin and development of their faith's mythical tradition as literal history, there are other followers who instead regard them as figurative representations of their beliefs. Most of the new age religions, such as Neopaganism, have no objection to characterizing their religious texts as mythical.
The word mythology is used to refer to stories that, while they may not be strictly factual, reveal fundamental truths and insights about human nature, often through the use of archetypes. These stories also express the viewpoints and beliefs of the country, time period, culture, and/or religion in which they originated. Thus, it is possible to describe the mythic elements within various faiths as "mythology" (e.g., "Hindu mythology"; "Yoruba mythology"; "Islamic mythology") without addressing the issue of the truth of the faith's fundamental beliefs or claims about its history.
Mythology and myths as depictions of historical events.
Although the status of a story as myth does not depend on it being based on historical events; myths which surround a historical nucleus gradually become filled with symbolic meaning, and can be transformed, shifted in time or place, or even reversed.
One way to conceptualize this process is to view myths as lying at the far end of a continuum ranging from an impartial report at one extreme, through legendary occurrence, and reaching mythical status at the other extreme. As an event progresses towards the mythical, facts become less important while the thoughts, feelings, and interpretations of the people take on progressively greater historical significance. By the time the story reaches the mythical end of the spectrum, it has taken on a life of its own and the facts of the original event have become nearly irrelevant. One example of this process is the Trojan War, a topic firmly within the scope of Greek mythology, though the extent of its historical basis in the Trojan cycle is disputed.
This method of interpreting myths as accounts of actual events, euhemerist exegesis, dates from antiquity and can be traced back to Evhémère's Histoire sacrée (300 B.C.E.) which describes the inhabitants of the island of Panchaia ("Everything-Good") in the Indian Ocean as normal people deified by popular naïveté. As Roland Barthes affirms, "Myth is a word chosen by history. It could not come from the nature of things."
This process occurs in part because events 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 and events, to account for the deities' attributes or entheogens, or even to make sense of ancient icons. Some myths are invented in an attempt to explain a harbinger's instructions, the origins of which have become obscured with the passage of time. Conversely, descriptions of recent events are reemphasised in order to seem analogous with tradition. This technique has been used by some religious conservatives in America to reinterpret prophecies in the Bible, particularly those of the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation. It was also used during the Russian Communist era in propaganda about political situations to create misleading references to class struggles. Until World War II, the fitness of the Emperor of Japan was linked to his mythical descent from the Shinto sun goddess, Amaterasu.
MÂche argues that euhemerist exegesis, "was applied to capture and seize by force of reason qualities of thought, which eluded it on every side." This process, he argues, often leads to interpretation of myths as "disguised propaganda in the service of powerful individuals," and that the purpose of myths in this view is to allow the "social order" to establish "its permanence on the illusion of a natural order." He argues against this interpretation: "[W]hat puts an end to this caricature of certain speeches from May 1968 is, among other things, precisely the fact that roles are not distributed once and for all in myths, as would be the case if they were a variant of the idea of an 'opium of the people.'"
Against Barthes, MÂche argues that,
Other uses of mythology.
Middleton argues that, "For Lévi-Strauss, myth is a structured system of signifiers, whose internal networks of relationships are used to 'map' the structure of other sets of relationships; the 'content' is infinitely variable and relatively unimportant."
In their book Hamlet's Mill, Giorgio De Santillana and Hertha Von Dechend suggest that myth is a "technical language" describing cosmic events. They write:
Catastrophists such as Immanuel Velikovsky believe that myths are derived from the oral histories of ancient cultures that witnessed cosmic catastrophes. In his book Worlds in Collision, he writes:
The catastrophic interpretation of myth forms only a small minority within the field of mythology.
Film and book series like Star Wars and Tarzan may have strong mythological aspects that sometimes develop into deep and intricate philosophical systems. These items, though not mythology, contain mythic themes that meet similar psychological needs for certain people. One example of a fictional mythological system is that developed by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. In addition, fans will sometimes incorrectly use the term mythology to refer to a complex fictional world such as that of the Star Trek series.
Fiction, however, does not reach the level of actual mythology until people believe that it really happened. For example, some people believe that fiction author Clive Barker's movie Candyman was based upon a true story, and new stories have grown up around the figure. The same can be said for the Blair Witch and other such stories. Many generated contemporary myths have achieved the status of urban legend. The word is also used to refer to common, rarely-questioned contemporary value systems, especially when seen as ideological or socially constructed (e.g., "the mythology of love"). In the 1950s, French structuralist thinker Roland Barthes published a series of semiotic analyses of such modern myths and the process of their creation, collected in his book Mythologies.
Myths by region.
Mythology in Africa.
Mythology in Asia (non-Middle East).
Mythology in Australia and Oceania.
Mythology in Europe.
Mythology in the Middle East.
Mythology in North America.
Mythology in South America and Mesoamerica.
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