Definition: a subset of religion; the collection of stories at the center of the religion



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Introduction to mythology

  • Definition: a subset of religion; the collection of stories at the center of the religion.

    • Present in every culture, past or present, in the world

    • Stories about things it believes in

    • Contain a supernatural element

    • Attempts to explain a fact of some kind

    • Almost always part of a broader religion: the worship of some kind of spiritual power, involving ritual observances and ceremonies

  • History:

    • First written myths

    • 5000 years ago

    • Mesopotamia in Middle East

    • Writing used to record stocks and transactions

    • 4500 years ago began to write down stories about the gods and goddesses they believed in.

  • Appeal:

    • Good stories (narratives)

    • need to be good so people will listen to them

    • village or clan storyteller

      • learned the myths

      • entertained

      • educated

      • professional storytellers

      • traveled round a wider community

      • told stories in exchange for food and lodgings

    • Insight into people who develop the belief system

      • How they lived

      • Where they came from

      • Clues to their social structure

      • How these people lived

      • Where they came from

      • Clues to their social structures

  • Source of information:

    • Written records

    • Clues about themselves

    • Clues about other people (with biases)

      • Greeks and Romans: Celts were savages

    • Artifacts depicting gods and goddesses, rituals

      • Paintings of vases, sculptures, carvings

  • Function of myths

    • To explain natural phenomena

    • To control natural forces

    • To bind a clan, tribe or nation together

    • To record historical events

    • Flood identified by archaeologists as devastating Mesopotamia in around 4000 BC

    • Hebrew, Judaeo-Christian, and Babylonian flood myths are almost identical

    • To give a kind of verbal geography lesson

    • Description of landmarks to look for on a journey

    • usually exaggerated for effect

    • To set examples for people’s behavior

    • Gods to emulate

    • Human heroes

    • real historical characters or made-up

    • may or may not be deified at the end of the exploits

    • To justify a social structure

    • Mythological heaven reflects social structure of culture

    • Or king may claim society must be ordered this way to reflect gods’ order of things

    • To control people

    • Frighten people

    • Claim authority comes from god -- divine right of kings

    • Punishments in the afterlife

  • Growth of myths

    • Animism: everything has a spirit or soul

      • Rarely find myths at this stage

      • Society moves quickly to next stage

      • Echoes of animistic beliefs in later myths

    • Fetishism: object considered to be inhabited by a spirit, not an aspect of the object, but a separate entity that can leave the object if it wants or is permitted to

      • Generally of a size that it can be carried, like a charm

      • Can be controlled and instructed to bring good luck

      • Sometimes only the shaman, or medicine man can control it

      • Slave, not master, of the tribe

      • May later become deified if it performs well

    • Totemism: each family group or clan adopts a particular fetish

      • Frequently clan claims some kind of descent from this totem

      • No ethical of moral dimension to the belief, no god to judge, punish or reward behavior

    • Polytheism: belief in more than one god

      • May be promoted from fetishes

      • gods may acquire families to reflect culture

      • Different forms worshipped as different personalities

      • Tribes and cities combine and their gods merge to form a pantheon

      • Hierarchy of responsibilities: basic to intellectual

      • Preserve some of earliest gods and goddesses

      • may take on a moral or ethical dimension

      • Behavior toward each other , toward the gods

      • Entirely good or evil gods emerge

      • Soul is judged after death, place of punishment or reward

      • Deities anthropomorphism into human form

      • Gods in our own image

    • Monotheism: belief in one god

      • Usually develops when one tribe conquers other neighboring tribes

      • Top god emerges

      • Generally has the power to forgive sins

      • Stringent moral codes

  • Why myths adapt

    • Passing of time

    • Place to place

    • Political changes

    • Change in understanding

    • Oral Vs written

    • Fetish

    • Success inspires awe

    • People cut deals with the spirit

    • Ritual payment for help (blood of kill)

    • Sustenance to revive success

    • Worship, ritual, sacrifice = god from fetish

  • How myths spread

    • Cross cultural swap

    • Conquered people left with hybrid myths

    • Trade routes

  • Types of god

    • Strong male god

    • Herdsman fights for territory

    • Needs god to make it rain

    • Mother-earth goddess

    • Farmer settled and isolated

    • Needs crops to be ‘born" every spring from the earth

    • Nurtured through harvest

    • Fertility

    • Types which occur regularly

    • Sky gods

    • Creator gods

    • Sun god

    • Thunder gods

    • Rain gods

    • Fertility gods

    • Gods of war

    • Fire gods

    • Sea gods

    • Moon gods

    • Mother goddesses

    • Fertility goddesses

    • Moon goddesses

    • Goddesses of love

    • Goddesses of death

  • Classifying myths

    • Creation myths

    • Myths of the origin of humans

    • Myths of the cosmos

    • Flood myths

    • End of the world myths

    • Myths of the underworld

    • Myths of a descent to the underworld

    • Myths of heaven and hell

    • Hero myths

    • Fire myths

    • Dismemberment myths



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