- This article is about a system of myths. For the 1942 book Mythology, see its author Edith Hamilton.
Table of contents
What is mythology?Myths are generally stories based on tradition and legend designed to explain the universal and local beginnings ("creation myths and "founding myths"), natural phenomena, inexplicable cultural conventions, and anything else for which no simple explanation presents itself. Not all myths need have this explicatory purpose, however. Likewise, most myths involve a supernatural force or deity, but many simple legends and narratives passed down orally from generation to generation have mythic content. The Brothers Grimm demonstrated that there is mythic content embedded even in the least promising fairy tales.
A fairy tale itself is not a myth. Other examples of materials with mythic content that are not themselves myths:
- Philosophical allegory.
- Sentimental or moral fable, parable or anecdote..
- Cultural propaganda
- "Rationalized" explications of myths that are no longer understood.
- Heroic saga and epic.
- Realistic or satirical fiction.
- Narrative drama.
- Enriched history.
What human needs do myths satisfy? Myths authorize the cultural institutions of a tribe, a city, a nation by connecting them with universal truths. Myths justify the current occupation of a territory by a people, for instance.
Mythology figures prominently in most religions, and most mythology is tied to at least one religion. Some use the words "myth" and "mythology" to portray the stories of one or more religions as false, or dubious at best. The term is most often used in this sense to describe religions founded by ancient societies, such as Roman mythology, Greek mythology, and Norse mythology, which were nearly extinct at one time. However, it is important to keep in mind that while some view the Norse and Celtic pantheons as mere fable, others hold them as a religion (See Neopaganism). By extension, many people do not regard the tales surrounding the origin and development of religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam as literal accounts of events, but instead regard them as figurative representations of their belief systems.
Some people, especially within "revealed" religions that are justified in terms of an authenticated scripture, may take offense at the characterization of any aspect of their faith as an expression of myth. An aspect of fundamentalism requires that every incidental element be accepted as literally true. However, most people concur that every religion has a body of myths that express deeper truths that are ineffable on the surface level.
For the purposes of this article, therefore, we use the word "mythology" to refer to stories that, while they may or may not be strictly factual, reveal fundamental truths and insights about human nature, often through the use of archetypes. Also, the stories we discuss express the viewpoints and beliefs of the country, time period, culture, and/or religion which gave birth to them; thus one can speak of a Jewish mythology, a Christian mythology, or an Islamic mythology, in which one describes the mythic elements within these faiths without speaking to the veracity of the faith's tenets or claims about its history.
Many modern day rabbis and priests within the more liberal Jewish and Christian movements, as well as most Neopagans, have no problem viewing their religious texts as containing myth; they see their sacred texts as indeed containing religious truths, divinely inspired but delivered in the language of mankind. Others, of course, disagree.
Modern mythologyTelevision and book series like Star Trek and Tarzan have strong mythological aspects that sometimes develop into deep and intricate philosophical systems. These items are not mythology, but contain mythic themes that, for some people, meet the same psychological needs. An excellent example is that developed by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings.
However, copyright law restricts independent authors from extending modern story cycles. Some critics believe that the fact that the core characters and stories of modern story cycles are not in the public domain prevents the modern story cycles from sharing several essential aspects of mythologies. Fan fiction goes some distance to relieving this problem.
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 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 many other stories.
Mythology is alive and well in the modern age through urban legends, scientific mythology, and many other ways. In the 1950s Roland Barthes published a series of essays examining modern myths and the process of their creation in his book Mythologies.
Mythologies by region
- Akamba mythology - Akan mythology - Alur mythology - Ashanti mythology - Bambara mythology - Bambuti mythology - Banyarwanda mythology - Basari mythology - Baule mythology - Bavenda mythology - Bazambi mythology - Baziba mythology - Bushongo mythology - Dahomey mythology (Fon) - Dinka mythology - Efik mythology - Egyptian mythology (Pre-Islam) - Ekoi mythology - Fan mythology - Fens mythology - Fjort mythology - Herero mythology - Ibibio mythology - Ibo mythology - Isoko mythology - Kamba mythology - Kavirondo mythology - Khoikhoi mythology - Kurumba mythology - Lotuko mythology - Lugbara mythology - Lunda mythology - Makoni mythology - Masai mythology - Mongo mythology - Mundang mythology - Ngbandi mythology - Nupe mythology - Nyamwezi mythology - Oromo mythology - Ovambo mythology - Pygmy mythology - San mythology - Serer mythology - Shona mythology - Shongo mythology - Songhai mythology - Sotho mythology - Tumbuka mythology - Xhosa mythology - Yoruba mythology - Zulu mythology
Asia (non-Middle East)
- Buddhist mythology - Bon mythology (pre-Buddhist Tibetan mythology) - Chinese mythology - Hindu mythology - Japanese mythology (mainstream) - Japanese mythology (Hotuma version) - Korean mythology - Turkic mythology
Australia and Oceania
- Aboriginal mythology (natives of Australia) - Melanesian mythology - Micronesian mythology - Polynesian mythology
- Anglo-Saxon mythology - Catalan mythology - Celtic mythology - Corsican mythology - Germanic mythology - Greek mythology - English mythology - Etruscan mythology - Finnish mythology - Irish mythology - Latvian mythology - Lithuanian mythology - Lusitanian mythology - Norse mythology - Polish mythology - Roman mythology - Romanian mythology - Sardinian mythology - Slavic mythology - Tatar mythology
- Arab mythology (pre-Islamic) - Christian mythology - Islamic mythology - Jewish mythology - Sumerian mythology
- Abenaki mythology - Algonquin mythology - American mythology (non-Native American) - American folklore - Blackfoot mythology - Chippewa mythology - Creek mythology - Crow mythology - Haida mythology - Ho-Chunk mythology - Hopi mythology - Inuit mythology - Iroquois mythology - Huron mythology - Kwakiutl mythology - Lakota mythology - Leni Lenape mythology - Navaho mythology - Nootka mythology - Pawnee mythology - Salish mythology - Seneca mythology - Tsimshian mythology - Ute mythology - Zuni mythology
South America and Mesoamerica
- Aztec mythology - Incan mythology - Guarani mythology - Maya mythology - Olmec mythology - Toltec mythology
- culture hero
- earth mother
- first man or woman
- life-death-rebirth deity
- lunar deity
- sky father
- solar deity
- legendary creature
- list of species in folklore and mythology
- list of species in folklore and mythology by type
- list of species in fantasy fiction
Books on mythology
- Bulfinch's Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch
- The Golden Bough by James George Frazer
- The Hero With a Thousand Faces and other titles by Joseph Campbell
- Mythology by Edith Hamilton
- Mythology by Anne Birrell
- Encyclopedia Mythica Comprehensive encyclopedia of mythology, folklore, and legend; covers deities, heroes and mythical beasts.
- Godchecker Easy-to-use searchable encyclopedia of gods and goddesses from around the world; currently has over 1,600 gods listed, including many obscure deities.
- Using Mythic-Archetypal Approaches in the Language Arts. ERIC Digest.