Myths Of The World: Fire From The Deep Collecto...
Myths are a part of every culture in the world and are used to explain natural phenomena, where a people came from and how their civilization developed, and why things happen as they do. At their most basic level, myths comfort by giving a sense of order and meaning to what can sometimes seem a chaotic world.
Myths of the World: Fire from the Deep Collecto...
Mythology (from the Greek mythos for story-of-the-people, and logos for word or speech, so the spoken story of a people) is the study and interpretation of often sacred tales or fables of a culture known as myths or the collection of such stories which deal with various aspects of the human condition: good and evil; the meaning of suffering; human origins; the origin of place-names, animals, cultural values, and traditions; the meaning of life and death; the afterlife; and celestial stories of the gods or a god. Myths express the beliefs and values about these subjects held by a certain culture.
Campbell's answer, ultimately, is that myths teach meaning. Mythology explains, empowers, stabilizes, and elevates the life of a believer from a mundane existence to one imbued with eternal meaning. On the most basic level, a myth explains a phenomenon, tradition, place-name, or geological formation but it can also elevate a past event to epic and even supernatural significance and, most importantly, provide a role model for one's individual journey through life.
Historical myths retell an event from the past but elevate it with greater meaning than the actual event (if it even happened). One example of this is the story of the Battle of Kurukshetra as described in the Indian epic Mahabharata in which the Pandava brothers symbolize different values and provide role models, even if they are occasionally flawed. Kurukshetra is then presented in microcosm in the Bhagavad Gita where one of the Pandavas, Arjuna, is visited on the battlefield by the god Krishna, avatar of Vishnu, to explain one's purpose in life. Whether the Battle of Kurukshetra ever took place is immaterial to the power of these two stories on a mythological level. The same can be said for the religious myths of the Abrahamic narratives of the Bible or the Siege of Troy and its fall as described in Homer's Iliad or Odysseus' journey home in the Odyssey or Aeneas' adventures in the work of Virgil.
Psychological myths present one with a journey from the known to the unknown which, according to both Jung and Campbell, represents a psychological need to balance the external world with one's internal consciousness of it. However that may be, the story of the myth itself usually involves a hero or heroine on a journey in which they discover their true identity or fate and, in so doing, resolve a crisis while also providing an audience with some important cultural value.
One of the best-known etiological myths comes from Greece in the form of the tale of Demeter, goddess of grain and the harvest, and her daughter Persephone who became Queen of the Dead. In this story, Persephone is kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld, and brought down to his dark realm. Demeter searches desperately everywhere for the maiden but cannot find her. During this time of Demeter's sorrow, the crops fail and people starve and the gods are not given their due. Zeus, king of the gods, orders Hades to restore Persephone to her mother and Hades obliges but, because Persephone has eaten a certain number of pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, she has to spend half the year below the earth but could enjoy the other half with her mother in the world above.
In China, this theme was explored in another way through the tale of Fuxi (foo-shee), the god of fire. As a god, Fuxi had many responsibilities but when his friend, the goddess Nuwa, asked for his help, he did not refuse. Nuwa had created human beings but found they did not know how to do anything and she did not have the patience to teach them. Fuxi brought humans fire, taught them to control it, and how to use it to cook food and warm themselves. He then taught them how to weave fishing nets and draw food from the sea and, afterwards, gave them the arts of divination, music, and writing. Fuxi is thought to be based on an actual historical king who lived c.2953-2736 BCE and possibly provided the order necessary for the rise of the Xia Dynasty (c. 2070-1600 BCE), the first historical dynasty in China. In this story, Fuxi sets aside his pride as a god and humbles himself to the service of his friend Nuwa and humanity.
Every culture in the world has had, and still has, some type of mythology. The classical mythology of the ancient Greeks and Romans is the most familiar to people in the west but the motifs found in those stories are echoed in others around the world. The Greek tale of Prometheus the fire-bringer and teacher of humanity is echoed in the Chinese tale of Fuxi. The story of Nuwa and her creation of human beings in China resonates with another from the other side of the world: the story of creation from the Popol-Vuh of the Maya in which humans are created who can do nothing and prove useless but, in the Maya story, are destroyed and the gods then try again. This same motif appears in the mythology of Mesopotamia where the gods struggle in creating humans who keep coming out poorly.
The same types of stories, and often the very same story, can be found in myths from different parts of the world. African myth, Native American myth, Chinese, or European all serve the same function of explaining, comforting, and providing meaning. The creation story as related in the biblical Book of Genesis, for example, where a great god speaks existence into creation is quite similar to creation stories from ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Phoenicia and China.
Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of men have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth. (3)
Creation myths often share several features. They often are considered sacred accounts and can be found in nearly all known religious traditions. They are all stories with a plot and characters who are either deities, human-like figures, or animals, who often speak and transform easily. They are often set in a dim and nonspecific past that historian of religion Mircea Eliade termed in illo tempore ('at that time'). Creation myths address questions deeply meaningful to the society that shares them, revealing their central worldview and the framework for the self-identity of the culture and individual in a universal context.
All creation myths are in one sense etiological because they attempt to explain how the world formed and where humanity came from. Myths attempt to explain the unknown and sometimes teach a lesson.
The literal translation of the phrase ex nihilo is "from nothing" but in many creation myths the line is blurred whether the creative act would be better classified as a creation ex nihilo or creation from chaos. In ex nihilo creation myths, the potential and the substance of creation springs from within the creator. Such a creator may or may not be existing in physical surroundings such as darkness or water, but does not create the world from them, whereas in creation from chaos the substance used for creation is pre-existing within the unformed void.
In creation from chaos myths, initially there is nothing but a formless, shapeless expanse. In these stories the word "chaos" means "disorder", and this formless expanse, which is also sometimes called a void or an abyss, contains the material with which the created world will be made. Chaos may be described as having the consistency of vapor or water, dimensionless, and sometimes salty or muddy. These myths associate chaos with evil and oblivion, in contrast to "order" (cosmos) which is the good. The act of creation is the bringing of order from disorder, and in many of these cultures it is believed that at some point the forces preserving order and form will weaken and the world will once again be engulfed into the abyss. One example is the Genesis creation narrative from the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
There are two types of world parent myths, both describing a separation or splitting of a primeval entity, the world parent or parents. One form describes the primeval state as an eternal union of two parents, and the creation takes place when the two are pulled apart. The two parents are commonly identified as Sky (usually male) and Earth (usually female), who were so tightly bound to each other in the primeval state that no offspring could emerge. These myths often depict creation as the result of a sexual union and serve as genealogical record of the deities born from it.
In the second form of world parent myths, creation itself springs from dismembered parts of the body of the primeval being. Often, in these stories, the limbs, hair, blood, bones, or organs of the primeval being are somehow severed or sacrificed to transform into sky, earth, animal or plant life, and other worldly features. These myths tend to emphasize creative forces as animistic in nature rather than sexual, and depict the sacred as the elemental and integral component of the natural world. One example of this is the Norse creation myth described in Völuspá, the first poem of Gylfaginning.
In emergence myths, humanity emerges from another world into the one they currently inhabit. The previous world is often considered the womb of the earth mother, and the process of emergence is likened to the act of giving birth. The role of midwife is usually played by a female deity, like the spider woman of several mythologies of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. Male characters rarely figure into these stories, and scholars often consider them in counterpoint to male-oriented creation myths, like those of the ex nihilo variety. 041b061a72