Comparative mythology is the comparison of myths from different cultures in an attempt to identify shared themes and characteristics. Comparative mythology has served a variety of academic purposes. For example, scholars have used the relationships between different myths to trace the development of religions and cultures, to propose common origins for myths from different cultures, and to support various psychological theories.
The anthropologist C. Scott Littleton defined comparative mythology as "the systematic comparison of myths and mythic themes drawn from a wide variety of cultures". By comparing different cultures' mythologies, scholars try to identify underlying similarities and/or to reconstruct a "protomythology" from which those mythologies developed. To an extent, all theories about mythology follow a comparative approach: as the scholar of religion Robert Segal notes, "by definition, all theorists [of myth] seek similarities among myths". However, scholars of mythology can be roughly divided into particularists, who emphasize the differences between myths, and comparativists, who emphasize the similarities. Particularists tend to "maintain that the similarities deciphered by comparativists are vague and superficial", while comparativists tend to "contend that the differences etched by particularists are trivial and incidental".
Comparative approaches to mythology held great popularity among eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scholars. Many of these scholars believed that all myths showed signs of having evolved from athought which interpreted nearly all myths as poetic descriptions of the sun's behavior. According to this theory, these poetic descriptions had become distorted over time into seemingly diverse stories about gods and heroes. However, modern-day scholars lean more toward particularism, feeling suspicious of broad statements about myths. A recent exception is the historical approach followed in E.J. Michael Witzel's reconstruction of many subsequent layers of older mythologies 
Comparative mythologists come from various fields, including folklore, anthropology, history, linguistics, and religious studies, and they have used a variety of methods to compare myths. These are some important approaches to comparative mythology.
Some scholars look at the linguistic relationships between the myths of different cultures. For example, the similarities between the names of gods in different cultures. One particularly successful example of this approach is the study of Indo-European mythology. Scholars have found striking similarities between the mythological and religious terms used in different cultures of Europe and India. For example, the Greek sky-god Zeus Pater, the Roman sky-god Jupiter, and the Indian (Vedic) sky-god Dyauṣ Pitṛ have linguistically identical names.
This suggests that the Greeks, Romans, and Indians originated from a common ancestral culture, and that the names Zeus, Jupiter, Dyaus and the Germanic Tiu (cf. English Tues-day) evolved from an older name, *Dyēus ph2ter, which referred to the sky-god or, to give a perfect English cognate, the day-father in a Proto-Indo-European religion.
Some scholars look for underlying structures shared by different myths. The folklorist Vladimir Propp proposed that many Russian fairy tales have a common plot structure, in which certain events happen in a predictable order. In contrast, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss examined the structure of a myth in terms of the abstract relationships between its elements, rather than their order in the plot. In particular, Lévi-Strauss believed that the elements of a myth could be organized into binary oppositions (raw vs. cooked, nature vs. culture, etc.). He thought that the myth's purpose was to "mediate" these oppositions, thereby resolving basic tensions or contradictions found in human life or culture.
Some scholars propose that myths from different cultures reveal the same, or similar, psychological forces at work in those cultures. Some Freudian thinkers have identified stories similar to the Greek story of Oedipus in many different cultures. They argue that these stories reflect the different expressions of the Oedipus complex in those cultures. Likewise, Jungians have identified images, themes, and patterns that appear in the myths of many different cultures. They believe that these similarities result from archetypes present in the unconscious levels of every person's mind.
A new approach, which is both historical and comparative, has recently been proposed by E.J. Michael Witzel. He compares collections of mythologies of various cultures, from Iceland and Egypt to the Mayas, and reconstructs increasingly older levels, parallel to but not necessarily dependent on language families (see above). The most prominent common feature is a story line that extends from the creation of the world and of humans to their end. This feature is found in the northern mythologies of Eurasia and the Americas ("Laurasia") while it is missing in the southern mythologies of Subsaharan Africa, New Guinea and Australia ("Gondwanaland"). The latter is the older one, going back to the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa, some 65,000 years ago. Based on these two reconstructions he offers some suggestions about the tales of the (genetic) "African Eve". Close attention is paid to the largely parallel developments in archaeology, paleontology, genetics and linguistics. He also makes some suggestions about the persistence of these Stone Age myths in current religions.
It is speculated that like genes, myths evolve by a process of descent with modification. The striking parallels between biological and mythological evolution allow the use of computational statistics to infer evolutionary relatedness and to build the most likely phylogenetic tree for a mythological family. Mythological phylogenies constructed with mythemes clearly support low horizontal transmissions (borrowings), historical (sometimes pre-historic) diffusions and punctuated evolution. Additionally, the protoversion could be statistically reconstructed. Mythological phylogenies also are a potentially powerful way to test hypotheses about cross-cultural relationships among folktales
Comparative mythology has uncovered a number of parallels between the myths of different cultures, including some very widespread recurring themes and plot elements. Here are some examples.
Cultures around the world tell stories about a great flood. In many cases, the flood leaves only one survivor or group of survivors. For example, both the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible tell of a global flood that wiped out humanity and of a man who saved the Earth's species by taking them aboard a boat. Similar stories of a single flood survivor appear in Hindu mythology as well as Greek, Norse mythology and Aztec mythology.
Many cultures have stories about divine figures whose death creates an essential part of reality. These myths seem especially common among cultures that grow crops, particularly tubers. One such myth from the Wemale people of Seram Island, Indonesia, tells of a miraculously-conceived girl named Hainuwele, whose murdered corpse sprouts into the people's staple food crops. The Chinese myth of Pangu, the Indian Vedic myth of Purusha, and the Norse myth of Ymir all tell of a cosmic giant who is killed to create the world.
Many myths feature a god who dies and often returns to life. Such myths are particularly common in Near Eastern mythologies. The anthropologist Sir James Frazer compared these "dying god" myths in his multi-volume work The Golden Bough. The Egyptian god Osiris and the Mesopotamian god Tammuz are examples of the "dying god", while the Greek myths of Adonis (though a mortal) has often been compared to Osiris and the myth of Dionysos also features death and rebirth. Some scholars have noted similarities between polytheistic stories of "dying gods" and the Christian story of Jesus of Nazareth.
A number of scholars have suggested that hero stories from various cultures have the same underlying structure. Other scholars, including FitzRoy Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan and, more recently, Joseph Campbell, have also suggested that hero stories share a common structure. Some comparative mythologists look for similarities only among hero stories within a specific geographical or ethnic range. For example, the Austrian scholar Johann Georg van Hahn tried to identify a common structure underlying "Aryan" hero stories. Others, such as Campbell, propose theories about hero stories in general. According to Campbell's "monomyth" hypothesis, hero stories from around the world share a common plot structure. Because of its extremely comparative nature, the monomyth hypothesis is currently out of favor with some religious scholars such as Lesley Northup.
Associated with many mythological hero stories, giants (from Latin and Ancient Greek: gigas, cognate giga-) are beings of human appearance, but of prodigious size and strength common in the mythology and legends of many different cultures.
In various Indo-European mythologies, gigantic peoples are featured as primeval creatures associated with chaos and the wild nature, and they are frequently in conflict with the gods, be they Olympian, Celtic, Hindu or Norse. Giants also often play similar roles in the mythologies and folklore of other, non Indo-European peoples, such as in the Nartian traditions.
There are also accounts of giants in the Old Testament. Some of these are called Nephilim, a word often translated as giant although this translation is not universally accepted. They include Og King of Bashan, the Nephilim, the Anakim, and the giants of Egypt mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:23. The first mention of the Nephilim is found in Genesis 6:4; attributed to them are extraordinary strength and physical proportions
Many mythologies mention a place that sits at the center of the world and acts as a point of contact between different levels of the universe. This "axis mundi" is often marked by a sacred tree or other mythical object. For example, many myths describe a great tree or pillar joining heaven, earth, and the underworld. Vedic India, ancient China, Mayans, Incas and the Germanic peoples all had myths featuring a "Cosmic Tree" whose branches reach heaven and whose roots reach hell.
Many cultures have a creation myth in which a group of younger, more civilized gods conquers and/or struggles against a group of older gods who represent the forces of chaos.
In the Greek myth of the Titanomachy, the Olympian gods defeat the Titans, an older and more primitive divine race, and establish cosmic order. Similarly, the Celtic gods of life and light struggle against the Fomorians, ancient gods of death and darkness.
This myth of the gods conquering demons - and order conquering chaos - is especially common in Indo-European mythologies. Some scholars suggest that the myth reflects the ancient Indo-Europeans' conquest of native peoples during their expansion over Europe and India.
Many cultures believe in a celestial supreme being who has cut off contact with humanity. Historian Mircea Eliade calls this supreme being a deus otiosus (an "idle god"), although this term is also used more broadly, to refer to any god who doesn't interact regularly with humans. In many myths, the Supreme Being withdraws into the heavens after the creation of the world. Baluba mythology features such a story, in which the supreme god withdraws from the earth, leaving man to search for him. Similarly, the mythology of the Hereros tells of a sky god who has abandoned mankind to lesser divinities. In the mythologies of highly complex cultures, the supreme being tends to disappear completely, replaced by a strongly polytheistic belief system.
Many cultures have myths describing the origin of their customs, rituals, and identity. In fact, ancient and traditional societies have often justified their customs by claiming that their gods or mythical heroes established those customs. For example, according to the myths of the Australian Karajarri, the mythical Bagadjimbiri brothers established all of the Karadjeri's customs, including the position in which they stand while urinating.
Journals about comparative mythology:
Baltic mythology is the body of mythology of the Baltic people stemming from Baltic paganism and continuing after Christianization and into Baltic folklore. Baltic mythology ultimately stems from Proto-Indo-European mythology. The Baltic region was one of the last regions of Europe to be Christianized, a process that occurred from the 15th century and into at least a century after. While no native texts survive detailing the mythology of the Baltic peoples during the pagan period, knowledge of the mythology may be gained from Russian and German chronicles, later folklore, by way of etymology, and comparative mythology.While the early chronicles (14th and 15th century) were largely the product of missionaries who sought to eradicate the native paganism of the Baltic peoples, rich material survives into Baltic folklore. This material has been of particular value in Indo-European studies as, like the Baltic languages, it is considered by scholars to be notably conservative, reflecting elements of Proto-Indo-European religion. The Indo-European Divine Twins are particularly well represented as the Dieva dēli (Latvian 'sons of god') and Dievo sūneliai (Lithuanian 'sons of god'). According to folklore, they are the children of Dievas (Lithuanian and Latvia; see Proto-Indo-European *Dyeus). Associated with the brothers and their father are two goddesses; the personified Sun, Saule (Latvian 'sun') and Saules meita (Latvian 'Sun's daughter').Bee (mythology)
In mythology, the bee, found in Indian, Ancient Near East and Aegean cultures, was believed to be the sacred insect that bridged the natural world to the underworld.Dying-and-rising deity
A dying-and-rising, death-rebirth, or resurrection deity is a religious motif in which a god or goddess dies and is resurrected.
"Death or departure of the gods" is motif A192 in Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (1932), while "resurrection of gods" is motif A193.Examples of gods who die and later return to life are most often cited from the religions of the Ancient Near East, and traditions influenced by them include Biblical and Greco-Roman mythology and by extension Christianity.
The concept of a dying-and-rising god was first proposed in comparative mythology by James Frazer's seminal The Golden Bough (1890). Frazer associated the motif with fertility rites surrounding the yearly cycle of vegetation. Frazer cited the examples of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis and Attis, Dionysus and Jesus Christ.Frazer's interpretation of the category has been critically discussed in 20th-century scholarship, to the conclusion that many examples from the world's mythologies included under "dying and rising" should only be considered "dying" but not "rising", and that the genuine dying-and-rising god is a characteristic feature of Ancient Near Eastern mythologies and the derived mystery cults of Late Antiquity.Genesis flood narrative
The Genesis flood narrative is a flood myth found in the Tanakh (chapters 6–9 in the Book of Genesis). The story tells of God's decision to return the Earth to its pre-creation state of watery chaos and then remake it in a reversal of creation. The narrative has very strong similarities to parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh which predates the Book of Genesis.
A global flood as described in this myth is inconsistent with the physical findings of geology and paleontology. A branch of creationism known as flood geology is a pseudoscientific attempt to argue that such a global flood actually occurred.Hymiskviða
Hymiskviða (Hymir's poem; the name can be anglicized as Hymiskvitha, Hymiskvidha or Hymiskvida) is a poem collected in the Poetic Edda.Insects in religion
Insects have long been used in religion, both directly (with live insects) and as images or symbols.Jesus in comparative mythology
The study of Jesus in comparative mythology is the examination of the narratives of the life of Jesus in the Christian gospels, traditions and theology, as they relate to Christianity and other religions. Although virtually all New Testament scholars and historians of the ancient Near East agree that Jesus existed as a historical figure, most secular historians also agree that the gospels contain large quantities of ahistorical legendary details mixed in with historical information about Jesus's life. The Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke are heavily shaped by Jewish tradition, with the Gospel of Matthew deliberately portraying Jesus as a "new Moses". Although it is highly unlikely that the authors of the Synoptic Gospels directly based any of their stories on pagan mythology, it is possible that they may have subtly shaped their accounts of Jesus's healing miracles to resemble familiar Greek stories about miracles associated with Asclepius, the god of healing and medicine. The birth narratives of Matthew and Luke are usually seen by secular historians as legends designed to fulfill Jewish expectations about the Messiah.The Gospel of John bears indirect influences from Platonism, via earlier Jewish deuterocanonical texts, and may also have been influenced in less obvious ways by the cult of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, though this possibility is still disputed. Later Christian traditions about Jesus were probably influenced by Greco-Roman religion and mythology. Much of Jesus's traditional iconography is apparently derived from Mediterranean deities such as Hermes, Asclepius, Serapis, and Zeus and his traditional birthdate on 25 December, which was not declared as such until the fifth century, was at one point named a holiday in honor of the Roman sun god Sol Invictus. At around the same time Christianity was expanding in the second and third centuries, the Mithraic Cult was also flourishing. Though the relationship between the two religions is still under dispute, Christian apologists at the time noted similarities between them, which some scholars have taken as evidence of borrowing, but which are more likely a result of shared cultural environment. More general comparisons have also been made between the stories about Jesus's birth and resurrection and stories of other divine or heroic figures from across the Mediterranean world, including supposed "dying-and-rising gods" such as Tammuz, Adonis, Attis, and Osiris, while the concept of "dying-and-rising gods" has received criticism.Joseph Campbell Foundation
The Joseph Campbell Foundation is a US not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserve, protect and perpetuate the work of influential American mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904–1987). It fosters academic and popular discussion in the fields of comparative mythology and religion, psychology and culture through its publishing program, events, local groups (Mythological RoundTable(R) groups) and its internet presence.The foundation was created in 1991 by Campbell's widow, choreographer Jean Erdman, and by his longtime editor Robert Walter, who is the foundation's president.Among the initiatives undertaken by the JCF are:
The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell, a series of books and recordings (both previously released and posthumous) that pulls together Campbell's myriad-minded work
the Erdman Campbell Award
the Mythological RoundTable(R) groups, a global network of local groups that explore the subjects of comparative mythology, psychology, religion and culture
the collection of Campbell's personal library and papers housed at the OPUS Archives and Research Center (see below).Legendary creature
A legendary, mythical, and mythological creature, also traditionally called a fabulous beast and fabulous creature, is a fictitious, imaginary, and supernatural animal, often a hybrid, sometimes part human, whose existence has not or cannot be proved and that is described in folklore or fiction but also in historical accounts before history became a science.
In the classical era, monstrous creatures such as the cyclops and the Minotaur appear in heroic tales for the protagonist to destroy. Other creatures, such as the unicorn, were claimed in accounts of natural history by various scholars of antiquity. Some legendary creatures have their origin in traditional mythology and were believed to be real creatures, for example dragons, griffins, and unicorns. Others were based on real encounters, originating in garbled accounts of travelers' tales, such as the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, which supposedly grew tethered to the earth.List of thunder gods
Polytheistic peoples of many cultures have postulated a thunder god, the personification or source of the forces of thunder and lightning; a lightning god does not have a typical depiction, and will vary based on the culture. In many cultures, the thunder god is frequently known as the chief or king of the gods, e.g. Indra in Hinduism, Zeus in Greek mythology, and Perun in ancient Slavic religion; or a close relation thereof, e.g. Thor, son of Odin, in Norse mythology. This is also true of Shango in Yoruba religion and in the syncretic religions of the African Diaspora, such as Santería (Cuba, Puerto Rico, United States) and Candomblé (Brazil).List of tree deities
A tree deity or tree spirit is a nature deity related to a tree. Such deities are present in many cultures. They are usually represented as a young woman, often connected to ancient fertility and tree worship lore. The status of tree deities varies from that of a local fairy, ghost, sprite or nymph, to that of a goddess.Mother Nature
Mother Nature (sometimes known as Mother Earth or the Earth-Mother) is a Greco-Roman personification of nature that focuses on the life-giving and nurturing aspects of nature by embodying it, in the form of the mother. The concept is far from universal, and there are no equivalent term or concept in many languages and/or cultures.Mythological king
A mythological king is an archetype in mythology. A king is considered a "mythological king" if he is included and described in the culture's mythology. Unlike a fictional king, aspects of their lives may have been real and legendary, or that the culture (through legend and story telling) believed to be real. In the myth, the legends that surround any historical truth might have evolved into symbols of "kinship" and leadership, and expanded with descriptions of spiritual, supernatural or magical chain of events. For example, in legend the king may have magical weapons and fight dragons or other mythological beasts. His archetypical role is usually to protect and serve the people.Otherworld
The concept of an otherworld in historical Indo-European religion is reconstructed in comparative mythology.
Its name is a calque of orbis alius (Latin for "other Earth/world"), a term used by Lucan in his description of the Celtic Otherworld.
Comparable religious, mythological or metaphysical concepts, such as a realm of supernatural beings and a realm of the dead, are found in cultures throughout the world. Spirits are thought to travel between worlds, or layers of existence in such traditions, usually along an axis such as a giant tree, a tent pole, a river, a rope or mountains.Panbabylonism
Panbabylonism (also known as Panbabylonianism) is the school of thought that considered the cultures and religions of the Middle East and civilization in general to be ultimately derived from Babylonian myths which in turn they viewed as being based on Babylonian astronomy, often in hidden ways.Sky father
In comparative mythology, sky father is a term for a recurring concept of a sky god who is addressed as a "father", often the father of a pantheon. The concept of "sky father" may also be taken to include Sun gods with similar characteristics. The concept is complementary to an "earth mother".
"Sky Father" is a direct translation of the Vedic Dyaus Pita, etymologically descended from the same Proto-Indo-European deity name as the Greek Zeû Pater and Roman Jupiter, all of which are reflexes of the same Proto-Indo-European deity's name, *Dyēus Ph₂tḗr. While there are numerous parallels adduced from outside of Indo-European mythology, there are exceptions (e.g. In Egyptian mythology, Nut is the sky mother and Geb is the earth father).Underworld
The underworld is the world of the dead in various religious traditions, located below the world of the living. Chthonic is the technical adjective for things of the underworld.
The concept of an underworld is found in almost every civilization, and "may be as old as humanity itself". Common features of underworld myths are accounts of living people making journeys to the underworld, often for some heroic purpose. Other myths reinforce traditions that entrance of souls to the underworld requires a proper observation of ceremony, such as the ancient Greek story of the recently dead Patroclus haunting Achilles until his body could be properly buried for this purpose. Persons having social status were dressed and equipped in order to better navigate the underworld.A number of mythologies incorporate the concept of the soul of the deceased making its own journey to the underworld, with the dead needing to be taken across a defining obstacle such as a lake or a river to reach this destination. Imagery of such journeys can be found in both ancient and modern art. The descent to the underworld has been described as "the single most important myth for Modernist authors".Vegetation deity
A vegetation deity is a nature deity whose disappearance and reappearance, or life, death and rebirth, embodies the growth cycle of plants. In nature worship, the deity can be a god or goddess with the ability to regenerate itself. A vegetation deity is often a fertility deity. The deity typically undergoes dismemberment (see sparagmos), scattering, and reintegration, as narrated in a myth or reenacted by a religious ritual. The cyclical pattern is given theological significance on themes such as immortality, resurrection, and reincarnation. Vegetation myths have structural resemblances to certain creation myths in which parts of a primordial being's body generate aspects of the cosmos, such as the Norse myth of Ymir.In mythography of the 19th and early 20th century, as for example in The Golden Bough of J.G. Frazer, the figure is related to the "corn spirit", "corn" in this sense meaning grain in general. That triviality is giving the concept its tendency to turn into a meaningless generality, as Walter Friedrich Otto remarked of trying to use a "name as futile and yet pretentious as 'Vegetation deity'".Vengeful ghost
In mythology and folklore, a vengeful ghost or vengeful spirit is said to be the spirit of a dead person who returns from the afterlife to seek revenge for a cruel, unnatural or unjust death. In certain cultures where funeral and burial or cremation ceremonies are important, such vengeful spirits may also be considered as unhappy ghosts of individuals who have not been given a proper funeral.