Mythology is the main component of Religion. It refers to systems of concepts that are of high importance to a certain community, making statements concerning the supernatural or sacred. Religion is the broader term, besides mythological system, it includes ritual. A given mythology is almost always associated with a certain religion such as Greek mythology with Ancient Greek religion. Disconnected from its religious system, a myth may lose its immediate relevance to the community and evolve—away from sacred importance—into a legend or folktale.
There is a complex relationship between recital of myths and enactment of rituals.
The relationship between religion and myth depends on what definition of "myth" one uses. By Robert Graves's definition, a religion's traditional stories are "myths" if and only if one does not belong to the religion in question. By Segal's definition, all religious stories are myths—but simply because nearly all stories are myths. By the folklorists' definition, all myths are religious (or "sacred") stories, but not all religious stories are myths: religious stories that involve the creation of the world (e.g., the stories in the Book of Genesis) are myths; however, some religious stories that don't explain how things came to be in their present form (e.g., hagiographies of famous saints) are not myths. Generally, mythology is the main component of religion alongside ritual. For example, in the early modern period, distinguished Christian theologians developed elaborated witch mythologies which contributed to the intensification of witch trials. The Oxford Companion to World Mythology provides the following summary and examples:
Religious stories are “holy scripture” to believers—narratives used to support, explain, or justify a particular system’s rituals, theology, and ethics—and are myths to people of other cultures or belief systems. […] It is difficult to believe that the Buddha was conceived in a dream by a white elephant, so we call that story a myth as well. But, of course, stories such as the parting of the Sea of Reeds for the fleeing Hebrews, Muhammad’s Night Journey, and the dead Jesus rising from the tomb are just as clearly irrational narratives to which a Hindu or a Buddhist might understandably apply the word “myth.” All of these stories are definable as myths because they contain events that contradict both our intellectual and physical experience of reality.
Most definitions of "myth" limit myths to stories. Thus, non-narrative elements of religion, such as ritual, are not myths.
The term theology for the first time appears in the writings of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Initially, theology and mythology were synonymous. With time, both terms gained distinctive qualities:
In the first place, theology is a spiritual or religious attempt of “believers” to explicate their faith. In this sense, it is not neutral and is not attempted from the perspective of removed observation—in contrast to a general history of religions. The implication derived from the religious approach is that it does not provide a formal and indifferent scheme devoid of presuppositions within which all religions could be subsumed. In the second place, theology is influenced by its origins in the Greek and Christian traditions, with the implication that the transmutation of this concept to other religions is endangered by the very circumstances of origination.
According to Hege, both primitive and modern theology is inescapably constrained by its mythical backbone:
Hermeneutically, theologians must recognize that mythical thought permeates the biblical texts. Dogmatically, theologians must be aware of the mythological elements of theology and of how extensively theology relies on mythical forms and functions, especially in light of our awareness of the ubiquity of myth.
Religion is a belief concerning the supernatural, sacred, or divine, and the moral codes, practices, values, and institutions associated with such belief, although some scholars, such as Durkheim, would argue that the supernatural and the divine are not aspects of all religions. Religious beliefs and practices may include the following: a deity or higher being, eschatology, practices of worship, practices of ethics and politics. Some religions do not include all these features. For instance, belief in a deity is not essential to Buddhism.
In regards to the study of culture and religion, these are some of the definitions scholars have used:
Given any of the above definitions of "myth", the myths of many religions, both ancient and modern, share common elements. Widespread similarities between religious mythologies include the following:
The similarities between cultures and time periods can be useful, but it is usually not easy to combine beliefs and histories from different groups. Simplification of cultures and time periods by eliminating detailed data remain vulnerable or flimsy in this area of research.
Though there are similarities among most religious mythologies, there are also contrasts. Many mythologies focus on explanations of the universe, natural phenomena, or other themes of human existence, often ascribing agency to one or more deities or other supernatural forces. However, some religions have very few of this kind of story of cosmic explanation. For instance, the Buddhist parable of the arrow warns against such speculations as "[Is] the world eternal or not eternal? [Is] the soul different from the body? [Does] the enlightened exist after death or not?", viewing them as irrelevant to the goal of escaping suffering.
In academia, the term "myth" often refers to stories whose culture regards them as true (as opposed to fictitious). Thus, many scholars will call a body of stories "mythology", leaving open the question of whether the stories are true or false. For example, in Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, English professor Howard Schwartz writes, "the definition of 'mythology' offered here does not attempt to determine if biblical or subsequent narratives are true or false, i.e., historically accurate or not".
Since the beginning of modern philosophy and science in the 16th century, many Western intellectuals have seen myth as outdated. In fact, some argued that the Christian religion would be better off without mythology, or even that Christianity would be better off without religion:
[J. A. T.] Robinson argued in favor of "the detaching of the Christian doctrine of God from any necessary dependence on a 'supernaturalistic' worldview". He understood this as a prophetic aspect of the Church's ministry to the world. [...] At this time atheism was regarded as the Christian Gospel that should be preached to the world. J. J. Altizer, for example, maintained [this] boldly by stating, "Throughout its history Christian theology has been thwarted from reaching its intrinsic goal by its bondage to a transcendent, a sovereign, and an impassive God". [...] [Dietrich] Bonhoffer called persistently for "Religionless Christianity".
In the 20th century, many scholars have resisted this trend, defending myth from modern criticism. Mircea Eliade, a professor of the history of religions, declared that myth did not hold religion back, that myth was an essential foundation of religion, and that eliminating myth would eliminate a piece of the human psyche. Eliade approached myth sympathetically at a time when religious thinkers were trying to purge religion of its mythological elements:
Eliade wrote about "sky and sky gods" when Christian theology was shaken at its very foundations by the "death of God" theology. He spoke of "God up there" when theologians such as J. A. T. Robinson were busy with erasing the mythical language of [a] three-storied universe that underlies the early Christian thought and experience.
Similarly, Joseph Campbell believed that people could not understand their individual lives without mythology to aid them. By recalling the significance of old myths, he encouraged awareness of them. In responding to the interview question "How would you define mythology?", Joseph Campbell answered:
My favorite definition of mythology: other people's religion. My favorite definition of religion: misunderstanding of mythology.
Most religions contain a body of traditional sacred stories that are believed to express profound truth. Some religious organizations and practitioners believe that some or all of their traditional stories are not only sacred and "true" but also historically accurate and divinely revealed and that calling such stories "myths" disrespects their special status. Other religious organizations and practitioners have no problem with categorizing their sacred stories as myths.
Some religious believers take offense when what they consider to be historical aspects of their faith are labeled as "myth". Such believers distinguish between religious fables or myths, on one hand, and those sacred narratives which are described by their tradition as being history or revelation, on the other. For instance, Catholic priest Father John A. Hardon insists that "Christianity is not mythology. What we believe in is not religious fantasies, no matter how pious." Evangelical Christian theologian Carl F. H. Henry insisted that "Judeo-Christian revelation has nothing in common with the category of myth".
Especially within Christianity, objection to the word "myth" rests on a historical basis. By the time of Christ, the Greco-Roman world had started to use the term "myth" (Greek muthos) to mean "fable, fiction, lie"; as a result, the early Christian theologians used "myth" in this sense. Thus, the derogatory meaning of the word "myth" is the traditional Christian meaning, and the expression "Christian mythology", as used in academic discourse, may offend Christians for this reason.
In addition, this early Christian use of the term "myth" passed into popular usage. Thus, when essential sacred mysteries and teachings are described as myth, in modern English, the word often still implies that it is "idle fancy, fiction, or falsehood". This description could be taken as a direct attack on religious belief, quite contrary to the meaning ostensibly intended by the academic use of the term. Further, in academic writing, though "myth" usually means a fundamental worldview story, even there it is occasionally ambiguous or clearly denotes "falsehood", as in the "Christ myth theory". The original term "mythos" (which has no pejorative connotation in English) may be a better word to distinguish the positive definition from the negative.
Modern day clergy and practitioners within some religious movements have no problem classifying the religion's sacred stories as "myths". They see the sacred texts as indeed containing religious truths, divinely inspired but delivered in the language of mankind. Some examples follow.
J.R.R. Tolkien's love of myths and devout Catholic faith came together in his assertion that mythology is the divine echo of "the Truth". Tolkien wrote that myths held "fundamental things". He expressed these beliefs in his poem Mythopoeia circa 1931, which describes myth-making as an act of "sub-creation" within God's primary creation. The poem in part says creation is "myth-woven and elf-patterned":
— JRR Tolkien
Tolkien's opinion was adopted by another Christian writer, C. S. Lewis, in their conversations: "Tolkien explained to Lewis that the story of Christ was the true myth at the very heart of history and at the very root of reality." C. S. Lewis freely called the Christ story a "true myth", and he believed that even pagan myths express spiritual truths. In his opinion, the difference between the Christ story and pagan myths is that the Christ story is historically as well as spiritually true. Lewis writes,
The story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God's myth where the others are men's myths: i. e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call real things.
Many Christians have objected to my use of this word [myth] even when I define it specifically. They are terrified by a word which may even have a slight suggestion of fantasy. However, my usage is the one that is common among historians of religion, literary critics, and social scientists. It is a valuable and helpful usage; there is no other word which conveys what these scholarly traditions mean when they refer to myth. The Christian would be well advised to get over his fear of the word and appreciate how important a tool it can be for understanding the content of his faith.
At a "Consultation on the Relationship Between the Wesleyan Tradition and the Natural Sciences" in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 19, 1991, Dennis Bratcher presented a discussion of the adaptation of Near Eastern mythical thought by the Israelites. Bratcher argued that the Old Testament absorbed Near Eastern pagan mythology (although he drew a sharp distinction between the literally-interpreted myths of the Near Eastern pagans and the "mythopoetic" use of imagery from pagan myths by the Hebrews). During this presentation, he gave the following disclaimer:
the term "myth" as used here does not mean "false" or "fiction." Even in my old and yellowed Webster's, "fiction" is the third meaning of the word. In its primary and more technical meaning "myth" refers to a story or group of stories that serve to explain how a particular society views their world.
Some Jewish scholars, including Dov Noy, a professor of folklore at Hebrew University and founder of the Israel Folktale Archives, and Howard Schwartz, Jewish anthologist and English professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, have discussed traditional Jewish stories as "mythology".
Schwarz authored the book Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism. It consists of myths and belief statements excerpted from—and, in some cases, synthesized from a number of excerpts from—both Biblical and non-Biblical Jewish texts. According to Schwartz, the Jewish people continue to elaborate on, and compose additions to, their traditional mythology. In the book's introduction, Schwartz states that the word "myth", as used in the book, "is not offered to mean something that is not true, as in the current popular usage".
Neopagans frequently refer to their sacred stories as "myths". Asatru, a modern-day revival of Germanic Paganism, holds "that the Eddas, Myths and Norse Sagas are the divinely inspired wisdom of [its] religion". Wicca, another Neopagan movement, also applies the term "mythology" to its stories.
The word 'myth' is popularly understood to mean idle fancy, fiction, or falsehood; but there is another meaning of the word in academic discourse. A myth, in this latter sense of the word, is a story that serves to define the fundamental worldview of a culture .... Using the original Greek term mythos is perhaps a better way to distinguish this more positive and all-encompassing definition of the word.
In Jewish tradition, the term androgynos (אנדרוגינוס in Hebrew, translation "intersex") refers to someone who possesses both male and female sexual characteristics. Due to the ambiguous nature of the individual's sex, Rabbinic literature discusses the gender of the individual and the legal ramifications that result based on potential gender classifications. In traditional observant Judaism, gender plays a central role in legal obligations.Asena
Asena is the name of a she wolf associated with the Oghuz Turkic foundation myth.Australian Aboriginal religion and mythology
Australian Aboriginal religion and mythology (also known as Dreamtime or Dreaming stories, songlines, or Aboriginal oral literature) are the stories traditionally performed by Aboriginal peoples within each of the language groups across Australia.
All such myths variously "tell significant truths within each Aboriginal group's local landscape. They effectively layer the whole of the Australian continent's topography with cultural nuance and deeper meaning, and empower selected audiences with the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of Australian Aboriginal ancestors back to time immemorial".David Horton's Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia contains an article on Aboriginal mythology observing:
"A mythic map of Australia would show thousands of characters, varying in their importance, but all in some way connected with the land. Some emerged at their specific sites and stayed spiritually in that vicinity. Others came from somewhere else and went somewhere else."
"Many were shape changing, transformed from or into human beings or natural species, or into natural features such as rocks but all left something of their spiritual essence at the places noted in their stories."Australian Aboriginal mythologies have been characterized as "at one and the same time fragments of a catechism, a liturgical manual, a history of civilization, a geography textbook, and to a much smaller extent a manual of cosmography."Eirene (goddess)
Eirene (; Greek: Εἰρήνη, Eirēnē, [eːrɛ́ːnɛː], lit. "Peace"), more commonly known in English as Peace, was one of the Horae, the personification of peace. She was depicted in art as a beautiful young woman carrying a cornucopia, sceptre, and a torch or rhyton. She is said sometimes to be the daughter of Zeus and Themis and sister of Dike and Eunomia. Her Roman equivalent was Pax.
Eirene was particularly well regarded by the citizens of Athens. After a naval victory over Sparta in 375 BC, the Athenians established a cult for Peace, erecting altars to her. They held an annual state sacrifice to her after 371 BC to commemorate the Common Peace of that year and set up a votive statue in her honour in the Agora of Athens. The statue was executed in bronze by Cephisodotus the Elder, likely the father or uncle of the famous sculptor Praxiteles. It was acclaimed by the Athenians, who depicted it on vases and coins.Although the statue is now lost, it was copied in marble by the Romans; one of the best surviving copies is in the Munich Glyptothek. It depicts the goddess carrying a child with her left arm – Plutus, the god of plenty and son of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Peace's missing right hand once held a sceptre. She is shown gazing maternally at Plutus, who is looking back at her trustingly. The statue is an allegory for Plenty (i.e., Plutus) prospering under the protection of Peace; it constituted a public appeal to good sense. The copy in the Glyptothek was originally in the collection of the Villa Albani in Rome but was looted and taken to France by Napoleon I. Following Napoleon's fall, the statue was bought by Ludwig I of Bavaria.Hapi (Nile god)
Hapi was the god of the annual flooding of the Nile in ancient Egyptian religion. The flood deposited rich silt (fertile soil) on the river's banks, allowing the Egyptians to grow crops. Hapi was greatly celebrated among the Egyptians. Some of the titles of Hapi were "Lord of the Fish and Birds of the Marshes" and "Lord of the River Bringing Vegetation". Hapi is typically depicted as an androgynous figure with a large belly and pendulous breasts, wearing a loincloth and ceremonial false beard.Hermes
Hermes (; Greek: Ἑρμῆς) is the god of trade, heraldry, merchants, commerce, roads, thieves, trickery, sports, travelers, and athletes in Ancient Greek religion and mythology; the son of Zeus and the Pleiad Maia, he was the second youngest of the Olympian gods (Dionysus being the youngest).
Hermes was the emissary and messenger of the gods. Hermes was also "the divine trickster" and "the god of boundaries and the transgression of boundaries, ... the patron of herdsmen, thieves, graves, and heralds." He is described as moving freely between the worlds of the mortal and divine, and was the conductor of souls into the afterlife. He was also viewed as the protector and patron of roads and travelers.In some myths, he is a trickster and outwits other gods for his own satisfaction or for the sake of humankind. His attributes and symbols include the herma, the rooster, the tortoise, satchel or pouch, winged sandals, and winged cap. His main symbol is the Greek kerykeion or Latin caduceus, which appears in a form of two snakes wrapped around a winged staff with carvings of the other gods.In the Roman adaptation of the Greek pantheon (see interpretatio romana), Hermes is identified with the Roman god Mercury, who, though inherited from the Etruscans, developed many similar characteristics such as being the patron of commerce.Horae
In Greek mythology the Horae () or Horai () or Hours (Greek: Ὧραι, Hōrai, pronounced [hɔ̂ːraj], "Seasons") were the goddesses of the seasons and the natural portions of time.Hyperion (Titan)
In Greek mythology, Hyperion (; Greek: Ὑπερίων, romanized: Hyperíōn, "The High-One") was one of the twelve Titan children of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Sky) who, led by Cronus, overthrew their father Uranus and were themselves later overthrown by the Olympians. With his sister, the Titaness Theia, Hyperion fathered Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn). Keats's abandoned epic poem Hyperion is among the literary works that feature the figure.Otter
Otters are carnivorous mammals in the subfamily Lutrinae. The 13 extant otter species are all semiaquatic, aquatic or marine, with diets based on fish and invertebrates. Lutrinae is a branch of the weasel family Mustelidae, which also includes badgers, honey badgers, martens, minks, polecats, and wolverines.Pan (god)
In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Pan (; Ancient Greek: Πάν, Pan) is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, rustic music and impromptus, and companion of the nymphs. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. With his homeland in rustic Arcadia, he is also recognized as the god of fields, groves, wooded glens and often affiliated with sex; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of spring. The ancient Greeks also considered Pan to be the god of theatrical criticism. The word panic ultimately derives from the god's name.
In Roman religion and myth, Pan's counterpart was Faunus, a nature god who was the father of Bona Dea, sometimes identified as Fauna; he was also closely associated with Sylvanus, due to their similar relationships with woodlands. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Pan became a significant figure in the Romantic movement of western Europe and also in the 20th-century Neopagan movement.Pontus (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Pontus (; Greek: Πόντος, Póntos, "Sea") was an ancient, pre-Olympian sea-god, one of the Greek primordial deities. Pontus was Gaia's son and has no father; according to the Greek poet Hesiod, he was born without coupling, though according to Hyginus, Pontus is the son of Aether and Gaia.Raijū
Raijū (雷獣, "thunder animal" or "thunder beast") is a legendary creature from Japanese mythology.Rhea (mythology)
Rhea (; Ancient Greek: Ῥέα [r̥é.aː]) (or Rheia) is a character in Greek mythology, the Titaness daughter of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus as well as sister and wife to Cronus. In early traditions, she is known as "the mother of gods" and therefore is strongly associated with Gaia and Cybele, who have similar functions. The classical Greeks saw her as the mother of the Olympian gods and goddesses, but not as an Olympian goddess in her own right. The Romans identified her with Magna Mater (their form of Cybele), and the Goddess Ops.Tethys (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Tethys (; Greek: Τηθύς), was a Titan daughter of Uranus and Gaia, sister and wife of Titan Oceanus, mother of the Potamoi and the Oceanids. Tethys had no active role in Greek mythology and no established cults.The Boy Who Cried Wolf
The Boy Who Cried Wolf is one of Aesop's Fables, numbered 210 in the Perry Index. From it is derived the English idiom "to cry wolf", defined as "to give a false alarm" in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and glossed by the Oxford English Dictionary as meaning to make false claims, with the result that subsequent true claims are disbelieved.The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats
"The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats" (German: Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein) is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, tale number 5. It is Aarne-Thompson type 123, but has a strong resemblance to The Three Little Pigs and other Aarne-Thompson type 124 folktales, and to the variant of Little Red Riding Hood that the Grimms collected, where she is rescued.Titan (mythology)
The Titans (Greek: Τιτάν, Titán, plural: Τiτᾶνες, Titânes) and Titanesses (or Titanides; Greek: Τιτανίς, Titanís, plural: Τιτανίδες, Titanídes) are a race of deities originally worshiped as part of Ancient Greek religion. They were often considered to be the second generation of divine beings, succeeding the primordial deities and preceding the Olympians, but also included certain descendants of the second generation. The Titans include the first twelve children of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky), who ruled during the legendary Golden Age, and also comprised the first pantheon of Greek deities.Tumtum (Judaism)
Tumtum (טומטום in Hebrew, meaning "hidden") is a term that appears in Jewish Rabbinic literature and usually refers to a person whose sex is unknown because their genitalia are covered or "hidden" or otherwise unrecognizable genitalia. Although they are often grouped together, the Tumtum has some halachic ramifications distinct from those of the Androgynos (אנדרוגינוס), who has both male and female genitalia.It is not clear what the actual anatomy of a Tumtum is; however, it would seem that according to medieval commentator Rashi, a Tumtum may have exposed testicles and an unexposed penis.The Mishnah (Zavim, 2, 1) says that Tumtum and Androgynos have both men's and women's Chumras, meaning that where the law is stricter towards men than women, they are treated as men, but where the law is stricter towards women, they are treated as women.
Tumtum is not defined as a separate gender, but rather a state of doubt. A Tumtum must be either male or female, but since we do not know which one, the strictest gender-dependent obligations or prohibitions are taken on. To this end, positive commandments from which women are exempted are considered binding on a Tumtum.Nathan ben Jehiel says on his book Aruk (on ערך טם) that the word Tumtum came from the word Atum which means blocked or covered.Uranus (mythology)
Uranus (; Ancient Greek Οὐρανός, Ouranos [oːranós] meaning "sky" or "heaven") was the primal Greek god personifying the sky and one of the Greek primordial deities. Uranus is associated with the Roman god Caelus. In Ancient Greek literature, Uranus or Father Sky was the son and husband of Gaia, Mother Earth. According to Hesiod's Theogony, Uranus was conceived by Gaia alone, but other sources cite Aether as his father. Uranus and Gaia were the parents of the first generation of Titans, and the ancestors of most of the Greek gods, but no cult addressed directly to Uranus survived into Classical times, and Uranus does not appear among the usual themes of Greek painted pottery. Elemental Earth, Sky, and Styx might be joined, however, in a solemn invocation in Homeric epic.
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