What is Myth?

A Myth is a cosmic story passed on from generation to generation within a people group that explains the nature of reality and existence in light of the world of the gods and ancestors.  These stories, though containing supernatural and sometimes fantastic elements, are assumed to be true by the people group who pass them on. They are passed on through rituals performed at coronations of leaders, birth, various rites of passage, death, marriages, generally, every major social gathering. The worldview of the group reinforces the veracity of these stories in their eyes, and as long as the myths make sense of the world, the myths reinforce the group’s worldview. To their people, myths are functionally true.

This definition precludes the western notion of myths being fictitious and devoid of truth content. The advent of Greek philosophy marked the descent of mythology reaching its base meaning as false under Christianity. As western civilization came into increased contact with supposedly “primitive” peoples, the west was reintroduced to myth. Ironically, it was the Christian missionaries who first began to rediscover the function of myths within society.

Sources:

Eliade, Mircea. Myth and Reality. Translated by Willard R. Trask. New York: Harper and Ros, 1963.

Hiebert, Paul G., R. Daniel Shaw, and Tite Tienou. Understanding Folk Religion: A Christian Response to Popular Beliefs and Practices. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.

Hiebert, Paul. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.

Murray, Henry A., ed. Myth and Mythmaking. New York, George Braziller, 1960.

Smalley, William A., ed. Readings in Missionary Anthropology II. Enlarged 1978 Edition. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1978.

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  1. Thanks for standing up for myths. I think they are an important part of humanity. Press on.

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