For the video game, see Myth.
(to be commented out: This page is NOT the place to give your opinions or discuss whether any particular myth or religion is true or false. Please respect the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement.)
Depending on context, "myth" can mean different things, but when it is used in the sense of the Ancient Greek mythos
(μῦθος), then a myth may be defined as a traditional, sacred story or statement which traces the existence, history, and sometimes the destiny of the world and humanity to the actions of divine or other superhuman entities. Myths deal with such subjects as the creation and the shaping of the world, the origin of humans and animals, and the characters and competences of deities. Sometimes they touch on more philosophical matters like the meaning of life or the nature of good and evil.
Myth is related to Legend
, although myths focus on gods
and other powerful non-human beings, while legends have human protagonists and are usually not considered sacred. As many myths and legends assume the existence of intermediate beings (like demigods
), the two genres are not sharply distinct from each other.
A complex of interrelated myths and legends is called a Mythology
Like legends, myths arose in Oral Tradition
, but have been recorded in Literature
, Visual Arts
, and sometimes Theatre
Ever since the early Christians
associated "myth" with Greco-Roman polytheism
and used it in a way that implied "false belief", myth has acquired a derogatory secondary meaning of "widely believed falsehood"--a flavor it obviously didn't have with the ancient Greeks. As a heritage of this history, many people object to the word being used for their own beliefs, and in common usage the word "myth" is primarily connected with polytheistic religions. There is no universal agreement on what exactly the term means outside of that context, but it can hardly be overlooked that (for example) the Book of Genesis
has all the characteristics of a myth.
People both within and between religious traditions differ in how literally or metaphorically they interpret and believe their myths. What generally distinguishes the mythic worldview from other ways of thinking is that it refers to a supposedly ancient, immutable and truthful tradition as its highest authority, rather than human reasoning or first-hand experience.
Because myths have large numbers of authors and are continually developed over centuries or even millennia, any given story is likely to come in multiple versions
, making internal contradictions
within a single mythology pretty much inevitable. Many religions (especially non-Abrahamic ones) do not have a canon
that accepts some stories and excludes others. Because culture, religion, and theology change over time, myths are subject to a process of constant adaptation
and re-interpretation; in other words, myths from different eras often handle the same subjects and characters in very different ways. This is why it's not a good idea assume a story is Older Than Dirt
just because it's mythical.
A few types of myths as may be found across various cultures are the following:
- Creation Myths: Myths telling about the origin of the world and its inhabitants, such as the gods (theogonic myths), the world (cosmogonic), humans (anthropogonic), or animals and plants (zoogonic).
- Landscape Myth: Myth explaining how landscape (specific mountains, seas, lakes, islands etc.) came to be or received its present shape.
- Primordial State Myth: The initial state of mankind, and how it was lost.
- Transformation Myth: Myths about major, sometimes cataclysmic transformations of the world that occurred between its creation and the present.
- Savior Myth: How a Chosen One saved mankind from big trouble.
- Nature Myth: Myth that explains recurring natural phenomena, like the weather, seasons, or eclipses.
- Eschatological Myth: The end of the world. This, for once, is (usually) not a story about the past, but about future events (i.e. a prophecy). However, some tell about the end of the previous world.
Non-narrative works about theology and cosmology are sometimes also considered to be myths, even if nobody turned them into a story yet.
When many myths, legends, and folktales are collected together by a particular culture or religion, the whole collection is a Mythology
Examples of mythic narratives troped on the wiki: