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Question: Do you agree with the use of the term mythology?
yes - 30 (65.2%)
no - 4 (8.7%)
undecided - 1 (2.2%)
yes and no - 6 (13%)
other - 5 (10.9%)
Total Voters: 46

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Author Topic: The Term Mythology  (Read 6616 times)
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« Topic Start: June 18, 2007, 07:47:48 pm »

This was brought to mind by a friend of mine after hearing someone remark, "Do you think the Gods/Goddess' or the Lord and Lady perhaps, hate to hear us refer to what might be history, however inaccurate, as mythology? It is like in the movie dogma when the Apostle says Christ HATES when it is refered to as "mythology""

Please elaborate on your vote if you like. Bright Blessings as all.
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« Reply #1: June 18, 2007, 07:54:06 pm »

This was brought to mind by a friend of mine after hearing someone remark, "Do you think the Gods/Goddess' or the Lord and Lady perhaps, hate to hear us refer to what might be history, however inaccurate, as mythology? It is like in the movie dogma when the Apostle says Christ HATES when it is refered to as "mythology""

Please elaborate on your vote if you like. Bright Blessings as all.

Hmm, I guess I'm first for a change.

Okay, I use the term for ANY religious writing. The bible is a mythology, as is the koran, etc. I've never thought about my pantheon (or any other for that matter) being offended.

And since I've not been whacked for using the term, I'm staying with it. It's an easy way to define writings that define a belief system.

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« Reply #2: June 18, 2007, 08:08:50 pm »

This was brought to mind by a friend of mine after hearing someone remark, "Do you think the Gods/Goddess' or the Lord and Lady perhaps, hate to hear us refer to what might be history, however inaccurate, as mythology? It is like in the movie dogma when the Apostle says Christ HATES when it is refered to as "mythology""

Please elaborate on your vote if you like. Bright Blessings as all.

I voted yes and no. I can't say for sure myself, hence the post,lol...I think either could be a possibility. I like to keep an open mind on most things but usually have an opinion i think feels right to me. in this case, I can see the bible, koran, etc being mythological texts, and to some degree i agree they are though not entirely. I can also see however, how some think they may not be or simply have some misinterpretations or inaccuracies if you will.

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« Reply #3: June 18, 2007, 08:35:30 pm »

This was brought to mind by a friend of mine after hearing someone remark, "Do you think the Gods/Goddess' or the Lord and Lady perhaps, hate to hear us refer to what might be history, however inaccurate, as mythology? It is like in the movie dogma when the Apostle says Christ HATES when it is refered to as "mythology""

Other:  Not enough information to answer.  There are some contexts in which it's probably inappropriate.  There are some contexts in which I don't see why it shouldn't be used.  *shrug*  If we're talking about all the stories about the Gods and all that, then...  I don't consider them to be literal anyway.  They serve an entirely different purpose from historical records.  Those myths don't tell us what happened, they tell us how the world and the Gods work.  They are "true" but need not be factual, if you will.  I also don't consider the term "mythology" to inherently have negative connotations, or connotations of untruth, so...  again, it just doesn't bother me, personally, when stories about my Gods are referred to as mythology.

Now, if one starts referring to "the myth of the Holocaust", yeah, I'm going to find that offensive.  When it's misapplied and the intention is to imply that something didn't really happen or doesn't really exist, it's more of a problem term and less appropriate.

I think Catja's input would be most useful here...  She could probably elaborate on the use of the term "mythology" to describe stories about the Gods far, far better than I could.  Smiley
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« Reply #4: June 18, 2007, 11:41:35 pm »

This was brought to mind by a friend of mine after hearing someone remark, "Do you think the Gods/Goddess' or the Lord and Lady perhaps, hate to hear us refer to what might be history, however inaccurate, as mythology? It is like in the movie dogma when the Apostle says Christ HATES when it is refered to as "mythology""

Please elaborate on your vote if you like. Bright Blessings as all.

"mythology" comes from "mythos" which was a word in ancient Greek that means "the truth of a god"....no, I don't object to the word "mythology" at all.
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« Reply #5: June 19, 2007, 05:27:50 pm »

"mythology" comes from "mythos" which was a word in ancient Greek that means "the truth of a god"....no, I don't object to the word "mythology" at all.

Me neither. The central figures in myths are gods, spirits, or people who in the context of the story are larger-than-life. This doesn't make the myth false, but it means that it can't really be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny that a historical work can.

The term "myth' is used sometimes to mean "a false story" like "it's a myth that you can catch AIDS from a toilet seat." Used in this context, "myth" means a false belief held by a lot of people. This is the way the term is being used when people talk about the Holocaust "myth", which is why that term so offensive.

I think in a religious discussion forum like TC, "myth" is usually used to mean a religious story with a non-literal meaning, not a false belief.

Betty  Smiley
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« Reply #6: June 19, 2007, 08:23:44 pm »



In folklore, anthropology, religious studies -- basically every scholarly field which studies religion, religious behavior, and so on -- "myth" is a value-neutral term used to describe certain types of stories, which I'll get to in a moment.  The use of the word "myth," in English, to mean "false story" is a bit of Christian linguistic propaganda:  "Your religion's stories are 'just' myths, but OURS are TRUTH."   "Mythos," in ancient Greek, simply meant "story."  Insisting that the "false story" definition, and ONLY the "false story" definition, applies -- especially in the face of widespread scholarly usage of the value-neutral definition -- just, in my view, reinforces Christian-hegemonic assumptions about the "truth" and "falseness" of other religions.  Does that make sense?   Smiley

Anyway, onto that value-neutral definition.  There was a thread on "New Myths" on the old board, here:

http://www.ecauldron.net/mb/messages.php?webtag=TCMAIN&msg=1223.1

I'm going to reproduce the big post I made on the subject there, just to clarify some of this stuff.


"Scholarly answer: context, context, context. Therefore, it's very difficult to talk about "myth" without talking about other categories of folk narratives, primarily legends and folktales, so this is going to be long. Cheesy

The lines between myth, legend, and folktale are best determined by *context*, not *content.* Basically, a myth is a sacred story told as truth (literal or metaphorical, but always cosmic), a legend is folk history (with a variety of belief options), and a folktale is told as pure fiction. Context is the best determinor of category, because a) it is predicated on how the people to whom the stories "belong" understood/understand them, and b) myths, legends and folktales often pass story elements around between them -- a story where a hero slays a dragon/giant serpent can be myth (Thor and the Midgard Serpent), legend (St. George, Beowulf), or folktale (Grimms' "The Two Brothers") -- so simply containing a particular story element, like dragon-slaying or gods*, is not enough to delineate a category. And even with those guidelines in mind, it's important to remember that these are not absolutely discrete categories, but overlap and shade into each other; a narrative can be told in a different category in various times and places, and even by different tellers.

Myths are *sacred* stories -- sometimes the very telling itself will be sacred -- that enshrine the Big Cosmic Truths of a culture: where the world came from, the relationship of humans to the divine, the foundation of sacred institutions like kingship or sacrifice, what happens after we die, and so forth. Myths are making a COSMIC truth-claim, which, depending on the culture and individul believer, can range from "metaphorical/poetic truth" to "literal/historical truth"; however, a myth's PRIMARY function is to convey a cosmic truth, so any historical truth-claim will be secondary. Religion is the SOCIAL apparatus that springs up around myths -- ritual, worship, liturgy, theology, festivals, hierarchy, and so on and so forth. Myths are the *stories* of a religion, and religion exists as a way of translating those stories into meaningful belief and action for human beings.

Legends are basically folk *history*; they take place in real time and real space as we know it, and are making an *earthly*, rather than cosmic, truth-claim. American Folklore: An Encyclopeda defines legend as “…localized and historicized traditional narrative told as believable in a conversational mode” (437). Migratory legends (i.e., legends that spring up in a lot of different cultural contexts, like "The Sleeping Hero Under the Mountain") are often oikotypified – that is, the same story will be adapted in the telling for specific geographical areas: “The Dog in the Microwave” may be told by a New Yorker as taking place in Brooklyn, or by a Floridian as taking place in Palatka. Legends also tend to be about real or “real” people: King Arthur, Charlemagne, John Henry, "a man in Chicago who had just returned from Mexico." Gods may appear, but in supporting roles, usually. Religious legends are auxiliary narratives to myths – they aren’t the central narratives of the religion, but they reflect and add to those narratives: saints’ lives are prime examples, and, indeed, that’s where the term “legend” comes from – L. legenda, “saint’s life.” A major thing about legends is that when the supernatural happens, it is a BIG DEAL – legends are about everyday or historical lived reality, and the busting through of the supernatural into mundane existence is presented as an anomaly worth noting. (Compare this to a fairy tale, where nobody bats an eye if, say, a frog talks.)

Legends have a HUGE variety of "belief options" available and are most liable to vary from individual teller to teller. They can be told as straight-faced truthful history by a believer to a believer, they can be told in a joshing half-believing way, they can be told as if they were ridiculous superstitions, they can be told as warnings against particular forms of behavior... It's worth noting that the "They say..." clause is more common in legends than in myths or folktales, because legends often occupy a greyer area of actual *belief* than those other categories do.

Folktales are folk narratives understood as fiction, and told for entertainment. Folktales may reflect and/or share story elements with myths or legends (and their respective truth-claims), but aren’t making any truth-claims on their own behalf other than that of art. There are several kinds of folktales: animal stories, "realistic" folktales (clever peasants and the like), and fairy tales, among others, most of which are self-explanatory. However, “fairy tale” is HUGELY problematic term in English, and requires some unpacking. Many scholars prefer the German term Zaubermarchen, or its English equivalents “magic tale” or “wonder tale,” for folk narratives, and reserve “fairy tale” for original, literary tales, like those of Andersen, Wilde, or Byatt; the term “fairy tale” itself comes from the English translation of the 18th-century Cabinet des Fees, a collection of literary wonder tales by French salon writers. (Another term used for these sories is the German Kunstmarchen, “art tale.” Many folklorists prefer German folklore terms to English ones, because German terms tend to be more precise.) A major characteristic of these stories (both folk and literary) is that magic and the supernatural are treated as a matter of course – animals talk, people get turned into stone and back, magical objects abound, and no one ever behaves as if any of this is unusual or surprising. If it were, we’d be in legend territory – magical occurrences are, in everyday reality, something to be remarked upon, but wonder tales are expressly NOT connected to everyday reality.

A note on fairies: Most folk narratives about fairies are not fairy tales, but legends. Stories about fairies *as fairies* tend to be told as if they were true. They are often localized: there are fairies in those woods, Cadbury Hill is a fairy mound, Tam Lin appears at Carterhaugh. They’re historicized, too: while the teller may be vague on exactly when a specific incident happened, it is almost always told as if it were a part of lived history in the real world. Compare this to “Once upon a time…” But what about all those fairy godmothers in fairy tales? Well, it is almost never important that they are *fairies*, as opposed to witches or talking animals. Vladimir Propp argued that it isn’t especially important, in a fairy tale, what a character *is*, but rather, what *role* he or she plays. Is the character a helper or a villain? It rarely seems to matter whether a villain is a witch or a stepmother or the Devil himself, because they all tend to behave the same way. Likewise, it doesn’t seem to matter much whether that helpful being the hero meets in the road is a beggar or a dwarf or a talking bear; their purpose is to give the hero good advice or a magical thingy, and their inherent beggar-ness or dwarf-ness or talking bear-ness almost never has anything to do with that. Fairies are weird and uncanny in the real world, because they are “magical” beings in a non-magical world; but in the world of a fairy tale, *everything* is magical, so fairies don’t have any uncanny abilities that aren’t also theoretically available to animals or witches or stepmothers. The enormous potential for confusion is why so many scholars don’t like to use the term “fairy tale” at all.


And to get into literature: while I've been talking about folk narratives, it is REALLY IMPORTANT to remember that, in literate cultures, literature has a HUGE impact on folk narratives, and they tend to trade ideas, concepts, and modes of representation back and forth. Folk material often informs literary works, and literature in turn informs folk material -- myths, legends, and folktales. For example, Milton drew upon both orthodox Christian and folk representations of Satan, and articulated them within a literary framework, emphasizing his particular hobbyhorses of Classical vs. Christian concepts of the hero; Milton's work IN TURN influenced folk and literary concepts of Satan. It's very similar to the way, say, Charles Perrault, who added and emphasized various issues important to him in his tellings of French folktales, and Perrault's innovations (like the injunction against female curiosity in "Bluebeard") found their way back into the folk repertoire. In folklore scholarship, "authentic" vs. "inauthentic" is not a good basis for judging a piece of folklore; if something that has a literary origin makes its way into the folk repertoire, it's *still* folklore, just of a somewhat newer vintage than other material, and with an identifiable origin. But folklorists, for a variety of reasons -- not the least of which that the "authenticity" issue contains some very problematic assumptions about "the folk" -- have moved away from that model, and don't automatically denigrate literary and literary-influenced material as "wrong" or "inauthentic," as non-specialists are wont to do. Regina Bendix's In Search of Authenticity is the chief primer on this issue, and required reading for all folklorists.





* There are too many stories that aren't myths per se, but in which gods figure, for that to be true. For example, there are a zillion Central and Southern European folktales about Jesus and St. Peter wandering around doing random miracles and, on Peter's part, getting into trouble (the stories often take the "Wise Man and Fool" pattern); those stories weren't really "believed" in on any level, but were told for fun, and they certainly were not placed on a similar level of "importance" with orthodox Christian myth or orthodox saints' legends. If you want some examples, Calvino tells a few in Italian Folktales."

 
« Last Edit: June 19, 2007, 08:26:34 pm by catja6 » Logged
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« Reply #7: June 21, 2007, 03:00:15 pm »

I'm going to reproduce the big post I made on the subject there, just to clarify some of this stuff.
That came up during my long hiatus, so I missed it.  I'm really happy you had occasion to repost it - I copied it to my personal files so I could internalize it at leisure.

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« Reply #8: June 21, 2007, 04:29:20 pm »

That came up during my long hiatus, so I missed it.  I'm really happy you had occasion to repost it - I copied it to my personal files so I could internalize it at leisure.

Sunflower

Thanks!  And glad to help out!  If you're interested in some of the formal scholarly breakdown on this, check out William Bascom, "The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives" Journal of American  Folklore 78 (1965): 3-20.  Reprinted in Alan Dundes, ed. Sacred Narrative.  Berkeley: U of California P, 1987. 5-29.  Bascom adds a "time" element to his breakdown -- myths are remote past, legends are more recent -- that, while I take his point, I'm not entirely comfortable with.  I don't think it adequately deals with myths that are tied to a specific, fixed time:  for example, the narrative of Jesus's death and resurrection is most certainly a myth, and that was as true ten years after the fact as it is 2000 years after the fact. 
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« Reply #9: June 21, 2007, 10:25:38 pm »

This was brought to mind by a friend of mine after hearing someone remark, "Do you think the Gods/Goddess' or the Lord and Lady perhaps, hate to hear us refer to what might be history, however inaccurate, as mythology? It is like in the movie dogma when the Apostle says Christ HATES when it is refered to as "mythology""

Please elaborate on your vote if you like. Bright Blessings as all.

As a student going for her MA (and has a BA) in Religious Studies, the word myth means the sacred narratives of a religion.  Often myths explain rituals in a religion.  As Catja said there is a cosmic function to the myths. 

Her post did an excellent job of explaining everything in detail so I'll refer you back to her post. 

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« Reply #10: July 11, 2007, 11:59:04 pm »


I picked "Other" because it depends on the context.  I tend to classify most stories about gods to be mythology so it doesn't bother me.

I'm a bit more bothered by use of the word in relation to the holocaust and as reference for something that is not true (alligators living in the sewers of New York City for example)
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« Reply #11: September 26, 2007, 03:45:22 pm »

This was brought to mind by a friend of mine after hearing someone remark, "Do you think the Gods/Goddess' or the Lord and Lady perhaps, hate to hear us refer to what might be history, however inaccurate, as mythology? It is like in the movie dogma when the Apostle says Christ HATES when it is refered to as "mythology""

Please elaborate on your vote if you like. Bright Blessings as all.

Yes and No. 

I use the term to refer to most religious material.  The exception being when there is historical proof that something actually happened, or if the person I'm attempting to talk to will be very offended. 
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« Reply #12: September 26, 2007, 04:27:41 pm »


I've never had a problem with it.

"mythology" comes from "mythos" which was a word in ancient Greek that means "the truth of a god"....no, I don't object to the word "mythology" at all.

Good point Smiley
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« Reply #13: September 26, 2007, 08:24:57 pm »


 or if the person I'm attempting to talk to will be very offended. 

Hmm...but isn't it their problem if they're offended don't understand the correct meaning of the word?

Call me crazy, but I refuse to substitute perfectly correct words just because someone doesn
t understand what a word means, or doesn't want to. :-P
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« Reply #14: September 26, 2007, 10:15:45 pm »

Please elaborate on your vote if you like. Bright Blessings as all.

I think if the term mythology as the term for the gods history there is no offense, but if it's reffered to like a joke I'm sure there are going to be some deities with their panties in a twist. It's like the word pagan, it can be used as a word with negative or positive connotations depending on what the speaker intends...
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