Do they learn it from their culture?
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They learn details. And mythology is not religion when there is no priesthood; no set of bureaucrats like the Brahaman to define and enforce the rules. The !Kung, the Aboriginals of Australia, and many other hunter gatherers past and present have mythologies and no religion. The mythologies explain creation, disasters and any other matter important to the culture. Flood myths are common across many cultures because flooding is very common. Not everyone lives near volcanoes, but almost all live where flooding occurs several times or more in their lifetime.
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 23, 2001
There are several scholars who wrote on myths as arising from cultures.
I want to give two examples of how myths when created are modified (for someones or some groups purpose) by the culture.
- Adolf Bastian believed in People's Thought as a source of some myths in a specific area. He also believed part of myth making was biological.
- Leo Frobeniusn was the first to state in great detail his belief that myths arise from certain cultures and diffuse to other places. His myth creating cultures went from North Africa to far eastern Polynesia.
- Emile Durkheim believed that myths are created to stabilize the community through morals and other internalized social controls.
- Robert Graves not only believed that myths start in one culture and diffuse to others, but he believed the evidence showed that they started as matriachial myths first. That is the woman is the center of power and creativity in the universe. That myth is replaced by the patriarchial myth where the man is the center of power and creativity in the universe. There is a shift in symbols used the most commonly cited being the moon in the matriachy becomes the sun in the patriarchy each being the most important diety in their respective pantheons. He also was suggesting that netiher is natural but arbitrary and the replacement of one by the other is violent, long drawn out meme warfare.
The first example is the story of how King Canute had his lavish throne carried down to the seashore at low tide. As the tide moved in he commanded the tide to stop. His retainers eventually had to rescue him (and I suppose the throne) from the tide which would not stop. The story is a myth. The facts (if any) happened about 1100 years ago. The interpretation of the story is how culture uses a story. I have heard two interpretations, no doubt created shortly after the real incident with created the myth itself.
- The first interpretation, created by Canute's enemies, was that Canute was vain, blasphemous goof who could not believe that his wish would not be obeyed even by the sea. The tale is used by people as a caution against people trying to fight the 'natural order of things'. If the natural order is the sea, mountains, the stars then they are formidable objects to fight. But if 'natural order' is actually 'human order' as in economics and politics (both created by and for humans; and maintained by and for humans), then those who make this interpretation are trying to confuse the sea with the State. ]
- The second interpretation, created by Canute's friends, was that Canute was striving to instruct his subjects in humility, and wisdom. His friend's telling, say that Canute claimed that he would not be able to stop the tides; that he was only human, not God. Instead by showing the sea did not obey his commands he showed his humble self, and exhorted others to be humble and to learn how nature lets itself be controlled, say with dikes rather than proclamations. [There is a famous story of the legislature of Florida in the United States of America who when mainly drunk made a motion repealing the Law of Gravity. Gravity didn't disappear. These legislators (yes falling down drunks) ought to have had Canute's friends as advisor and they would not have made the mistake of confusing 'natural' and 'human' law.
The second myth I will mention is the legal Court of the Star Chamber in Elizabethean England. I was taught that this was an example of abuse of state power. Judgement were reached in secret and no one could defend themselves publically. An example of how our legal system had progressed. Well imagine my surprise in the late winter of 2001 when I was reading the History of Elizabethean England by Black who for many pages described the Star Chamber as a public court travelling about the English country side hearing disputes of every kind and nature. Black was a long time scholar, and subsequent research has shown there are hundreds maybe thousands of documents from this 'secret' court. All the documents show that all the proceedings were in the open. Oops! There goes another myth. A myth which makes our open courts seem to have evolved from an oppressive system of secret trials. Nice myth, just not true.
My essay on the Evolution of Myths illustrates how widespread some myths are across every culture.
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