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Last Updated: Wednesday, December 22, 1999

Evolutions of Myths

Mythology is an example of the evolved traits of creative and deductive thinking in humans.

All mythology explains the why and how of human existance, including some of the major events in their environments like disasterous floods. The most recent book which gives a coherent explanation that is rooted in the likely fears and hopes of the people of their time is:
Adrian Bailey    The Caves of the Sun 1998 (The origins of mythology)
One recent article which explains why people generate myths at all is:
Edward O. Wilson,    The Biological Basis of Morality , The Atlantic Monthly, April 1998

A couple of references which discuss how the original myths evolve are:

I discuss other reasons for myths from the viewpoint of J.R.R. Tolkien's 'Hobbits', and 'Lord of the Rings' stories. ,and here is a reference to a detailed literary analysis of Tolkien's two major epics...

Although I classify the gods by gender below, it was very common in all non-Semite (Christian, Islam and their derivative religions) to not only have powerful gods of either gender, but over a season the gods would change their gender. Most of the pantheons of gods had several who were hermaphrodites. This changing and duel gender gods is world wide and is given an explanation by Bailey in the "The Caves of the Sun" mentioned above. However there are pantheons which are unbalanced in their approportion of power among the genders. Evolution of the Roman gods is described on that page.

Male dominated pantheons :
One example is the Persian gods as described in the Zorasterian Avestae ...
the males have all the power, the females have almost entirely secondary roles.
This is very rare in the rest of the Ancient pantheons, though it is very common in the modern monotheistic mythologies - the Semite rooted ones and some variants of Hinduism:
Christianity,Islam,and Judaism are variation of the same patriachial mythology which was written down about 3000 years before today.
However there is a story that may explain why male dominated pantheon's gained some emotional powerful at least among men. The hypothesis is that when animal husbandry started (about 10,000 years before today) everyone realized that restricting the number of male animals allowed easier and more effective management of the whole domesticated species. Doing the same to human males would have occurred to people in those societies. Ignoring our view of the ethics of such human husbandry, it would indeed have had much emotional appeal among men of that era to have a mythology that precluded having themselves 'controlled' as animals were. This is an hypothesis not a known fact.

Female dominated pantheons :
This was once very common; the Goddess as a shared diety among hundreds of cultures is cited by writers like
There is nothing gentle about matriarchies since they too lived near the land, and no child would grow up not knowing that animals and plants were killed for food (and seeing it done often as not). There is no modern nonsense about the balance of nature, of the benign nature of Mother Earth.
All these neolithic farming people were one harvest away from starvation. And when the harvest was poor, they did starve. Hungry wild animals would kill their livestock, their children, themselves if the opportunity arose.
For example, 5000 years before today lions apparently were in most areas of central Europe and Asia. Thus the same Mother Earth that provided cereals, grasses, and animals that people ate, and used also provided the famines, the predators and the sickness. The Goddess was not some abstract idea, she was a creator and a destroyer. Anyone could see the process going on day by day.
And in the powerful Knossos empire, a matriarchy, accounting and taxes were 'invented' and used as any patriachy would, to redistribute income from those that have income to the government, the priesthood, and in a 5000 years before today version of the trickle down effect, the desperately poor.

As monotheism replaced pantheism and male priests replaced female ones the characteristics of the god or gods became more the assertive male, less the assertive female.

Mixed Gender pantheons:
In these mythologies each gender had powerful representatives and held social and power balances.
A comparison of Norse and Greek is made at this site .
Mixed was the most prevalent mythology across the world not just in Europe and the Middle East. This is reasonable since people in most societies before 1500 years ago were in societies that had power balances between genders and special interests.

Due to mythological inertia the belief in these type of pantheons extended close to our own era. Then, in Europe, for 200-300 years starting about 500 years ago, the secular and Christian religious powers,with extremely focused ruthlessness akin to the actions of Stalin or Hitler of our era,killed millions of accidently associated, uncertain, mild or fanatic followers of any unsanctioned mythology .
These persecutions (the witch hunts ) were both of pantheisms, and pogroms not just of Jews but of many versions of Christian mythology such as Anabaptists (Mennonites for example), or Hugenots (protestants in France).

This violent removal of competing mythologies must have occurred in the past as well. The Verdic texts of Hinduism shows a patriachy already formed, but this supplanted earlier legends which included powerful independent females, like Durga the invicible warrior who protected the universe from destruction by relentlessly attacking demons who were gnawing away at the foundation of reality. Durga was patriachized into Shiva, the male god of destruction. And these male gods had female consorts who were loyal and submissive, such as Shiva's consort Uma.
It is possible but unlikely this transformation was accepted peacefully.
        Before the snake legends, where the snake is evil and must be vanquished (see Apep Egypt) the snake is all powerful female who gives life, and death, and like Apophes, can be endless by grasping its tail (tale?) in its mouth.
Before the powerful snake symbol (one of the female god incarnations) there were ring legends. There are many many examples of ring stories in the Siberian Urgatic people. The Urgatic people wandered far and wide. They wandered to the west, like the Sami, the native people still in the
Finland area who have their ring stories. They travelled east about 15,000 years ago into North America, all these Amerinds people have ring stories.
         Tolkien's Ring by David Day
is an introduction of all the ring legends that Tolkein,a scholar of Old English, were likely aware of. There are suggestions it is older than Goddess worship.

        What is suggested by the analysis of older stories to newer is a struggle between one viewpoint and another, often ending in a pantheon of the old and new, all revised by this struggle.
Just about the time the snake went from being powerful, and in the main benevolent, to evil and not as powerful as some (usually male) god there was a major shift in the living practices in the area where this myth paradigm shift was happening.
By analyzing garbage dumps outside ancient towns archaeologists noted that the change in the view of the nature of the snake was met with formation of walls around the town. Walls are not decorations in neolithic cultures. It takes a lot of work to make a wall by using the labour of human muscles. Walls constructed in a defensive manner are a sure sign that the towns were under physical attack. (Note1)
There were migrations of people from central Asia, and central Europe at the same time starting around 6000 BCE moving generally towards the south, the path to a warmer climate more fertile land, and less known than the areas to the north, east and west. And it took not just decades but hundreds and hundreds of years for this migration to occur. Like the modern day communal
Anabaptists these northerners migrated when each town of them grew larger than about 200 people. Some of the people in a town split off, walked south and negotiated for, or fought for, or just took over land not densely populated. Or they were destroyed at least in part, and the remainder assimiliated into the existing towns. Over time their
numbers simply overwhelmed the existing cultures there. Even peaceful co-existance was certain to bring some revision in both cultures ideas including their mythologies.

The Greek Zeus is an example of what often happened where the Goddess based religions people met male dominated god religions of the people migrating into a region.
Zeus is the most physical powerful (as he often mentions). All the other Greek gods are his siblings and they owe him big time forever since he effected their escape from the stomach of their common father Kronos who had swallowed them whole. But as brothers and sisters everywhere they talk back to him and often outsmart him. He is equalled by Athena (his perhaps immaculately conceived daughter) and Artemis (not immaculately conceived) in both social and transformation power. Recall Athena (goddess of war and justice) never was bested. Her male counterpart ( Ares , the god of battle) often lost and was pulled out of problems by Athena. This is not a set of stories told by a psychotic but by people who knew that in any society that there is give and take on many levels simultaneously. That rules made by people (or gods) can be changed by people (and gods).
In short the myths are interesting because they tell about people responding to events with thought and passion.

Myths are stories about transformation, and can be used to not only promote change but also to prevent it. Or to create change which may in time cause much harm to everyone. My interpretation of the Epic of Gilgamesh is that in part it was a story to justify the clear cutting of the immense pine and cedar forests which used to cover the middle east. In the Epic, Gilgamesh , King of Urak, and his good friend, Enkidu , go to battle the 'demon' Humbaba who was sent by the god Enlil to protect the cedar forests. And Humbaba does such a good job that people are afraid to enter the forests to cut trees down. He is demonized by those who want to cut down trees (there is some sense to that activity) and they persuade the king and his friend to battle Humbaba. They succeed in killing him, and eventually the forests are wasted, and the land becomes as we know it today-without forests. But that ending is not in the story. It was a much later consequence of clear cutting.

Finally, myths are stories about accomodation and correct behavior. The story about Rama is about how people should act. The flood story of the Yoruba is a story about how not going ahead and changing things without asking those who are affected.
The flood would never have occurred in the Yoruba story if one god (Olorun) had not thoughtlessly changed area of the universe which was the responsibility of another god (Olokun) to maintain.

Myths are stories told by people about people: where they come from, how they handle major disasters, how they cope with what they must and how everything will end.
If that isn't everything what else is there?

Robert O'Connell 1999

Note 1: The archeologists are talking about very small towns, under 500 people which are not trading centers. There is an exception which proves the rule. Many towns in the Indus Valley about 4000 BCE had walls, but thin, with no moat, and no zigzag design to bottle invaders below while arrows, spears, boiling oil, and other noxious material was rained on them. The non defensive walls were to control the traders coming in and leaving. The full article is Indus Valley, Inc in the December 1998 issue of the Discovery magazine.

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