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This paper presents theories of myths and its application to creation myths. It is important to understand that mythology is among the oldest area of study ventured into by enthusiastic scholars. Through time, man has been searching for answers to how the world and its content or rather mankind was created. This longing to explore on the nature of creation through vivid accounts or tales, prompted the materialization of way of life and custom which in the long run led to formation of religions and subsequent change in approach to life.
Scott (2004) mentioned that ‘myth’ which is an English word was derived from Greek word ‘Mythos’. In his study, Scott (2004) stated that the Greek word meant ‘divinely inspired’. However the word ‘myth’ has been a subject for debate by many philosophers and theologians. Plato in 300BCE compared the term myth with deceit while Hesoid, 700BCE, explained the term myth as having emanated from the divine.
Stakeholders in early Catholic Church weighed the ‘sham’ gods of the Greek against Jesus. This comparison entailed use of euhemerism. The subsequent effect was emergence of new tales in a bid to illustrate the dominance of Christian theologies over the Greeks’ unbelievable anecdote. These early perception of myths may have contributed to the present definition of the society with reference to culture.
An example is African maasai whose culture is defined by the practice of pastoral farming. Human psychology, language, environment and historical factors are some of the specifics used to explore myths. Scott (2004) agrees that the context i.e. the tale and its impact on the general public, is critical in understanding the actual meaning of a myth.
Theories of myth
In a nutshell, the following theories are relevant in a quest to understand myths. These were pointed out in a study by Scott (2004) and include, ‘rational, functional, structural, and psychological myth theory’. While rational theory focused on myths as an agent meant to clarify events and forces, functional theory simply explained the role of myths in controlling the society. Psychological theory is specific on myths as having its roots in human feelings.
As introduced earlier, rational theory explicates that myths were meant to instill in people an understanding of natural events and forces taking place on a daily basis.
In this case, the daily experiences (like rain, winds, and nature in general) are better explained by myths. The theory emphasizes that gods and goddesses play a significant role in manipulating natural world. A myth on creation, which expounds on how man came into being falls under rational theory.
Creation myth further specifies the components and procedures employed by gods and goddesses in creating man and the world at large. Although the nature of man is seen to take a natural path, myth on creation is specific on the role played by gods in bringing man to existence. The bible is one of the guides exploring on the nature of man.
This theory states the responsibility of myths in disseminating knowledge on morals and societal norms. As a result, a myth shapes the society by elaborating on a recommended course of action i.e. the difference between right and wrong. According to the theory any misdeed has its consequences.
To control and ensure that the society was stable, myths were captured. An example of a functional myth is a tale of the Good Samaritan featured in the bible. This tale educates the young generation on the definition of a good neighbor and its benefits. This has the end result of building a regular society. From this example, functional theory considers the wider view of the world and the description of good character in a society.
The theory lays emphasis on the role of myths in bringing together conflicting sides. In a study by Scott (2004), a myth arbitrates disagreeing essentials of a society and general life. Disagreements exist because of dual pattern in life. A bad thing can be deduced because of the ability to point out a good one.
In other words, there exist two sides of a coin; love and hate, right and wrong etc. Structuralism therefore settles down these disparities by way of making numerous references while putting together varied view points to settle on a widely accepted norm. The nature of man and their minds plays a role in forming such acceptable patterns in a society consequently resolving inconsistencies.
Creation myths to explain the theories
This myth describes the viewpoint of a culture on how their nature came into being. The myth captures the use of imagery in expressing the position held by man. Media used in delivery of the content is oral. African maasai perceives the creator of mankind to be Enkai who gave their father a stick.
This is evident in the present culture where maasai herds domestic animals. The myth has some truth in it having exploited the rational theory. In India, Buddha maintains that man should not question the origin of life since it can cause madness but focus on gaining enlightenment which will save man from suffering. The basis of the argument is on the parable of the poison arrow. From this teaching, man should not question the origin of life but concentrate on shaping life.
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Structuralism, functionalism and rationalism theories are pertinent as man continuously search for insight into environment and human interaction. Rational theory explains the reasons behind the natural events like rain and drought. On the other hand structuralism expounds on the role of myths in settling contentious issues by forming agreeable patterns. Finally, functional theory points out the role of myths in maintenance of peace and order by recommending good morals and norms.
Scott, L., & McClure, M. (2004). Myth & knowing: An introduction to world mythology. New York: McGraw Hill.