The term “myth” is often used to describe a belief that is not founded on logic and is usually based on social perceptions. As a result, the phrase “it’s a myth” denotes a topic that cannot be proved but which people have accepted as fact because it has been passed down from generation to generation. According to academic definitions, a theory is any conventional story that explains a cultural or socioeconomic occurrence (Schrempp, 2012). As a result, it is entwined with society’s historical background. In most cultures, myths were created to rationalize concepts which were beyond human understanding at the time, and often include supernatural events and beings such as gods and goddesses. Taking both the academic and popular definitions into account, I can define a myth as a story, passed down from generation to generation, which attempts to give an explanation to different phenomena. While some myths may be congruent with different cultures, others are unique to only a few or at times, only to one.
Common Mythological Themes Across Different Cultures
Central to every culture is their conceptualization of how the world came to be. This concept may vary across different cultures, but one thing remains constant, each culture has a myth that addresses the issue of creation. Evidently, this is the first mythological theme which permeates different cultures. Since such tales concern the substantially great philosophical concept that is existence, more importantly, how we as a species and as a planet came to be, they hold significant influence over human perception and thought. While the cultures of the world were separated by vast geographical distances, their creation myths exhibit contextual similarities. The mythological theme of creation often centers around birth in different cultures. Birth, in many cultures, is considered to be the central form of life-giving, and as such, it features across various cultural backdrops.
Closely related to the concepts of creation is the mythological theme of gods and deities. Most cultures, if not all, have some form of myth surrounding the beings they considered to be gods, how they came into existence, and their role vis-à-vis people (Heywood, 2005). In many cultures, gods are depicted as supernatural beings who were uniquely gifted with powers that allowed them to manipulate the physical world, and by extension, exist on a plane which transcended human existence. As such, different cultures in the world embody different gods, who had a broad range of power, abilities, and influence over the earth. The new members of the society in cultures around the world would be inculcated into the consideration held by the previous members, done by the passing down of the myths to them. This ensured that the myths concerning gods and other deities stood the test of time.
Why Myths from Different Cultures Address Similar Universal Themes
It is human nature to question everything around us, to try and make sense of who we are, the world we live in, and our role in said world. It is because of this universal human trait that mythological themes exhibit similarities in different cultures across the globe. In particular, myths in all cultures, address great and universal notions such as creation, death, as well as the existence of gods and deities. Societies everywhere pondered over how we as humans, came to exist, and this brought about the myths that try to explain how we came to be. Similarly, communities worldwide deliberated regarding what happens after we die, and though the particular myths regarding this may be wildly different, they do address the universal occurrence of death. The existence of such natural phenomena as storms, drought, or earthquakes, vexed cultures everywhere. Because of the limited understanding of such natural events by the ancestors, myths were formulated around them in an attempt to give meaning to the events and moreover, offer an explanation as to what caused them and how to cope with them.
Comparison of Ancient and Contemporary Mythological Themes
In today’s world, mythological themes have considerably evolved from what they previously were, mainly because academics, particularly literature, science, and technology have had a profound influence on how people view the world (Menzies, 2014). The pursuit of academic knowledge by most has led to the reconstruction of what myths they find to be true, and which ones they find to be inconceivable. To this end, literature has had a profound effect on the constructs that are contemporary myths. Modern myths are founded on such notions as superheroes, fictional worlds such as The Lord of the Rings universe, among others. In today’s society, culture has largely been defined by literature and other artistic forms which present new and holistically unique myths from the old ones. While historical myths mainly purposed to offer an explanation as to the origins of the universe, contemporary myths give new perceived realities, often in a bid to provide critique into actual society, by defining what human behaviors are commendable (Heywood, 2005). The rise of the superhero in today’s world, for instance, is a modern myth which has engulfed the world by portraying the ideal manner in which human beings ought to act, particularly in times of crisis. As such, it is evident that there has been a shift in mythological themes, from those concerning the origin of the earth and the explication of other unknown phenomena to ones which envelope the trial and tribulations that human beings endure, and by extension, how best to handle such psychological, and emotional hurdles.
Myths are and have always been, a part of us. Historically, myths embody the human mind’s attempt to offer insight into various aspects of life, including how the earth was formed, how people came to be, what happens when we die among other elements of human existence. It is imperative to note that ancient mythological themes address similar concepts even though they were conceptualized by people who were geographically, and linguistically separate. In today’s world, myths have evolved into those surrounding literary and artistic characters such as superheroes, and entire conceptualized worlds and universes such as those presented by DC and Marvel (Menzies, 2014). Mythological themes have thus shifted from the explanation of the natural world, with particular emphasis on how it came to be, and what happens at the end of life, to the focus on how best to handle the various trials and tribulations faced by people in the world. Superheroes, who dominate the modern mythical concepts, are envisioned as people who are willing to go the extra mile in an attempt to ensure the preservation of human dignity, equality, and compassion for others.
Heywood, L. (2005). The Individual’s Ghost: Towards a New Mythology of the Postmodern. InBlazek W. & Glenday M. (Eds.), American Mythologies: New Essays on ContemporaryLiterature (pp. 79-104). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Retrieved fromhttp://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vjbd1.9
Menzies, J. (2014). C. S. Lewis and Joseph Campbell on the Role of Myth in a TechnologicalSociety. In True Myth: C.S. Lewis and Joseph Campbell on the Veracity ofChristianity (pp. 204-235). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Lutterworth Press. Retrievedfrom http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1cgdxdv.10
Schrempp, G. (2012). Mythologizing Matter: On Myth, Popular Science, and the Problem ofCentric Knowledge. In Ancient Mythology of Modern Science: A Mythologist Looks(Seriously) at Popular Science Writing (pp. 12-34). McGill-Queen’s University Press.Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt12f3vt.5