Cultural Studies

Question

How is the word myth used popularly? For example, what does the statement, “It’s a myth” mean? In contrast, how is the word myth used in the academic context? After considering the definition in your textbooks and course materials, write a definition in your own words.
What are the most common mythological themes across different cultures? Why do myths from different cultures around the world address such similar or universal themes? Do we see these same themes in today’s myths? Think about how myths explain the unknown and the tribulations of mankind.

Format your citations and references according to the appropriate course-level APA guidelines.

Answer

Myths

Myths have been a part of human culture since time immemorial. They are a store of information and a marker of cultural and social beliefs of a people. They are preserved in people’s minds and passed on from generation to generation through songs and stories told to the members of a particular society. They help to preserve a people’s tradition, explain the existence of a certain phenomenon or give a position regarding a community’s beliefs regarding the origin of a given phenomenon. This research paper seeks to define myths from a popular as well as an academic perspective, discuss mythical themes across different cultures and also illustrate the benefits of myths to society today.

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            In popular culture today, the word “myth” is used to refer to a story based on a collection of actual happenings that are all accredited to one person. It is also defined as an idea or story that is believed by many people to be true even when it is not. The popular phrase ‘It’s a myth’ is used when a certain belief held by many people is questioned and it is determined that it lacks any factual evidence and is therefore not true. In other words, it stands for something that is untrue or fictionalized. The term may also be used to refer to a certain statement that is a distortion of facts exaggeration of a particular truth.

From an academic point of view, the word is used to refer to a traditional narrative that involves people with supernatural powers or superhuman beings that represent certain ideas or cultural beliefs (Herskovits, 1956). More often than not, these stories are aimed at explaining certain natural phenomena or practices carried out by a community. Some people may view them as fictitious or exaggerated, but underneath every myth is a certain grain of truth based on events or even a person who may have lived in the past. Myths may also be seen to contain certain symbols or representations that have a certain meaning directed at the target audience. Simply put, a myth is viewed either as a story that is told to explain a practice, belief or a natural occurrence or as a widely held belief that may not necessarily be true.

            Meanwhile, to understand myths better, it is imperative to explore how they are expressed in different cultures. For example, for both the Eskimos of the Antarctic and the Aborigines of Australia, cultural myths exist as a form of speculation on how the world and other natural phenomena may have come into being. Thus, myths tend to possess some similarities irrespective of cultural, geographical and socialization differences. The most common theme in myths across cultures is the existence of the world. These myths tend to focus on birth as it is viewed as a new start or the beginning of life. Creation myths involve a supernatural being, a ‘god-figure’ and the first human being/ set of human beings and how they came into existence as well as their first offspring.

Moreover, most myths tend to explain the cause/ origin of natural disasters, illnesses, and death. Most communities agree to the mythical view of these occurrences as some sort of atonement for wrongs or evils done during one’s life. Heroism is portrayed in many myths with the existence of supernatural human beings such as Hercules and Chinese Samurais who are believed to possess extraordinary powers. These superhuman creatures go on to perform a great and heroic task such as leading the community to a victory in war and are often viewed as half-man, half-gods. Many myths across cultures worldwide also tend to try and explain the origin of the fire, with some stating that it is power stolen from a god and others claiming that it represents the reincarnation of a great warrior or a prominent personality (Eliade, 1968).

            Again, diverse themes from different cultures and communities seem to have some common/ universal elements as demonstrated in the aforementioned examples, and they arise due to man’s inherent desire to explain the existence of certain phenomena. Even before the advent of scientific research and knowledge, human beings have always wanted to know how things that exist on earth and even beyond came into existence. Traditional communities invented myths and legends, mostly centering on mythical creatures and gods in an effort to explain these phenomena. Myths across cultures also share similar themes so as to encourage good behavior or instill discipline on the members of the community. For example, those that dwell on matters of death, illness, calamity, ill fate and personal struggles were meant to act as retribution for evil in various communities. According to Carl Jung’s theory on archetypes, there are also some outside universal forces that influence human beings to manifest their particular traits and hence to create myths on them (Halpern, 1961).

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            Today’s myths stem mainly from a point of knowledge, and they tend to focus on life’s excitement, terror, wonders and mysteries. They present the readers with the best- and worst-case life scenarios. Like traditional myths, the have the theme of reward for good and retribution for evil. Besides, they explain the unknown by trying to come up with explanations or the origins of certain occurrences, behavior, and phenomena. They try and relate what is already known with the unknown and draw parallels on well-known objects and the mysterious ones under investigation such as a god’s power and death. Their role in expounding on the tribulations of mankind should also not be overlooked. It is on this basis that they illustrate the relationship between man and supernatural powers such as gods and the view of how misfortunes as punishment from these powerful beings. At the same time, the mythical discourse is dominated by the view of God as an omnipresent benefactor who possesses the power to end all human tribulations.

            In conclusion, myths, whether viewed as a cultural explanation of phenomena or as beliefs that are not necessarily true, are a fundamental component of today’s world. Although different and diverse, myths from different cultures may possess similar themes due to the likeness of human experiences, everyday life events in different cultures and uniform bounds of understanding of the universe. Lastly, they are important tools of cultural information transfer as they enable generation after generation to understand their community’s beliefs, cultural values, and social norms.

References

Halpern, B. (1961). “Myth” and “ideology” in modern usage. History and Theory. 1(2) 129-149.

Eliade, M. (1968) Myths, dreams, and mysteries: The encounter between contemporary faiths and archaic realities. London: Harper & Row.

Herskovits, M. J. (1956). Cultural anthropology. New York, NY: Blackwell Publishing.

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