THE CREATION OF MYTH
4. On the Efficacy of Myth
in Ritual Settings
4. On the Efficacy of Myth in Ritual Settings
In many instances from the late Bronze age forward, certain oral histories — particularly myths of creation — were considered so sacred that they were not only carefully learned and recounted, but were also transmitted vertically, passed down from generation to generation in the context of formal ceremonial rituals and annual festivals.
The information these myths contained was deemed so vital and essential to the continued livelihood of the cultural milieu, that many of these stories were not merely recounted aloud but were actually acted out in communal public settings — finding extended expression in ritual actions, observances and performances that dramatized the myth.
Knowledge of the cosmological powers by which the life, fate, and work of mankind were governed, emphasized rational, real world incentives for ritual and ceremonial activities, as well as specific directions for their performance. Often involving long-range cycles of myths told during seasonal — equinox or solstice — ceremonial rites, the group performance of the mythos was customarily presented in the form of a highly-memorable multimedia production that involved the use of voice, body, mime, gesture, dance, rhythm, and ritual action. —Group dance, chant and story repetition in particular ensured that the original narrative force and essential meanings of key details were faithfully preserved as they were transmitted down the ages from generation to generation.
Recurring regularly each year, these “festivals of collective remembering” transmitted the remembered experiences of their famed ancestors through the generations as means of imparting the knowledge that both established an individual’s cultural identity and reciprocally continued the ongoing reproduction and codification of the entire group’s cumulative cultural memory.
— Collective participation of all the members of a community was, above all, the most crucial element in these endeavors. The individuals in the group could only acquire a common share in the collective cultural memory through corning together in public presence. Participation in the cultural tradition was only possible through being there.
The initial ordering of the world out of primordial disorder described by the mythos served not only as the primordial structure of Bronze Age peoples’ cultures, they also became the focal point for further articulation of their local cultural development. Commonly accepted as credible and true, the teachings of the mythos were often taken so seriously as to become all-encompassing ritual re-enactments of the mythos that engaged and enthused, moved and motivated entire communities.
Many rituals originally were indeed public performances of the Creation Myth in the form of dramatically staged plays that, above all else, promoted regular rote recall of the mythic narrative. Performed to underscore and highlight the effectiveness of the myth in ordering and safeguarding the culture and its way of life, the ancient doings of the planetary gods, momentous changes in the natural world order, and the sacred deeds of ancestors, heroes, or totem animals, in particular, were ceremoniously chanted and ritually re-enacted by myth-making communities — more or less in the sense of a sacred liturgy capable of conducting the attention of the gathered mass of people in attendance.
— The expressive gestures and dance ... the patterns in the tapestries .. and ... “arts”, the verbal and visual imagery . . . of the sacred rituals — in short, the <Greek terms:> things said, shown, done — all these had their original model and referential meaning within the very myth being ritually re-enacted.
Moreover, the effectiveness of the ritual being re-enacted in its myth’s image & likeness was believed to be most important for the safeguarding of the very celestial and earthly orders that the cosmogonic myth recounted the narrative history of.
Reflective of the basic relationship between humankind and the gods, these rituals provided a firm foundation for the seasonal ceremonial practices central to the community’s primitive religious beliefs. — They also more or less account for what little we know about the traditional practices of early 'pagan' peoples’ so-called 'polyarchal theism,' or religious 'astrolatry.'