THE CREATION OF MYTH
5. On the Persistence of Myth
5. On the Persistence of Myth throughout History
So long as the myths seemed to preserve the people, to too did the people preserve their myths.
The remarkable longevity of these nostalgically remembered stories came forward out of mankind’s dim and misty, mostly irretrievable prehistory during the late Neolithic age, and from there stretched further forward through the strata of the Bronze age, and into the early onset of the Iron Age.
This essentially means that the myth-making era had its roots in the Matriarchal cultural base we find exemplified in archaeological traces recovered from the late Neolithic to the early to middle Bronze ages, — but was also subsequently borrowed and adapted by Patriarchal city-state cultures of the mid to late Bronze and early Iron ages. ...
More remarkable, perhaps, is the way in which the basic tropes of the ancient myths, sagas and fables found themselves remade, repackaged or reactivated time and again, all the way through the rest of history — up to the present day. The roots of myth that go back in time to the very dawn of human history, yet still somehow continue to be a robust part of contemporary popular culture.
Far more than mere poetic conceits — ... “more wistful than wishful and more commemorative than imaginative” ... — once upon a time these were ubiquitous beliefs, common all over the world almost everywhere, among primitive and sophisticated societies alike. — Plaintive echoes from a past which we can never fully recapture yet never wholly forget, these mythic narratives actually were at once both theologically and scientifically edifying — as no distinction between religion and science was yet thinkable. These mythic traditions were the forerunners — not only of modern religions, but also likewise of modern sciences, and as such served as the major basis for more or less all subsequent thought.
In early myth-making we find nascent traces of later sciences still juxtaposed and inter-fused with one another. — Modern scientific disciplines such as: astronomy and meteorology ... geology ... anthropology ... and the basic models of seasonal and longer-range chronology discoverable by careful observation of the planets and stars, ... . The distinctions we today would often draw between these fields of study cannot in fact be distinguished and separated among myth-making cultures.
Oral traditions were a particularly robust form of history, ... in terms of the long-term conservation of the most important details of myth. Ensuring the long-term preservation of cultural groups’ life-saving sacred knowledge, the mouthing of the myths ultimately constituted a highly functional system of cultural memory, transmitted vertically through the generations. For without the possibility of preservation in writing, collective human memory was the only real means available to groups that wished to indefinitely store and faithfully transmit the knowledge that secured the livelihood and identity of the community, as well as their long-term survival.
Only by postulating a cultural basis for memory as a social phenomenon can we begin to comprehend the vast depths of time, reaching back hundreds or even thousands of years, that traditional cultural memory systems were capable of preserving and transmitting.
Far beyond the horizon of the peoples’ immediate personal memory, cultural memory had to be preserved and transmitted from generation to generation by means of regularly recurring ritual activities. The information relayed from one generation to the next needed to be impressed deeply enough, not only to be immediately heeded and accurately remembered, but also in order to be successfully transmitted intact to one’s children, and then again to their children’s children — in an ongoing series of transferences reaching back into the primal history of humankind.