THE CREATION OF MYTH
On the Traditional Management
of Cultural Memory
On the Traditional Management of Cultural Memory
In spite of the vast variety of media by which the mythos was traditionally handed down across the globe, there seems to be several common factors involved worldwide in the long-term management of cultural memory. In general — the satisfaction of three functions seem to be required if the formative impulses that establish long-lasting cultural memory are to be effectively activated:
1) Storage and preservation of the mythos, and
2) Reactivation of the mythos via regular ritual performance,
3) Facilitated by the collective participation of the entire cultural group.
These traditions thrived in all corners of the ancient world. For thousands of years, myths containing carefully encoded information, memories and knowledge held in common were received, recalled and relayed orally from generation to generation through speech and song, folktales and ballads, plaintive melodies and rhythmical chants, dances and games, ritual re-enactments and dramatically staged plays.
These means actually remained common in many parts of the world up until the modern era of mercantile expansionism. Some so-called “primitive” or “non-civilized” ethnic groups conserved such practices of cultural memory management all the way forward to the last few centuries. In these oral-based societies (societies without writing), the stock of what needed to be vitally remembered coincided with the people’s collectively-retained cultural memory.
1) On the Storage and Preservation of the Mythos
While the form in which the strictly oral mythos existed before its fixation through writing can only be conjectured at best — the earliest poetical products of peoples were epic in character; either they were mythical stories of gods which are reminders of men's lost immortality, or they were human stories of ... which bewail the loss of a primal paradise preceding the dawn of human history. All myth-making peoples thought in terms of stories like these.
For those memorable mythic events that our ancestors desperately did not want to forget were invented mimetic memory aids involving mnemonic techniques. The late Bronze Age mythos that survived into the era of writing and literacy were all styled mnemonically, or, arranged in complex poetic forms. In epics like <examples>, the challenge of accurate, verifiable transmission was surmounted by the use of heavily rhythmic speech patterns filled with various mnemonic strategies (such as alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repetition and/or syllabic metre), — techniques that facilitate transmission and enhance group memorization and recall.
Memory formation is intrinsically connected with regular, rhythmic repetition — which may account for the repetitive, fixed quality of epic diction. ... These authoritative properties of the spoken word were not only the very matrix of epic poetry, they were also the basis for conventional magical formulae, as well as the oldest known forms of religious hymns and prayers.
2) On the Reactivation of the Mythos via Regular Ritual Performance
Myth storylines were acted out in rituals using a wide variety of reinforcing media. Such ritual re-enactments exemplify some of our earliest known traces of epic poetry in dramatic performance — more or less in the sense of a sacred liturgy capable of conducting the captive attention of the gathered mass of people in attendance .
Among the larger metropolitan city-states of the Bronze and Iron Ages (such as <examples>, etc), there was often established a small but highly trained class of people — a special consensus who arranged and produced the community’s annual Equinox ritual festivities. Their ranks included highly skilled and trained narrators, typically chiefs, priests or shamans whose livelihood depended on their ability to perform these duties in the service of perpetuating the mythos. ...
... the legomena (things spoken);
the drōmena (things done or acted out);
and the deiknymena (things shown or revealed) ...
The recital and/or ritual performance of events from the beginning of time was itself a preliterate form of cultural memory. Enactments of cultural memory were deliberately created, organized, managed and maintained to counter the effects of forgetting, so that the actual history embedded in the mouthing of the myths could be made publicly available for recall. A “Mythological Tradition" in this sense refers to the business of handing down and receiving the mythos, and the continued maintenance of the cultural memories one’s community had received. Key aspects of the myths were repeated regularly so as reinforce the importance of those more crucial elements of the story and the ability of the audience to clearly remember it. ... The oral transmission and performance of epic poetry at these rituals, was, itself, the ongoing codification of that peoples’ uniquely shared sense of history and historical memory.
3) On the Collective Participation of the entire Community
The third notable factor common to many mythopoeic cultures around the globe: ... recounted in ritual recitations and dramatically acted-out in accompanying re-enactments ...
... regarded such acts of compulsive commemoration or memorialization as integral components of the traditional practices and ideals to be regularly upheld by their society, ...
... communicating the central mythic cult of a given culture down through the generations. ... also served as the basis for the orientation of the community in respect to the cosmos at large ...