THE CREATION OF MYTH
On Rote Aspects of Culture as
Ritual Extensions of Myth
On Rote Aspects of Culture as Ritual Extensions of Myth
Related myths dealing with the origins or discoveries of particular aspects or practices of cultural life likewise modeled themselves on the very structure and sequence of the cosmogonic myth. These popular customs and practices seemed to have unquestionable validity on account of how intrinsic the myths behind them were to the very structure and organization of regular community life.
Stories such as these set up the social form of the community, and as such became the basis of every cultural institution that subsequently came into being among the people. ...
— Eventually, all of civilization emerged from these initial forays of mankind as the culture-making animal. The institutions of religion, marriage, burial, forms of state — in short, all cultural institutions — originally grew out of the imaginative universals ... of the peoples’ popular mythos.
Material Artifacts of Culture
— Thus it is perhaps no wonder, that the material artifacts modern archeology has recovered are richly laden with archetypal imagery, signs and symbols central to the shared mythos of the peoples’ cultural foundations. Some salient features of mythopoeic peoples in prehistoric times are also shared by the indigenous populations encountered during the era of Western colonial expansions.
— For example, in every known instance, the entire community’s arts and crafts and everyday decor have been commonly stylized with figures and glyphs familiar from the myths . . .
Mythic themes have likewise been found to be central to the singing of folktales and ballads, the intoning of melodies and rhythmical chants, and the rudiments of group dances, role-playing, sports and games . . .
Modifications of the Human Body
Even more demonstrative is the wide-spread evidence of the role played by myth in the deliberate interference with the natural form of the human body, found in both ancient myth-making cultures as well as modern 'primitive' peoples. For instance, the deformation of the skull, the piercing of ears, lips, nose, etc., ... commonly associated with the performance of ’puberty’ rites, circumcision, etc. . . .
— We find it also in the artificial painting of the body and the tattooing witnessed all over the world: “... certain linguists connect the German word malen (to paint) with the drawing-in of body-marks (mal) or signs, just as the Tahitian word tatu is derived from ta, which means "mark" or "sign." Among the American Indians as well as the Australians and other peoples, a typical form of [body] painting is, in fact, the sign of the tribe, which indicates membership of a particular totem, and is therefore in a sense a collective badge of the individual that robs him of his personality in order to include him in a community ... " ... Likewise, “tattooing follows on the puberty ceremonies at which the individual becomes both a personality and a member of a community” (Otto Rank, Art and Artist 133-135).
In all these instances, the molding and melding of the human body, to a formative plasticity — impressing and enforcing a dominant form on the natural material of bone, flesh, and blood, as if to achieve a truly new creation — was urged thereto by deeply committed adherence to mythic traditions.
Common Political and Social Themes
By referring to the process through which the world in the beginning had been centered and given a definite form within the cosmic world-order, creation myths also often served as confirmation or justification of a community’s “rightful” way of life — legitimizing, not only the position of the ‘heavenly kings’ and their celestial milieu relative to all other classes of beings; but also, as such, legitimizing and legislating human affairs down below.
— Such as, for example, establishing the genealogical credentials and central importance of a king or leader; ... ... — Or to memorialize the establishment of the public institutions and civil customs, by which their nation had first come into being, and by which they subsequently continued to maintain themselves in the world (Vico, New Science 5).
. . . Often specifying the regard that humans must have for other humans, nature, and the entire created world, by commonly defining and integrally inculcating certain moral values, taboos and social habits of behavior among the people, ... as culturally-sanctioned safeguards against the fragmentation of their collective self-image and self-identity . . .
In short, the old myths united the people. This was the first cause of culture — for not only did collective socialization enable each member of the community to recall the mythos; the instillation of shared cultural memories also enabled them to become collectively socialized, by stabilizing a collective identity embodied externally in shared social practices.