THE CREATION OF MYTHS
ii. On the Phenomenology of Myth
In our time, words like Myth and Ritual have lost their original meanings, and in common usage are usually misunderstood. ... It will be necessary for us to begin by reconsidering the ancient beliefs and practices that lie behind these modern words, and attempt to recapture their older and wider range of meanings and connotations for ourselves. These preliminary observations about the manner in which these words are here used and defined will likewise determine the larger conclusions that will be drawn later on in this study.
The word Myth in particular refers to a complex of meanings and practices universally common among the myth-making cultures under consideration here. It will be necessary for us to approach these meanings and practices from a handful of critical directions all at once (or, rather, in succession):
1st) The ORALITY of Myth:
Myth began as purely oral history held in common by members of the same community, intentionally transmitted from one generation to the next by word of mouth.
2nd) The AUTHORITY accredited to Myth:
Myths which explained how aspects of the natural world came to be were commonly regarded as truthful accounts of historical events, and were thus considered to be authoritative and profoundly sacred by those responsible for handing them down.
3rd) The COMMUNITY production and preservation of Myth:
Myths and their related social traditions were the property of the entire community, defined the fundamental world-view and social practices of their culture, and commonly served as the basis of the group’s sense of self and cohesive social order.
4th) The EFFICACY of Myth in Ritual settings:
The dramatic re-enactment of the community’s myth of creation was a central part of their annual ritual activities — the efficacious performance of which was believed to sustain and guard the social and natural orders from future catastrophe.
5th) The PERSISTENCE of Myth throughout History:
Forerunner of both religion and science, myth persisted through the ages by being repeatedly transformed and remade anew.
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— In short, traditional myth-making communities naturally aligned themselves around cosmovisions that appeared self-evidently true from their own specific point of view. That the rituals derived from these myths were perceived to preserve their world from future disasters likewise encouraged the regular maintenance of these rituals, and further strengthened the group’s belief in the practical life-saving truthfulness of their mythology through long ages to come.