Origin myth


Origin myth

An origin myth is a myth that purports to describe the origin of some feature of the natural or social world. One type of origin myth is the cosmogonic myth, which describes the creation of the world. However, many cultures have stories set after the cosmogonic myth, which describe the origin of natural phenomena and human institutions within a preexisting universe.

Nature of origin myths

Every origin myth is a story of creation: origin myths describe how some new reality came into existence.Eliade, p. 21] In many cases, origin myths also justify the established order by explaining that it was established by sacred forcesEliade, p. 21] (see section on "Social function" below). The distinction between cosmogonic myths and origin myths is not clear-cut. A myth about the origin of some part of the world necessarily presupposes the existence of the world — which, for many cultures, presupposes a cosmogonic myth. In this sense, one can think of origin myths as building upon and extending their cultures' cosmogonic myths.Eliade, p. 21] In fact, in traditional cultures, the recitation of an origin myth is often prefaced with the recitation of the cosmogonic myth. [Eliade, pp. 21-24]

In some academic circles, the term "myth" properly refers only to origin and cosmogonic myths. For example, many folklorists reserve the label "myth" for stories about creation. Traditional stories that do not focus on origins fall into the categories of "legend" and "folk tale", which folklorists distinguish from myth. [Segal, p. 5]

According to historian Mircea Eliade, for many traditional cultures nearly every sacred story qualifies as an origin myth. Traditional man tends to model his behavior after sacred events, seeing his life as an "eternal return" to the mythical age. Because of this, nearly every sacred story describes events that established a new paradigm for human behavior, and thus nearly every sacred story is a story about a creation. [See, for example, Eliade, pp. 17-19]

Social function of origin myths

An origin myth often functions to justify the current state of affairs. In traditional cultures, the entities and forces described in origin myths are often considered sacred. Thus, by attributing the state of the universe to the actions of these entities and forces, origin myths give the current order an aura of sacredness: "Myths reveal that the World, man, and life have a supernatural origin and history, and that this history is significant, precious, and exemplary." [Eliade, p. 19] In many cultures, people are expected to take mythical gods and heroes as their role models, imitating their deeds and upholding the customs they established:

When the missionary and ethnologist C. Strehlow asked the Australian Arunta why they performed certain ceremonies, the answer was always: "Because the ancestors so commanded it." The Kai of New Guinea refused to change their way of living and working, and they explained: "It was thus that the Nemu (the Mythical Ancestors) did, and we do likewise." Asked the reason for a particular detail in a ceremony, a Navaho chanter answered: "Because the Holy People did it that way in the first place." We find exactly the same justification in the prayer that accompanies a primitive Tibetan ritual: "As it has been handed down from the beginning of the earth’s creation, so must we sacrifice. … As our ancestors in ancient times did—so do we now." [Eliade, pp. 6-7]

Notes

Sources

* Eliade, Mircea. "Myth and Reality". Trans. Willard Trask. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.
* Segal, Robert A. "Myth: A Very Short Introduction". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

See also

* Etiology


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Origin — Origin, origins, or original may refer to: Contents 1 Beginning of the universe and life 2 Science and technology 3 Computer …   Wikipedia

  • Myth of origins — Iceland s founding myth – the arrival of the first Norse settler Ingólfr Arnarson on the future site of Reykjavik, as depicted in 1850 by Johan Peter Raadsig. An origin myth is a myth that purports to describe the origin of some feature of the… …   Wikipedia

  • Origin of death myth — The origin of death is a theme in the myths of many cultures. Death is a universal feature of human life, so stories about its origin appear to be universal in human cultures.[1] As such it is a form of cosmological myth (a type of myth that… …   Wikipedia

  • Origin story — This article is about the back stories of fictional characters. For myths about origins of world phenomena, see origin myth. For other uses of origin , see Origin. In comic book terminology, an origin story is an account or back story revealing… …   Wikipedia

  • Myth (warez) — Myth Myth ASCII NFO header by Ferrex of SAC. Years active 2000 2005 Category Warez Platform(s) …   Wikipedia

  • Myth (computer game series) — Myth is a series of real time tactics (not to be confused with real time strategy) computer games. The games are:*Myth: The Fallen Lords *Myth II: Soulblighter *Myth III: The Wolf AgeMyth and Myth II were developed and self published by Bungie… …   Wikipedia

  • Myth — (m[i^]th), n. [Written also {mythe}.] [Gr. my^qos myth, fable, tale, talk, speech: cf. F. mythe.] 1. A story of great but unknown age which originally embodied a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience, and in which often the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Myth history — Myth Myth (m[i^]th), n. [Written also {mythe}.] [Gr. my^qos myth, fable, tale, talk, speech: cf. F. mythe.] 1. A story of great but unknown age which originally embodied a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience, and in which often …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • myth — 1 Myth, legend, saga all mean a story which has come down from the past, which ostensibly relates a historical event or events, and of which the origin has been lost or forgotten. Myth varies considerably in its denotation and connotation… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • myth — [mıθ] n [U and C] [Date: 1800 1900; : Greek; Origin: mythos story, speech, myth ] 1.) an idea or story that many people believe, but which is not true = ↑fallacy myth of ▪ the myth of male superiority myth that ▪ the myth that wisdom accompanies… …   Dictionary of contemporary English


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.