Myths as Truths

“A myth is just a religion that has fallen into disrepute.”

So Joanne Harris asserts on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog (May 8, 2015). She is peddling her book The Gospel of Loki, so she can be excused, but that’s backward. Myths usually precede religions.

Myths are the way a people explained their origin, nature and history. It’s how we make sense of the world around them. We admit a metaphorical element in the stories, but essentially—and that’s the whole point, the “essence”—they are true. They explain what nature is, who we are, and how and why things works as they do.

They are also separable from religion in that myths generally have no fixed structure to determine and enforce orthodoxy. Religions have sacred texts, gatekeepers, evangelists and inquisitors, even the secular religions which deny religion. Myths operate at a more subliminal level. The very act of codifying myths marks their transformation into religions.

Myths explain the unexplainable. It is the primordial soup of religion, yes, but also of culture, science, history and literature. Its power is in explaining, regardless of truth and falseness.

As such myths are still with us. Historical and political myths explain who we are and how we function in society. They help us define “us” and “them,” the most important activity of most folks over age two. They help us filter the avalanche of data which threatens to bury us.

Mythology is as much a part of our lives today as in ancient Greece or Norway. Today’s myths undergird the self-evident truths of our lives.

As Harris observes, “The stories we tell say more about us than we know.”


One thought on “Myths as Truths

  1. Very well put, Ron! I began studying Greek and Roman myths in about 3rd grade. What I recall noticing first were the personalities of the various gods and goddesses. Their traits and actions were always larger than life. How they acted brought on big consequences, for better or worse. Carl Jung worked with myths. It’s a fascinating field. My favorite of Neil Gaiman’s books is American Gods.

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