mythology is important for both individualistic and collective reasons. On an individual level, mythology could teach moral or human truths, whereas on a collective level mythology could be used to keep people in touch with their origins. Mythological stories could then be used to teach children values such as hard work, diligence and obedience. Role models are created through mythological figures. Also, the mythology of different cultures can serve to teach the student about the values of that culture. This is particularly important in the world today, since advancing technology and phenomena such as globalization has brought foreign cultures much more frequently in touch with each other than was previously the case. It is therefore important to study mythology for the values that it can teach both children and adults, and also for understanding the heritage inherent in these stories.
Mythology derives from the complexity of the human mind and experience. The concept of mythology then is somewhat difficult to pin down. For the purpose of this writing then the concept as a whole is divided into two parts: the ancient and the modern.
Ancient mythology includes stories created during ancient times in order to establish the moral and psychological bases from which society today still operates. Modern mythology includes not only the works of art deriving from ancient mythology, but also those works that serve the same purpose.
Many purposes can be served by mythology. One of these is to derive meaning from life and its occurrences. Mythology can also be used to teach the values and ethics inherent in a specific society and culture, as well as the values of a specific religion. It will be seen that many of these purposes are served not only by ancient mythology, but also modern stories and films. The reasons for studying mythology can then include the purpose of finding the underlying meanings and paradigms of human existence.
The Lessons of Mythology
Children can be taught morality through mythology. This is a positive reinforcement of values that parents wish to teach their children. The Three Little Pigs, for example, hold lessons of hard work and diligence through which more is accomplished than frivolity and fun. Little Red Riding Hood disobeyed her mother's orders, and caused trouble both for herself and her grandmother. This story also holds the lesson of not talking to strangers. Sleeping Beauty, as many children, was unable to resist the temptation of a hidden spinning wheel when being warned against a prick on her finger. She was disobedient as a result of her curiosity.
An interesting element in these children's myths is the fact that the outcome is always good. The little pigs all survive and the wolf dies. Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother are saved and the wolf is killed, and Sleeping Beauty is woken up by her prince. This element in itself is worth studying. Several reasons could be investigated for this optimism in children's mythological stories. The obvious reason is the idea that children need protection from the harsh realities of a world where things indeed do go wrong, and often. Other reasons could include reinforcement. By providing positive outcomes for these stories, the children are allowed to learn something, and the ideals of obedience, hard work and not talking to strangers are reinforced, while the little characters receive the opportunity to do better in the future. The reinforcement of the lesson then involves that disobedience leads to problems, while having learned the lesson leads to solutions.
Mythology as a Cultural Paradigm
Mythology can be studied to learn about cultures other than one's own. It is in mythological stories that the important values and morals of a particular culture. These myths are used to teach cultural values to children, and to keep adults connected to their cultural heritage. They are therefore a useful tool for gaining knowledge about the heart of a culture. Indeed, the mythological heroes Achilles and Hector are used to teach the value of learning about culture through myth. Both read myth for recreational purposes, and also to understand the cultures from which they emanate.
Another important aspect of studying myth is for the purpose of understanding one's own culture. Ancient mythology for example includes the values from which modern culture has grown. This is a valuable study of the roots of the systems in our culture today. Greek mythology for example has a great influence on the western paradigm. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey for example influenced Greek cultural values relating to valor love and the struggle between good and evil. Some of the paradigms delineated in these works still influence the western world today.
A study of mythology furthermore enriches the reader with knowledge of the above paradigms, and the artistic influences that also stem from mythology. The names of the planets is an example of such knowledge, as well as works of art such as "Leda and the Swan," which can be enjoyed to a greater degree with the background knowledge of the myth that influenced the poem. Keats' "Endymion" is another example of such influence. This myth addresses the human fear of death, and the fantasy of eternal youth. The young shepherd pays the price of having to spend his life in eternal slumber, but at least he will never die. The more modern, dark myth of the vampire is a perpetuation of this idea. Vampires live eternally, but they are not part of humanity, and they pay the price of having to avoid sunlight and many other dangers.
Mythology is also created by modern writers. Indeed, the concept of "myth-making" has been studied in depth in genres such as fantasy and horror literature. This has also been a prominent part of recent films such as "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings" and even "Star Wars." These modern "myths" then serve not only to entertain, but also to delineate values such as honor, justice and loyalty that modern people hold in high regard. An interesting point of study could be a comparison between ancient and modern mythology. A comparison between mythologies from different cultures could also yield interesting results.
Mythology as a Human Paradigm
Such comparisons may indeed reveal that, while cultural values may differ, human values are fundamentally the same. Mythology is an artistic expression not only of culture, but also of humanity. Indeed, few human beings, whatever their culture, would not hold in at least some regard values such as honor, justice and loyalty. Furthermore mythology also reveals the hopes and fears of the human race.
Another fundamental human need, involving both hope and fear, is love. Love is a transcultural value that everybody is in search of. Thus, much of the world mythos is about searching, finding and losing love.
Heroism and violence is another universal element inherent in the mythology of the world. These relate to the human search for meaning in life. All mythological heroes have interesting lives, filled with adventure, battle and victory. These stories are interesting and entertaining, but also move the audience to consider the conflicts and victories of their own lives. The physical adventure in mythology symbolizes the mental and intellectual challenges faced by humanity today.
The entertainment value of the heroic lives lived by heroes such as Hercules and even Harry Potter, indicate the human need for adventure and also meaning. Films and books containing mythology are satisfying because at the root of the story there is always a fundamental meaning to the conflicts and victories experienced. The study of these fundamental meanings then leads the reader to a better understanding of humanity and life.
The hero in mythology furthermore represents the idealized human being. He or she is a person who might have, like Harry Potter, had humble beginnings. These are the more modern mythical heroes, whereas the ancient heroes are more often from more noble origins. The importance of mythology as part of humanity is therefore evident throughout the worlds of literature, art and humanity.
Human beings organize and understand their world in certain ways that vary in different cultures. The fundamental humanity of this understanding of life is generally uniform throughout the cultures, despite individual differences. Mythology is thus used to explain the world, its events, and its variety of cultures to our children and ourselves. It is therefore also much influenced not only by individual cultural paradigms, but also by individual differences within on culture, including gender, race and age. Hence the differences in mythological stories told to children and those told among adults. Studying these is then useful in understanding the way in which people from different areas of life explain the world to themselves. Furthermore the popularity of certain mythological stories over others can serve as a useful study of the most pervasive hopes and fears among human beings today.
Mythology and Conflict
An interesting element in mythology is internal and external conflict, and the resolution of these. Children's mythological stories, as seen above, does include conflict,…