the importance and value of myth and mythology
New definitions for myth, sometimes used derisively, have sprung up in some corners of modern society. For example, by differing reckonings, a myth is:
The last new definition cited above—an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution—shows just how negative the public's reaction to myth has become. For example, one "myth" that fits this definition is the Nazi myth of Aryan superiority.
In spite of the negative perceptions people tend to have about myth, many of the same people who scoff at myth in some situations admire it in others. They read comic books, see films about superheroes, or follow science fiction stories on television. There must be something about myth that continues to intrigue and attract.
the Not-So-Ugly truth about myth
The new definitions of myth cited above do not agree with the more neutral one offered by The Muse. Yet even myths that fit The Muse's definition have proved hard for some people to swallow. Why?
Certainly, the public is more sophisticated, better educated, and better informed than its counterparts in previous centuries; compared with the ancients, perhaps it's harder for us to take the old superheroes and their unlikely feats seriously. Their stories may even appear a bit silly to modern eyes. For some reason, in our culture, something that is not true tends to be discounted. It may be easy to poke fun at these older tales today because the common perception of myth is of something that's not based on truth, and because the old tales are based on alien value systems and mores that originated in other times and places.
Where myth is concerned, this view is summed up in the statement, Myth is myth.
Yet, the truth is that myth is truth, truth as modern today as it was long ago. Where mythology is concerned, myth is not mythical in the pejorative sense; nothing could be further from the truth. (For more on this, visit Welcome To Understanding Myth And Mythology.)
Our apparent cultural need to see, hear, or read a story as literal truth may account for recent television specials that attempt to rationalize the super-fantastic science that is the basis for movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, Superman, and Spiderman, various comic books, and other contemporary fictional stories.
For some reason, fantasy epics like these, which at the core are myths in their own right, are adored by their vast audiences even though they are as separated from actual science as ancient mythic stories are separated from actual science. These modern audiences seem to be unable to accept myth unless it is presented in a patently factual manner. The admiring public responds to these blockbusters without realizing that they are just as much mythical epics as the trials of Hercules or the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts.
the value of myth
As we shall see in these pages, contrary to popular opinion, in the broad sense myth and mythology are not discredited; and the making of myth is not a defunct activity. There is nothing old fashioned about myths; they are as alive as ever, exerting as much impact on society and the individual as in past millennia. New myths are spawned continually, and there is every indication that myths will continue to alter the course of human events as long as mankind inhabits this planet.
Perhaps myth's importance is underrated because mythology is not easy to understand; it raises all kinds of fascinating, puzzling, tough questions. Yet much that is worthwhile can be learned from unearthing answers to the knotty and profound questions it raises. For example:
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