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Evolutions of Myths
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 22, 1999
Mythology is an example of the evolved traits of creative and deductive
thinking in humans.
All mythology explains the why and how of human existance, including some of
the major events
in their environments like disasterous floods. The most recent book which gives
a coherent explanation
that is rooted in the likely fears and hopes of the people of their time is:
The Caves of the Sun
1998 (The origins of mythology)
One recent article which explains why people generate myths at all is:
Edward O. Wilson,
The Biological Basis of Morality
, The Atlantic Monthly, April 1998
A couple of references which discuss how the original myths evolve are:
Transformations of Myth Through Time
Introduction to a Science of Mythology
I discuss other reasons for myths from the viewpoint of J.R.R. Tolkien's 'Hobbits', and 'Lord of the Rings' stories.
,and here is a reference to a detailed literary analysis of Tolkien's two major epics...
Although I classify the gods by gender below, it was very common in all
non-Semite (Christian, Islam and their derivative religions) to not only
have powerful gods of either gender, but over a season the gods would change
their gender. Most of the pantheons of gods had several who were hermaphrodites.
This changing and duel gender gods is world wide and is given an explanation
by Bailey in the "The Caves of the Sun" mentioned above. However
there are pantheons which are unbalanced in their approportion of power among
the genders. Evolution of the Roman gods is described on that page.
Male dominated pantheons
One example is the Persian gods as described in the Zorasterian
the males have all the power, the females have almost entirely secondary roles.
This is very rare in the rest of the Ancient pantheons, though it is very
common in the modern monotheistic mythologies - the Semite rooted ones and some
variants of Hinduism:
Christianity,Islam,and Judaism are variation of the same patriachial mythology
was written down about 3000 years before today.
However there is a story that may explain why male dominated pantheon's gained
some emotional powerful at least among men. The hypothesis is that when animal
husbandry started (about 10,000 years before today) everyone realized that
restricting the number of male animals allowed easier and more effective
management of the whole domesticated species. Doing the same to human males
would have occurred to people in those societies. Ignoring our view of the
ethics of such human husbandry, it would indeed have had much emotional appeal
among men of that era to have a mythology that precluded having themselves
'controlled' as animals were. This is an hypothesis not a known fact.
Female dominated pantheons
This was once very common; the Goddess as a shared diety among hundreds of
cultures is cited by writers like
Introduction to a science of Mythology
There is nothing gentle about matriarchies since they too lived near the land,
and no child would grow up not knowing that animals and plants were killed for
food (and seeing it done often as not). There is no modern nonsense about the
balance of nature, of the benign nature of Mother Earth.
J F. Campbell
Myths To Live By
Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe
The Woman's Companion to Mythology
Walker, Barbara J.
Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
All these neolithic farming people were one harvest away from starvation. And
when the harvest was poor, they did starve. Hungry wild animals would kill
their livestock, their children, themselves if the opportunity arose.
For example, 5000 years before today lions apparently were in most areas of
central Europe and Asia. Thus the same Mother Earth that provided cereals,
grasses, and animals that people ate, and used also provided the famines, the
predators and the sickness. The Goddess was not some abstract idea, she was a
creator and a destroyer. Anyone could see the process going on day by day.
And in the powerful Knossos empire, a matriarchy, accounting and taxes were
'invented' and used as any patriachy would, to redistribute income from those
that have income to the government, the priesthood, and in a 5000 years before
today version of the trickle down effect, the desperately poor.
As monotheism replaced pantheism and male priests replaced female ones the
characteristics of the god or gods became more the assertive male, less the
Mixed Gender pantheons:
In these mythologies each gender had powerful representatives and held social
and power balances.
A comparison of Norse and Greek is made at this
Mixed was the most prevalent mythology across the world not just in Europe and
the Middle East. This is reasonable since people in most societies before 1500
years ago were in societies that had power balances between genders and special
Due to mythological inertia the belief in these type of pantheons extended
close to our own era. Then, in Europe, for 200-300 years starting about 500
years ago, the secular and Christian religious powers,with extremely focused
ruthlessness akin to the actions of Stalin or Hitler of our era,killed millions
of accidently associated, uncertain, mild or fanatic followers of any
unsanctioned mythology .
These persecutions (the witch hunts ) were both of pantheisms, and pogroms not
of Jews but of many versions of Christian mythology such as Anabaptists
(Mennonites for example), or Hugenots (protestants in France).
This violent removal of competing mythologies must have occurred in the past as
well. The Verdic texts of Hinduism shows a patriachy already formed, but this
supplanted earlier legends which included powerful independent females, like
Durga the invicible warrior who protected the universe from destruction by
relentlessly attacking demons who were gnawing away at the foundation of
reality. Durga was patriachized into Shiva, the male god of destruction. And
these male gods had female consorts who were loyal and submissive, such as
Shiva's consort Uma.
It is possible but unlikely this transformation was accepted peacefully.
Before the snake legends, where
the snake is evil and must be vanquished (see
Egypt) the snake is all powerful female who gives life, and death, and like
Apophes, can be endless by grasping its tail (tale?) in its mouth.
Before the powerful snake symbol (one of the female god incarnations) there
were ring legends. There are many many examples of ring stories in the Siberian
Urgatic people. The Urgatic people wandered far and wide. They wandered to the
west, like the Sami, the native people still in the
Finland area who have their ring stories. They travelled east about 15,000
years ago into North America, all these Amerinds people have ring stories.
by David Day
is an introduction of all the ring legends that Tolkein,a scholar of Old
English, were likely aware of. There are suggestions it is older than Goddess
What is suggested by the
analysis of older stories to newer is a struggle between one viewpoint and
another, often ending in a pantheon of the old and new, all revised by this
Just about the time the snake went from being powerful, and in the main
benevolent, to evil and not as powerful as some (usually male) god there was a
major shift in the living practices in the area where this myth paradigm shift
By analyzing garbage dumps outside ancient towns archaeologists noted that the
change in the view of the nature of the snake was met with formation of walls
around the town. Walls are not decorations
in neolithic cultures. It takes a lot of work to make a wall by using the
labour of human muscles. Walls constructed in a defensive manner are a sure
sign that the towns were under physical attack.
There were migrations of people from central Asia, and central Europe at the
same time starting around 6000 BCE moving generally towards the south, the path
to a warmer climate more fertile land, and less known than the areas to the
north, east and west. And it took not just decades but hundreds and hundreds of
years for this migration to occur. Like the modern day communal
Anabaptists these northerners migrated when each town of them grew larger than
about 200 people. Some of the people in a town split off, walked south and
negotiated for, or fought for, or just took over land not densely populated. Or
they were destroyed at least in part, and the remainder assimiliated into the
existing towns. Over time their
numbers simply overwhelmed the existing cultures there. Even peaceful
co-existance was certain to bring some revision in both cultures ideas
including their mythologies.
is an example of what often happened where the Goddess based religions people
met male dominated god religions of the people migrating into a region.
Zeus is the most physical powerful (as he often mentions). All the other Greek
are his siblings and they owe him big time forever since he effected their
escape from the stomach of their common father
who had swallowed them whole. But as brothers and sisters everywhere they talk
back to him and often outsmart him. He is equalled by
(his perhaps immaculately conceived daughter) and
(not immaculately conceived) in both social and transformation power. Recall
Athena (goddess of war and justice) never was bested. Her male counterpart (
, the god of battle) often lost and was pulled out of problems by Athena. This
is not a set of stories told by a psychotic but by people who knew that in any
society that there is give and take on many levels simultaneously. That rules
made by people (or gods) can be changed by people (and gods).
In short the myths are interesting because they tell about people responding to
events with thought and passion.
Myths are stories about transformation, and can be used to not only promote
change but also to prevent it. Or to create change which may in time cause much
harm to everyone. My interpretation of the
Epic of Gilgamesh
is that in part it
was a story to justify the clear cutting of the immense pine and cedar forests
which used to cover the middle east. In the Epic,
, King of Urak, and his good friend,
, go to battle the 'demon'
who was sent by the
to protect the cedar forests. And Humbaba does such a good job
that people are afraid to enter the forests to cut trees down. He is demonized
by those who want to cut down trees (there
some sense to that activity)
and they persuade the king and his friend to battle Humbaba. They succeed in
him, and eventually the forests are wasted, and the land becomes as we know it
today-without forests. But that ending is not in the story. It was a much later
consequence of clear cutting.
Finally, myths are stories about accomodation and correct behavior. The story
is about how people should act. The flood story of the Yoruba is a story about
how not going ahead and changing things without asking those who are affected.
The flood would never have occurred in the Yoruba
if one god (Olorun) had not thoughtlessly changed area of the universe which
was the responsibility of another god (Olokun) to maintain.
Myths are stories told by people about people: where they come from, how they
handle major disasters, how they cope with what they must and how everything
If that isn't everything what else is there?
Robert O'Connell 1999
Note 1: The archeologists are talking about very small towns, under 500 people
which are not trading centers. There is an exception which proves the rule.
Many towns in the Indus Valley
about 4000 BCE had walls, but thin, with no moat, and no zigzag design to
bottle invaders below while
arrows, spears, boiling oil, and other noxious material was rained on them. The
non defensive walls were to control
the traders coming in and leaving. The full article is
Indus Valley, Inc
in the December 1998 issue of the
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