Myth Summary

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19 Dec 2010
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Myth - William E. Pardon
The language of religion is different from the language of science
The language is not just poetic or rationalistic speculations, but sacred words and
models by which one lives
The generic term used is myth.
We need to first see how it is used as the world-building, world-shaping language of
Myth: Approaching the Term
Myth has both positive and negative uses
Greek word mythos originally meant: anything delivered by word of mouth, such as a
statement, an order, a speech or story.
Mythos became a word as the most ancient, the original account of the origins of the world,
in divine and sacred revelation, of gods and demigods and the genesis of the cosmos;
Contrasted with “epos - the word of human narration or logos the word as rational
Current Western culture myth is used in a negative sense, usually the word refers to
fantastic, entertaining stories about gods and heroes, the realm of imagination, domain of
centaurs, unicorsn and miracles
Scientific Culture sees mytho9logy as an archaic, prelogical stage of human
Literature takes myth as an early genre of storytelling that preceded the emergence of
the modern epic and other narrative forms
However, study of religion requires a different, more positive use of the term
not merely a story told, but a story lived
a living reality, believed to have once happened in primeval times
anthropologists found that communities back then had clear distinctions between
stories of entertainment and sacred stories
oPawnee Indians false stories and true stories
oEskimos young stories and old stories
oWinnebago narrated and sacred accounts
Stressed the contemporary functions of myth world creating myths, cosmogonic
Focus on religious rather than sociological function of myth
Emphasis on mythic time as the source of creative power
Sacred function of myth opened up new avenues of interpreting the general history
of religions
Myth posits ostensibly real times and places, real heroes and ancestos, real
genealogies and events
No matter how imaginative the stories are to an outsider, they are intended to
account for happenings in the real world by the believer, the story-writer of/at that
Etiologies: sole intention is to provide explanation
Myth and Religion
Religions are grounded in mythic language
The creation, the resurrection, the enlightenment of Buddha for example
Myth is not only a world script, but also constructs the world, and governs it
Myth is an alternative word to belief, whereas belief is a fail
Science accounts for origins, but only in rare cases might it function as myth.
Religious myth is by definition something that engages us. It is a source for healing,
restoration, liberation, order, power, salvation.
In contrast with scientific language, all religious language is mythic.