Mythology and Myth


Fatidica.  Lord Leighton.

[Frazer, J. G.  Myths of the Origin of Fire, London, 1930]

“Mythology may perhaps be defined as the philosophy of primitive man…his first attempt to answer those general questions concerning the world which have doubtless obtruded themselves on the human from the earliest times…”.

Also – “…the importance of myths as documents of human thought in the embryo is now generally recognised, and they are collected and compared…for the light they throw on the intellectual evolution of our species.” (vi).

Further – “…while myths never explain the facts which they attempt to elucidate, they incidentally throw light on the mental condition of the men who invented or believed them…” (1).

[Frazer, J. G.  Man, God and Immortality.  Macmillan, London, 1927].

“…it has been argued that mythical beings are nothing but personifications of natural objects and natural processes; on the other hand, it has been maintained that they are nothing but notable men and women who in their lifetime…made a great impression on the fellows…whose doings have been distorted and exaggerated by false and credulous tradition.” (271).

“…many myths, which we now know only as myths, had once their counterpart in magic…that they used to be acted as a means of producing in fact events which they describe in figurative language.” (276).

“Ceremonies often die out while myths survive…we are left to infer the dead ceremony from the living myth.” (276). “If myths are, in a sense, the reflections of men cast upon the clouds…” (276). “…the ancient significance of the custom as a magical ceremony designed to direct the course of nature has been almost wholly obscured by a thick after-growth of legend and myth.” (279).

[Robert Graves – The White Goddess].

“…the language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honour of the Moon-goddess or Muse, some of them dating from the Old Stone Age…” (9-10).

“The study of mythology…is based squarely on tree-lore and seasonal observation of life in the fields.” (11).  “…the Moon-goddess…who demanded that man should pay woman spiritual and sexual homage…” (11).

“…a man’s love was properly directed towards women, and that Moira, Ilithyia and Callone – Death, Birth and Beauty – formed a triad of Goddesses who precided over all acts of generation whatsoever: physical, spiritual or intellectual.” (11-12).

Myths “…are all grave records of ancient religious customs or events, and reliable enough as history once their language is understood and allowance has been made for errors in transcription, misunderstandings of obsolete ritual, and deliberate changes introduced for moral or political reasons.” (13).  Also “…to know the name of a deity at any given place or period, is far less important than to know the nature of the sacrifices that he or she was then offered.” (14).

“…elements of a single infinitely variable Theme are to be found in certain ancient poetic myths which though manipulated to conform with each epoch of religious change…’myth’ in its strict sense of ‘verbal iconograph’…yet remain constant in general outline.” (21).

[Harrison, J.  Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion. CUP, 1903].

“…myth is the dream-thinking of a people, just as the dream is the myth of the individual.”  Moreover “…a myth is not to begin with and necessarily ‘aetiological’. Its object is not at first to give a reason; that notion is part of the old rationalist fallacy that saw in primitive man the leisured and eager enquirer…” (329).

“A mythos to the Greek was primarily a thing spoken, uttered by the mouth. Its anthithesis or rather correlative is the thing done, enacted…” (328). Also the “…primary sense of mythos as simply the thing uttered, expressed by speech rather than action…” (328).

“…when we come to myth in relation to religion, myth contrasted with ritual…the primary meaning of myth in religion is just the same as in early literature; it is the spoken correlative of acted rite, the thing done…” (328).

[Malinowski, B.  Myth in Primitive Psychology.  Kegan Paul, 1926.]

Myth is “…not an intellectual explanation or an artistic imagery, but a pragmatic charter of primitive faith and moral wisdom.” (23).

[Thomson, G.  The First Philosophers.]

“No myth is true in the form in which it is presented, but many myths contain truth.” (21).

“…rudimentary conceptions of nature found expression on the one hand, in the form of magic, which served as an illusory technique of production supplementing the deficiencies of the real technique, and, on the other, in the form of myths, which began as nothing more than the oral accompaniment to the magical act, but developed gradually into a rudimentary theory of reality.” (339).

[Tolstoy, N.  The Quest for Merlin.]

“A myth is a traditional story explanatory of archetypal truths – of the creation of the earth, of man’s relationship with god, of the origins of social institutions, and so forth. Myths are revelations of man’s condition, making an otherwise chaotic cosmos explicable and accessible in human terms. Frequently they account for the beginnings of things, though they are not exclusively concerned with the past.” (xvii).

“In this sense, therefore, myth represents reality. It is possible too, for myth and history to overlap, and the same event to be seen in historical and mythical terms.” (xvii). [For example – Jacob and Esau = “…account for the displacement of hunting communities by a nomadic pastoral culture.”].

[Ellis-Davidson on Myth = symbolism trend. Psychological analysis, symbolical interpretation].

“…is the myth of the men of one particular age or civilisation on the mysteries of human existence and the human mind, their model for social behaviour, and their attempt to define in the stories of gods and demons their perception of inner realities.” [Model stems from the mind].

“…certain patterns are present in the mythologies of the world. These can be traced in widely separate regions and at different ages of civilisation.” Also – “Other manifestations of the divine…such as the worship of dead ancestors or of the totem animal of the tribe, or deities associated with the earth.”

[Magic and Myth – Thomson G.  The First Philosophers (1977), 45-49].

“…the development of production necessitated the formation within the group of a new type of relations, neither sexual nor parental but social, mediated by a new system of communication, which formed the basis of speech and thought.” (45).  Man’s consciousness – thus = determined from outset, not by relations between the individual and his natural environment – but by relations which established with fellows in the development of production.

“…in us the sensory impressions are instantly subjected to a complex process of synthesis which we owe entirely to our social relations with one another.” (45). Thus – “…man’s consciousness of the world around him is a social image, a product of society.” (46). Thus – human consciousness – generated within the labour process.

“…consequently the form in which the earth and its natural products – the subject of his labour – presented themselves to his consciousness was determined by his social relations of production.” (46). The life of such people – dominated by magical practices and beliefs. The magical act is mimetic. Thus participants mimic – fulfilment of the desired reality. Believing – by this means – nature can be compelled to do what is required of her. Labour = inherently mimetic, thus “…we may say that magic originated in the labour process as its subjective aspect.” (46).

As long as labour = collective – process was incomprehensible to individual participants. Thus = organic sequence of events, collective and concerted bodily movements. To the individual consciousness is presented itself as a combined act of will. Thus – if process achieved its natural, necessary result. But – failure = arose from resistance by subject of labour. Subject = too strong a will of its own. In these conditions – assumed form of conflict. Thus labourers endeavoured by a mimetic act to impose their will on subject of their labour.

Eventually “…they learnt to recognise the objectivity of certain processes, and hence to distinguish in some degree between the real technique of labour and the illusory techniques of magic.” (47). Thus – distinction = magical rite seen to emerge as an independent process = either assuming rehearsal form – in preparation for the real task (e.g., dances – hunting, planting etc), or else directed towards a supernatural end.

Eventually – labour emancipated from magic. Thence – emergence of two further distinctions. Within labour process the vocal accompaniment ceased to be an actual part of it. Because – the traditional incantation conveying the appropriate directions to labourers with accumulation of craft lore.

Within magical art – vocal part = directive commentary on performance. But – when vocal accompaniment was no longer part of the labour process, no longer self-explanatory. Thus – in this way there arose a body of myths. Distinction – not that sharp. Thus – “Labour and magic continued to overlap; craft lore was steeped in mythical beliefs; and the myths bore a recognisable, though remote, relation to the labour of production.” (47).



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