“In The Beginning” – The Story Of Myth

Myth

Sacred Narrative

“In the beginning” is how many myths start their story. And, simply put, a myth is a sacred narrative explaining how the world and man came to be in their present form. That myths are sacred means that all forms of religion incorporate myths of some kind. There is nothing disparaging about the term myth. The term mythos means word or story. It is only the modern usage of the word myth as “error” that has led to the notion of myth as something negative.

Metaphorical Guise

In common parlance, the term myth is often used as a mere synonym for error or fallacy. “That’s just a myth!” one may exclaim to label a statement or assertion as untrue. But untrue statements are not myths in the formal sense – nor are myths necessarily untrue statements. For myth may constitute the highest form of truth, albeit in metaphorical guise. If one keeps in mind that a myth must refer minimally to a narrative, then one can easily eliminate most of the books and articles employing myth in their titles.

Study of Myth

The study of myth is an international and an interdisciplinary venture. Scholars from around the world have contributed to the analysis of myth, and this includes scholars of anthropology, classics, comparative religion, folklore, psychology, and theology, among others areas of specialization.

Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth
Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth

Edited by Alan Dundes

How Much Stuff Is Enough?

Buy More Stuff

Role of Consumption

In the last few hundred years, the acquisition, flow and use of things – in short, consumption – has become a defining feature of our lives. In the rich world (and increasingly in the developing world) identities, politics, economies, and the environment are crucially shaped by what and how we consume.

Advanced economies live or die by their ability to stimulate and maintain high levels of spending – with the help of advertising, branding, and consumer credit. Taste, appearance, and lifestyle define who we are (or want to be) and how others see us.


Our Relation to Things

Possessions in a pre-modern village of an indigenous tribe pale when placed next to the growing mountain of things in advanced societies. This change in accumulation involved an historic shift in humans’ relations with things.

In contrast to the pre-modern village, where most goods were passed on as gifts or part of a wedding collection, things in modern societies are mainly bought in the marketplace, and, they pass through our lives more quickly.


Stuff & More Stuff

  • A typical German owns 10,000 objects.
  • In Los Angeles, a middle-class garage often no longer houses a car, but hundreds of boxes of stuff.
  • In 2013, the United Kingdom was home to 6 billion items of clothing, roughly a hundred per adult – a quarter of these items never leave the wardrobe.

Empire of Things
Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First

Frank Trentmann

 

Sacred Messages & The Written Word

Sacred Writing

Messages from God

The importance of the written word can be seen in the number of religions that have sacred texts, and in how often it is claimed a god wrote those texts.

Examples of Ancient Writings

  • The Egyptians believed that the ibis-headed Thoth, the scribe of the gods, gave humanity the gift of writing.
  • The Assyrians believed it was the god Nabu who gave them the gift of writing.
  •  The Maya believed that Itzamna, the son of the creator, invented writing and books.

Sacred texts were distributed on a variety of writing materials prior to the invention of paper – and some, such as the Jewish Torah, are still preserved handwritten on animal skin.

Paper: Paging Through History
Paper: Paging Through History

Mark Kurlansky

How Did The Days Of The Week Get Their Names?

Sun and Moon

Weekly Seven-Day Cycles

The idea of dividing the cycle of the moon into four seven-day weeks may have begun in Babylon. In its familiar modern form, it probably derives from a Jewish model, echoing the story of Creation as told in Genesis, in which God, having made the world in six days, rested on the seventh – and ordered humanity and their animals to do likewise. As a result, every week connects us to the beginning of time itself, as the days plot the round of our work and leisure, the recurrent rhythm of our existence.

Genesis

Our Language and Beliefs

The weekday names depend on our language and our beliefs. The names that we give the weekdays in English are an inherited meditation on the cycles of time, as we observe the pattern of the sun, the moon and the planets circling above us – though the story they tell us is for English-speakers only, since nobody else’s week is quite the same as ours.


Days Named After Gods

Sunday, Monday – the week begins with the sun and the moon, whose separate movements mark the months and years. After them, come the days of the easily visible planets. In Romance languages, this is Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus – the sequence that the Romans followed and left behind.

Seven-Planets-of-the-Week

In England, around the seventh century, the planets tethered to the gods of Rome were renamed for the equivalent northern gods, and it is their Anglo-Saxon names – Tiw, Woden, Thor, and Frige – that distinguish the days for English-speakers on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. On Saturday, the Anglo-Saxon gods are joined by Saturn, which retained its Latin name, making our week, like our language itself, a peculiar German-Latin hybrid.

Cosmological History

Encompassing the different cycles of sun, moon and the five planets, every week thus implies not just a long span of many years, but also the company of gods and the vastness of space itself. In the names of our days is the entire solar system – the time-space continuum as it was known in the ancient Mediterranean world and transmitted to the north of Europe. The turn of the week is – in English – a concise cosmological history, in which we still live every day with the gods of our ancestors inhabiting an ancient, but stable structure of time.

Living With the Gods
Living With the Gods: On Beliefs and Peoples

Neil MacGregor

Background on Neil MacGregor

How Did The Ancient Games Shine A Spotlight On The Roman World?

Colesseum

Diversity of the Games

The Roman games were a religious festival held in honor of Jupiter. The sheer diversity of the games amounted to a celebration of the immensity of the Roman world. They consolidated the ancient bond between the plebs (Roman citizens) and the Senate. Nobility turned out in force to attend the games.

The games were more than a grand parade of the nobility – they were a time of wonder for all. Huge stocks of gold evaporated in a week so the amphitheater could be turned into a place of miracles. For a blessed moment, the rules of normal life were held in suspense.

The diversity of the games included tightrope walkers, ballet dancers, amphitheaters filled up with water for naval spectacles, and fountains with perfumed water. But, above all, the animal world poured into the city – from all over, all to Rome.

Animals Imported for the Games

  • Crocodiles from the Nile.
  • Irish wolfhounds from Britain.
  • Lions from north Africa.
  • Antelopes & gazelles from the Sahara.

What the Animals Represented 

  • Like the empire itself, their capture and eventual slaughter represented a triumph of human order over a savage world.
  • Most beasts were lethal – they were destined to be slaughtered, by skilled huntsmen, armed with pikes, who were the matadors of the classical world.
  • Beasts were slaughtered in a solemn mood.

What happened in the amphitheater was more than a blood sport – it was a fortifying lesson in the triumph of civilization. The activities celebrated the victory of human energy, human skill, and human courage over the wild. For this reason, “human animals” also made their appearance – and, like the rest of the animals, they were destined for slaughter.

Gladiators 

Saxon prisoners of war were sent to Rome to serve as gladiators, condemned to fight to the death in front of the Roman people. The deaths of such prisoners, rounded up from the coasts of the English Channel, were intended to make plain, in the middle of Rome, the most magical of all energies – the eternal victory of empire along the frontiers of the North.

Christian Nobility and the Games

The bronze tokens issued on the occasion of the Roman games show that representatives of Christian noble families presided at the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum over spectacles that were as thrilling, as cruel, and as calculated to cause the raw, pre-Christian adrenaline of worship for the city and the empire to flow in their veins just as any pagan family.

Through the Eye of a Needle
Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD
Peter Brown

Background on Peter Brown