Myth is derived from the Greek word μύθος mythos, which simply means 'story'."

Academic usage

In the academic fields of mythology, mythography, or folkloristics, a myth is a sacred story involving symbols that are usually capable of multiple meanings (cf. the works of Claude Levi-Strauss, Ernst Cassirer, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Northrup Frye for various interpretations). The body of myths in a given culture usually includes a cosmogonical or creation myth concerning the origins of the world or how the world and its creatures came into existence. The active beings in myths are generally gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, or animals. Most myths are set in a timeless past before recorded and critical history begins.

A myth is a sacred narrative in the sense that it holds religious or spiritual significance for those who tell it, and it contributes to and expresses systems of thought and values. Use of the term by scholars implies neither the truth nor the falseness of the narrative. To the source culture, however, a myth by definition is "true," in that it embodies beliefs, concepts, and ways of questioning and making sense of the world.

Popular usage

In popular use, a myth can also be a collectively held belief that has no basis in fact according to the speaker. This usage, which is often pejorative, arose from labeling the religious myths and beliefs of other cultures as being incorrect, but it has spread to cover non-religious beliefs as well. Because of this popular and subjective word usage, many people take offense when the religious narratives they believe to be true are called myths (see religion and mythology for more information). This usage is frequently associated with legend, fiction, fairy tale, folklore, fable, confusing data, personal desire and urban legend, each of which has a distinct meaning in academia.

Urban myth is an alternative term for urban legend.

See also


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