What Are the Characteristics of a Myth?


Quick Answer

Myths are best characterized as ontological, culture-based stories with god or hero protagonists in a proto-world setting to explain mysterious but natural events. They often use magic or break natural laws, and in some cultures, maintain long lists of names as part of the tale. Myths are an important part of religion and cultural structure, as they provide the symbols by which cultures are organized.

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Full Answer

Myths are generally set in an overlapping world to the existing world or in a faraway and inaccessible place, and they set or reflect cultural patterns and rules. Myths, unlike legends and folk tales, involve the workings of the gods or heroes who are closely related to the gods. Myths are also concerned with the cosmology of a culture, while legends and folk tales are concerned with everyday life. Sometimes, however, legends develop into myth.

Nearly every culture creates and passes on myths. These sacred tales seek to explain natural mysteries with words, symbolically capturing and controlling them to decrease their dangers. Mythologists have a number of different theories about the origination of myths. Some think they are allegories or that gods and heroes are personifications of natural forces like the ocean or wind. Others believe they are stories used to justify cultural rituals, or that they are distorted tales of actual historic events.

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