Saturday, February 17, 2007

What Is Myth?

People often use the word myth to mean a false story or belief. Politicians speak about the myth of a nation's invincibility; scientists contrast primitive myths about sun and moon gods with the findings of moder astronomy. This echoes the attitude of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, who rated the mythic imagination inferior to logical thought.

Yet the Greek words logos (from which English logic comes) and mythos (English myth) have similar meanings. Both can be translated as "word," in the sense of information. Logos refers to a rational thought or calculation, while mythos has come to mean a fictitious narrative or legend involving supernatural beings.

Psychologists believe that such legends, or myths, play an important part in the thinking of many people, even those who claim to be guided by pure reason. "Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical," said Joseph Campbell. Another mythologist, Sam Keen, adds: "Myth is cultural DNA, the software, the unconscious information, the program that governs the way we see 'reality.' "

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