Back to Main Page

<< Back           religion lessons : lesson 1


Lesson 1:        An Introduction to Mythology
By Caroline Rocheleau  


All races, all cultures without exception possess myths, although, in our modern society, science has more or less replaced mythology. Mythology, just like science, seeks an explanation for the great mysteries of life and the universe. It answers the kind of perplexing questions a child will eventually ask his parents : who created the world and how ? Who was the first human being ? Where does the sun go at night? Where do souls go after we die ? Myths satisfy humans' fundamental need to understand the world surrounding them. Whether the answer is primitive and very imaginative or scientific, the myth relieves the human mind of the anxiety caused by a lack of comprehension. Indeed, as soon as a (usually menacing) phenomenon is explained with words, it suddenly looses its power to terrify and frighten.

Additionally, myths justify the existence of a social structure, as well as customs and rites of a culture. Traditions that have existed for as long as one can remember are often said to have their origins in a myth, a long time ago -- at the time of the First Occasion -- when divine beings first performed these same actions. A recurring principle with mythology is that whatever happens to gods and other divine entities undeniably reflects events taking place in the human world. A myth is, in other words, a justification for an action as well as an inspiration for it.

Myths can be divided into categories that are organised according to the general theme expressed in the narrative. The creation of the earth and the universe, the origin of mankind, the birth of the gods, death and the afterlife, the renewal of the world are some of the themes represented and illustrated in myths of many cultures. More political themes such as the succession of kingship and the dispensation of justice or even the simple architectural layout and decorative programme of a temple, also take their inspiration from myths, from the actions of the gods during the First Occasion.

Although numerous religious texts have survived the millennia, they only make allusions to some mythological events. Full narratives are seldom written down; they are part of the oral tradition of a culture -- transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation. Piecing together whole tales from various sources is a practically impossible task, especially since myths evolve and grow together with the society and the culture in which they belong. Myths are not stagnant, they are transformed in order to reflect the new realities of society and explain them.

Mythology is evidently quite fascinating, however myths are easily misread. Mentalities and our perception of the world have changed with the ages. Our understanding of ancient religion and myths is skewed by the superposition of our perceptive framework onto ancient ones. When studying mythology of ancient peoples, we must keep an open mind and try to understand how they saw the world, no matter how strange it might appear to us.

The various myths about the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt are a glimpse into the ancient Egyptians' psyche, the human mind and soul, and they reveal -- if ever so briefly -- how they pictured their world and their society. In the following lessons, some of the most important myths of ancient Egypt will be examined and explained, thus revealing some of the most intimate thoughts behind the mysteries of ancient Egyptian civilisation.



Religion Lessons Archive - An Introduction to Mythology