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Myth is a folklore genre that includes narratives that have an important function in society, such as foundational tales or genesis myths. Non-human characters like as gods, demigods, and other supernatural beings are frequently included in mythology. On the other hand, others classify myth by including people, animals, or mixtures of the two. Legends, rather than myths, generally feature stories about ordinary people, but they are frequently about leaders of some sort. Myths are separated from legends because myths deal with gods, typically have no historical basis, and are situated in a realm that is far removed from our own.
Myths are frequently promoted by kings, priests, or priestesses, and are strongly associated with religion or spirituality. Many cultures combine myths, stories, and history, believing myths and legends to accurately describe their distant past. Creation stories, in instance, take place in a prehistoric era when the earth had not yet reached its final shape. Other myths describe the establishment and sanctification of a society’s norms, institutions, and taboos. The execution of rituals and the narration of myths have a complicated relationship.
The term mythology can apply to either the study of myths in general or a collection of myths about a specific topic. The study of myth dates back to antiquity. Neoplatonists established rival groups of Greek stories by Euhemerus, Plato, and Sallustius, which were eventually resurrected by Renaissance mythographers. Folklore studies, philology, psychology, and anthropology are just a few academic disciplines where myth is studied today. Comparative mythology is a term used to describe scholarly comparisons between mythological bodies.
Because the term myth is commonly used to imply that a story is not objectively true, labeling a narrative as a myth can be contentious: many religious adherents believe their own religion’s stories to be true and thus object to them being labeled as myths, while seeing the stories of other religions as myths. As a result, some researchers identify all religious tales as myths for pragmatic reasons, such as to avoid devaluing any one tradition since societies perceive each other differently. Others avoid using the term “myth” completely, instead preferring phrases like “sacred history,” “holy story,” or simply “history” to avoid giving any sacred narrative a negative connotation.
Although myth and other folklore genres overlap, myth is typically regarded as distinct from genres such as legend and folktale in that none is considered a holy story. Folktales, such as fairy tales, are not universally accepted as factual and, as a result, may be distinguished from myths. In myths, the primary protagonists are usually gods, demigods, or superhuman people, but in legends, the major characters are usually mortals. However, there are several outliers or combinations, such as those found in the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid.
Furthermore, myths can become folktales when stories travel across countries or as beliefs shift, with divine characters recast as humans or demihumans such as giants, elves, and faeries. Historical and literary content, on the other hand, may develop mythical characteristics through time. The Matter of Britain (legendary history of Great Britain, particularly those focused on King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table) and the Matter of France, for example, appear to have originated in historical events in the 5th and 8th centuries, respectively, and have since become mythologised.
In common parlance, myth can refer to any false narrative or a widely held idea that is not based on facts. This derogatory use developed from the labeling of other cultures’ religious myths and ideas as false, but it has now expanded to include non-religious beliefs.
However, the word myth, as used by folklorists and academics in other areas such as anthropology, has no bearing on whether the story is genuine or not. The word “myth” has a technical connotation among Old and New Testament biblical scholars. It generally refers to “explain the activities of the otherworldly in terms of this world,” such as the Creation and the Fall.