A Spirituality blog from our Community


What is a myth?

In our discussion group we each made different suggestions and these tended to fall into two broad categories. First there were the common associations with the word-

Something that is:





yet widely believed – a misconception, an ‘urban’ myth.

For which:

there is no evidence,

or perhaps, could never be any scientific evidence.

Which is used as a term of disparagement.

> So on this understanding what are the key functions of a myth ?

Explaining the unexplained/unexplainable-

and to justify/legitimise particular practices, i.e. as propaganda for them.

Call this ‘colloquial myth’ or ‘type 1 myth’.


Second, there were the literary associations with the word; how it is used in a technical sense-

Something that is:

an ostensibly historical event,

a story,

and is found across many different cultures.

Which uses:


archetypal characters- heroes and villains,

and a language of ‘pictures’.

And which provides:

communal expression,

cultural identity,


and a source of morale for that community.

> So on this understanding what are the key functions of a myth ?

To explain abstract concepts and theories via symbolic expression,

and as Paul Ricoeur said, to ‘hold together in creative tension the paradoxes of human existence’.

Call this ‘symbolic myth’ or ‘type 2 myth’.


Type 2 myth is a subtly powerful device; C. S. Lewis said it “is a mode… to generalise while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life’, can add to it” (On Stories).

Questions for discussion:

1 What examples of myths can you think of? Do they fall more into type 1 or type 2?

2. How is a myth different from:

A) A legend?

B) A parable?


View the Next Part of Bible For Bluffers.


Comments on: "Myth" (1)

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