Mythology: Definition and Examples

colourful image of greek god
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Mythology is a field of study that is not easily defined, being as much a composite of many other subjects of human inquisitiveness and investigation as it is a unique arena all its own.

Questions Answered by Mythology

Ultimately it might be said that the student of mythology is one who conducts inquiries into some of the most basic concerns of humankind —

  • Who are we?
  • How was the world made?
  • What is the correct manner to conduct oneself during religious ceremonies?
  • What is the relationship between inner life and outward appearances?
  • What happens to the individual at the moment of death, and after?

— as these have been expressed by the many and diverse cultures in the world both past and present, including one's own, through the traditional spiritual stories — or myths — to be found within them.

The mythographer, busy collecting and compiling myths for study, at one time or another may examine in depth all such stories as can be found historically within a given region (i.e., the Mediterranean) or those that are distributed worldwide but related by theme or content (i.e., creation myths). The student/professor will at the same time proceed to apply analysis to the myths or stories, coming at them from varying perspectives, comparing them, interpreting them, enjoying them, and frequently sharing them with others.

The term "mythology" is also often applied to the entire body of myths of a given culture; thus one may speak of Greek mythology or Polynesian mythology. Such mythologies usually, though not always, consist of a large number of interrelated stories involving a pantheon of gods and goddesses said to have lived "long ago" and most often to have created the world and the first people to have ever lived. Sometimes these gods and goddesses may be said to live even today and to "inhabit" a sacred location or to be "embodied" by certain objects or animals.

Many interesting theories and conjectures have been put forth — especially in the last 150 years — by various students of mythology as to what all this storytelling is about and why virtually every known culture in the world has generated its own system of myths and legends — most sharing a number of themes and ideas which appear to be nearly universal and common to all peoples everywhere, yet each also with countless and intriguing features unique and specific to itself.

The study of myths can last for a semester, or a lifetime, and might be thought of as a grand romp through some of the most colorful stories ever told.