What is Rational about Mythology
The Popular View
Is our idea about mythology right?
We take mythology as stories people tell to explain nature, history, or customs, especially those ones that do not stand to good logic. This, in fact, is a feature of every culture; and most of these involve personification of nature or its elements, or documenting, dramatizing, or glorifying other matters of interest.
These matters were of course, been a topic of our studies. Based on the above precepts, I think, we have been continuously formulating different views of mythology and its constituents. Understandably I think, no singular or particular contribution was ever acknowledged from this branch of knowledge. But, we need to look further and have a better view of this. One can easily gather, this would not have been going strong all these ages without some benefit.
The Exploded View
Let us look at this, a little more closely. Historically, myths have been studied as different entities.
We therefore have: euhemerism – myths as deformed, oblique accounts of historical events,
allegory – myths as rather hazy representation of natural phenomena,
personification – myths as inanimate objects, forces and all our, particularly hidden desires, brought to life, and
ritual theory – myths as enlivened form of rites.
What I could notice in the above picture is that in none of the views, myths seem to be doing something necessary for our survival. Or meeting some of our metabolic needs. If so, how or why did myths survive all the years? What function does it have, as far as human life goes?
For finding an answer to this question, let us see what were the functions we, as a race have been doing all these years, and what part did myths play in it. The single most significant job, our race performed all these years happen to be that of finding answers to questions. And it should have been the place, where myths contributed the most. Did myths help us in that? If so, how?
Normally problem solving goes thus. If we understand the question and are well equipped with all that is needed, like calculators, scientific instruments or computers, our own knowhow, or environmental requirements, we shall proceed with our solution. Else if appropriate, we shall go ahead with our preparations. If not, we will be marking the question for future reference. If we happen to get confronted with more such issues, we grade those, and the ones needing urgent attention shall get additionally marked. Now you see, how effective one is in finding answers, depend heavily on ones capability to have differential, easily recognizable marking of problems with its attributes.
In short, we may end up with many text books, references, note books, or other records with various markings, each indicating to the necessity and range of further attention. In fact it is this habit of keeping permanent records is the one that enables us to quickly resolve an issue.
What do you Think?
Myths are just lingering doubts
Now imagine of a time, without all these expedients like note books, symbols, or language. This is when our ancestors confronted these questions. What would have been their stance, when it came to allocating priorities? How would they have marked those questions to help and plan resolution, and many other indications, like the need for further deliberations, or dismissal? Isn’t it possible that something of prominence is linked to the challenges they faced, such that each one of those questions get addressed at the appropriate time? What better method can thought of, other than inventing a connection with the heavenly bodies that are always there, that too with remarkable prominence?
For example, think of an elder giving an advice. "Next time time you see the pattern of a lion in the sky, sow the seeds". Or, "If the bull is straight up, wait some more."
And what they hoped for, happened. Those questions remained in the forefront of social transactions, not only affecting all facets of human life and living, but also the rigours of afterlife. Many years later, when reading, writing, and books, became popular, all such questions and the entities representing those happened to be the ones subjected to scrutiny first, losing the divine status, to begin with.
And the Final Answer
Rather than imagining that our forefathers were naïve enough to be fooled into according heavenly status for, say astronomic objects, we need to complement them for taking on their questions in the most effective way. We can proudly say, they invented astrology, a subset of mythology, to keep all these questions alive. It seems they were sure, in due course of time, a future invention, say telescope, will start the hunt for the ultimate answers. In short, mythology becomes the most scientific step, our forefathers have taken, a dynamic placeholder for the substantive issues to be tackled by a society.
Why are we confronting mythology in an unscientific manner? Why are we not able to see this simple and elegant logic? As soon as myths complete their function of presenting a new question to the appropriate future, it should have been disappearing. But why do the myths survive as myths, at least in a mutilated version? I think this happens so - mainly because mythology is successfully meeting our need for the irrational. (This is a fundamental part of human nature, many facets of which have been discussed in my ‘hubs’)