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An Introduction to Mythology

Lewis Spence


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An Introduction to Mythology by Lewis Spence was first published in 1921. Chapters include: The Progress Of Mythic Science; The Evolution Of The Gods; The Various Types Of Deity; The Various Classes Of Myth; The Making Of The World And Of Man (Cosmogony); Paradise And The Place Of Punishment; Folklore And Myth; Ritual And Myth; The Written Sources Of Myth; and, The Great Mythic Systems Of The World.

This book has 289 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1921.

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Excerpt from 'An Introduction to Mythology'

The function of mythology is the investigation and explanation of myths or tales relating to the early religious and scientific experiences of mankind. It throws light upon the material, methods, and progress of primitive religion and science, for many myths are an attempt to explain physical as well as religious phenomena.

Myth is one of the great objects of the science of 'tradition' (Lat. 'that which is handed down'), the others, with which myth is only too frequently confounded, being folklore and legend. It is hoped that the following list of definitions will prove of value to students of the subject, as it is certainly the most precise and embracive yet advanced.

DEFINITIONS

Myth, folk-tale, and legend may be generally defined as traditional forms of narrative. That is, all are embraced within the term 'tradition.'

Myth. A myth is an account of the deeds of a god or supernatural being, usually expressed in terms of primitive thought. It is an attempt to explain the relations of man to the universe, and it has for those who recount it a predominantly religious value; or it may have arisen to 'explain' the existence of some social organization, a custom, or the peculiarities of an environment.

Mythology. Mythology as a term implies (a) the mythic system of any race; (b) the investigation of myth.

Folklore. Folklore means the study of survivals of early custom, belief, narrative, and art.

Folk-tale. A primitive tale (a) of mythical origin; (b) of purely narrative or æsthetic value.

Legend. A story, generally of real places, often (though not necessarily) of real persons, handed down by 'tradition.'

MYTHOLOGY AND FOLKLORE CONTRASTED

Mythology is the study of a primitive or early form of religion while it was a living faith.

Folklore is the study of primitive religion and customs still practised.

Some authorities regard folklore and mythology as almost interchangeable words; others look upon myth as the groundwork of folklore; but for purposes of study we shall be wise if we regard as fundamental myth any tale in which a god or demigod figures which explains the making of the world, or the origin of some primitive custom among the peoples of antiquity or the backward races to-day, while folklore may denote the study of fragments or survivals of old belief or custom found among uneducated or semi-educated people in civilized countries. Thus it is correct to speak of the folklore of England, Germany, or Italy, applying the word to the surviving superstitions and fragments of older faiths to be found in these modern countries among the uncultured classes; but to speak of the folklore of African, Australian, or American savages when we are dealing with the living religious beliefs of these people is highly incorrect. True, fragments of older belief are frequently discovered among primitive people, but the expression should not be used to designate their living religious beliefs.

It will now be clear that in the present volume our concern is with the science of myth alone—that is, with religious beliefs and conjectures as to the nature of things of primitive, ancient, or barbarous peoples, and not with modern religious science, philosophy, or theology.

The questions touched upon in this introductory chapter will be more fully outlined later on, and are here presented in order to familiarize the reader with the general subject-matter of the science before entering upon more detailed discussion.

MYTH AND RELIGION

The sciences of mythology and comparative religion overlap at many points, but comparative religion is a branch of religious science or philosophy, whereas mythology deals with mere myths, or, under the more antiquated designation of 'comparative mythology,' compares the myths of different races. In myths too, however, we hear of the birth and nature of gods, the creation of the earth, and the primitive 'reason' for certain ritual acts. As these matters are also discussed by comparative religion or religious science, mythology and comparative religion often contemplate the same phenomenon at the same time.

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