Friday, 14 October 2011

The Importance of Myth

First of all, I would like to apologise for my lack of posts this week. I would like to give you a grim tale of adventure and heartbreak that would act as an excuse as to why I didn't post... But I can't. Sorry.

Hopefully this very long post will make it all better?

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The Importance of Myth

Nothing evokes the human creative spirit more than mythology. Mythology binds a culture that is alien to understandable ideals – love, courage, adventure, fear. By studying the mythology of a culture, one can see how individual nuances of their lives match up to the human condition and ‘make sense’. For this reason, myth is utterly important to creating a Conculture.

What is a Conculture?
I have talked before about Concultures, but I have never really defined them. A Conculture, like its similarly named brother (a Conlang), is a constructed culture for use in world building and storytelling. Concultures are one of the greatest ways to evoke a sense of fantasy in a world: familiar snippets of the real world, maybe a mixture of Nordic practices with Mesoamerican religious ideals, are able to clash with purely made-up concepts to breed new and interesting worlds. This union of the alien and the familiar allows the reader to be sucked in and ‘understand’ the world they are viewing, but also to be lost in its complexity. The world isn’t a cardboard cut-out. It is living and breathing and not fully understood.

How can Mythology be used to evoke Culture?
As stated, mythology can reveal ‘reasons’ behind practises. This could be the meaning behind a certain ritual, the origin of a certain phrase, or why one culture despises another.  Mythology reveals the motivations behind a culture’s people.

One only needs to look at examples of world mythology to see how it can assist in evoking the feel of a culture. Consider Greek mythology. The stories of the various heroes depict a very clear message to the audience: the price of immortality is unhappiness. All the great heroes who strove for immortality (and thus, being equal to the gods) were met with sadness and hardship. Heracles was more beast than man and killed everyone he held dear, Achilles ended up in a meaningless existence in the Underworld which he would have traded for a normal life, and Jason ends it all with being undignifyingly hit on the head by a cross-beam.

Even the stories of the gods represent a confined universe where one must not reach beyond their station: Uranus is usurped, as is Cronus, and so does Zeus fear it himself. Persephone attempts to avoid her marriage to Hades, but is bound by the covenant that was forced upon her. Hera constantly attempts to tame her wayward husband. Prometheus is chained up and tortured for sympathising with humanity. And so the list goes on…

From these stories we can see the ideas of the Ancient Greek culture coming forward: the choice between family and fame, the virtue of humility, the role of the father patriarch who fears the usurping son, the bonds of marriage, the effects of infidelity, the consequences of disobedience…

So how can I make my own Myths?
The process is, unfortunately, a difficult one. World mythologies seem to surround a few core concepts, and almost all world religions have stories that concern every one of these events and concerns.

Creation: Creation myths tend to focus on a cyclic Mother Goddess who gives birth to the world and everything that stems from it. Sometimes, as in the Judeo-Christian religions, this figure is male, and acts as a benefactor-creator to existence. But nonetheless, the creation is always intentional, and the world is always created out of a primordial ‘nothingness’ or ‘chaos’. Furthermore, there is always a residing fear that this ‘chaos’ (which often takes an ocean motif) will once again take over the world.
The Independence of Man: Mankind is either liberated from the clutches of evil or ignorance, or is ejected from bliss by the god/s for some slight. This event represents the beginnings of human civilisation and is often put against the concept of ‘free will’. Mankind is allowed to act as it will, but with the threat of damnation should it stray too far.
The Golden Age: A Golden Age of Mankind begins in which heroes exist and do great deeds. However, the depravity of mankind eventually wins through, and, despite the efforts of the heroes, the end comes and the concept of Death is made very VERY evident.
The Calamity: Chaos returns to destroy mankind for its sins and the god/s regret having made mankind in the first place. However, the piety or justice represented by a select few humans turns the tide of this calamity, and Order is once more restored to a world which is to be rebuilt by the gracious survivors.
The Cycle of Nature: With the world restored, nature is made abundant again and the Creator once again accepts their children and restores the tri-part cycle of nature – Birth, Death and Rebirth – which represents the crops, the cycle of pregnancy and the human condition. Common motifs are seeds and the moon.

In addition to these few ‘core’ myths, there are many parables which are woven into these myths and others. These are culture specific, however, so one must look at what their culture would find important, and then write myths detailing those features.

Now that you have your core concepts understood, you are able to make your myths. Like any stories, these need central characters, but these characters should be simplistic and represent manifested ideals, rather than true humans. Generally, these tend to surround a familial structure. So, one would need a Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, and possibly a Brother and Sister role. Further, the concept of a Justice and a Trickster are pretty universal. These roles can blend together, but they should be defined. (Note, you need not make these clear cut family members. Just simply symbols of those familial obligations. Therefore, you could substitute the “Father” with a bear, and the “Mother” with a doe, for instance (which is actually the system used by the Vendri).)

Now that you have your characters, consider what would happen were these archetypes to interact, and play off of those results. This should be very easy for you to do, so I won’t detail it specifically. I will, however, mention that in many world religions, the Trickster is often to instigator of events.

You should be all set now! HAPPY MYTHOLOGISING!

What myths have you made for your Conculture? What myths do you think are interesting to point out that go against the conventions I have listed above? What can we learn from these myths? Put your answers to these questions in the comments section below! And don’t forget to subscribe to ‘versamus’ on the left side of this page!