“Even if a story is the same, each culture will tell it differently, because each one has its own genres and cultural rules.” In one sentence, folklorist Kay Turner has explained why each culture has its own mythologies and why there are similarities amongst them all.
Looking at an international gathering of computer scientists and you will see little differences. Look at an international gathering whose purpose is to celebrate one’s ethnicity and you will have a very hard time finding five people wearing the same attire. We share a great many things in common and that is a fact often overlooked. Yet, we all have our own unique identities and that goes for cultures as well.
Often the characteristics of a culture are misinterpreted. The Hawaiian culture is famous for its hula dancers who are almost always seen swaying to typical Hawaiian music. The dance, however, does not move according to the rhythms of the songs but rather the words of the story the dance conveys. The words, either spoken or sung, are half of the dance. The music is simply ornamental and has no real meaning at all.
The ancient mythologies were perhaps the earliest of stories, told to enlighten, entertain, and enthrall. Soon, though, the oral tradition gathered movement and drama. Cunto is an ancient Sicilian method of storytelling. It utilized habits from Greek theater and employed improvisation. Cuntisti story tellers began to use marionettes as they told the tales of brave heroes and their struggles as well as accounts of daily living.
One Japanese form of passing along mythologies is the Rakugo. The storyteller, called a hanashika, would convey the story in a monotone and was perhaps the earliest comedians. They seldom referenced actual people or specific places, relying on daily life to teach moral lessons. In India dance was added to the story and the Bharatanatyam became something of a form of prayer rather than just a simple story. Temple dances known as devadasis would pay homage to specific deities such as Krishna or Shiva.
While today it seems like these myths of old are simple themes for entertainment and literature, we should remember that they were integral parts of a person’s life in ancient cultures. There became the basis for many religious beliefs and practices and most are still present in some for or fashion today.
The mythologies of old and the stories of modern times have much in common. Both were unifying tools for the cultures from which they emanated. Both are also mirrors that reflect the society of the time… if anyone bothers to look.
Stories are not fact, though, and perhaps that is where conflict has arisen regarding religion. During the month of August we will explore the various names for God, a monotheistic deity who arrived somewhat late in the mythological timetable. It is important to remember that, unlike mathematics and science, mythology evolves with each telling. There is no one right or wrong answer or interpretation.
Today I awoke and had cereal for breakfast, not the sugar-filled fluff cereal that comes with a prize but a healthy, whole wheat-ladened cereal. The other adults on my block appeared to be sleeping still when I arose, although that is purely based upon the absence of light in their abodes and rooms so perhaps they were awake and simply meditating in the dark. The thing is that no one woke up “wrong”. They simply arose differently than I.
The primary side effect of any good story is that it spurs us to think, to explore. Whether we simply ponder an imaginary creature in rainbow hues or take the story as a stepping stone and create something useful and far-reaching is not really important. The fact is that we listened and then had a response. Stories delight; they help us whittle away the hours; they sometimes provide a moral lesson; they can boost our morale.
Mythology can be a time machine, taking us into the past and inspiring the future. They connect us and unite us while emphasizing out differences. The composition of myths seems to be an essential part of living for mankind. As Homer said, “All men have need of gods.” Whether I feel capable or not, I am the hero of my own personal story, the myth that is me. Perhaps I am also the villain but that really depends on how I respond to life, not what anyone else does. After all, heroes do not only live on top of a glorious mountain surrounded by a gilded temple. Even those that did left their treasured abode to walk among the mortals, those left fortunate and more human.
People may dislike us; let them. People may abhor them; consider the reasons for such and learn from them. Your living is an actively-written myth that expands with each hour lived. You may not be able to write the perfect ending of your dreams but you can write the best possible ending given the circumstances, the setting and the other characters. So what will it be – hero or victim?
Choice is the greatest side effect of all in mythology. We can choose to believe or not. In life we can choose to live or vegetate, really be active in our living or simply be a reactive particle that waits for the inevitable transition many call death. You and you alone have the ability to write your story.