World Mythology

Myths are not folktales, their purpose is not to entertain but to put the individual and collective psyche in accord with the world around it. Joseph Campbell said that: Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. When an organisation of symbols rendering the sense of life fail they are called, in the modern parlance, mythology. Such is the power of mythological motifs though, that even after the best information of the day shows the literal interpretation of a myth to be foolish; the myths, often through ritual, can continue to exercise their influence on both the popular and educated mind albeit in an unconscious way.

In his master work, the Masks of God I~IV, Campbell not only traces the evolving response of the human psyche, through myth, to its environment down through the ages in all the main cultures of the world, but also attempts to establish mythology itself on a scientific footing. In this section we will attempt to assemble reasonably complete and representative myths that have a decent narrative thrust and will also try to assign markers to these in order to give them a context. On this page we will present our myths alphabetically by title, to sort more scientifically by their markers and to view as one random list. The complete texts of many myths are also now available online and we've started an index of Online Mythology Collections.

Title Overview Culture
Unumbotte, first Man, Snake and the Tree After creating the world, the creator was partial to the fruit of a particular tree which he forbade first Man to eat from... African
Tree of the Middle Place Quetzalcoatl and Macuil-xochitl create the world from the body of the goddess, Tlaltecuhtli. For such a painful birth however the goddess will only be appeased by the constant sacrifice of human blood... Aztec
The Woman who fell from the Sky The first part of the tale is set in the mythological time before the earth was created and death and illness were unknown. The birth of a heroine, in breach of a sacred Iroquois taboo, heralds the arrival of death and illness but also sets in motion the dynamic which will lead to the creation of the earth. Native American
The Voyage of Bran A woman places Bran in thrall to find the Land of Women by means of a silver branch bearing white blossom which when shaken produces music. After long voyaging Bran and company arrive but refuse to disembark, the woman throws a ball of yarn which sticks to Bran's palm and she pulls the ship to shore... Celtic
The Undying Head The preeminent figure of the bear, the magical use of the head and the primordial male fear of menstrual blood, all suggested to Joseph Campbell that this tale might well trace its motifs all the way back to Paleolithic hunters. Native American
The Twin Heros This tale continues the genesis story started in The Woman who fell from the Sky. It begins with the birth of antagonistic twins called Sapling and Flint whose names already suggest their natures. Curiously it is the discarded twin, Sapling, that creates all that is good and the troublesome twin, Flint, who dupes his grandmother, and wreaks havoc in his attempts to imitate and thwart his brother. Flint's defeated carcass is still visible inthe mountain ranges, his inimical nature still lives on in the icy grip of winter. Native American
The Sun, Old Woman and Naiyenezgani The has much of the shifting nature of a dream, and shows the close relationship between dream and myth. It has been edited to help give some clarity to confusing references, those with an interest in pscyhology may prefer refer to the original. Native American
The Origin of the Coconut Tree The uninhibited goddess, Hina, tiring of her underwave husband, Te Tuna, sets off to find a replacement. However, the overwave incarnations of the male principle shy clear of her call to erotic adventure, that is until she meets Maui, the wonderworker, who despite still living and taking instruction from his mother, appears to be man enough for the challenge... Polynesian
The Origin of Corn - Obijbwe Henry Rowe Schoolcraft during the 1820's collected this tale from the Obijwe relations of his wife in the Great Lakes region. Native American
The Myth of Balder In response to his ominous dreams the goddess, Frigg, ensures that Odin's son, Balder, is protected from all potential sources of harm. The trickster god, Loki, discovers that mistletoe is the sole exception and plans mischief. Norse
The Humbling of Indra Inflated from his titanic victory over the cosmic serpent, Indra embarks on a refurbishing program of such extravagance that even the heavenly master craftsman, Vishvakarman, is driven to despair. He invokes the power of Brahma to aid him and soon a mysterious blue boy arrives at Indra's court. Hindu
The Great Serpent Fire is brought from the belly of the Great Serpent. Polynesian
The Geste of Fraoch Ostensibly the handsome Fraoch comes to woo, Findabair, the daughter of Aillil and Medb. Of mythological interest are the presence of a water monster, tree of life and salmon swallowing a ring of great value. Celtic
The First King of Madzivoa Land The Wadzivoa are ancestral spirits who live in the Dzivoa, the underwater spiritual realm from which everything is supposed to originate and to which it returns. The first ruler to come from the Dzivoa was called the Madzivoa. And here is his story. African
The Destruction of Kush The German explorer, Leo Froebenius, collected this tale in 1912 in the market place of Al-Ubayyid in North Kurdufan. It was recounted by Arach-ben-Hassul from the Province of Darfur. To any student of anthropology,or archaeology, the details throw light on rituals and habits that have been found from Ireland to North America. The first dynasties of Egypt and the Royal Tombs of Ur would be related to this culture stratum. African
The Death of Fraoch Fraoch on his second visit across a pond to a Rowan tree to collect fruit for Queen Medb rips the tree up by its roots and so disturbs the monster coiled beneath. Celtic
The Creator and the Tahu Tree The Creator tells the first man that he may eat of all the fruits in the forest except that of the Tahu tree... Mbuti (pygmy)
The Coming of the Ifa Oracle Every morning a practitioner uses his Ifa board covered in white powder to cast oracles. This usually involves casting sixteen palm kernels and interpreting various meanings from how they come to rest. The priest draws lines in the powder based on the readings. The initial stage of initiation takes three years after which a person becomes a babalavo, father of the secret. Beyond this it is possible to progress to higher grades of initiation such as aro, odofin and oluvo. Yoruba
The Buffalo Wife Joseph Campbell referred to this myth frequently in his works and lectures as an excellent example of the covenant between a hunting tribe and the Animal Master of the animals they hunt. While the braves/hunters of the tribe are the custodians of the ritual. It is noteworthy that it was the girl who was actually responsible for bringing her father back to life. Native American
Perseus the Hero After the god-blessed but dangerous adventure of killing Medusa, Perseus riding Pegasus happens upon Andromeda chained to a rock off the coast of Aethiopia. Yet this almost incidental adventure is immortalised by the constellations of Cepheus, Cassiopiae, Andromeda, Cetus, Pegasus and Perseus - suggesting this mythologem was originally of more significance. Greek
Oisín in Tír na nÓg Niamh is a persistent suitor for the heart of Oisín. He, however, is at first put off by her pig's head. Celtic
Maui Seeks Immortality Against the warnings of his father, Maui the irrepressible trickster-hero of Polynesia sets out on a final adventure to overcome Hine-nui-te-p? the guardian of death who abides on the horizon where the sun sets. Maori
Mapungubwe-Makoni The moon man, Mwuetsi, is made by Maori (god). He is given the morning star, Massissi, as a mate and from this fairly chaste partnership are produced the grasses, bushes and trees. After two years Massissi is returned by Maori to the Dsivoa (underwater spirit world). After much pleading from Mwuetsi, the most-high then gifts him with the lusty Morongo, evening star, and between them they produce all the animals. However Morongo then takes up with a snake... African
Mantis steals fire from the Ostrich This tale was collected by Laurens Van der Post in his travels into the Kalahari Desert in 1957 and this tale supplements the tales found in books by Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd such as Specimans of Bushman Lore. African
Kulluballi: The First Hunter This myth relates to a tribe of hunters who had completely disappeared by the time of Leo Frobenius's trip to West Africa. It is shows the ambivalence of the hunter towards the lion with a initiation ritual sacrifice associated with the sexual organs and the ritualised covenant with the antelope. African
Karora emerges from the IIbalintja Soak You feel that you're back very close to the earliest of humankind's conceptions of its beginnings with this tale of the first emergence from the sacred IIbalintja soak. The tale belongs to the Bandicoot Totem of the Northern Aranda. Australian Aborgrinal
In the Beginning A poetic account of creation. Of interest is the reference to remembrance as if to suggest the notion that all this has happened before and that it was good! Maori
Hymn to Demeter Tale of how Persephone is abducted by Hades. And how her grieving mother Demeter arrives at Eleusis and initiates the Eleusian Mysteries. A married woman's festival, the Thesmophoria was celebrated in many Greek cities for three days in late autumn and is a complementary ritual to the myth. Greek
Hainuwele - Frond of the Cocopalm A tale collected by Professor Adolf E Jensen on the island of West Seram which is derived from the former underlying cannibalistic culture-stratum of this tropical paradise. Polynesian
Edshu and his Many Coloured Hat The first missionaries took look one look at Edshu and promptly categorised him as the devil. Comparative Mythologists would classify him as a trickster god and the Yoruba people certainly see in him positive as well as negative powers. Yoruba
Dubad (Dowth) How the name of one of the great mounds at Brú na Bóinne came to be named. Celtic
Descent of Inanna Gugalanna (Taurus) is dead. Inanna descends into the underworld realm of his consort and her sister, Ereshkigal, where she remains dead for three days until, by the intercession of her father Enki, she returns trimphant to the upper world. Subsequently her husband the vegetation deity, Dumuzi, will be obliged to spend part of the year with Ereshkigal for the summer period when, 2500BC, the sun rises in, and obscures, the constellation Taurus. Sumerian
Death of the Mambo A bit grisly but gives some insight into ritual regicide in East Africa and it's relationship with the ever dying, ever resurrecting, moon-god and his faithful companion the planet venus. African
Cnogba [Knowth] Explanation of the origin of the place name Knowth, one of the great tumuli at Newgrange,Co.Louth,Ireland. Celtic
Boann I The birth of the River Boyne involves the goddess breaking the taboo about visiting the Well of Segais, with its nine hazel trees whose nuts invest the waters of the well with divine wisdom, without the authority of Nectan and his three cup bearers. Celtic
Birth of Eros Karl Kerenyi in his Gods of the Greeks starts of with three separate Creation Myths. This little gem he associates with the woodland peoples of early Greece. Greek
Battle of Moytirra III - The Fomorians and the Tuatha de Danann Fight In this decisive battle the Fomorians are driven back to their undersea abode and the gods and goddesses, the names of which much of the landscape is still associated, now take up residence. There are a few incidents involving the Dagda omitted in this version which we will need to address. Celtic
Battle of Moytirra II - The Sons of Tuireann The Tuatha de Danann are preparing for war with the Fomorians. However, Lugh, the new king of the Danann is distracted by the murder of his father, Cian, by the sons of Tuireann. He sets them a near impossible blood-price that will further greatly his war preparations and will also ensure that his father's death is avenged. Celtic
Battle of Moytirra I - The arrival of Lugh The arrival of the Sun God, Lugh, and the preparation of the Tuatha de Danann for war against the Fomorian sea peoples. Celtic
One to Thirty Nine of Thirty Nine Myths
Word Sleuth:

ताराtārā (SKT) - goddess of compassion:-

Taras are goddessess of compassion that are each said to be a personification of a tear of divine compassion. There are references of up to twenty one different taras who are differentiated, in the first instance, by colour. ie. the White Tara, Green Tara etc. It may be noteworthy that in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, Isabel falls to earth as a singult tear and the names of her twenty eight companions are all colours.
The Sanskrit title has two meanings: saviour and star. In the first sense it derives from the Sanskrit root tr?, which means to cross, traverse (river etc) to transport, surpass or overcome; also to liberate and to escape. In the latin noun ter-minus, boundary, limit, terminal, term the emphasis is shifted, the Roman deity Terminus, presided over boundaries.
The second sense, star, is derived from the Sanskrit root, str?, which means to scatter, expand or spread out and is related to the English star, aster and strew.

Title: The Mythic Image - Authors: Joseph Campbell - Pub: Princeton-Bollingen - ISBN: 0-691-01839-1