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Because myths narrate fantastic events with no attempt at proof, it is sometimes assumed that they are simply stories with no factual basis, and the word has become a synonym for falsehood or, at best, misconception.In the study of religion, however, it is important to distinguish between myths and stories that are merely untrue.But it is clear that in their general characteristics and in their details a people’s myths reflect, express, and explore the people’s self-image.The study of myth is thus of central importance in the study both of individual societies and of human culture as a whole.The first part of this article discusses the nature, study, functions, cultural impact, and types of myth, taking into account the various approaches to the subject offered by modern branches of knowledge.In the second part, the specialized topic of the role of animals and plants in myth is examined in some detail.
Most, however, make a basic distinction between “true” and “fictitious” narratives, with “true” ones corresponding to what in the West would be called myths.
Myth, a symbolic narrative, usually of unknown origin and at least partly traditional, that ostensibly relates actual events and that is especially associated with religious belief.
It is distinguished from symbolic behaviour (cult, ritual) and symbolic places or objects (temples, icons).
In the section that follows, it is assumed that useful distinctions can be drawn between different categories.
It should, however, be remembered throughout that these classifications are far from rigid and that, in many cases, a given tale might be plausibly assigned to more than one category. Myths, in contrast, are not presented as fictitious or untrue.