Myth and the Modern World

All Creations of God stretch infinitely, All Times, Past, Present and Future, Worlds imagined and unimagined… Everything that Can be, everything that cannot be, all exist somewhere…Beyond this world are myriad worlds, and beyond all worlds, is the One that is Eternal…

Before defining the term ‘Myth’ one has to look at its history. The word myth comes from the Greek word ‘mythos’ which means “speech, thought and story of unknown origin”. In their A Glossary of Literary Terms Abrams and Galt uphold this idea and said that it – signifies any story or plot whether true or invented. Hence, Myths are traditional tales which are shared by a     group of people. Every   culture has its own myths which transfer the beliefs of primitive people to acquaint themselves with the world around. The myth is not a simple word which can be defined easily but one needs to study its functions and role . Some new definitions sprung up in some corners of modern society, a myth is :

=Any invented story, idea or concept.

=An imaginary or fictitious thing or person.

=A story, theme , object or character regarded as embodying an aspect of a culture, as a movie star who became a myth.

=An unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.

What is mythology?

It is an organized collection of stories by which we explain our beliefs and our history. Beneath the storylines, myths usually confront major issues such as the origin of humanity and its traditions and the way in which the natural and human worlds function on a profound universal level. Other myths, however seem merely to narrate the deities daily activities- their love affairs and pleasures, their jealousies, their ambitions and schemes and their quarrels and battles.

Mythology serves many purposes:

Myths grant continuity and stability to a culture. They foster a shared set of perspectives, values, history and literature in the stories themselves: through these communal tales, we are connected to one another, to our ancestors to the natural world surrounding us and to society, and in the myths which have universal themes; we are connected to other cultures. Myths give meaning to life. We transcend our common life into a world in which deities interact with humans and we can believe that our daily actions are part of the deities grand schemes. In our difficulties, the pain is more bearable because we believe that the trials have meaning. Myths explain the unexplainable. They reveal out fate after death and the reasons for cries and even encourage an aura of mystery. Myths also satisfy our need to understand the natural world.

Ancient myths live in our culture. We find references to those myths.


Myths are the soul of a culture, an integral part of the religious experience of a people. It plays a great role in any society and culture. They contain a variety of tales which cover all the sides that both primitive and some modern people look for such as truth, experience and entertainment. These myths have several functions which can be understood through reading. As a part of human nature a person always wants to know everything and also looks for the answer to questions which are initiated by “why”. Myths provide reasons for the happening of small things as the changing of seasons and also how fire came to man. Whereas people of the modern ages depend on the technological advancement to know about the world around. Joseph Campbell a leading scholar in the fields of mythology explains that myth has four basic functions: metaphysical/cosmological/sociological and pedagogical. Its metaphysical function is to awaken us to the mystery and wonder of creation to open our minds and our senses to an awareness of the mystical ground of being the source of all phenomena. Its cosmological function is to describe the shape of the cosmos , the universe, our total world, so that the cosmos and all contained within it become vivid and alive for us infused  with meaning and significance ,every corner, every rock, hill, stone and flower has its place and its meaning in the cosmological scheme which the myth provides. (Defining what the universe is and our place in it. How we relate to the world) Its sociological function is to pass down ‘the law’ the moral and ethical codes for prople of that culture to follow and which help define that culture and its prevailing social structure.(creating ,validating and supporting a social order amongst people) Its pedagogical function is to lead us through particular rites of passage that define the various significant stages of our lives from dependency to maturity to old age and finally to our deaths, the final passage. The rites of passage bring us into harmony with the’ ground of being’.(providing a frame work to guide a person from birth to death)

Another reason mythology plays an important role is because it becomes a foundation for a lot of religions that are practiced. These particular myths are stories that tell us about battles between good and evil. Every religion has stories like that both ancient and modern. The protagonist or hero has to go through struggles against the villain. During that journey hero learns important values and morals that are important and necessary to defeat the villain.


The characteristics of myth in the spirit in which they are intended, general guidelines gleaned from what many people have noticed as often being true of myths.

  1. A story that is or was considered a true explanation of the natural world(and how it came to be)
  2. Characters are often non-human e.g. Gods, goddesses, supernatural beings, first people.
  3. Setting is a previous proto world
  4. Plot may involve interplay between worlds (this world and previous or original world)
  5. Depicts events that bend or break natural laws(reflective of connection to previous world)
  6. Cosmogenic explanation of universe
  7. Functional: Charter for social action conveys how to live: assumptions, values, core meanings of individuals, families, communities.
  8. Evokes the presence of mystery
  9. Reflective and formative of basic structures (dualities: light/dark, good/bad, being/nothingness) that we must reconcile.
  10. Sometimes: the narrative aspect of a significant ritual (core narrative of most important religious practices of society, fundamentally connected to belief system.


     There are many Greek influences on our culture today. However these impacts are not very widely known in our modern society. The Greek culture affects our everyday way of life. They created democracy, the alphabet, libraries, the Olympics, math, science and even architecture. The Greeks were the first civilization to use the alphabet and its usefulness spread throughout the globe. Today there are 20 different alphabets used around the world. They are very important to our culture and lives today. The Olympic Games occur once every four years and they originated in Greece. These games were held in honor of Zeus.(who is the God of all gods) Today we still celebrate the Olympic games- the opening and the closing ceremonies. Ancient Greece came up with the new way of building using pillars. Today it may seem like a common part of a royal looking building, but Greek architecture built many temples and holy places for worshipping the Greek gods.

Ancient myths live in our culture. We find references to those myths in many contemporary words and expressions such as- Pandora’s box, Oedipus Complex, nymph and Olympian. Other words derived from mythology include-adonis(from Adonis), Chlorophyll(from Chloris), discord(from Discordia), fidelity( from Fides), Hygiene(from Hygieia), Jovial(from Jove) liberty(from Libertas), Ocean( from Oceanus), Mars- the name of roman war god, etc. Our modern society has its own myths. Some authors say that our society lacks a vigorous mythology; they believe that this lack can cause a sense of meaninglessness, rootlessness and the cold brittleness of a life. Other authors assert that we do have a mythology in certain concepts- e.g. Mother Teresa- as the goddess of compassion. Albert Einstein as the god of the intellect and the imagination and Bill Gates as the god of commerce. Corporations have a mythology in their corporate culture. There is a mythology in every group- our social club, our family, our profession, our religion, our city, our neighbor hood, our friendships etc. Our mythology changes as our culture changes from one generation to the next.

Myth is humanity’s attempt to group the reason and   the purpose for existence. Speaking in a language of metaphor and symbol it creates vivid worlds though they don’t provide answers to our fundamental questions about the true nature of the world around us. Whether you believe in myth or not, you will probably agree that the spectacle it has created. Its unforgettable language of powerful, evocative images has fired our collective imagination for millennium. As Campbell said, “It inspires the arts, music poetry. To see life as a poem, to see yourself participating in that poem is what myth does for us.


Some mythic characters appear mainly in stories for children. Santa Claus originated centuries ago as a Dutch folk character. Since the 1800s he has developed into a universally recognized symbol of Christmas who is said to bring gifts to good children. Stories about his workshop at the North Pole, and the reindeer who pull his sleigh complete the modern Claus mythology. Today parents may call on such mythological figures to encourage good behavior in their children.


Mythology is every   where. Daily you run across instances of words, city names, companies, literary allusions and the zodiac, planets and constellations that take their name or borrow their theme from Greek myths. You are literally surrounded by mythology in today’s society whether you realized it or not . The themes and plot lines of the modern era’s most famous books and movies track back to the Greek myths. Medicines are named after the characters of famous myths. Businesses choose the names of their companies and products from the ancient myths, lore and various deities. Everyday phrases reference the centuries – old stories. Today, Greek mythology can be found in modern medicine, businesses and language. Names of various Greek deities and other symbols from mythology have maneuvered their way into modern medicine. MORPHINE- a pain reliever administered daily to patients in hospitals around the world.- is derived from the Greek God of Sleep: MORPHEUS( Impact of Greek Mythology) Businesses have kept the ancient stories alive through the names of their companies and products. AMAZON.COM one of the internet’s most popular websites derived its name from a mythical group of wise warrior women. Even the god of music, light and male beauty if the namesake for the popular New York City Music Hall, the Apollo Theatre.

Modern mythology refers to characters and images that remain popular and in use in modern writing, entertainment and popular thought which have gained mythological stature or nature due to various works in popular culture, such as comic books, as the characters within them often seem to emulate many of the models of heroism and stories found in ancient mythological systems and stories. Modern mythology can also contain people who have lived in recent memory, who may be lifted to a status that seems to fit the heroes or legends of ancient myths and can include folk heroes as well. For example: Comic book characters are often considered a part of modern mythology. The various superheroes and similar characters found in comic books are often compared to mythological heroes such as Hercules or Perseus, with strengths and weaknesses that are frequently depicted as legendary . SUPERMAN is the definitive superhero. He is not just American  cultural icon but a global icon. Since his comic conception in June 1938, Superman has appeared in radio serials, television programs, numerous feature films, newspaper comic strips, comic books, graphic novels and video games. He is the  forefather of the modern superhero and a symbol of power across almost all cultures. Another most contemporary example of mythology is in modern day comic books. How did Peter Parker become SPIDERMAN ? Today’s fantasy fiction is especially rich in mythology. Even look at J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, has story having its own myth. And Chronicles of Narnia are loaded with characters that are rooted in Greek and Roman mythology. But the reason why mythology is still important that it is pure storytelling. Everybody either likes to tell a good story or listen to someone tell a good story.


Indian mythology is one of  the richest elements of Indian culture in the world. Through generations different stories in Indian mythology have been passed from generation to generation  either by word or by mouth or through carefully stored scriptures. These stories  form the backbone of Indian mythology area great medium for people especially parents to inculcate interest in Indian culture in the younger  generation and to impart values of Indian culture to them. The interesting aspect of the stories in Indian mythology is that they are usually meant to convey subtle facts, rules and maxims to guide our daily lives.

 According to Professor Visvanathan “Mythology never dies, it resurfaces with new interests. The seed of myth is the archetype, the myths condense the very meaning of existence.”. What then is different today? Every age comes with its own interpretations and approach as does ours. Today as we see publishers with long seemingly unending list of mythological fiction and popular TV shows and movies  revolving around characters from our epics, we find that while our original source might be the same as the one used by those in the past but the way we consume is changed, with unique characteristics of our time. Today more than ever there seems to be surge in books, movies and art that analyze episodes and epics in Hindu mythology, reading it from a contemporary perspective and deriving from it meaning that was previously unexplored. Bahubali’s roaring success on the box office. In Mahabharat and Samrat Ashoka  , Indian television shows we see life like characters. One of the probable reason is the universal appeal of the character’s journey that is being retold in new versions. Hindutva did bring along a lot of changes in the moral consciousness of people by its carnivals, its calendars and its celebrations   with images of gods.

It is now generally accepted that mythology once served a central role in human life, uptil the time when science and industry somehow stole away or otherwise replaced our myths. Here we see another role myth might serve: it defines who we are, and defines where we are in time, what role we serve, and what the nature of that role should be. They are ideas, but they feed back directly into the material world- the myths of Nations, of gods and kings, have had a direct effect not only on human history but the genetic and ecological future is shaped by such phantasms. Myths have existed for centuries and have  shaped innumerable societies. From the Ancient civilizations to contemporary culture, myths have revolved the gaps in society with creations regarding gods, religions, battles, social problems, differences or inequalities among others. Their main function is to naturalize the culture therefore grounding certain values, attitudes and beliefs with which a considerable number of individuals agree, into society. Through the repetition of  these myths social identities are established, thus building on the construction of culture. Hence myth is living because we are ever changing and transitory. In other words we are living and myth too is living. It is like the moon in relation to the sun without the sun and the moon would cast no light but in the presence of the sun, it appears to have a light of its own.



Prof. Madhvi R Acharya, Assist. Professor in English, P.D.Pandya Mahila Commerce College, Ahmedabad

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