Examine the topic of mythology, which is a collection of stories belonging to a particular religious or cultural tradition used to explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. For example, most mythological traditions include a creation story that explains how the world began, such as the Christian myth of the first humans, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden. Other common themes include how the world will ultimately end and an explanation of the structure of the natural world, such as the changing of the seasons explained in the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone. In the process of explaining natural phenomena, these stories impart the values of a culture, as can be seen in the Mesopotamian creation epic Enuma Elish, which celebrated the establishment of government out of anarchy as a way of reinforcing obedience to rulers’ authority.
While myths are frequently associated with a religious tradition, they can also have purely cultural associations, such as the myth of Johnny Appleseed. The association of myths with persons or things that have only an imaginary or unverifiable existence (e.g., Bigfoot) or ancient belief systems that no longer have adherents, such as Greek and Roman mythology based on a pantheon of gods and goddesses, can lead to the erroneous belief that myths are inherently fictional. For this reason, many people object to having the stories associated with their religion described as myths.
Myths are closely tied to artistic expression, particularly literature as myths are primarily communicated through narrative or poetry. Mythology appears in many other aspects of society, however, including sculpture and paintings, dance, music, rites of passage, and even psychology—think Sigmund Freud’s concept of the Oedipal complex, based on the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus.