Growing up as a child, especially in Africa, the exposure to myths begins from the moment the child understands the power of consequences. Babies even pay for biting the nipple of their mothers and sometimes face the consequence of no milk — albeit for a few minutes. Do you remember the countless times you could not do ‘A’ because of ‘B’ and all the hideous creatures lurking around somewhere waiting for you to misbehave? Were all these myths serving any purpose, are they important and why were they coined in the first place? These theories of mythology shed more light on the genesis and existence of myths.
Related media: Theories of Myth: Crash Course World Mythology #12
The Rational Myth Theory
This states that myths exist to provide a better understanding of natural events. It attributes gods and goddesses the power to decide natural events. A classic example is the creation story myth. The Akan creation myths states that because they (the Akans) ate fufu (cassava and plantain paste) every day, the tip of the pestle kept pushing Onyankopɔn (God) further away since he lived in the sky which was very close to the earth. And that according to Akan mythology is the reason why the heavens is so far away. The rational myth theory also gives explanations for the very existence of nature.
The Functional Myth Theory
This theory states that myths are used to teach morality and social behavior. It distinguishes between right and wrong, what is acceptable social behavior and what is unacceptable. It also teaches social relations and the consequences of flouting the rules of society. The fall of Medusa perfectly illustrates that when rules are broken the perpetrator is punished. The functional myth theory also states that myths were created for social control and served the function of ensuring stability in a society. An example is the Kwaku Ananse story talks about his greedy nature. Other Ananse stories illustrate that good is rewarded and bad punished. The functional myth also projects the formation of towns and kingdoms.
The Structural Myth Theory
Structural myths are said to be myths based on human emotion. Myths of this nature show the divided self and the duality of human nature; the good side and the bad side. They indicate that one seemingly good man can display a bad character or is capable of evil due to the duality of human nature. A classic example is our dear o’l friend Ananse, portrayed as half-human and half-animal with both characteristics, he is most known for his deceitful nature but folklore history also spoke about some good deeds of the trickster.
The Psychological Myth Theory
Almost similar to the structural myth theory, psychological myth theory states that myths are formed out of human emotions influenced by the subconscious mind. Therefore fears, questions, and wishes which were unexplainable were explained and justified with myths. Myths of this nature are very common and shared by different cultures. The belief in gods like sea and earth god is shared by many cultures. Asaase Yaa, Maame Water, Orisha Oko, Olókun the Olympian gods and other Greek mythological creatures were formed out of the subconscious mind to justify complex issues and allay fears of the unknown.
Did you long to sing whiles enjoying a shower but were told your mom will die if you do? Were you ever cautioned not to sweep at night lest you sweep away your fortunes?
These are all myths to regulate society and create some form of order in a then chaotic world. Some cultures still don’t trust modernization and scientific explanations to debunk certain myths.
What are some myths you’ve heard or believed?
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Written by: Phoebe Addo, Fri, Feb 11, 2022.