Essay: A Retrospect on the Creative Value of Mythologies and Religions

This essay will discuss in length about the creative minds behind the creation of mythologies and religions, although discussing certain mythologies and religions for relative explanations it will touch upon more on the creator than its creation. To make the contents more comprehensive on it’s subject to the readers this essay will draw most of its examples from widely known religions [1]and mythologies. [2] The contents of this essay are not meant to target anyone’s believes or values but are simply meant to observe the creative nature of a mind and the fantasies it can lead itself and others to.  So let us first try to understand mythology and religion before viewing their creative nature.

What is myth? There is no definitive answer to that question as there is none to define religion, only perceived understanding of what they represent.

‘I know very well what it is, provided that nobody asks me; but if I am asked and try to explain, I am baffled.’ (St Augustine, Confessions)

Many scholars over the time have tried to define mythology and religion but failed to please everyone with their attempts, they have always left someone dissatisfied with their definition of both as is the case with many things. But even so let us try to understand and conceive upon a definition of our own. Myths at wider view are perceived as those with a level of fantasy interjected with moral values which represents and suggests a way of life e.g. Greek Mythology. But is it really fair considering Greek Mythology a mythology? Whenever we tag the word mythology to something all of a sudden we all recognize it as being unreal and fantastical, and the complete opposite of that happens when we use the word religion. Is it just a mere word play or is there something behind it? If we probe into this matter more in our heads we will find mythology and religion not so much different from one another, both usually project moral values with elements of fiction which take people away in a way that they feel reassured about their existence and purpose. Mythologies do that by claiming that they are fiction and placing those implicative suggestions on their characters within a story or poem or however it is meant to be laid out while religions do that by claiming they are real and encompass the whole of humanity as the characters of their stories. So the main difference between these two forms is that mythology is a revealed fiction filled with metaphors and subjugated knowledge meant for entertainment while religion is an unrevealed fiction with the same foregrounds but with more connections with reality meant for a particular society to live by codes which do not seem enforced as they would by law. Which is the reason why mythologies of past have transcended into religions like Greek Mythologies but later found to be just mythologies and the reason why most modern religions have taken their roots from previous mythologies waiting to be again found to be as just mythologies. Freud explained this in Psychopathology of Everyday Life as psychology being projected into the outer world,

‘A large part of the mythological view of the world, which extends a long way into the most modern religions is nothing but psychology projected into the external world’ (Sigmund Freud, Psychopathology of Everyday Life, 1901)

Jung and Freud although had their rifts in understanding of the human psyche both assumed that humans know what a myth is trying to tell them, long before they come to the realization that they know what it is trying to them which implicated that they are projections of an unconscious mind communicating with another unconscious mind willing and vacant to perceive it.

‘The dim inner perception of one’s own physical apparatus stimulates illusions which are naturally projected outwards and characteristically into the future and a world beyond. Representative illusions produced entirely as a result of psyche projection include our ideas of immortality, retribution (and) the world after death, all of which are simply ‘reflections of our own inner psyche … pscho-mythology.’ (Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fleiss, Ocdipus Complex, December 1987)

Carl Jung believed it was more to do with our collective unconscious than individual one, that made us conceive ideas at times far beyond our own understanding, he said,

Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices.’ (Carl Jung)

Whichever case it maybe, we come to the understanding that fantasies like mythologies and religions are in fact the generation of mind, and since the only mind capable enough to amass such complexities in our knowledge is a human mind, therefore, these are the creations of a human being. And since creating unknown entities and unknown notions requires a lot of creativity and ingenuity let us observes the known creators of these worlds; to do that we must try to understand the situational psyche of the creator and beginning of their trials.

Human beings are no doubt complex creatures which are constantly evolving with their mental approach to situations but their psychological patterns remain somewhat similar. So in order to understand why a mythology or religion is created let us first have quick look at the most recent mythological and religious creations. The most profound mythological creations in the recent history have been ‘The Lord of the Rings[3]’ developed by J. R. R. Tolkien[4]. It is odd to shift from such religious intensities to a lighter view of the world but these fictional mythologies are just as important as any other to understand the mindset of the creator. Tolkien started working on his work from 1917 with the Lord of the Rings being a sort of ending to his whole epic fantasy creation with the last book being completed around 1949 and published afterwards. That kind of time frame clearly indicates a sort of obsession and great deal of dedication to a world which has no ground in reality. At that time a lot of stuff had been going around in the world and Tolkien decided to escape to fantasy in order to shield himself from the harshness of the world. This psychological behaviour tells a lot about Tolkien and creative writers in general. Most of the fantasies have been created by people who wanted to shield themselves from the world, but had no ambitions to take over it and control it themselves. So if we look at it more closely we can observe that most writers or poets or storytellers or artists in general create a world in order to set their own rules and laws, giving them the freedom to explore the possibilities of life in a fictional dimension. The main thing to take out of this is the need to explore the possibilities of life, the need to feel emotions, the need to live without constrictions; this is what drives a writer to create a myth, to escape from the reality of the world. For the sake of indulging in this particular matter a more, we can observe that situation and external conditions drives a mind to look for creative ways to entertain itself and in doing so find some sort of temporary bliss. The Tolkien example is most understandable because most of us can relate or recreate the situation in our minds which he was living within those times, the two biggest world wars is well documented.

‘It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden,’ answered Eowyn. ‘And those who have not swords can still die upon them. Would you have the folk of Gondor gather you herbs only, when the Dark Lord gathers armies? And it is not always good to be healed in body. Nor is it always evil to die in battle, even in pain. Were I permitted, in this dark hour I would choose the latter.’ (J. R. R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, 1954)

So by observing the Tolkien model we can stipulate how the Greek Mythology or the later ones came into existence and how they relate to a creative mind. Tolkien’s example is important because it is not a short story which he created; it is a very diverse and structured form of mythology which essentially recreated most of the myths from the past and put it out in a different yet known format. A lot of what he wrote related to the things that were happening around him, and there are various metaphorical references which we can find in evidence throughout the three main books. Looking at that we can assume that certain situations which involved a lot of distress also happened during the time in which other significant mythologies such as Greek[5] or Norse[6] were created. But understanding Greek or Norse mythology can be a little tricky considering the fact that those mythologies transcended into religious practices and beliefs which never happened with the work of Tolkien as it was created at a stage where human thinking had developed to a considerable level concerning religion and the conformity of processions.

Every myth or religion start from wonderment and a desire to escape from the perceived normality of the society, but where both of them differ is in their application and the way they are put forward. Mythology remains a wonderment which can also transform into a religion giving it an exciting outlook on the basis of belief system but that is not its original intention, whereas religion has the absolute purpose of doing exactly that but when it outgrows it becomes as myth. It is a very interesting observation of how they collide with each other, mythology and religion, both at times ending into what they never intended but amalgamating with one another in a very bizarre manner. And it is all dependant on time; time and situation surrounding the era which turns a myth into religion and a religion into myth.

Let us probe more into the creative mind behind the myth and religions; is the religion created by a creative mind as well or is it the divine gift of God? The answer is simple but hard to swallow for some people; yes religions are also the work of men and not God. The psychological patterns which can be observed in all religions are absolutely similar to human patterns than any other alien being indicating that it is in reality men who have taken their myths to a more extreme and controlling level.  It is very difficult to know when the first proper religion did came into existence, but it can be observed that the advent of writing brought upon significant structure to religions. There are various caveman drawings that have been found which suggests that creativity has always been present in the human mind, but it also suggests that the need to record events whether fictional or real has brought upon the creativity of a mind to draw and write. Before people knew how to write or in later times when writing was discovered but still some people lacked the skill of writing yet had creative input to pass on they did so in the form of storytelling. This element of storytelling can be found in most religions, especially in the most profound religions of these days, Islam, Christianity and Judaism although all three of them have their written structure. Our mind collects information in a picture format, which means verbal communication without visual aids has a lesser chance of being stored in the mind. When something is told to us without any visuals our mind imagines the pictorial format behind it and stores the information thus, which is how we come to imagining things later discovered to be different in reality. So for a mind to fully comprehend information the presence of symbols is important. In the old societies we find symbols recording languages, but as we evolved we formed the ultimate symbols which we all use now, the symbols of language itself, characters and alphabets and letters. Since alphabets are also pictures and symbols in reality our mind captures it and stores in its database as a prime source of information. It is also important to notice that our mind does not read from left to right or right to left but it reads everything at once that is in front of it and then interprets that information to us one by one symbol by symbol from either left to right or right to left, because to our mind reading is exactly like looking at a painting. So if I told you in person about the fact that religions were created by men and not God your mind will not perceive it that effectively as it would if I wrote it down in the form of alphabets of whichever language you are able to read. But it does not mean that if you are unable to read or write that your mind is likely to be slower than those who can, it only means that if you are unable to read or write your mind is very likely to recreate a certain event with minor changes or exaggerated changes whenever it thinks about it which makes its recounting unreliable. Writing an event down gives it a proper structure, not doing so gives a mind the opportunity to be more and more imaginative and creative, which is exactly what happened with people who heard of the mythologies of the past before the discovery of writing, which is very prehistoric to the modern understanding but it nevertheless gave birth to the idea of mythologies being real and turning into religious practices.

‘Ancestor-worship is the root of every religion.’ (Herbert Spencer, Principles of Sociology, 1882)

The evidence of all the mythologies and religions that are accessible to us greatly implicate the high nature of creativity involved in bringing them into existence whether for a good cause or not. It can also be observed that  myths in which the creator, not God but the actual writer of the myth, stands himself out as a source of knowledge and a primal link of humanity with God mostly gets turned into a religion or has the initial intention to turn into religion, giving fuel to his or her ego and intentionally fools the people into false worship but myths where the creator is invisible remains a piece of fiction, it may as well be filled with moral values it still remains an honest piece of fiction. It is also important to understand that myths which are converted into religions have little to do with the writer of those myths as opposed to those which are written for the sole purpose of religion creation.

‘Do you honestly believe that Homer, penning his Iliad or Odyssey, ever dreamed of the allegorical patchwork subsequently inflicted upon him …. ? Homer no more dreamed of all this allegorical fustian than Quid in his metamorphoses dreamed of the Gospel.’ (Francois Rabelais in his prologue to Gargantua, 1534)

So in fair conclusion we can say that when a mind is cornered by external factors it tends to create fantastical mythologies to escape to an imaginary world, creating new images and ideas and when a mind is cornered but has the desire to control for good or bad it tends to create religion bringing with it the imagination of a superior being watching over everyone. In both ways it is a mind that creates, and it is the situation rather than boredom or any other factor that leads it to create such things. So in retrospect to this essay we can observe that it is a society which creates religion and mythologies likewise by creating a situation for it to explode out of an individual mind seemingly providing a collective effort. And that individual although highly creative is actually a victim to the collective mental rituals of his or hers surrounding society.


[1] Religion – In this essay refers to any organized group of conformity with a conception of God or Gods

[2] Mythology – In this essay refers to every type of mythology, ancient or recent, with or without cult structure

 

[3] The Lord of the Rings while referring to the three main series of books written by Tolkien also refer to the wider mythology created by him which are well demonstrated by his other works regarding the same work of fiction.

[4] J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings here mentioned refers strictly to the books and not the motion picture version of those books.

 

[5] Greek Mythology – Reference to a book for further information, ‘Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths’ by Bernard Evslin

[6] Norse Mythology – Reference to a book for further information, ‘Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs’ by John Lindow

 

 

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