Are Cultural Myths Mythstakes?

Hana McNierney, Wilcox and the World Editor

Oftentimes, when abnormal phenomena occur, believers turn to their culture’s myths and stories to explain these happenings. Today, however, myths tend to hold a connotation of “falsehood.” As a result, their dismissal is common. On the other hand, there are still some countries and groups of people thar hold fast onto these beliefs.
Myths do not originate from a single spot or source; rather, folktales are laced in many cultural groups’ histories around the world. If you happen to travel the world, you will quickly find that myths are integrated into a country’s customs.
Our first stop is the Asian continent. In India, myths are deeply connected with Hinduism and its core beliefs with creation and destruction. For example, one of the most famous myths showcases how Durga, the goddess of power and strength, saved the world from the clutches of a rampant and brutal buffalo demon, Mahisha. Try as Mahisha might, his attacks are ultimately futile against Durga’s galliance, fearlessness, and might. Especially before science began to replace religious authority, people turned to myths to seek guidance. With this myth of Durga also lies Hinduism’s fundamental doctrine that every being in the world cycles time and time again through the states of birth, death, and reincarnation.
Moving further east, China follows suit and proudly displays their spiritual beliefs through ceremonies and rituals. Senior Collin Ao elaborates on the meaning behind a key element in such ceremonies, explaining, “Nian—a monster that visits during Chinese New Year, is scared of the color red, so that sparked a tradition of wearing red during that day.” Although this story has been passed down throughout many centuries, it continues to serve as a profound aspect of the Chinese custom, and the vibrance of the color red is still associated heavily with the country. Myths do not only contribute to the celebration of events, but they also serve as part of the fundamental nature of the Chinese nation. Ao further elucidates, “[They] believe the dead are still present, especially around where they lived in the past; They set up altars, use incense, and burn ghost money so they have currency to spend in the afterlife.” Although many cast the concept of myths aside as mere folklore, its presence is still powerful, hidden in the traditions of many countries.
In Japan, the people look to their myths in an attempt to see what the future holds for them. A famous myth reveals how when oarfish are seen stranded on the shores, people should fear earthquakes and tsunamis. Adhering to this belief, prior to the devastating 2011 earthquake, a hoard of oarfish were seen washed ashore. Following a recent, rare incident of the emergence of dead oarfish on the shore, the people of Peru fear an earthquake will hit their country.
The Native Indians of America are also a people who are deeply connected to the spiritual world. There is a story that tells a tale of when the land was barren, and the starving tribes suffered, White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared, teaching them the ceremony of pipe and to speak peaceful prayers. To this day, in order to call upon the spirits, and draw closer to understanding the natural world, Native Americans perform rituals and dances. Bringing the natural world and spiritual words together is what their beliefs lie in.
Ao shares his views on the relevance of myths, admitting, “They don’t really serve much purpose other than as a way to show respect to people who have passed.” Although myths are not seen as fact, especially in the younger generation, they are still embedded in tradition, and many cultures still remember the words of these tales to guide them in ceremonies and their futures.