Mythophiles’ Dyscrasia: A Comprehensive Definition of Myth

William G. Doty
William G. Doty (Ph D., Drew University) works as a free-lance writer, translator, and editor in the mountains near Amherst, Massachusetts. He is on the faculty of Goddard and Beacon colleges, and has taught at Rutgers University, Vassar and Hampshire colleges, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Author of many essays and several books, including Contemporary New Testament Interpretation (1972), Letters in Primitive Christianity (1973; 2nd ed. 1977), and Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader (with W. C. Beane, 1976), he is associate editor of Arch: Notes and Papers on Archaic Studies, for which he has recently edited and contributed to an issue on “Transformations of Archaic Images” (1980).

The very definition of myth is problematic today; here narrow, partial, “mono mythic” definitions are rejected in favor of a complex, inclusive one, the seventeen items of which are then discussed. A mythological corpus consists of a network of myths, which are culturally-important imaginal stories conveying, by means of metaphor and symbol, graphic imagery, and emotional conviction and participation, the primal, foundational accounts of the real, experienced world, and humankind’s roles and relative statuses within it. Mythologies may convey the political and moral values of a culture, and provide systems of interpreting individual experience within a universal perspective, which may include the intervention of suprahuman entities, as well as aspects of the natural and cultural orders. Myths may be enacted or reflected in rituals, ceremonies, and dramas, or provide materials for secondary elaborations. Only a polyphasic definition will provide appreciation of their manifold roles within a society.
roles within a society.

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