Myth is the nothing that is everything.
Fernando Pessoa (1934)
You don’t make a society with knowledge,
you make a society with the imaginary, with myths…
“Myth” comes from the Greek Mythos, which means “story”. Myths form a system which function is to explain the world. They have a universal dimension and answer the great questions that humanity asks itself: how did this world appear? (cosmogony), where do we come from? (anthropogony), where are we going? What will happen at the end of time? (eschatology), etc.
All the major subjects are covered: our relationship with the world, the difficulty we have in living together, lies and hatred, but also love, death and illness, the relationship between human beings and animals…
To justify the world as it is, they often tell of a rupture: there was a before, and then something happened, and that is why things are the way they are today.
It is an object of belief: the myth always tells the truth in the group in which it is expressed.
Myths structure thoughts and representations about the origins of unverifiable things. They organise our relations with natural and supernatural forces, which we cannot control.
They are the foundation of the ancient societies from which we come. In societies without writing, the initiates enunciate them, in bits and pieces, in consecrated places, in relation to precise calendars. For part of the world, they are associated with rituals, with a hierarchy that takes charge of ‘good behaviour’. Awareness of the myth is acquired through successive initiations which gradually integrate the individual into the consciousness of the structuring frameworks of his community.
These stories, charged with symbols, feature supernatural elements; gods and goddesses, superior powers, extraordinary creatures…
In Portugal, mythology and legends tend to overlap. Portuguese authors such as Alexandre Herculano, Júlio Dinis, Teófilo Braga and Luís de Camões include myths in their works.
HOW ABOUT TODAY?
The myth was only taken seriously since the 20th century. Until then, it was synonymous with fantasy, falsity, invention. The study of myths is important to understand how our predecessors saw the world in a given time and place. And since yesterday’s stories are related to our own, they also help us to understand the contemporary world.
Our societies are still imbued with powerful myths that influence our daily systems of thought, our relationships with culture and even geopolitics.
It is still an object of belief and science itself, as long as it remains at the level of unproven hypothesis, could be identified with myth.
Even today, they serve as a basis for approaching the world and for justifying the present state of the world, our human condition.
– When we are struggling to explain what is happening, it’s not useless to call upon myths… it is a little off-beat light. They offer a diversion through culture to nourish children, and allow them to construct inner images, which will help them in their learning.
– Myths arouse the interest of children with their extraordinary characters, the supernatural, etc.
– Greek and Roman mythology has gods and stories that explain the formation of the world and the phenomena of nature. Myth of Sisyphus, Narcissus, etc.
– Familiarise the child with some Greek and Roman myths, but also with great myths from other cultures.
– Ask the child to collect myths from their family and tell them.
– The myths can be worked on by exploring emotions such as fear, admiration, joy, sadness…
– For older children (6th grade in France): stories travel between cultures, such as the myth of the Flood. Compare the versions of the Flood story in the Gilgamesh epic (a Sumerian text dating back more than 3500 years), in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and in the Bible.