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A myth is a story that may or may not be true. The definition of the word myth is still subject to debate. Myths may be very old, or new (for example: urban myths). There may not be records or other proof that they happened, but at least some parts of myths may be true. We know about them from older people telling them to younger people. Some myths may have started as 'true' stories but as people told and re-told them, they may have changed some parts, so they are less 'true'. They may have changed them by mistake, or to make them more interesting. All cultures have myths. Stories about the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses are myths.
Many people once believed in mythological animals and gods. These animals or gods may have control or has power over a part of human or natural life. For example, the Greek god named Zeus had powers over lightning and storms. Whenever Zeus wanted to, he could make a storm, and that he made storms to show his anger. Another example is that of the Egyptian god, Atum, who was said to be the creator of everything in the world. In Hindu mythology, the cause of thunderstorms was said to be the wrath of Indra, the chief of all gods. His most powerful weapon was the Vajra 1, or thunderbolt. It was said that no one could survive after an attack from this weapon.
All cultures have developed their own mythology over time. Mythology includes the legends of their history, their religions, their stories of how the world was created, and their heroes. These stories have great symbolic power, and this may be a major reason why they survive as long as they do, sometimes for thousands of years.
A collection of myths is called a mythos, e.g. 'the Roman mythos.' A collection of those is called a mythoi, e.g. 'the Greek and Roman mythoi.'
One important type of myth is the creation myth, which describes how that culture believes the universe, or 'world' was created. Scientists generally believe that the universe was created in an event called "The Big Bang", a natural event. But now, there is talk within the scientific community about what existed before the Big Bang. To those are comfortable with the Big Bang as the ultimate, or only solution to the question of the beginning of the universe, the Big Bang may have itself become a myth. Not so long ago the Milky Way was believed to be the only galaxy; scientists then had trouble accepting other competing theories, or ideas. Myths are often final answers with great authority, and strong emotional ties.
Another important, and myth common to many cultures is the Trickster myth. A 'trickster' is a god, or hero, and very often an animal who plays tricks or jokes on humans in order to bring them wisdom or help them question their beliefs. Examples of tricksters include the fox in Europe, the crow and the coyote for North American natives, the spider "Anansi" in Jamaica. There are many more.
Historians' views on myths
Although myths are often considered to be stories of events that have not happened, many historians think myths are about actual events that have become connected with strong symbolic meaning, or that have been changed, or shifted in time or place, or even reversed. One way of thinking about this process is to imagine 'myths' as lying at the far end of an imaginary line. At one end of the line is 'dispassionate account', and 'legendary occurrence' or 'mythical status' is near the other end. As an event progresses toward the 'mythical' end of this line or continuum, the way people think, feel and say about the event changes. It may gain greater historical significance while the 'facts' become less important. By the time one arrives at the mythical end of the line, the story has "taken on a life of its own" and the facts of the original event have become almost unimportant.
This happens partly because the events described are taken away from their original situation and put in a new situation, often because it is similar to things happening at the moment. Some Greek myths originated in Classical times to provide reasons for local cult practices, to account for the local name of one of the Olympian gods, to describe half-remembered people, things that happened, to say why a deities' has certain features or entheogens, and sometimes to make sense of ancient icons. On the other hand, descriptions of recent events are made to seem to be like the more commonly known story. This idea has been used by Right-wing conservatives in America with text from the Bible (e.g. Revelation), and was used in the Russian Communist era in propaganda (political lies) about situations with misleading links to struggles between the classes. Even today the fitness of the Emperor of Japan is based partly on his distant descent from the Goddess of the Sun.
Myths are not the same as fables, folktales, fairy tales, anecdotes, or simple fiction, but sloppy usage has blurred the distinctions in many people's minds. The term "myth" is sometimes used pejoratively in reference to common beliefs of a culture or for the beliefs of a religion to imply that the story is both fanciful and fictional.