Mythology and mythological ideas permeate all languages, cultures and lives. Myths affect us in many ways, from the language we use to how we tell time; mythology is an integral presence. The influence mythology has in our most basic traditions can be observed in the language, customs, rituals, values and morals of every culture, yet the limited extent of our knowledge of mythology is apparent. In general we have today a poor understanding of the significance of myths in our lives. One way of studying a culture is to study the underlying mythological beliefs of that culture, the time period of the origins of the culture’s myths, the role of myth in society, the symbols used to represent myths, the commonalties and differences regarding mythology, and the understanding a culture has of its myths. Such an exploration leads to a greater understanding of the essence of a culture.
As an elementary school teacher I explore the role that mythology plays in our lives and the role that human beings play in the world of mythology. My objective is to bring to my students’ attention stories that explore the origins of the universe and the origins of human kind, and to encourage them to consider the commonalties and differences in the symbols represented in cross-cultural universal images of the creation of the world.
I begin this account of my unit by clarifying the differences between myth, folklore, and legend, since they have been at times interchangeably and wrongly used. I proceed looking at what a myth is and the role that mythology has played in history. Next I discuss the different approaches of attempting to describe the parallelism among myths from cultures vastly separated by distance. This is followed by a look at different creation myths and a discussion of the commonalties amongst such myths. I propose a renewal of the study of mythology in today’s curriculum as a return to the “shared heritage of ancestral memories”, as represented and taught through the use of mythology. I continue by looking at how such renewal can take place by studying the use of symbols in mythology and the meaning myths acquire with the passing of time. In my overview of mythology, the examples I will present are those of universally present myths related to the creation of the world, and of mythological creatures. Their origins, their symbolism through the ages, the role they play in teaching myth, the representation of myth in other cultures, in the arts, literature, science, philosophy, and religion will be the areas of study. The Phoenix was chosen for its cross-cultural universality and its parallelism of message across time and space.
I conclude the unit by proposing an outline of study of similar mythological creatures and creation stories which will bring the students to see the presence of myth in our daily lives. This proposed outline could be used in the study of other myths. Such a study may follow this progression: tracing a real event leading into the mythical interpretation and representation of that event, then exploring the hyperbole of the myth within the culture, then studying the use of the created symbolism within the culture, and finally examining cross-cultural commonalties and the ways in which the myth is reflected in the other areas of the compared cultures. It is here that this unit can be best adapted to meet the needs of older students.
Beginning the focus of mythological study at myths of creation allows for further exploration of types of etiological myths. The purpose of these myths is to tell why things are as they are (i.e. why the ants live underground, why the sun and the moon live in the sky, etc.). Broadening the unit with the representational mythology of animals provides me with a focused and concrete method for introducing broader mythological concepts to young children.
In my unit I will explore the topic of mythology through the use of the above outline. The unit will explore myths that are cross-culturally related. This mythological exploration will look at the reasons why cultures believe things to be the way they are. It is not meant to be an extensive listing or study of all the creation myths, but a sampling of the wide diversity of myths. I think students are able to come up with very ingenious responses to some of the same questions that many of those myths try to answer. I would venture to say that these myths of how or why things are as they are will closely match the reasons children think things happen the way they do.