This Post is from the Understanding Tarot Through Mythology Series. I hope to explain the cards through the stories so that the Cards may become living, three-dimensional beings that are easy to interact with.
What is Mythology?
A myth is a chronicle of sorts and narrates the tale of something that happened in “primordial times” when things began. According to Andre Jolles and Eliade, Myths were meant to educate to explain archetypes, and creation is an archetype. Eliade affirms that “all Mythology is a manifestation of being”. It presents a sacred story and thus tries to explain our existence and thus god.
Mythology is a collection of stories, that exists from as far back as the mind can remember. It is these stories that are then passed down through generations in that culture. At some stage, the stories were written down and according to Vandiver, a classical scholar, myths are “stories of the belief system” of a culture. According to Campbell, Myths are stories of “other people’s religion”.
Myths have to be mystical and extraordinarily far-fetched and unbelievable in their subject. They need to be out of this world. Classical myths like the Birth of Dionysius or Zeus turning into a Bull to impregnate Europa fulfill this dictate. It is true of eastern classics such as Gilgamesh, where Gilgamesh journeys the underworld on his quest. The Mahabharata is extravagantly whimsical as it tells of the birth of the Kaurava Princes, who were hatched out of urns filled with clarified butter called Ghee. Biblical mythology insists that the world was created in a total of six days and the seventh was a day of rest which is again a fantastic claim.
Myths served the fundamental function of explaining the creation, and each culture has its own creation myths. It helped explain natural phenomena such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, thunderstorms, lightning, and so on. Myths helped explain the natural progression of cycles and the changing of seasons.
Myths were intended to instruct moral lessons in their own way. Greek myths have a lot of cause-and-effect stories, and the same can be said about Hindu mythology. They all work within the frame of reference and within the moral structure of the culture that they were from. In Greek mythology, a very high value is placed on avenging the death of the father as we see in the myth of Orestes. In the Mahabharata, the narrative explores the concept of Dharma or righteous living.
Myths did not shy away from taking on taboo subjects such as incest, cannibalism, fratricide, and revenge. Myths are a way to face our primeval fears such as extinction as we see in the Norse concept of Ragnarok or the Norse Armageddon. As most cultures have creation myths, so to do they explore doomsday myths.
Myths explore very universal concerns such as birth, death and the afterlife and therefore tap into the collective unconscious. Egypt is known for its collection of afterlife myths and rituals.
While myths are based on fiction, some of them could be based on actual events. It is interesting to note that there are many cultures that talk about the great flood, from the Biblical myth to Greek myth to ancient Indian mythology.
Similarly, there are many parallels running through the mythology of virgin births. With the advent of science and the demystifying of natural phenomenon, myths have not lost their charm. They still have larger-than-life heroes and stories that help us have a glimpse of hero’s from a bygone age. However, myths are constantly evolving as well. The Trojan horse has now evolved into a complex malicious computer virus and this example in itself reinstates the timeless nature of myth, which takes on many more layers as it adds on more to itself.
Brunel, Pierre editor Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Archetypes Routledge, 2015.
Campbell, Joseph, with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1988.
The Posts From The Understanding The Tarot Through Myth Series.
- Greek Myth: The Study of Classical Mythology
- The Major Arcana
- The Fool Dionysus/Bacchus Greco-Roman Mythology
- Lugh Lámfhota The Chariot Irish/Welsh/Celtic Mythology
- The Gita and its Wisdom in The Wheel Of Fortune
- Yemaya the Yoruba Goddess & Temperance
- Atlantis The Lost Civilization & The Tower
- Judgement Viewed through Norse Mythology’s Ragnarok
- Ardhanarishvara & The WorldLugh Lámfhota The Chariot Irish/Welsh/Celtic Mythology
- The Minor Arcana