Similarity of Myths Around the World

Mount Shasta shares many similarities of mythical components with other myths found around the world. Many myths from around the world share similar components, themes, and characters, though each myth serves a different function in the society where it is utilized. Common themes found in myths include the creation of the world through either constructing the world from chaos or creation from slaying a monster.

The cyclical destruction and creation that parallels seasonal death and rebirth and floods that periodically destroy and renew the world are other common themes. The main characters in myths are often deities, though they are often joined by mortals, heroes, and heroines who are turned into semi-divine beings. The setting of a myth is in a proto-world, similar to our world but with stark contrasts. These myths usually depict events that violate natural laws, such as a universal flood, that separates the modern world of today from the primeval world.

Diffusionist Theory

Similarities in myths are from either independent invention or diffusion. Independent invention is the process where groups create their own mythology without any contact or influence from outside groups. As a result, any similarity between myths is coincidental. A contrary explanation to the independent invention of myths is diffusion.

The diffusionist theory argues that during the Paleolithic era (750,000 to 15,000 years ago), myths originated in one area and spread through travel, migration, and conquest. Today, there are twenty-one known civilizations that have proceeded from the original seven: Sumerian, Egyptian, Aegean, Mayan, Incan, Chinese, proto-Indian, or Mohenjo Daro.

Diffusionists would argue that these seven civilizations had contact with each other, borrowing myths and refashioning them into their own culture. Those who support independent invention maintain that these seven civilizations created their own mythologies separate from any outside influences. Franz Boas (1996) argues that similarities in myths are attributed to a need to explain natural phenomena and are built on the experiences of daily life. Therefore, dominant cultural characteristics of a society are revealed in their myths. In a society undergoing rapid change, myths refer to an earlier age.

Theory of Iconotrophy

Robert Graves proposed his theory of Iconotrophy, an explanation of diffusion, where myths are incorporated into a conquering people’s existing pantheon. He further developed Iconotrophy to argue that many myths today are misinterpretations of pictures and sculptures of earlier myths.

Through assimilation and rationalization of alien symbolic expressions, the original meanings have become distorted and reinterpreted. When an individual myth is passed from one society to another, it may be adopted without being believed, transforming into a folktale or legend in the borrowing society. This process demonstrates how, through diffusion, the same story in different societies becomes a myth, legend or folktale.

Further Reading

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