Mythology and religion are the subjects that have given people constant inspiration throughout the history. The need to illustrate the connection between myths and religion is to make people understand that there is no substantive difference between the worship of the god of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, as well as the cults of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Despite the nature of worship, the primary focus is the supreme Being (God), who is the creator of the universe. The figure of god is identical for every mythology and religion, which connects the humanity back to its origins. This paper will provide the definitions of both religion and mythology and explain how mythology is connected to the religion through the human history.
Mythology refers to the study and explanation of the sacred fables and tales of a culture referred to as myths. The word “myth” originates from the Greek word mythos, which signified “discourse” or “speech” and later received a meaning of “fable”. Myth is a tale of forgotten origin; thus, it is supernatural or religious. Mythology deals with the collection of tales related to a human and their origin, life and death, good and evil, the spiritual and the material.
On the other hand, religion refers to an organized framework of beliefs and practices revolving around an inspiring spiritual experience. Religions stem from the myths. Each of them blurs into the other. Whereas a myth is narrative, a religion assimilates the myths with well-arranged practices of worship as well as general kinds of social collaboration with religious figures and leaders. Religion incorporates both interpretations of reality and prescriptions for behavior. Similar to myths, religion includes beliefs and ideas about divinities of gods and goddesses. Every culture recorded in the world history has practiced some religious activities.
People often presume that religion and mythology are distinct aspects, as religion is known to incorporate a whole collection of anti-myth components such as faith in supreme Being, obedience to the church, and a moral code. Nevertheless, if the focus is on the major component of religion, the supreme Being (God), mythology and religion become identical. Moreover, scholars have concluded that God is, in fact, the embodiment of myth. However, it remains questionable as to what extent a myth may be true.
For the past two centuries, mythologists have been obsessed with the historical truth. They seek to comprehend ancient myths as a poetic representation of events in the history of people, which is a basic mistake. Before the Ancient Greece, early civilizations had minimal interest in history in current understanding of this term. Instead of understanding the past in terms of linear history, they took it as a recurring pattern of cycles such as a day, a month, and the periods of stars and planets. At the beginning of every cycle, there was a renewal of creation and time started again.
Therefore, history and historical truth could be considered an alien perception to the ancient mind. Every civilization of ancient times had its creation myths. The stories in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament are but a manifestation of much older myths which were told in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt in 3000 BC. Supreme Being, standing behind the creation myths, was worshiped under various names and guises by the ancients. The Supreme God or Goddess was the inventor of all things and, therefore, the equivalent of religion, since He/She did bind the humankind back to its origins.
In the myths of creation of the world’s oldest civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Supreme God or Goddess embodies the determining cosmos. They signify the entire myth of creation and completely created universe. Therefore, this provides people with a modern concept of God. As a creator, He becomes a nature god, a star god, a moon god, a sun god, as well as a god of all rivers. However, He often signifies more than his visible reflections. He has a pure fundamental nature and is said to be the Divine Spirit, or Soul, or Intelligence. In this form, God brought himself to life, created the world, filled it, and encircled it. Consequently, God became immortal, omnipresent, invisible, and omniscient. Therefore, He is not a person, but a representation. He demonstrates the true story of the creation of the world. Thus, God is a representation of myth.
In the ancient times, people worshiped God under various names and guises, since every city or region had its own culture. In Egypt, God the Creator was known variously as, Khum, Re, Atum, etc. In Mesopotamia, people referred to him as Enlil, Anu, Nannar, etc (Alford, n.d.). Consequently, for every God, there were a number of myths which demonstrated how He had created the universe. Concurrently, the goddesses of Egypt were referred to as Neith, Hathor, Isis, while in Mesopotamia they were called Mami, Inanna, and Ninharsag. However, by definition, behind this diversity there was one supreme Being, One Goddess, thus, One Creation. The people in the old days also knew this and would have difficulties understanding current bickering between the followers of different monotheistic religions. Thus, the future unity of all gods and all religions lies here.
According to Alford, the oldest religion in the world being practiced currently is Hinduism. However, in the West, the original records of religious practices were initiated by Egypt. The creation myth in Egypt indicates that, in the beginning, there existed only Ocean. The ocean had no breadth and was depthless and silent until the mountain of earth symbolized by the pyramids finally elevated. On this mountain, the great God Re stood and spoke bringing into life the God Shu. Thus, this pattern which could be considered interreligious continued to bring forth the other gods and goddesses (Alford, n.d.).
The pattern of creation brought up the existence of a supernatural Being who speaks for all the beings. It also explains how the world came into existence as well as how other supernatural entities emanated from the initial and the greatest one. For example, in Christianity, the God’s Son is killed for his followers. The son then gains life back for the good of his people. Over time, the theme of life after death and the judgment after dying became popular through the ministry acts of St. Paul. The saint spread the word of death and revival of the God Jesus Christ in ancient Greece, Asia, Rome, and Palestine in AD 42-62.
The Christian religion emulated the afterlife aspect and developed a well-arranged set of rituals, the adherent of which could obtain an everlasting life. By doing so, the ancient Christians were following the Egyptian, Greek, Phoenician, and Sumerian footsteps. All of these cultures had their individual stylized customs for the worship of their gods. However, after the Christians, the interpreters of the Quran developed their customs for the understanding of the supreme deity. Though being different from other religions, it had a similar purpose. The reason to this is that these customs were to some extent practiced in the worship of Goddess Hathor of Egypt. These religious beliefs made the human beings understand that in their triumphs, struggles, and suffering, they are not alone and that the death is not the end of existence.
According to Santayana (n.d), Greek mythology has various similarities to the modern religion. Mythology gave meaning to daily situations, as well as Christianity. Additionally, it created social structure and religious basis, as it introduced the common law for people. In the current setting of religion, most people would take the common law to live by as demonstrated in the Bible. Similar to the Greeks, people put up altars, churches, and temples to offer praise to the God. In every religion, people have an established hero or savior who will save the believers from tragedy and despair (Santayana, n.d.).
One of the greatest heroes in the Greek mythology is Prometheus, who is famous for his battle for humanity. In Christianity, Jesus symbolizes the hero since he conquers the daily chaos. The heroes do not necessarily have to be mighty and strong, but they must be able to transform chaos into order. Even though it has been approximately 2,400 years since the Ancient Greece era, the humankind has not completely evolved from its ideas (Santayana, n.d.).
In search of the truth, the world still tries to discover the unknown and overcome the unimaginable. It is essential to keep in mind that the history without myths would result in the unexplainable void. Not only is mythology an illustration of the unknown but also an element which helps people understand one another better. God did not appear with the introduction of Judaism, Islam, or with the cults of Mesopotamia and Egypt. However, he came as a creator of the universe and was there from the beginning of the times. Therefore, a supreme Being who by definition cannot be a God of a particular tribe must be the God of all humankind.