Page 15 || Encyclopedia Article || Fantasy Arts || Modern Modern Surrealism Art Observation || Mythology
Later in the 19th century the theory of evolution put forward by English naturalist Charles Darwin heavily influenced the study of mythology. Scholars excavated the history of mythology, much as they would excavate fossil-bearing geological formations, for relics from the distant past. This approach can be seen in the work of British anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor. In Primitive Culture (1871), Tylor organized the religious and philosophical development of humanity into separate and distinct evolutionary stages. Similarly, British anthropologist Sir James George Frazer proposed a three-stage evolutionary scheme in The Golden Bough (3rd edition, 1912-1915). According to Frazer's scheme, human beings first attributed natural phenomena to arbitrary supernatural forces (magic), later explaining them as the will of the gods (religion), and finally subjecting them to rational investigation (science).
The research of British scholar William Robertson Smith, published in Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (1889), also influenced Frazer. Through Smith's work, Frazer came to believe that many myths had their origin in the ritual practices of ancient agricultural peoples, for whom the annual cycles of vegetation were of central importance. The myth and ritual theory, as this approach came to be called, was developed most fully by British scholar Jane Ellen Harrison. Using insight gained from the work of French sociologist mile Durkheim, Harrison argued that all myths have their origin in collective rituals of a society. This approach reached its most extreme form in the so-called functionalism of British anthropologist A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, who held that every myth implies a ritual, and every ritual implies a myth.
F 20th-Century Approaches
Most analyses of myths in the 18th and 19th centuries showed a tendency to reduce myths to some essential core-whether the seasonal cycles of nature, historical circumstances, or ritual. That core supposedly remained once the fanciful elements of the narratives had been stripped away. In the 20th century, investigators began to pay closer attention to the content of the narratives themselves. Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud held that myths-like dreams-condense the material of experience and represent it in symbols. Freud's pupil Carl Jung took this psychological approach in a different direction. Jung viewed myths not as relics of the infancy of the human race, but as revelations of humanity's tendency to draw on a collective store of what he called archetypes-a set of patterns in the unconscious mind that people in all cultures express through similar images and symbols. French anthropologist Claude Lvi-Strauss argued that the primary function of myths is to resolve contradictions between such basic sets of opposites as life and death, nature and culture, and self and society.
What has become clear is that myth-making is an extremely varied and complex human activity. As in other creative activities, an enormous number of social, environmental, and personal factors come into play that make it difficult to summarize or explain myth-making from a single vantage point. While every theory offers something illuminating and useful to the understanding of some myths or mythological traditions, it seems unlikely that anyone will ever devise a theory that accounts for every type of tale that is classified as myth.
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