A Short History of Myth

A Short History of Myth

Karen Armstrong

Language: English

Pages: 176

ISBN: 184195800X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A Short History of Myth

Karen Armstrong

Language: English

Pages: 176

ISBN: 184195800X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“Human beings have always been mythmakers.” So begins best-selling writer Karen Armstrong’s concise yet compelling investigation into myth: what it is, how it has evolved, and why we still so desperately need it. She takes us from the Paleolithic period and the myths of the hunters right up to the “Great Western Transformation” of the last five hundred years and the discrediting of myth by science. The history of myth is the history of humanity, our stories and beliefs, our curiosity and attempts to understand the world, which link us to our ancestors and each other. Heralding a major series of retellings of international myths by authors from around the world, Armstrong’s characteristically insightful and eloquent book serves as a brilliant and thought-provoking introduction to myth in the broadest sense—and explains why if we dismiss it, we do so at our peril.

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she yearns for Baal ‘as a cow her calf or a ewe her lamb’.36 The Mother Goddess is as fierce and beyond control as an animal when its young is in danger. When Anat finds Baal’s remains, she makes a great funeral banquet in his honour, and, uttering a passionate complaint to El, she continues her search for Mot. When she finds him, she cleaves Mot in two with a ritual sickle, winnows him in a sieve, scorches him, grinds him in a mill, and scatters his flesh over the fields, treating him in exactly

increasingly encouraged to have their own ideas, but they were more and more in thrall to modern ‘experts’ who alone could decipher the nature of things. In Britain, Francis Bacon (1561–1626) made a declaration of independence, to emancipate science from the shackles of mythology. In the Advancement of Learning (1605), he proclaimed a new and glorious era. Science would put an end to human misery and save the world. Nothing must impede this development. All the myths of religion should be

were logoi, an entirely new development which was doomed to disappoint, because these stories were not and never had been factual. Paradoxically, however, the Age of Reason witnessed an irruption of irrationality. The great Witch Craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which raged through many of the Catholic and Protestant countries of Europe, showed that scientific rationalism could not always hold the darker forces of the mind at bay. The Witch Craze was a collective demonic fantasy

and History, 109–110. 42 Burkert, Structure and History, 123–28; Homo Necans, 255–297; Greek Religion, 159–161. 43 Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, 227–8; Patterns in Comparative Religion, 331. 44 Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (trans. Michael Bullock, London, 1953), 47. 45 Gwendolyn Leick, Mesopotamia, The Invention of the City (London, 2001), 268. 46 Genesis 4:17. 47 Genesis 4:21–22. 48 Genesis 11:9. 49 Leick, Mesopotamia, 22–23. 50 In other epics, Atrahasis is called

the huntsmen, there are men wearing bird masks, suggestive of flight, who were probably shamans. Even today, in hunting societies from Siberia to Tierra del Fuego, shamans believe that when they go into a trance they ascend to heaven and speak with the gods, as all humans did long ago in the Golden Age. A shaman is given special training in the techniques of ecstasy. Sometimes he suffers a psychotic breakdown during his adolescence, which represents a severance from his old profane consciousness

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