Sunday, June 21, 2009

World-Building, Mythology

By Sabrina Klein

World-building a mythology is an interesting way to come up with something unique, and hold on to a reference that the reader will know and understand. Every culture known in the world has myths. A myth is defined as per Merriam-Webster as: usually a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a culture or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. Many authors have stolen ideas from mythology. J.R.R. Tolkien took many things from the Northern Europeans, and just about every dragon story ever written in modern day has a root within a dragon myth somewhere in the world. Some of these myths become Euhemeristic, and the culture interprets the mythology as an account of historic events and/or persons. A great example of that are the five mythic invasions of Ireland.
Myths have a purpose within cultures. They help define natural phenomenon, humanize the god(s), and teach lessons or a chosen history. They can often contain information vital to survival within a culture, and can strengthen traditions and ties to the gods. Often time myths are tied to the gods in some way, and sometimes become part of a religion or help define it.

All of us remember tales that are told to us as children. Some popular tales that could be considered myths of modern day are the Boogieman, Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, big foot, and the Lochness monster all of these still came from somewhere else. As a little girl, my grandmother told me that thunder was God bowling with the angels in heaven and he was losing. What was the purpose? It made me feel safe from the thunder and lightning, but if it were two-thousand years ago in Greece I would have been told it was Zeus in the heavens. In Scandinavia I would have been told well into the twelfth century that it was Thor. Every culture has a different explanation for natural events.

Creating a mythology doesn’t have to be extensive just create what you need. Characters within reoccur throughout the mythology of the culture you create. Remember to be consistent it is essential. Consistency in myth will create a basis of fact by which people believe in the world. Don’t forget that just because it isn’t real . . . that doesn’t give you license to not give an explanation. If you don’t feel comfortable making your own, steal it from a culture. There are plenty of myths out there that aren’t common knowledge, use ‘em.

Sometimes it just takes stealing part of a myth. The Tuareg of Africa wear a taguelmust, a characteristic turban. It protects them from their environment, but also has a cultural tie. This Saharan people believe leaving their mouths uncovered opens possibility of inhaling evil spirits. The Norse have guardian spirits that are acquired at birth called a Fylgia or Fylgjur, which protects a person or the family, and can be transferred to another family member after death. Often they appear as animals, in dreams, or as females in times of crisis, but not everyone has one. Then you can mix and match, say you have a culture that wears a cloth across their face to protect them from inhaling evil spirits. In this culture there are small groups of people who have guardian spirits called Fylgjur, which give them magical powers. These warriors are sacred and battle evil spirits that live in the world and their identity is determined lineage, sex, maybe a happenstance occurrence that draws the spirit to them, or they could be anyone the spirit chooses. Maybe there is a sacred ritual to see which family member the Fylgjur transfers to.

There are so many conflicts that can arise from that alone to make a story.

*Coming soon, Issue #7 of the Writers' Symposium Ezine

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