The Study of Myth Since the Nineteenth Century

The History of Mythology: Part 2

The Challenge to Comparative Mythology

The last chapter showed that, by the middle of the nineteenth century, mythology was dominated by a comparative mythology, an analysis of myth that takes place in libraries rather than in the field.  While comparative mythology could be cross-cultural, with a scholar comparing versions of a story found in India, Persia, Germany, and Celtic countries, it could also specialize in the stories of a single Volk.  Mythology at this time relied on insights from linguistics, archeology, and art history, but the myths themselves were studied as static cultural artifacts, and little attention was paid to how they shaped—and were shaped by—belief and behavior in the societies that created them.
Toward the end of the 19th century, however, as Robert A. Segal demonstrates in his Theorizing About Myth, an emphasis on the social function of myth began to displace the bookish and partisan investigations into roots that characterized the mythology of earlier generations.  What soon emerged were various approaches to the study of myth driven by new discoveries and theories within such emergent disciplines as anthropology, psychology, literary criticism, and the history of religions.

Early Anthropological Mythology

Anthropology is the study of the full range of human sciences, technologies, beliefs, arts, laws, morals, and customs as a means of understanding culture.  This disciplined study of culture emerged as a distinct academic discipline during the last two decades of the 19th century—a time when most mythologists were preoccupied with cataloguing tale-types, theorizing about the connection between the natural environment of an area and a people’s folk-spirit (see “Ethnic Mythology,” Chapter 2).  By this time, the British Empire had established thriving trade centers, puppet governments, and colonial outposts in every time-zone around the world.  Inspired by the great river of information about previously unknown cultures that flowed in from the Empire’s colonies, anthropology’s initial focus was to apply Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) evolutionary theory and the racial theories so prevalent at the time to understanding human culture. 
Most credit Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917) as the founder of this new branch of knowledge.  His Researches into the Early History of Mankind (1865) and Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art, and Custom (1871) advanced an evolutionary theory of culture that argued that human societies began in a “primitive” state of technological and religious development and advancing inexorably toward “advanced culture.”  As intellectual historian George Stocking has observed, “Tylor’s central anthropological problem was to ‘fill the gap between Brixham Cave and European Civilization without introducing the hand of God’—that is, to show that human culture was, or might have been, the result of a natural evolutionary development” (3).  Evolutionary theory furnished Tylor with a framework that could account for the gradual transformation of society from one that he considered backward and superstitious to one that he viewed as advanced and rational.
For Tylor, it was obvious that human beings invented the notion of a soul and of otherworldly spirits to explain such phenomena as dreams, visions, apparitions, and death.  Later, he reasoned, fetishism developed when people began to identify these invented spirits with various sacred places and material objects.  Eventually, Tylor argued, the connections between, say, idols, totems, and sacred groves and the spirits believed to live in them would begin to loosen and a people would inevitably develop the notion of gods, spirits, ghosts, demons, fairies, elves, and angels that were not dependant on material forms for their existence.  Then, as societies continued to evolve, these incorporeal entities would inevitably be associated with abstract moral qualities like good and evil.  Ultimately, Tylor asserted, the end-point of cultural evolution was a secular society where reason, canons of ethics, and the rule of law inform human behavior rather than primitive hopes and fears that divine entities reward those who are good and punish those who are evil.
Soon, other pioneering anthropologists such as Andrew Lang (1844-1912), Franz Boas (1858-1942), Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941), and Émile Durkhiem (1858-1917) entered the fray, testing and modifying Tylor’s evolutionary thesis.  A specifically racial dimensions of ethnology figured into this early work; but, gradually, as detailed information about the religious practices, beliefs, and myths of the so-called “savages” accumulated from eye-witness reports, the emphasis shifted to a more general examination of the differences between civilized and primitive societies.
Anthropological mythology, in Tylor’s time and now, cares relatively little for literary art as such.  Rather, this approach mines myths for the information they provide about a given culture.  In the late 19th century, anthropologists examined myths for insights into what distinguished the “primitive” from the “civilized” mind and into the evolutionary stages presumed to exist between the two.  Later, anthropologists examined myths for references to material culture items, history, ritual practices, social customs, and political organization.  While myths are more than catalogs of cultural information, modern mythologists benefit from anthropology’s basic insight that myths function within a complex web of material, social, political, and economic connections.  We only fully appreciate what myths meant to those who created them by examining, insofar as it is possible, the original context in which they circulated.
The Golden Bough Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough is the best-known and most widely read example of early anthropology’s mythology.  Frazer’s original interest was “the strange and recurring tragedy” enacted by Diana’s priest—the “King of the Wood”—whose duties included protecting a tree sacred to Diana.  If someone could break a “golden bough” off this sacred tree, he earned the right to fight the King of the Wood.  If the interloper managed to kill Diana’s priest, he succeeded to his office and became the King of the Wood in his stead until a stronger or craftier successor came to take his place.  To explain how this unusual priesthood arose and what it represented, Frazer scoured the newly available myths from peoples native to the Americas, the Near East, and the Far East for evidence of similar rituals.  This was an ongoing project, and the Golden Bough grew from two volumes published in 1890 to a 12-volume edition published between 1911 and 1915.
In The Golden Bough, Frazer modified Tylor’s thesis that religions evolve from a general animism to totemism to increasingly abstract belief in divinities to rational codes of morality, ethics, and law.  Frazer saw instead a progression from primitive magical rituals and beliefs to increasingly abstract forms of religious belief.  Primitive magical belief centered around the “Laws of Similarity and Contact” which assumed that an effect resembles its cause and that objects which have had contact with one another continue to influence one another even after such contact ends.  As cultures evolved, Frazer believed, such primitive like-produces-like magical rituals gave way to more symbolic forms.  Thus, he concluded, the King of the Wood was a holdover from much older (and more primitive) magical rituals that featured “priestly kings,” “public magicians,” “incarnate human gods,” and “human scapegoats” who were believed to embody the principles of vegetative and animal fertility upon which the life of the tribe depends.  That is, Frazer presumed that strong, virile young men were specially anointed as embodiments of the powers of fertility that bring forth wheat and calves in their season.  In primitive societies, Frazer reasoned, these sacred human figures were ritually slaughtered at the end of a set term—or when their powers appeared to fail—and replaced by younger, more virile men.  In this way, it was hoped, a people’s lease on life could periodically be renewed through a magically symbolic act. 
“Myth-and Ritual” Mythology In addition to his theorizing about the magical origins of modern religious ritual, Frazer asserted that myths were intended to explain otherwise incomprehensible rituals.  Thus, for example, Frazer argued that the myths of the “dying gods” Adonis, Attis, and Osiris served to explain why the priests of Attis’ cult castrated themselves.  This view of myth inspired a group of scholars known as the Cambridge Ritualists, who claimed that myths rationalized otherwise irrational ritual practices and/or that they functioned as scripts from which such practices were performed.  Joseph Fontenrose, in the preface of his The Ritual Theory of Myth, did not consider the myth-ritualists an organized school of thought: “Some . . . are finding myth everywhere, especially those who follow the banner of the ‘myth-ritual’ school—or perhaps I should say banners of the schools, since ritualists do not form a single school or follow a single doctrine.  But most of them are agreed that all myths are derived from rituals and that they were in origin the spoken part of ritual performance”  (The Ritual Theory of Myth, n.p.). 
Among the most significant practitioners of myth-ritual mythology were biblical scholar S. H. Hooke (Myth, Ritual, and Kingship, 1958), classicist Jane E. Harrison (Themis, 1927), and specialist in the ancient Near East, Theodor Gaster (Thespis: Ritual, Myth, and Drama in the Ancient Near East, 1961).  Like the early anthropologists whose work inspired their own research, the myth-ritualists studied myths for the insights they might provide about the content and function of ancient religious ritual.  Gaster, for example, focused on “seasonal rituals,” distinguishing between “emptying” and “filling” rituals.  Emptying rituals were said to include “fasts, lents, and similar austerities,” all designed to dramatize the condition of the land the suffering of the people during the seasonal sterility of winter.  Filling rituals were described as including “mock combats against the forces of droughts or evil, mass mating, the performance of rain charms and the like” all designed to encourage, through a species of sympathetic magic, the reinvigoration of a given locality during the annual season of growth (Thespis 17).  Gaster read myths like “The Poem of Aqhat” and “The Poem of Baal,” both of which describe the death and dismemberment of a young male figure, a search for his missing remains, a period of drought and sterility on the earthly plane, and the eventual reconstitution and resurrection of his body as clear examples of a myth explaining various ritual observances of the passing year.  Perhaps as winter, the season of sterility approached, Gaster argued, various emptying rituals that mourned the loss of the “year spirit” to death would have been observed.  With the arrival of spring, the resurrection of the year spirit would have been celebrated with filling rituals and so on, year after year.

Modern Anthropology

For Taylor, Frazer, Hooke, Harrison, and Gaster, myths were, more or less, data files that could be read for the insight they provide into the origin, function, and evolution of religion.  Like the comparative method that Kuhn, the Grimms, Müller, and others practiced, early anthropological mythology took place in libraries; its practitioners advanced logically consistent theories that amounted to ingenious interpretive readings of texts divorced from their original social contexts.  In short, the early “science” of culture was incapable of testing its hypotheses through empirical observation.  This unfortunate state of affairs was inevitable.  One cannot visit ancient Greece or Rome, one cannot walk the streets of ancient Ebla or Persepolis and observe first-hand how their myths circulated and functioned and in what way—or whether—myth and ritual related to one another.  Given such circumstances, one has no choice but to be content with plausible conjectures that cannot be adequately tested.  But, as anthropology matured as a discipline, the desire to verify hypotheses about culture led to an interest in living cultures. 
Branislaw Malinowski Another of Frazer’s admirers was Branislaw Malinowski, whose fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands of the South Pacific contributed much to the evolving methods of modern anthropology.  In a 1925 lecture given in Frazer’s honor, Malinowski lavishly praised the elder writer and then proceeded to outline what became field anthropology’s operating assumptions regarding myth:
Studied alive, myth . . . is not symbolic, but a direct expression of its subject-matter; it is not an explanation in satisfaction of a scientific interest, but a narrative resurrection of a primeval reality, told in satisfaction of deep religious wants, moral cravings, social submissions, assertions, even practical requirements.  Myth fulfills in primitive culture an indispensable function: it expresses, enhances, and codifies belief; it safeguards and enforces morality; it vouches for the efficiency of ritual and contains practical rules for the guidance of man.  Myth is thus a vital ingredient of human civilization; it is not an idle tale, but a hard-worked active force; it is not an intellectual explanation or an artistic imagery, but a pragmatic charter of primitive faith and moral wisdom.  (Primitive Psychology 79)
Malinowski’s overview of anthropology’s interest in myth contains several crucial remarks.  First, the anthropologist states emphatically that myth is not an “explanation in satisfaction of a scientific interest.”  That is, myths are not primitive science, corrupt history, or bad philosophy told by naïve savages because they lacked modern knowledge and more sophisticated forms of expression.  Rather they are powerful expressions religious notions that permeate every aspect of society.  This view contrasts sharply with the euhemerism of Frazer, Tylor, and the early comparativists—who believed to one degree or another that myths are little more than inadequate rest stops on the road to advanced religion, science, and culture.  Second, Malinowski understood that myth had profound social implications because it functioned as a “pragmatic charter of primitive faith and moral wisdom.”  He also pointed out that myth may be observed by the field researcher in the form of oral performance, rituals and ceremonies, and that it visibly influences a living people’s social and political behavior. 
Clearly, for Malinowski, the study of ancient myth, such as that of the Greeks and Romans, is crippled from the start by its inability to make field observations.  For all that we know about how, for example, ancient plays featuring mythic material were performed in the ancient world, we can only guess at what they meant to the individuals from various social classes sitting in the audience.  We can only surmise and speculate how literally Greeks and Romans from specific social groups took the history presented in the Iliad and Aeneid.  And for all that we know from often hostile sources in late antiquity about the rituals and stories told within the Telesterion during the Eleusinian Mysteries, we again can form no accurate idea of how such initiations might have shaped individual behavior.  Nevertheless, modern anthropology does provide some useful tools for investigating ancient myth.  The discipline’s focus on material culture items, for example, can cause us to pay close attention to the industries, technologies, and commercial enterprises that were a feature of daily life to ancient Greeks and Romans.  The famous “list of ships” we find in the Iliad, for example, when read as a testament to ancient material culture, bespeaks vast logging and milling operations—not to mention boatyards, knowledge of navigation, and warcraft in the ancient world.  Mentions of ornate tripods of bronze, brooches of gold, and expensive woolen cloaks hints at the mines, trade goods, and knowledge of metallurgy and textile craft necessarily existed in the ancient world to make such status items possible
In any case, as his later fieldwork makes clear, Malinowski’s field observations of living traditions led him to a considerably broader view of myth’s individual and communal importance than available to such library-bound scholars as Friedrich Max Müller, Sir James Frazer, or Theodor Gaster.  And, since Malinowski’s time, anthropological and folkloristic approaches to myth have, by and large, shifted their gaze away from the past and focused instead on living cultures.  Modern anthropology has developed a sophisticated range of methods and theories for conducting field research and, when it discusses myth at all, emphasizes the importance of the context in which myths are told or performed.  Interestingly, modern anthropology’s correlation of myths to the material, social, political, and economic facts of living cultures has provided useful insights to those who continue to study the myths of extinct cultures.  Indeed, the discoveries of 20th-century anthropologists and folklorists about the function of myths in living societies has demonstrated how ignorant 19th-century’s armchair mythologists were about the science, technology, and naivety of so-called “primitive” societies.  Many anthropologists today would, for example, point out that those still living in hunter-gatherer societies are, necessarily, cleverer about tool-making and more resilient and self-reliant than their “civilized” counterparts who cannot make or repair the tools they use—or even hunt or grow their own food.

Psychological Mythology: Myth and the Unconscious

Psychology is the study of human behavior, mind, and thought.  Modern, mainstream psychology is, for the most part, a positivist science—that is, it uses quantitative studies and the scientific method to test hypotheses about behavior and mind by means of experiment.  Like anthropology, the discipline of psychology emerged as a formal branch of knowledge at the end of the 19th century.  If early anthropology’s task was to account for human culture without appealing for answers to divine providence or influence, early psychology was likewise an attempt to account for the workings of the mind from a rational and humanistic perspective.  Among the most pressing concerns for the young discipline was to understand the causes of neuroses and other, more serious, forms of mental illness.
The Freudian Analysis of Myth The founder of modern psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), is perhaps most famous today for his ideas about the psychosexual causes of mental illness.  His masterpiece, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) simultaneously offered a comprehensive theory of mental processes and gave birth to psychological mythology.  As he refined his theory, he asserted that the mind has three aspects—the Id (the unconscious), the Ego (the conscious mind, or self), and the Superego (roughly, the “conscience,” as embodied in cultural mores, customs, and laws).  The Id, according to Freud’s theory, is the largest and most potent aspect of mind, but it functions below the level of conscious awareness.  In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud argues, in effect, that dreams are encoded representations of the Id’s desires; and, his famous analysis of Sophocles’ play, Oedipus Tyrannos, he extends this analysis beyond dreams to include myths and other products of the human imagination.  For Freudian analysts, the situations and important objects featured in myths and dreams are to be read for the light they shed on the secret longings of the unconscious.
Freud’s circle of colleagues soon evolved into the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society (founded 1908).  Its early members included Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Otto Rank (1884-1937), and Carl Jung (1875-1961).  Jung eventually disassociated himself with Freud and founded his own school.  But both Jung and Freud believed that mythic symbols—as they are encountered in dreams, myths, and religious symbolism—emerge from the deep psychic well of the unconscious.  While their conclusions about the landscape of the human mind differed, both men shared a belief that our gods, our dreams, and our works of fiction are projections of that which the Unconscious contains.  Throughout Freud’s work, he maintains that “the unconscious is the true psychical reality” (Complete Works 612-13); but, he argued, our conscious minds censor our impulses, desires, fantasies, and preconscious thoughts because they are too raw and dangerous to be acknowledged, let alone acted upon.  From this point of view, myths and dreams are the conscious mind’s strategy for making visible, comprehensible, and safe the unconscious forces and conflicts that impel our actions.
Thus, psychological mythology reads myth as though it were a code or puzzle to be solved.  Behind the literal surface of the myth-text, lies the true, psychological meaning of myth.  Psychoanalytical mythology may be reductive, but it has provided us .  Quite the contrary!  For, whether or not we can finally agree that in every man there’s a repressed Oedipus longing to slay his father and possess his mother, psychological approaches to myth have given us a language and a range of archetypal symbols with which we may discuss the meaning and psychological effects of Greco-Roman myth’s many instances of incest, cannibalism, matricide, and patricide. 
The Jungian Analysis of Myth Jung’s views on the nature of the unconscious were similar to but not identical with Freud’s.  Rather than considering the unconscious the individual’s personal repository “of repressed or forgotten [psychic] contents”  (Archetypes 3), Jung argued, “the unconscious is . . . universal [collective]; unlike the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals” (3-4).  Described this way, we notice on of the more controversial aspects of Jung’s theory: the collective unconscious seems to exist independently from individual and even collective human existence.  Much like Plato’s notion of a realm of transcendent Ideas which shape individual thought and behavior, Jung’s unconscious contains “archetypes,” transcendent images that organize human thought, belief, and longing.  Just exactly what an archetype is psychologically is far too complex to discuss here; but, briefly, Jung defines them as “those psychic contents which have not yet been submitted to conscious elaboration” (5).  Indeed, both Jung and Freud believed that we never directly see the contents of the unconscious; rather, we see only projected and, therefore, refined images that symbolize the things it contains. 
Another way in which Freud and Jung differed was in defining the ultimate object of human desire.  As mentioned above, Freud understood myths and dreams to be expressions of unfulfilled wishes.  Indeed, all of the original members of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society agreed that desire was the basic motive for human behavior. Neurosis and psychosis, then, are to a large extent caused by frustrated desire.  However, the precise nature of this desire was a matter of some debate.  For Freud, desire is ultimately erotic.  But for Jung and his followers, desire is oriented toward psychic/spiritual wholeness.  For Freudians, mental illness arises from the often unconscious shame and frustration that our sexual desires generate.  For Jungians, however, mental illness arises when we are unable to integrate the sometimes contradictory aspects of our psyches into a functioning whole. 
Jung’s ideas about the archetypes that emerge from the universal unconscious had significant implications for the study of myth.  He identified, for example, such mythic archetypes as the Wise Woman, the Hero, the Earth Mother, the Father, the Miraculous Child, the Satyr (the man-animal), the cross, the number 4, and the Shadow and argued that these and many others are aspects of the collective unconscious influencing every individual psyche, regardless of gender, culture, or personal history.  Thus every woman’s psyche has its male aspect (the animus) and every man’s psyche has its female aspect (the anima).  Even the psyches of saints contain the Shadow and the pysches of the aged nevertheless feature a Child.  The healthy mind, Jung reasoned, learns to embrace the contradictory conditions represented by these primordial images and view them as a balanced pattern or “mandala.”  Those with various neuroses and psychoses, however, cannot balance these impulses and are overwhelmed by the Unconscious’s self-contradictory forces.
Psychonalyzing Folklore and Myth Freud’s ideas about the psychosexual dynamics of family life have proved particularly attractive to folklorists.  Bruno Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, Alan Dundes’ Interpreting Folklore, and Eliot Oring’s Jokes and Their Relations each feature Freudian-inspired analysis.  Bettleheim’s readings of folktales, in particular, amount to the decoding of such stories in Freudian terms.  His analyses of, for example, the “Three Little Pigs” as exemplifying the conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle, or “Cinderella” as dramatizing sibling rivalry and the Oedipal conflict strongly resemble Freud’s own  work on the Oedipus myth.  Freud’s work, particularly in the past 30 years, has been the subject of a great deal of critical reappraisal and many psychiatrists and psychologists have abandoned his ideas altogether in favor of genetic and biochemical explanations of mental illness.  Nevertheless, despite an increasingly negative assessment or his ideas and methods in recent years, Freud’s suggestion that one can actually derive psychological insights from myths and dreams remains influential among both folklorists and mythologists. 
When compared with characters in many modern novels, such memorable ancient characters as Oedipus, Clytemnestra, and Aeneas are rendered rather one-dimensionally.  That is, they tend to represent a character type: the over-confident man of intelligence, the unnatural mother and unfaithful wife, the intrepid, duty-bound warrior.  Yet, Freud analyzes such fictional characters as though they were flesh-and-blood people and takes seriously their fears, their hopes, and the conflicts that arise between their self-perceptions and reality.  Freud also argues that myths must be taken seriously, as reliable indications of what desires and fears motivate human behavior.  The notion that sons have incestuous fantasies about their mothers is not, after all, something that Freud fabricated and then “read into” to the play.  Rather, it is Sophocles who has Jocasta say matter-of-factly that it is common for a man to dream of having sex with his mother (ll. 1074-75).  This is dialog that the playwright imagined that his audience would find plausible.  If Freud is guilty of anything, it is of generalizing about the architecture of the human psyche from too small a sample of mythic material. 
But, even if one rejects the Oedipus Complex as too reductive a model of how the human mind takes shape, imitating Freud’s psychoanalysis of fictional characters is an excellent way of sharpening one’s reading of a mythic text.  Psychoanalytic mythology can, of course, be another form of allegorical mythology.  That is, it can be, as it was for Bettelheim, a way for readers to demonstrate ingenuity as they translate even the most unlikely mythic and folkloric material into Freudian terms.  However psychoanalytic mythology needn’t distort the original material to work.  Rather, it can focus a reader’s attention on the internal pressures (both conscious and unconscious) and external requirements (including religious and civil law and public opinion) that motivate a character’s actions.  It can help modern readers engage imaginatively with the fears, hopes, and traumas that shape mythic characters personalities and actions.  Thinking about characters in this way enriches a reader’s appreciation for character and situation while still permitting the text to speak in its own voice.
Archetypal Mythology Jung’s ideas about archetypes have proven more attractive to those studying myths than Freud’s notions about what myths and dreams “really mean.”  Carl Kerényi’s numerous analyses of Greek myth would seem to be most relevant to this book’s purposes (see, for example, Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life and Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter).  Other important contributions to Jungian mythology include Erich Neumann’s The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, Marie-Louise von Franz’s Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths, and Anne Baring and Jules Cashford’s The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image.  In addition, Jungian mythology has inspired a number of “pop-psych” examinations of gender: Robert Bly’s Iron John, Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Goddesses in Everywoman, and Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run with Wolves
Despite the number of books and articles that claim “Jungian” approaches to myth, Jung’s notions about myths and archetypes have not translated into a tidy set of interpretive techniques, nor do they typically produce insights into the motivation of individual characters.  As a result, even academic mythologists who find Jung’s ideas and readings compelling have found it difficult to create an easily reproducible archetypal method capable of generating fresh insights into ancient myths.  To a large extent, this is because Jung’s method of reading myths is yet another form of allegorical mythology.  That is, Jungian analysis invariably refers the myths it reads back to Jung’s archetypal categories.  One might, for example, identify such Homeric characters as Nestor and Proteus with Jung’s archetypal Old Man, or Athena and the Phaiakian queen, Arete, with the archetypal Wise Woman, but then what?  Having identified all the characters in this epic (or any myth) with Jungian archetypes, one is still left asking “so what?”  It takes considerable ingenuity to move from these simple identifications to an interpretive reading that comments intelligently on the human condition or that can interpret the psychological meaning of Odysseus’ wandering and the characters he encounters along the way.

Literary Mythology

Like anthropology and psychology, literary studies also became a formal area of academic study towards the end of the 19th century.  At its most basic level, literary studies investigates the various features and qualities of literary art.  To do so, it has developed sophisticated language and range of concepts for discussing literary characters, plots, symbols, and meaning.  In the past century, these analytical tools have not only been applied to all forms of written discourse but to the personal narratives that create the self, the ways that institutions generate consciousness, and to the notion of culture itself.  Literary mythology, then, reminds us of the seemingly obvious: that myths are stories, with unique aesthetic features, narrative logic, appealing characters, vivid images, and potent symbols.
Literary mythology differs from many other disciplinary approaches to myth in that it frequently combines its native interpretive techniques and insights with the techniques and insights of other disciplines to generate ever more subtle readings.  Until the late 19th century, there were no English departments in American universities.  So literary criticism of myth, such as it was, was the province of antiquarians, Classicists, Biblicists, and specialists in dead languages.  Thus, literary mythology, from its inception, has read myths through various interpretive screens or lenses, depending on the expertise of the individual critic.  But this is not to say that literary mythology did not also develop sophisticated notions about how texts—and interpretations of texts—are created and operate upon the minds of readers.  Accordingly, by the mid-20th century, literary approaches to myth had grown quite sophisticated and various.  Important literary specialists writing about myth at this time included Robert Graves, author of White Goddess and Greek Myths, Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Northrop Frye, author of The Anatomy of Criticism.  Campbell and Frye’s work is deeply indebted to Jungian psychology’s notion of the archetype.  Indeed, it can fairly be said that the ideas of Frazer, the myth-ritualists, Freud, and Jung remain relevant to modern mythology only to the extent that important literary theorists and critics have made use of some of their insights and techniques in their own work. 
Joseph Campbell While many twentieth-century scholars made contributions to literary myth studies, only Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) achieved anything like a popular following.  Campbell openly acknowledged the influence of both Jung and Freud on his work.  Particularly in Hero with a Thousand Faces and Myths to Live By, Campbell promoted what he called “living mythology,” a non-sectarian spiritual path through which the individual might gain a sense of spiritual and social purpose and through which society might be returned to simplicity and moral virtue.  His literary analysis of myth, then, insistently characterizes myth as the story of the rugged individual who realizes his true nature through heroic struggle.  Thus, Campbell’s notion that everyone’s life may be “read” as a “mytho-story” in which each of us encounters such archetypal passages as “The Call to Adventure,” the “Meeting with the Goddess,” the “Atonement with the Father” resonates with Jung.  But his understanding of what these life passages signify is distinctly Freudian.  Of the Atonement with the Father, for example, Campbell writes:
The ogre aspect of the father is a reflex of the victim’s own ego—derived from the sensational nursery scene that has been left behind, but projected before; and the fixating idolatry of that pedagogical nonthing is itself the fault that keeps one steeped in a sense of sin, sealing the potentially adult spirit from a better balanced, more realistic view of the father, and therewith of the world.  Atonement (at-one-ment) consists of no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster—the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id).  But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult.  (129-30)
Another way in which Campbell resembles Freud and Jung is his desire to articulate the master theory through which all myths must be understood.  In his view, there is a single “monomyth” organizing all such narratives.  Robert Ellwood summarizes Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces this way:
The basic monomyth informs us that the mythological hero, setting out from an everyday home, is lured or is carried away or proceeds to the threshold of adventure.  He defeats a shadowy presence that guards the gateway, enters a dark passageway or even death, meets many unfamiliar forces, some of which give him threatening “tests,” some of which offer magical aid.  At the climax of the quest he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward: sacred marriage or sexual union with the goddess of the world, reconciliation with the father, his own divinization, or a mighty gift to bring back to the world.  He then undertakes the final work of return, in which, transformed, he reenters the place from whence he set out.  (144)
Campbell’s monomyth theory gives students of myth a tool for rendering hero myths in schematic form, focusing attention on their constituent elements.  For instance, in the stories of Perseus, Jason, Odysseus, or Aeneas, one may easily identify such plot events as Campbell’s “Call to Adventure,” the “Crossing of the Threshold,” and the “Belly of the Whale.”  For Perseus, the Call to Adventure—that is, the events which eventually put him on the road to glory—revolves around his mother’s sexual allure.  His mother, Danae, at first attracts the interest of Zeus, who in the form of a shower of gold became Perseus’ father.  Outraged that Danae had conceived out of wedlock, her father, King Akriseus, sealed his pregnant daughter in a barrel and cast it into the sea.  The barrel was soon recovered by a fisherman who, with his wife, sheltered the young mother and child until Perseus reached manhood. 
At this point, Danae’s beauty again precipitates evil actions that will eventually reveal Perseus’ heroic character, bring him (and Zeus) glory, and avenge the wrongs perpetrated against him.  Polydectes, king of the land to which Danae and Perseus had drifted, proposed marriage to her and, because he had no wish to raise a bastard as his own son, set Perseus the seemingly impossible task of bringing him the head of the Gorgon, Medusa, as a wedding present. 
Thus, Perseus’ Call to Adventure revolves around his mother and questions about his birth.  He can only achieve independence from his mother (and the infantile comforts that her sheltering presence symbolizes) by striking out on his own and realizing his full potential through a series of trials.  When the opportunity to do so arises in the form of Polydectes’ malicious request, Perseus answers this veiled call to adventure without hesitation.  Contrast this with Aeneas’ Call, which comes in the form of hard necessity and a bitter (to him) fate.  The destruction of Troy forces him into permanent exile because Jupiter has purposed that Aeneas will settle on the Italian peninsula and found the Roman people.  Constrast both of these Perseus’ and Aeneas’ situations with Odysseus’ Call to Adventure.  The Ithacan hero leaves home voluntarily, for the sake of Greek honor—and a chance to earn personal glory and increase his riches.  In each case, the nature and circumstances of the hero’s Call to Adventure suggests something both about the personality of the man and the values that the myth about him presents.  Thus, Campbell’s monomyth scheme fosters close and contemplative reading and gives us a plot-oriented framework through which such analysis may be organized.

Structuralist Mythology

Most consider Swiss linguist Ferdiand de Saussure (1857-1913) to be the founder of modern linguistics.  He sought to create a science that could describe the form and function of language.  Thus, he wished to move in a different direction than the philologists of his time who focused on the grammars, rhetorics, and histories of ancient languages.  Rather, Saussure insisted that “the sole object of study in linguistics is the normal, regular existence of a language already established” (79).  Among the insights Saussure developed was the notion of the sign.  The sign has two components: the sound pattern that our ears receive, which he called the signal, and the concept that we associate with that sound pattern, which he called the signification.  Saussure argued that the relationship between signals and significations is arbitrary.  That is, there is no reason, other than consensus and custom, for the sound pattern /kat/ to designate the furry domestic creature that purrs on your lap and plops itself on whatever you’re reading.  Furthermore, Saussure reasoned, since all signs function within a vast system of signs that we call a language, we cannot determine the meaning of a sign by isolating it from the language.  On the contrary, all signs derive their meaning from their relation to each other and to the entire language system. 
The significance of Saussure’s work for the study of myth is indirect.  His suggestion that individual signs only have value in relationship to all the other signs first gave rise to anthropological theories of culture which drew an analogy between a language and its signs and cultures and the various social phenomena one may identify within them.  The most influential of these anthropologists was Claude Lévi-Strauss (born 1908), who advanced the notion that myths, like languages, have constituent elements which draw their meaning from their relationship to one another. Soon, literature specialists generalized this work to apply to all narratives, investigating the relationship between such textual features as plot, character, and symbol and the stories that give those constituent elements meaning.  In anthropology and literary studies, this intense interest in cultures and texts as signifying systems became know as structuralism.  For literature specialists, structuralism seemed a way to put the study of narratives on a scientific footing.  Instead of literary study producing subjective interpretations and idiosyncratic value judgments, it was hoped, a structuralist examination of texts would uncover that which is objective and universal in literature.  By the middle of the 20th century, many scholars on both sides of the Atlantic were searching for deep narrative structures and advancing arguments about the “rules” that describe literary art.
Lévi-Strauss’ Binary Oppositions Claude Lévi-Strauss, in his ground-breaking Structural Anthropology, sought (among other things) to account for the similarity between the myths of widely separate cultures.  But, rather than focusing on specific characters and plot events, Lévi-Strauss sought to describe their structural similarities.  By borrowing from linguistics such notions as syntax, grammar, phonemes, and morphemes, the French anthropologist argued that myths are composed of fundamental units that fit together according to certain rules.  He called these basic units mythemes and argued that they are related to each other as opposed binary pairs—in much the same way that linguistic signs inevitably imply their antonyms.  (To test this, notice which words also pop into your head when you read the words black, male, and new.)
At its most basic level, Lévi-Strauss’s method is to take a myth, reduce it to its mythemes (which usually are single plot events in the narrative) and then group related mythemes into what he called “bundles of relations.”  These bundles are, more or less, what literature specialists simply call themes.  Lévi-Strauss’s focus, however, is not on the bundles/themes themselves but on the tensions within them.  These tensions, just like the antonyms implied when we utter certain words, are binary oppositions and the tension between them is what imparts structure to myth.  These always-present oppositions are also where Lévi-Strauss finds the patterns that link the myths of all cultures.  His analysis of the Oedipus myth, for example, identifies the mytheme, “having trouble walking,” which Lévi-Strauss sees as an expression of a binary opposition between chthonic and autochthonic origins—that is, between foreigners and natives.  Those familiar with Classical myths can readily appreciate Lévi-Strauss’ point.  Not only does the question of whether Oedipus is a native Theban or a foreigner from Corinth form an important part of this play, this opposition between foreign and native is an important theme in the Iliad (the Greeks are foreigners on Trojan soil), in the Odyssey and the Aeneid (Odysseus and Aeneas, as wanderers, are foreigners wherever they go), and in Euripides’ Orestes, Phoenician Women, and Bacchae.  Each of these last three plays, feature exiles and/or foreigners on Greek soil (witness the title characters).  Likewise, Perseus is exiled from his native soil even before he is born, grows up a foreigner in Polydectes’ kingdom, becomes an exile even from Polydectes’ kingdom, and, even when he returns to his native Argos, is not at first recognized as a native.
But Lévi-Stauss’ theory does not rest only upon examples drawn from books.  Much of Lévi-Strauss’ structuralist mythology derives from his field work.  His famous book, The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology, begins with a single Bororo myth and concludes by examining nearly 200 myths from a variety of South American cultures (and several North American ones as well).  Following Saussure’s argument about the relationship between a sign and its language, Lévi-Strauss asserted that individual myths cannot be adequately understood in isolation from their culture’s entire system of myths.  As he did when analyzing the Oedipus myth, Lévi-Strauss reduced these stories to their various mythemes, organized them into bundles of relations, and identified the binary oppositions that he perceived among these bundled units.  The Raw and the Cooked is his most sustained attempt to demonstrate that despite differences among the surface features of myth—character, theme, and symbol—all the myths in his sample featured the same binary oppositions.  As G. S. Kirk summarizes it, “among South American myths [Lévi-Strauss distinguished] a sociological, a culinary (or techno-economic), an acoustic, a cosmological, and an astronomical code”  (Kirk 43).  As the title of his book makes clear, within the culinary code, Lévi-Strauss found a binary opposition between “the raw and the cooked” which he viewed as a universal symbol of the tension between civilization and nature.  Before maize is ground, mixed with water, and becomes a tortilla, it is a product of nature.  Cooking makes it a human product, one of the innumerable manifestations of the state of being we call culture or civilization.  Within the sociological code, Lévi-Strauss identified such binaries as married versus unmarried, family versus non-family, birth versus death, and the people versus the other. 
One of Lévi-Strauss’ insights is that both individuals and societies instinctively seek to mediate the binary oppositions in which we habitually think.  Myths and other narratives are our most effective strategy for reconciling these stark opposites.  Thus, for example, the Oedipus myth might be understood as mediating the opposition between the categories marriagable and unmarriagable—or, perhaps, family and non-family.  Ultimately, Lévi-Strauss work organizes the binary oppositions he identified in the myths he studied into a long list of codes and the relationships among them.  He represented these relationships with a symbol system highly reminiscent of the intensely compact language of advanced mathematics.  The intent of expressing these relationships was a way of making evident that which was always present in myths, regardless of such surface details as plot, character, and setting.  Indeed, there’s something almost mystical—and certainly something Jungian—in Lévi-Strauss’ assertion that the deep structures of myth are always present, regardless of cultural specifics, and that these deep structures “speak themselves” through flesh-and-blood human beings.
Propp’s Russian Folktales Vladimir Propp (1895-1970) was another pioneer of structuralism.  But, rather than analyzing myths, he focused almost exclusively on the Russian folktale.  Propp’s work attempted to distinguish between constant and variable elements in this genre.  After studying more than a thousand fairytales, he concluded that the persons in these stories may change but that their functions within the plot do not.  Propp argued that the fairy tale has precisely 31 functions.  The functions begin with 1) “The hero leaves home,” 2) “An interdiction is addressed to the hero,” and 3) “The interdiction is violated.”  But other functions include “The hero is tested, interrogated, attacked” (12), which prepares the way for “The hero receives a magical agent or helper” (17).  In some stories element 24 comes into play and thus “A false hero presents unfounded claims.”  For the hero to “live happily ever after,” it is almost inevitable that the villain be punished (element 30) and that the hero marries and ascends the throne (element 31).  Propp further observed that while individual fairytales would necessarily leave out one or more of these 31 functions any functions that a story did employ would always appear in the listed order. 
Eliade’s “Time Machine” Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) has been described as “the preeminent historian of religion of his time” (Ellwood 79), and his ideas about the essential connection between myth and religion continue to be influential among students of myth and religion today.  As a young man, Eliade invested himself in Romanian nationalist politics.  Believing in the power of myth to give a down-trodden people the courage and vision necessary to stage a spiritually motivated political revolution, Eliade became briefly involved with a proto-fascist group called The Legion of the Archangel Michael.  Recent criticism of Eliade’s early political associations has begun to eclipse his work as a mythologist.  However, his sympathy for a political ideology that fused, in its early days, a Christian commitment to charity for the poor and outrage at social injustice, is no reason to dismiss his work out of hand.  Rather, Eliade’s brief infatuation with a newly minted political myth telling the story of Romania’s special destiny in the history of the world further demonstrates that myths are genuinely powerful agents in the modern world.  The brightest and best-educated people in the world are not immune from their allure because, like all human beings, they also long for dignity, purpose, and hope—which myths readily provide.
In any case, Eliade’s Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return; The Sacred and the Profane; Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries and Myth and Reality apply certain elements of structuralism to the contents of the religious imagination.  Influenced by Lévi-Strauss’ notion that binary opposites link the myths of the world, Eliade proposed that a similar binary opposition exists within the religious imagination and thus provides a fundamental structure that the religions of the world have in common.  Specifically, he argued that space, time, and objects are categorized by the religious mind as either sacred or profane.  Thus, such objects as icons and religious utensils, such places as sanctuaries and special groves, and such times as holy days and religious festivals are designated as sacred.  Only certain limited activities can properly be performed with such objects, within such places, and during such times.  The profane, by contrast, includes all those things, places, and times available to everyone without special ceremony or ritual. 
Another important binary in Eliade’s mythology is the distinction he makes between “archaic” and modern man.  In his view, archaic peoples are more attuned than modern, history-obsessed peoples to the sacred and express this understanding more clearly in their relationships to nature and in their myths.  In this connection, Eliade’s mythology proposes yet another binary opposition—that which exists between cosmic time, or the time of origins, and human history.  From his perspective, modern people live in unhappy exile from the Paradise of cosmic time in which a vital connection to the sacred is natural.  Myth, for Eliade, provides moderns with a vehicle through which they can periodically return to the time of origins and thus begin their lives anew.  Modern people can, in effect, put to death their stale, profane consciousness, restoring within themselves the virgin possibilities of the first creation.  Thus, for Eliade, going to confession, fasting on Yom Kippur, making animal sacrifice, or doing penance, or attending services in which the foundational myths of one’s faith are recited are rituals that permit human beings, who are continually contaminated by exposure to the profane world, to wipe the slate clean and make a fresh start.

Other Modern Mythologies

One could easily imagine that the history of mythology presented here has been leading up to a happy ending: at last, we come to the beginning of the 21st century and the curtains will part to reveal a state-of-the-art mythology.  After more than a millennium of deprecating myths as childish flap-doodle and useful only as an allegory of philosophical and/or religious truth, after centuries of romanticizing the organic connectedness of the pre-modern past, after decades of trying to make the square peg of literature fit into the round hole of science, we have finally gotten it right.  Surely we have a mythology that fairly and objectively examines the object of its study, that is methodologically but not blindly rigorous, and that duly considers history, custom, material culture, and socio-political and religious institutions without turning a story into a code to be cracked or a laundry list of inert rules.  But, in fact, all mythologies have blind-spots, even if their methods and preoccupations do enable certain insights.  Thus, there is no single, “right” way to look at myth.  Modern mythologists are increasingly aware of this and have developed broad, methodologically various approaches.  What follows is a brief survey of recent work that suggests the scope and methods of available to the modern student of myth.
William Doty’s “Toolkit” William G. Doty’s Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals is notable for its detailed discussion of all significant mythologies of the 20th century.  He concludes this encyclopedic work with a number of appendices for “furbishing the creative mythographer’s toolkit.”  Among these tools are “questions to address to mythic texts.”  Implied in these questions is a comprehensive methodology that urges students of myth not to choose a single approach to myth but to use as many of the questions and concerns of various mythological schools as possible.  Doty’s questions arise from five central concerns: 1) the social, 2) the psychological, 3) the literary, textual, and performative, 4) the structural, and 5) the political (466-67).  Students who respond to Doty’s invitation to approach myth from these five perspectives will benefit from insights available from the 20th century’s most important mythologies while avoiding the pitfalls of committing too blindly to a single approach.  Thus Doty’s “toolkit” certainly has much to offer teachers and students in myth classrooms.  Its approach is theory-neutral and text-centered, actively encouraging students of myth to see mythic material from many points of view.
Bruce Lincoln’s “Ideological Narratives” Unlike Doty’s more multifaceted approach, Bruce Lincoln advocates what might be called postmodern mythology—that is, a critical activity that interrogates mythologists’ biases and assumptions about myth.  In Theorizing Myth, Lincoln defines both myth and mythology as “ideology in narrative form” (207) because, as he says, all human communication is “interested, perspectival, and partial and … its ideological dimensions must be acknowledged, ferreted out where necessary, and critically cross-examined” (208).  Ultimately, Lincoln advocates making modern mythology the study of previous mythologies.  This scholarly endeavor would revolve around “excavating the texts within which that discourse [mythology] took shape and continues to thrive .  .  .  [explicating] their content by placing them in their proper contexts, establishing the connections among them, probing their ideological and other dimensions, explicit and subtextual”  (216). 
In fact, this chapter and the last one take Lincoln’s invitation seriously, and discuss the historical context and ideological assumptions that have informed the observations of mythographers since the time of Theagenes and Plato.  Just how students should approach myths themselves Lincoln does not say.  However, his essay, “Theses on Method,” suggests that he would advocate the same historically informed and ideologically self-conscious approach to myths as he himself has taken to mythologies that attempt to assign these stories value.
Doniger’s “Telescopes and Microscopes” Bruce Lincoln’s University of Chicago colleague, Wendy Doniger, in her The Implied Spider: Politics & Theology in Myth, argues at length for an updated and recalibrated version of the kind of comparative mythology that Sir James Frazer practiced.  Among the ways Doniger suggests improving the comparative mythology of the 19th century would be, “whenever possible . . . to note the context: who is telling the story and why”  (44); but that context could also include—indeed would have to include—“other myths, other related ideas, as Lévi-Strauss argued long ago”  (45).  Like Lévi-Strauss, Doniger advocates stripping individual myths to their “naked” narrative outlines—to symbols, themes, and similarities in plot—in order to manage the amount of detail that the comparativist will have to analyze.  But, unlike Lévi-Strauss, Doniger would not reduce myth to a level where all myths look alike.  Context would still matter.  Accordingly, she says, we could include in our comparison the contexts of myths.  Attention to the social, political, and performative contexts in which myths occur would, in Doniger’s method, “take account of differences between men and women as storytellers, and also between rich and poor, dominant and oppressed” (46).  Doniger would also have students of myth learn how to switch back and forth between the “microscope” of a single telling to the “telescope” of the world’s numerous variations on a mythological theme.


As the last two chapters have shown myth has been the subject of serious study for two-and-a-half millennia.  Allegorical mythologies tended to devalue myth, regarding it as the simple-minded handmaid of philosophical and/or religious truth.  By the Renaissance, myth came to be admired as a resource shedding light on the roots of then-modern European culture.  As the Enlightenment advanced, myth’s importance as a source of grammatical, ethnological, and historical information became paramount.  Modern mythologies, particularly those since the end of the 19th century, have further insisted on the importance of myth and have, through a variety of academic disciplines, examined the reasons for its enduring appeal and what light it might shed on the human condition. 
The early comparative linguists and mythographers of the 18th and 19th centuries performed the invaluable service of translating mythic materials from all kinds of dead languages, even as some missionaries of the same period recorded the stories of the various indigenous peoples they sought to convert to Christianity.  Anthropology showed us that myth performs indispensable functions within cultures and the importance of fully appreciating cultural context when examining myth.  Psychology focused our attention for the first time on the psychological dimension of fictional characters and suggested that the insights we derive from examining this dimension also sheds light on how the human mind works.  Structuralism has shown that mythic narratives operate according a limited number of rules regarding character type, plot trajectory, and theme—and has suggested that the seeds of myth and the tensions they seek to ease may exist in the very nature of language.  And, finally, literary approaches have reminded us that myths are aesthetic objects, worthy of study in their own right and have produced a wide range of provocative interpretations and discussions of various myths, mythic cycles, characters, and themes.
The most recent mythologies, like Doniger’s new comparative method, no longer read myth as allegories for something else or in order to illustrate some theoretical position about mind, culture, and art.  Rather, the most recent mythologies tend to blend a variety of disciplinary approaches, respecting the literary integrity of individual myths while, at the same time, enriching our understanding of them with insights drawn from psychology, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, and history.  It is this attention to the unique literary, cultural, historical, and psychological dimensions of individual myths and mythic genres—and to the social, political, and performative context in which myths operate that suggests where mythology is headed in the future.  To use Doty’s metaphor, the modern student of myth has many tools in his or her kit, and, by using them all, it will be possible to deepen appreciation and understanding of myths without emptying them of their mysterious beauty and power.

Works Cited and for Further Reading

Baring, Anne and Jules Cashford.  The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image.  NY and London: Arkana, 1993.
Bettelheim, Bruno.  The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  London: Thames & Hudson, 1976.
Bly, Robert.  Iron John: A Book about Men.  NY, NY: Vintage, 1990.
Boas, Franz. Anthropology and Modern Life. 1928; NY: Dover, 1986.
Bolen, Jean Shinoda.  Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women. New York: Harper and Row, 1985.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 1949; Bollingen Series 17. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972.
---. The Masks of God. Vol. 1: Primitive Mythology. NY: Viking, 1959; vol. 2: Oriental Mythology. NY: Viking, 1962; vol. 3: Occidental Mythology. NY: Viking, 1964; vol. 4: Creative Mythology. NY: Viking, 1968.
---. Myths to Live By. NY: Viking, 1972.
Campbell, Joseph with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. NY: Doubleday, 1985.
Cornford, F. M. From Religion to Philosophy. NY: Longmans Green, 1912.
Culler, Jonathan. Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature. 1975; Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1976.
De Saussure, Ferdinand.  Course in General Linguistics.  Trans. Roy Harris.  LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1972.
Detienne, Marcel. The Creation of Mythology. Trans. Margaret Cook. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1986.
Doniger, Wendy. The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth. NY: Columbia UP, 1998.
---.  The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade.  Chicago: U Chicago P, 2000.
---.  The Critical Study of Sacred Texts.  Ed. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty.  Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union, 1979.
Doty, William G. Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals. 2nd ed. Tuscaloosa: U Alabama P, 2000.
Dundes, Alan, ed.  The Study of Folklore.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965.
Durkheim, Émile and Marcel Mauss. Primitive Classification. Trans. Rodney Needham. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1963.
Eliade, Mircea. Patterns in Comparative Religion. NY: New American Library, 1974.
---. Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return. NY: Garland, 1985.
---. The Sacred and the Profane. Magnolia, MA: P Smith, 1983.
---. Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries. NY: Harper Row, 1975.
---. Myth and Reality. NY: Harper Row, 1975.
Ellwood, Robert. The Politics of Myth: A Study of C.G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell. Issues in the Study of Religion Series. Albany: SUNY P, 1999.
Estés, Clarissa Pinkola.  Women Who Run with Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman.  London: Rider, 1992.
Feldman, Burton and Robert D. Richardson, eds. The Rise of Modern Mythology 1600-1860. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1972.
Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity. Trans. George Eliot. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1989.
Fontenrose, Joseph. The Ritual Theory of Myth. Berkeley: U California P, 1971.
Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough. Abridged ed. London: Macmillan, 1922.
Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo. New York, 1918.
---. The Interpretation of Dreams. NY: Modern Library, 1950.
---. The Complete Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 9.
Frye, Northrup. The Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. 1957; Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000.
Gaster, Theodor. Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament: A Comparative Study with Chapters from Sir James George Frazer’s Folklore in the Old Testament. 1969; Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1981.
---. Thespis: Myth, Ritual, and Drama in the Ancient Near East. 1961; NY: Gordian, 1975.
Graves, Robert. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetical Myth. 1948; NY: Octagon, 1976.
---. Greek Myths. 2 Vols. 1955; Hammondsworth, England: Penguin, 1990.
Greenway, John and Melville Jacobs. The Anthropologist Looks at Myth. Austin & London: The University of Texas Press, 1966.
Harrison, Jane. Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion. 2nd ed. 1927; Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1974.
Hooke, Samuel Henry, ed. Myth and Ritual: Essays on the Myth and Ritual of the Hebrews in Relation to the Culture Pattern of the Ancient East. London: Oxford UP, 1933.
---. Myth, Ritual, and Kingship: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Kings in the Ancient Near East and Israel. Oxford: Clarendon, 1960.
Hyman, Stanley Edgar. The Armed Vision. NY: Knopf, 1948.
Jung, Carl Gustav. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. 1959; Bollingen Series 20. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980.
---. Man and His Symbols. 1964; NY: Doubleday, 1988.
Kerényi, Carl.  Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter.  Trans. Ralph Manheim.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 1967.
---.  Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life.  Trans.  Ralph Manheim.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 1976.
Kirk, Geoffrey Stephen. Myth: Its Meaning in Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures. Berkeley: U California P, 1970.
Lang, Andrew. Custom and Myth. 1885; NY: AMS, 1968.
---. Myth, Ritual, and Religion.  2 Vols. 1899; NY: AMS, 1968. 
Levi-Strauss, Claude. Myth and Meaning. NY: Schocken/Pantheon,1979.
---. The Raw and the Cooked. Trans. John and Doreen Weightman. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1990.
---.  Structural Anthroplogy.  Trans.  Monique Layton.  Chicago: U Chicago P, 1983.
Lévy-Bruhl. Primitive Mentality. Trans. Lilian A. Clare. London: Allen and Unwin, 1922.
Lincoln, Bruce. Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1999.
---.  Discourse and Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification.  NY: Oxford UP, 1989.
---.  “Theses on Method.”  The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: A Reader.  Ed. Russell T. McCutcheon.  London; NY: Cassell, 1999.
Littleton, Scott C. The New Comparative Mythology. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U California P, 1982.
Malinowski, Branislaw.  Myth in Primitive Psychology. 1926; Westport, CN: Negro Universities P, 1971.
Moore, Robert and Douglas Gillette.  King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine. San Francisco: Harper, 1990.
Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. Bollingen Series 47. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.
Oring, Eliot. Jokes and Their Relations.  Lexington, KY: UP Kentucky, 1992.
Propp, Vladimir. Morphology of the Folktale. Trans. Laurence Scott. 1968; Austin: U Texas P, 1990.
Raglan, Lord. The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama. 1936; Westport, CN: Greenwood, 1975.
Scholes, Robert. Structuralism in Literature: An Introduction. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1974.
Segal, Robert A. Theorizing About Myth. Amherst: U Massachusetts P, 1999.
---. Theories of Myth: From Ancient Israel and Greece to Freud, Jung, Campbell, and Lévi-Strauss. Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Myth Series, vol. 3. NY: Garland, 1996.
Stocking, George.  “On the Limits of ‘Presentism’ and ‘Historicism’ in the Historiography of the Behavioral Sciences.”  Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology.  NY: Free Press, 1982.
Stone, Jon R., ed.  The Essential Max Müller: On Language, Mythology, and Religion.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
Strenski, Ivan. Four Theories of Myth in Twentieth-Century History: Cassirer, Eliade, Lévi-Strauss, and Malinowski. Iowa City: U Iowa P, 1987.
Todorov, Tsetvan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve UP, 1973.
Tylor, Edward. Primitive Culture. NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1958.
Veyne, Paul. Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? Trans. Paula Wissing. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1988.
Von Franz, Marie-Louise.  Creation Myths.  Boston: Shambala, 1995.