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Mythic Passages - the magazine of imagination

Vol 1: The Way of the Animal Powers
from Part 1: Mythologies of the Primitive Hunters and Gatherers
Historical Atlas of World Mythology
© Joseph Campbell, 1988 and used with permission of the Joseph Campbell Foundation

Adolf Bastian, a world traveler as well as a major ethnologist of the nineteenth century, recognized in the myths and ceremonial customs of mankind a significant number of essential themes and motifs that were apparently universal. He termed these Elementargedanken, "elementary ideas." But he perceived, also, that in their appearances they were clothed always in local forms, which he termed Völkergedanken, "ethnic ideas." One determinant of the folk inflections was, as just remarked, the landscape. Another, no less influential, was the local moral order; for, if the first function of a mythology is the mystical, as just described, and a second the cosmological—that of converting every feature of the locally envisioned order of nature into, as it were, an icon or figure revelatory of Yaweh, Tirawa, Shiva, Huracan, or the Tao—a third function, no less important, is the sociological one of validating and maintaining whatever moral system and manner of life-customs may be peculiar to the local culture. Indeed, one of the most striking features of mythologies everywhere is their reference to mythological beginnings even of such indifferent customs as, for example, the shape of a hat, color of the border of a shawl, or way of parting one's hair.

The Mythological Dimension: page 9

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