This is my second time doing the April A to Z blogging challenge (also my second April as a blogger, for that matter) and last year I didn’t do the whole “theme reveal” thing. In part because I found out about the challenge pretty last-minute. (That happened on my first time doing NaNoWriMo, too…)
Anyway, last year, though I didn’t “reveal” a theme, I still had one: Greek myths. (Since those are both a central facet of my life and of my blog, that was sort of a natural.) I didn’t want to get all repetitive and do the same thing this year. (Plus some of the letters (particularly the ones not represented in the Greek alphabet) would have been hard to fill in.)
So I decided to do World Mythology this time. But not just any World Mythology: Comparative World Mythology.
Even that’s too general, too wide, though. I wanted to do something special, something unique. Because, let’s be honest, with so many people doing the A to Z challenge, a lot of people on the 14th are going to be writing about Loki, and a lot of people on the 23rd will go with Thor. (And if you’re talking about the movie version, who can blame them?) I decided that it would be no fun to follow the herd and post about myths everyone knows. So, my official theme is:
Comparative World Mythology,
featuring mythic figures you’re unlikely to find in video games!
Okay, that last part may sound random.
And I suppose, in a way, it is.
But let me explain.
See, I play a lot of JRPGs. And I’m particularly a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei series, as followers of my other blog are aware. And the Megami Tensei series (MegaTen for short) is steeped in world mythology. There are a lot of minor mythological figures who are like old friends to me, because I’ve seen them so often in the fifteen years since I first played the first Persona. Sure, some of the mythical figures in the games are the well-known old standbys — Thor, Loki, Dionysos, Cerberos — but some of them are less familiar — Ogun, Sraosha, Cu Sith — to everyone else.
As I am not everyone else (how could I be?), I can’t judge what’s well known among non-mythology geeks. But I can look at what’s been featured in MegaTen games, and I can say “okay, that’s off the table.” It’s a concrete way of determining what’s better known and what’s not. (Though there are some myths I know are mentioned in other games that I’m also ruling out, even if they haven’t been covered in MegaTen games. But I haven’t played every game out there — not by a long shot! — so I can’t guarantee that some of my choices haven’t been in games. Hence the “unlikely” part instead of something more concrete. (In particular, I haven’t yet played Odin Sphere and Valkyrie Profile, though both are on my “to play” stack. (Yes, I buy games I haven’t got time to play. Because the games I like are often released in very limited quantities.) So there could be a lot of Norse stuff covered in those that I didn’t know was in them. But I’ve ended up not going with much Norse stuff, so that shouldn’t be an issue.) Of course, I haven’t played every MegaTen game, either; there are even a few available in English I haven’t played yet, or haven’t finished yet. (Though I doubt Persona 4 Dancing All Night or Persona 4 Ultimax will add any new mythological figures to the series’ repertoire…) Fortunately, there’s a convenient wiki I was able to consult to see if any of my choices had been covered in other games.) More importantly, it’s a way to reign myself in and help me decide which myths to go with. So, for that matter, is the whole “comparative” issue; if I can’t compare a myth to something from another culture, then I can’t use it.
Now, one last thing. To clarify what I mean by “world mythology.” Because there’s two things that need to be made clear there.
First, what do I mean by “world”?
No-brainer, right? World is “the whole world” and what else could it possibly mean?
Well, so I’d have thought, but I’ve got a book on my shelf that has the gall to call itself the “Ultimate” encyclopedia of “World Mythology”…but it only covers Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Apparently it thinks 2 of the 6 inhabited continents is close enough to “the world” to count. Personally, I’d call that a third of the world, and shoddily done at that.
So, I’m trying to incorporate myths from all continents and as many of the major subgroups of human culture as I can. I can’t possibly include every culture, ’cause there’s only 26 letters of the alphabet. (Also the comparative part sometimes is limiting; if I can’t compare a myth or figure to anything else, how can I include it?) But I’ve gone through books on traditional African and Native American (North and South) belief systems, so those three continents are well-represented on my massive list of myths to choose from. I had more trouble finding books on the traditional beliefs of Oceanic cultures (Polynesia, Micronesia, Australia, Hawaii, etc.), but I was able to find some, so at least that region is also covered. (Though I do have the slight problem that some of the myths I selected (including the one for “A”!) have proven impossible to corroborate in other sources, so I’m suddenly going to have to scramble to see if I was duped and/or if the book I was consulting used a badly erroneous and/or out of date style of transliteration/transcription. My spring break is suddenly going to be all about getting my April A-to-Z (re-)researched and pre-written…)
I wish I could say I really was hitting all the major subgroups of human traditional culture (apart from the Greco-Roman group). But I can’t. And some cultures and regions are better represented than others. (I’ll talk more about that in the post-April wrap-up post, though.) Still, I think I’ve managed to get a decently representative slice of world mythology, with one major flaw: unfortunately, trying to avoid anything that’s been covered in a MegaTen game means that Asian — especially Japanese — myths are almost all off the table from the word “go.” I managed to get a pretty decent selection of Chinese and Indian myths represented, but the only Japanese myth I could find that was not in any MegaTen games (as far as I know) and also had a good comparison to other cultures was on a letter that was my best (practically my only) choice to get another culture represented, so…yeah, Japan took the hit. (Sorry, Japan! You know I love you, right?)
But that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do comparative: I get to cover (at least) twice as many myths this way. (And no, I’m not going to be comparing every single myth to the Greek ones. I won’t lie and claim that I won’t be using the Greeks as examples at all, but I’ve been trying pretty hard to find comparisons that don’t involve them…as well as the many that do.) So a lot more subgroups are being covered in the comparisons than in the 26 letters. (Especially because in the comparative part I get to use a bunch of the mythic figures — including the Japanese ones — who are in the MegaTen games.)
Now that that’s out there, moving on to the second thing I want to clarify about my theme, and that’s what I mean by “mythology.” Let’s start out with some definitions from Dictionary.com (because I’m too lazy to hunt down my actual dictionary and type in the definitions.)
- [unrelated definition]
That last one, of course, is why I wanted to clarify this. Because in Western culture, when we think of “myths” we often tend to think of the Greek myths. Which were part of a religion at the time they were first being written down. (Admittedly, they were actually somewhat tangential to many aspects of the religion, but…that’s beside the point.) So myth and religion are bound together, and many religious tales have traditionally been transmitted in the same manner as various types of folklore. Furthermore, many things that people in Western cultures call “myths” are part of still-active religious faiths and other belief systems; is it dismissive to call those stories “myths” the same way we call the defunct religious stories of the Greeks and the Vikings “myths”? (I don’t have an answer to that, obviously, but it’s something that often bothers me. And I am including posts about figures from still-active religions in my A-to-Z, both for the central figures and the figures in the comparisons.)
And as to legends, think about my favorite subject, the Trojan War. Ask anyone what that is, and they’ll tell you it’s a myth, right? But according to the definition above, it’s more of a legend. Because in classical Greece, anyone you stopped on the street and asked would have assured you that the Trojan War was a historical fact. (And, in truth, it probably was based, albeit only loosely and/or merely in part, on a real war.) They might have been a bit dodgy about it, though, if you asked them about Pyrrha and Deucalion surviving the Flood and creating a new race of humans by throwing stones over their shoulders. Maybe they’d have been comfortable saying they believed that had happened. Or maybe they’d have admitted that it was more allegorical than anything else. Or maybe they’d have been uncomfortable talking about it, worried what people might think if they admitted that they thought that story was total rot. (Of course, technically, that version was more or less the Thessalian version, originally. Other regions had different couples surviving the Flood, local ones, instead of ones from Thessaly. It’s just that for some reason the Thessalian version was the one that made the big time.) Short version, the story of Pyrrha and Deucalion wasn’t uniformly accepted as historical fact, unlike the Medieval acceptance of its Biblical equivalent.
So, technically speaking, the Greek Flood myth was just that, and the Trojan War was actually a legend.
And my point?
Well, my point is that while I’m calling the theme “World Mythology” it would be more accurate to say “World Myths, Legends, Folk Tales and Religious Beliefs.” But that’s rather of a mouthful.
Plus it would imply things.
Because there was one other rule I set on myself, and that was not to center any post on a figure or story from the three inter-related religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (They may pop up from time to time as a comparative element, but never as the center of the post.) There were a lot of reasons for this. But the big one is that I figured that the majority of the religious, English-speaking people of the world (particularly those speaking English as a first language) focused their faith in one of these three religions, and I didn’t want to offend anybody. (And since I’m writing in English, I’m obviously more concerned with English-speakers than non-English speakers, particularly since my writing is so convoluted that it’s probably very hard to read it if English isn’t your native tongue (and probably even if it is), and I suspect Google Translate and similar programs would turn it into incomprehensible mush. Which isn’t to say that I want to offend non-English speakers, or speakers of English as a second (or third, or fourth, et cetera) language, of course. I’d prefer not to offend anyone.)
Okay, with that done with, let me sweeten the pot (?) for the few people who didn’t get bored and go elsewhere while I was getting all pedantic.
On top of comparing myths/legends/whatevers from around the world, I also plan on including appropriate art from the original cultures where possible. (It will not, however, be possible to include art for every single entry.)
There is one caveat to go with this, however. Although my blog is not “Adult Content,” there will be one day that has mildly adult art. (I’ll put a warning on it, of course.) Because I was determined to post some Roman art of Priapus. Because he’s just so darn funny. (Maybe I have a creepy sense of humor?) But I’d decided not to make Greek and Roman myths ever the center of a post this time around, only the point of comparison, so the art of Priapus will not be the “P” entry. (I won’t say what day it will be, though. I want to build up some ‘suspense.’) Now, I felt like this was okay, and didn’t violate the “Adult Content” warning requirement, since all the photos I’ll be posting are things that are on public display in museums where absolutely anyone can see them, including little kids. Yeah, they have naked man parts of unusual size, but they’re ancient art. And it’s only for the one day. So if that kind of picture might upset you, then avoid the post with the warning label. (Or avoid my whole blog. Whichever works for you.)
For those coming here from the A-to-Z Theme Reveal Linky, I’ll add just a touch more here. Yes, some of my A-to-Z posts will be this long, possibly even longer. Yes, some of them will be this disjointed. No, not all of them will be like this. (But this is perhaps the standard mode…) Just to give you an idea of what kind of posts you’ll be seeing here, if this post hasn’t already told you more than you’d like to know, you can check out this page with links to all of last year’s (and eventually with links to all of this year’s) A-to-Z posts.