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So here it is, the first little look into my whole theory of myth vs. fairytales. Most of this idea is based on Celtic mythology, though I have a suspicion that the Teutonic myths might have had related ideas (as they seem to have been a hybrid of Celtic, Greek, and Norse, as I mentioned a year ago in this journal). A quick backgrounder:

The Irish myths tend to be recorded as three cycles: The Mythological Cycle or the Invasions, The Ultonian/Ulster/Conorian Cycle, and the Ossianic or Fenian Cycle. (This according to T. W. Rolleston's Myth and Legends of the Celtic Race.) The Invasions is predominantly about the Tuatha de Danaan (pronounced "Tua d'Danaan," as close as I can recall), who are functionally gods that invaded Ireland and claimed it from its previous residents, a race of monsters called Fomorians (pronounced "Fuhvoruh," again, as close as I can recall). The Danaans rule Ireland until the upstart Milesians show up. The Milesians are probably human with some god-like ancestors in their past (they're reportedly from Spain, which also translates in context to the "Land of the Dead"). There is a great battle, during which the Milesians win. But the Danaans don't leave Ireland. According to Rolleston, "By their magic art, they cast over themselves a veil of invisibility, which they can put on or off as they choose." The other translation of this that we talked about in the Ireland trip (which I can't find in the Rolleston at the moment) is that the gods, effectively, go "underground," making their homes in the mounds and cairns, and other such places that later become known as fairy hills.

This is the first clue. Remember that fairy tales and folklore are lumped together with old wives tales and superstitions? What was once a "religion," a true mythology in the Dewey Decimal sense, has had to go underground, into hiding, as the power shifts. (True, the Danaans are still active all through the Ulster Cycle, though they're no longer the heroes. By the time the third cycle rolls around, though, there are fairy kings, journeys into the Land of Youth, and all the trapping (such as rescuing princesses from Monsters) that we see in the continental Grimm stories. The people in power know that the Danaans have been conquered; the "folk," the people of the country--possibly the undereducated, but certainly more traditional--continue to tell the stories. Ritual might not get explained to children (as it may have to be kept secret from the local priest), and the stories might no longer have context as the years go. The stories have to change and adapt to survive.

Why is that important? I suppose it depends on why myth itself is important. If, as Tolkien says, myth is related to truth, then it's possible that just as much (possibly more) truth is handed down in the folk versions of old stories than the recorded versions censored by the groups in power. Or, it could be that the distance between fairy tales and the "original" myths is too great for comparison, and the "truth" is lost in the changes.

--

As a note, I'm considering asking guest bloggers to write short (one-page max) pieces on what makes mythology or the study thereof important in a modern era. Would that be of interest to people besides me (because I'd be fascinated...)?

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( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
dmoonfire
Sep. 25th, 2007 06:31 pm (UTC)
I'd find it interesting, but I love myths of different things. Of course, I was also brought up on the Grimm's Brothers which my wife stated, in uncertain terms, I cannot raise any child I have on. :)

Some myths, or what I call myths, remind me of soap operas. Like the whole dynfunctional Egyptian gods and the spreading news of "what they were doing now" impress that I got from researching one of my books.
alanajoli
Sep. 25th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
I too grew up on the Brothers Grimm, though mostly the slightly more child-friendly editions. I got into the darker stuff on my own later on. ;) I find this to be a perfectly reasonable compromise!

There's definitely a soap opera element to the Greek Myths as well--who's sleeping with whom, etc., etc.
dragonladyflame
Sep. 25th, 2007 09:34 pm (UTC)
Might be interested in writing such thing .... Don't know what I'd say, though. I don't anticipate I'd spend a lot of time reading others' pieces, also, which would prolly make me a bad candidate.
alanajoli
Sep. 25th, 2007 10:21 pm (UTC)
Or it just means that you should write before it became a full series... ;) You strike me as excellently qualified to be a guest blogger.
sartorias
Sep. 25th, 2007 11:06 pm (UTC)
My interest in fairy tales took a quantum when I'd read enough German lit and history to realize that fairy tales gave glimpses into what life was like around the time of the Thirty Years' War, sometimes earlier (with barnacles of accreted or distorted customs) sometimes later.
alanajoli
Sep. 26th, 2007 03:12 pm (UTC)
That sounds fascinating! A friend of mine and I talk about how myth is sort of a way of looking into how people thought/experienced the world during a certain era, and I imagine fairy tales do the same--the mythic background plus the era in which they're told.
pmoc
Sep. 26th, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)
I'm fascinated by mythology. How much are you willing to pay?
(Anonymous)
Sep. 26th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
Fifteen percent of what I make on the blog? ;)
alanajoli
Sep. 26th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
Sorry, that was me. I forget I'm not logged in. ;)
elven_wolf
Sep. 26th, 2007 01:45 am (UTC)
Mythology is fascinating. I like your take on this. And I'd read the guest blogger stuff too.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 26th, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I think I am going to go that direction.
alanajoli
Sep. 26th, 2007 03:11 pm (UTC)
This one was also me. :)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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