I would be willing to bet that most of mankind believes that their religious, cultural and mythological heritage is original. That the stories of their creation, enlightenment, and theogony are all the product of their particular group of devotees. Developed and accumulated over a millennia of belief, the various groups of Mankind find a lot of comfort in the notion that their mythology is unique to them and that they are the chosen subjects of said myth, history, legend or religious dogma. So this article could potentially tick a lot of people off when I systematically blow that literal myth out of the figurative water. Here are Five Comparative Myths That You Thought Were Original.
Trivia question. What does nearly every culture on Earth have in common? No, the answer isn’t an unhealthy obsession with cat videos. The answer is a “Great Flood Myth.” From the Greek Deucalion to the Babylonian Utnapishtim the story is the same. An angry God or gods decides to flood the entire world leaving only a handful of survivors to repopulate the Earth. The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh depicts a meeting between the hero, Gilgamesh, and an immortal wise man by the name of Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh of how the gods destroyed the world with a great flood, but he and his family were saved when they were warned of the pending apocalypse by a sympathetic god, who had instructed him to build an ark that would carry him and his family to safety. If that tale sounds familiar it’s because it is retold in the Hebrew Bible as the story of Noah, and in Hindu Mythology as the story of Manu. Similar tales are told on every continent. So much so that the scientific consensus is that it is very likely that a catastrophic global event such as a meteor or tsunami caused global sea levels to rise drastically around 5000 B.C.
The battle between good and evil can be a trying one, but also rather common seeing as it has been played out in every “war of the god’s” myth from Scandinavia to India. The Titanomachy, as it was referred to by the Greeks, was the battle between the Olympian gods and the race of Titans for rule of the cosmos. It differs only slightly from the myth of the Norse Aesir and their constant battle against the evil Jotuns. The names change but the themes of myth rarely waiver from their common thread. The God/gods of good wage a constant war against the old/rebellious gods of evil for rule of the cosmos. In Ireland the Celtic gods, the Tuatha De Danann, wage war against the evil Fomorians for rule over Ireland, while Hindu Mythology pits the pantheon of Devas vs the legions of evil Asuras for dominion over the universe. It isn't hard to trace the root of these myths back to the constant struggle of mankind to triumph over whom or what they perceive as evil. Usually the gods worshipped by the previous inhabitants of the land whom they had just slaughtered.
Thunder God vs Sea Serpent
Whether at the end of the world or at its creation, some one with some lightening is going to be fighting a sea monster. Mythologies around the world all pit their version of a storm god against their version of a sea monster. Norse Mythology sees the valiant Thor in battle against the Midgard Serpent Jormungandr while the Greeks believed Zeus to be the triumphant slayer of the sea monster Typhon. Egypt and India both have their own versions of this myth. Ra battles Aapep across the sky why Indra uses his mighty lightning weapon, the Vajra (very similar to Zeus’ Lightning bolt) to battle his foe. Even Christianity and Judaism share this tale in the depiction of the Archangel Michael battling the Leviathan. Myths depicting this epic battle have existed since the dawn of civilization. The ancient Sumerians and Babylonians believed the battle between the leader of their pantheon, the storm god Marduk, and the primeval Sea Serpent, Tiamat, to be one of the factors that contributed to the creation of the universe.
As it has by now become clear, the various mythologies of the world share many commonalities, even between cultures with whom no contact was ever made. Such as the Egyptians sharing many mythological commonalities to the cultures of Meso and South America. The evidence is everywhere. Specifically in the various gods that rule the pantheons of the world. The Greek and the Roman pantheons, for example, are exactly the same, different only in name to their counterpart. Commonalities are in abundance when comparing the Greek, Norse and Hindu pantheons. The most easily recognizable of which being Zeus, Thor, and Indra. All of which have been determined to be the same figure. The same can be said regarding Apollo. It is widely agreed upon that the sun god has been borrowed and renamed countless times throughout history and myth. This is evident in the Celtic sun god Lugh as well as the Norse god Odin. All of which have too many commonalities in the stories of their birth, deeds, genealogy and ultimate fate to be anything other than the same exact figure.
One of the most glaringly obvious examples of comparative myth is the Monomyth, or, “The Hero’s Journey.” If you have never heard of the Monomyth you have definitely watched it play out on the big screen or read it in the pages of your favorite book. Joseph Campbell, the writer of “The Hero with A Thousand Faces” best described the Monomyth as any tale where “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” It goes without saying that the Monomyth pattern has been played out in everything from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Star Wars. It is evident on every continent and in tales from every century. In fact, the Monomyth template is so common and intrinsic to modern storytelling that it can be quite hard to get away from. Don't believe me? Go to any movie and watch this pattern play out.
So the next time you are pondering the tales of your heritage or gazing upon the silver screen in wonder, try and ponder the words of the great screenwriter and comic book author Michael Straczynski who said, “The point of mythology is to point to the horizon and to point back to ourselves: This is who we are: this is where we came from: This is where we are going.