Classical Mythology/Ritualist school
The ritualist school was born out of 19th century studies in anthropology and religion. As scholars learned more about traditional societies in the Americas, Africa, Africa, and Asia, they realized that they had many commonalities with the traditional societies of Europe, such as ancient Greece, Rome, the Etruscans, the Celts, and others. The more scholars studied traditional societies, the more it became clear how central rituals were to communities. A ritual is "is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors' goals and interests."
Rituals often mark transitions from one social role to another. From girl to woman; from child to adult; from single to married; from stranger to friend; from stranger to enemy.
Here are some rituals that may be familiar to people in contemporary United States.
What do these rituals have to do with myth? For a ritualist school interpretation, the rituals are the most important part for society. The myths come afterwards. For example, the children preparing for (and getting!) gifts is the main ritual. But a myth or story developed later, the story of Santa Claus, some guy who travels to all the roofs on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. This myth is not explaining natural phenomenon, as an etiology. This myth does not grow from the dimly remembered past event, as in Euhemerism. This myth does not justify the status quo and privileges of the ruling class,as in charter myths. This myth does not reflect repressed fears and desires, as in Freudian psychology. This myth grew out of the ritual, and to a certain extent explains or justifies the ritual. That is the whole answer. Now, rituals develop for interesting reasons and can shed light on the societies that have myths and rituals.
So, a ritualist definition for myth would be something like:
In this school of interpretation, myths that became popular and were passed down over generations were ones that most successfully explained and accompanied ceremonies in a society.
One of the central parts of Greek life was the daily or weekly rite of sacrifice. Ancient diets did not include as much meat as today, especially among the 90% of the population that were subsistence farmers, poor laborers, or slaves. When Greeks and most ancient Mediterranean people ate wild or domesticated mammals, the slaughter was performed as a sacrifice to a god or goddess. Some Muslims or Jews today choose not to each any meat that has not been slaughtered according to Halal or kosher rules. Similarly, ancient Greeks ate meat in the context of a sacrifice to a particular deity. The story of Prometheus deceiving Zeus is one famous myth about the origin of sacrifice. Another is the story of Hermes stealing the cattle of Apollo. There are many other stories about how the gods withhold animal meat from mankind, and then are tricked or enticed into allowing humans to have them.
Theories of Myth Interpretation[edit | edit source]