As a child, mythology was my favorite subject. It started with Hercules (the Disney movie), and then it continued with Greek mythology. But once you read about Egyptian mythology, you cannot escape the magic of Egyptian gods. What’s older than Egypt? Well, The Epic of Gilgamesh.
I must admit I sort of forgot of this old subject during the past years. However, I decided to retake this passion by reading Eliade’s book: A History of Religious Ideas. I mean the whole three volumes.
Of course, as I read it, I discovered lots of amazing and groundbreaking things. However, even though every religion and religious idea has it’s original things, more often that not certain themes, motifs or rituals keep repeating.
This article is about these things that keep coming back.
1. Every religion, mythology or religious idea goes back to the beginning
There is no religion or mythology that does not have a story about the beginning. It seems that although people were spread on seven continents, and had very different backgrounds, each one of them was interested in how the things started.
Most of them explain the beginning of the world through hieros gamos (fancy term to say sacred marriage), the death of a god, or the creation of it because the god wanted to create it.
When it comes to creating humans, we were pretty much the result of the god’s ambition (and sometimes even 7 generations of humans were created and then destroyed).
How did we end up like this? Most of the time we just made the gods mad, and we payed for it.
2. Life is suffering or it is too demanding
It turns out that the gods made life quite hard for us. If you take any religion or mythology (or almost every religion), you will see that the main view is one of eternal suffering. However, the approach to it is different.
Some people make constant efforts to treat suffering as something that comes and goes whilst they are still at peace. You can say that by controlling your emotions, and what you can do, you can minimize the suffering and make your life less depressing and demanding.
Other religions or mythologies recognize the suffering, but cheer life regardless. Some tried to be as happy as they could, without thinking of others. Others tried to serve and obey the gods, so that their life (or afterlife) will not be painful.
There were even some religions that said that it is better to kill yourself (or not have kids) so that you can end your suffering!
3. We go somewhere after we die
Most of the time, people thought that their life mattered to some extent. More precisely, after death. Even the reincarnation was a mechanism that enabled people to get a new life for this purpose. Reincarnation was some sort of burden if you think about living life until you done it right. As a summary, you either go to some good place, to some bad or neuter place.
4. What we strive for is to get back to our original state
It might seem like a paradox, but I’m telling you it makes perfect sense. People are not gods, but they want to be gods (or more exactly, to reach the original state of being). In almost every religion and mythology, people suffer because they lost their original state.
To get back to this original state, they have to lead good lives. Their minds were wired to become superior again, good again, almost gods again.
And people lived for so many centuries believing that! Progress is the key.
It looks like people did not want some fancy new gear, they just wanted to be in a perfect state again (a state where they do not feel pain, suffering, sadness, hopelessness, and everyone lives dancing, singing, chatting, eating and drinking).
5. Syncretism is more common than we thought
Honestly, after I read this book, I do not think that there is any mythology, religion or religious idea that is 100% original. During our short history, people communicated so much with one other that certain practices just went from one religion to another.
Well, not just by communicating, but also because people wanted to convert more people, and they had to sound convincing (so they took certain ideas or practices and merged them together).
Of course, this article does not sum up the entire book about mythology. There is a lot of shade in this tumultuous history of ours. If you like to know more, you’d better read the book. By the way, religions and mythologies do not differ that much.
If mythologies or religions from small countries are your thing, you might want to check this too.