The Snake Essays

The Snake Essays

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Joseph Campbell, who became the most famous scholar of world religions, because of his book, The Power of Myth.
In his studies of world religions over his long career, Campbell discovered powerful and often repeated ideas that imbue all the religious traditions of the world. He found that the stories we call myths were at one time, or is still, a part of all religions and represents attempts to answer pretty much the same fundamental questions. What makes these myths powerful is that they are so basic to all human questing. And if we look at the religions around the world we, too, will find a plethora, a wealth of deities, gods and goddesses and spirits who have been and still are part of serious religious expressions.
It helps to remember that the only thing that separates a myth from a mainline religion today is time. These myths are humanity’s earliest attempts to explain how the world came into existence, why there are people and all other manner of life, why bad and sad and glad things happen, why people act the way they do. We are still trying to answer those questions, and while there are some pretty good answers these days, we know that not everyone accepts them. We are still having in this relatively well educated country and even with all our media and science–raging debates about whether evolution or the Genesis creation story got us all here today.
We are living in a world that is still filled with mythological stories, with gods and goddesses, and we are still seeking those basic answers to the same basic questions. How did we get here? Why are we here? What are we supposed to do? Is this all there is?
Myth is most often nowadays used to mean a story that is not true, but in the study of world religions the term means something else entirely. Myth means both old and part of serious religious beliefs or expression, however incorrect the details may seem to us. Myth is about the metaphors of the spiritual seeking of all peoples, including our own.
Myths were first developed out of the simple stories that conveyed on the metaphorical level what people of a given time believed to be true. For instance, the ancient Greeks believed the gods lived at the heights of Mount Olympus, just as many people today believe God is in Heaven.
As a people evolved, so did their stories, and out of the storytelling that is innate in human beings, stories grew abo...


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...And on and on. There are as many creations and creators as there are have been peoples of the earth. Then the myths deal with the problems of good and evil. For the Judeo-Christian traditions there is the story of the Garden of Eden and the forbidden fruit of the tree of life, also the story of Noah.
The last category is Heroes and Prophets, those humans the gods and goddesses use to do their work, to be their spokespersons, as it were, that is to say, there was a time when slavery was an accepted practice around the world with very few exceptions, and the myths supported these practices, even those of our Judeo-Christian traditions. But as people have continued to evolve as social beings, we have come to accept that there are better ways, and so religious traditions have changed along the way. As we still see, though, such change is not easy, and takes a long time.
So many of the religious traditions and practices of today will one day fade into that mist of myth, but we will through the stories continue to be a world of many deities. We can only hope that the gods and goddesses and spirits of humanity will move us to do better and kinder things for each other and for the world.

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