Mythology: Universal Patterns

Myth is somebody else’s religion. While the term has been retained here, it could easily be substituted by the expression “other people’s religious beliefs”. The work of categorization the various modes of religious thought is a helpful catalogue of the symmetry of human aspirations.

James Lewis Thomas Chalmers Spence was a Scottish journalist, poet, author, folklorist and occult scholar. His writing on the patterns of religious thought - “myths” - is legacy here reproduced.
— Orly

Myths can to a large extent be classified, and most important myths may be grouped under one of the following heads:

Creation myths (creation of the earth and man).
Myths of the origin of man.
Flood myths.
Myths of a place of reward.
Myths of a place of punishment.
Sun myths.
Moon myths.
Hero myths.
Beast myths.
Myths to account for customs or rites.
Myths of journeys or adventures through the Underworld
or place of the dead.
Myths regarding the birth of gods.
Fire myths.
Star myths.
Myths of death.
Food of the dead formula.
Myths regarding taboo.
'Dismemberment' myths (in which a god is dismembered).
Dualistic myths (the good god fighting the bad).
Myths of the origin of the arts of life.
Soul myths.

The first five classes are treated in this volume, in separate chapters or otherwise, according to their importance. Sun myths have already been dealt with individually, as have culture-hero or hero myths, moon myths, beast myths, ritual myths, and birth of gods myths, which leaves for discussion in this chapter fire myths, star myths, myths of death, myths regarding taboo, 'dismemberment' myths, and dualistic myths.



Fire myths are of two descriptions: those which relate to the destruction of the world by fire and those which tell how fire was stolen from heaven by a demigod, hero, or supernatural bird or other animal. Of the first class it is surprising what a large proportion come from the American continent. In the Old World we have the Jewish idea of a universal conflagration of the 'last day' (not unknown to the childhood of the present generation), the Norse belief that fire should end the heavens and the earth, and (according to Seneca) the Roman idea that some such fate would ultimately overtake the world of men and things; but it is to America that we must go for really striking and picturesque myths of the destruction of the earth by fire in whole or part. Thus the Arawaks of Guiana tell of a dreadful scourging by fire sent upon them by the Great Spirit Aimon Kondi, from which the survivors escaped by taking refuge in underground caverns. Monan, the creator of the Brazilian Indians, vexed with mankind, resolved to destroy the world by fire, and would have succeeded had not Irin Magé, a crafty wizard, extinguished the flames by a heavy rain-storm. The Aztecs at the end of each cycle of fifty-two years dwelt in dread lest the period for the destruction of the earth by fire had at last arrived, and the Peruvians believed that following an eclipse the world would be wrapped in devouring flames. In North America the Algonquin Indians believe that at the last day Michabo will stamp his foot upon the earth, and lo! flames will spring up and devour it. A similar belief was held by the Pueblo Indians and the ancient Maya of Central America.



Another class of fire myth is that in which a supernatural being, usually a bird, steals fire from Heaven and brings it to earth for the benefit of mankind. The best-known example of this type of myth is that which recounts how Prometheus brought fire from Olympus in a hollow cane or tube. As has been shown elsewhere in this volume, the myth is almost universal, and the reader is referred to the comparative table at the end of this chapter.



The numerous star myths, the general character of which is of fairly uniform type throughout the world, deal less with single stars than with groups of stars. Where Heaven is the original theatre of creation and the ancestor-land to which the spirits of the forefathers return, as stars, the constellations are, so to speak, the illustration of the cosmogonic legend, the images of objects, animals, persons, which appear therein. Other constellations are formed by their readily perceived similarity to objects and persons, and a myth is invented in explanation. These things are brought into connexion with one another and woven into a narrative, in which one idea gives rise to others. The conception and meaning of such pictures is naturally very varied among individual races, but on the other hand very similar where the characteristic forms and groupings of the constellations must suggest the same or related ideas to independent observers. The constellations which belong to this class are, for example, Orion, the Cross, the Pleiades, the Great Bear, and the Milky Way. Ideas of the Pleiades as heaps of grain, swarms of small animals, birds, bees, kids, or groups of people playing, are universal. But nowhere is the star myth so original or striking as in South America, and as the constellation legends of that sub-continent are but little known, we shall furnish the reader with some account of them in preference to the more hackneyed star tales of Europe and Asia. The Pleiades are thus wheat among the Bakairi, dwarf-parrots among the Moxos and Karayas, bee-swarms among the Tupi, and other tribes. Only among the Makusi in the south is a parallel to be found to the widely spread North American myth which supposes the Pleiades to be children carried off to Heaven while playing in a dance. The Southern Cross is very variously treated. The idea of its being the tracks of an emu seems to be limited to South America, but is very widespread there, for example, among the Bororos and Karayas, inhabitants of the steppe districts. As the four outstanding stars of the Cross lie in the Milky Way, one may identify the four-eyed jaguar which in the Yurakare myth escapes the vengeance of the hero Tin, and, calling upon the moon, is raised to Heaven. The Milky Way, as the most prominent appearance in the darkened heavens at night, receives universal attention, but has given rise to the most diverse traditions. Like the Bushmen and other Africans, the Bororos and Karayas believe that the Milky Way is an ash-track. This, as well as the guanaco track of the Patagonians, resembles the 'Path of the Gods' of the Romans, the bird-track of the Esthonians, and the 'Jacob's ladder' of the medieval church, while the Milky Way seems to be considered as a path of souls by some of the Bolivian nations. Its conception as a stream or lake has not been definitely traced in South America. On the other hand, it appears that its peculiar branching formation caused it to be likened to a tree, and this belief finds expression in the Arawak legend of the world-tree of Akawiro, which bore not only all known fruits and plants, but also all organic beings. Among the central Caribs of the Bakairi it is a hollow tree-stem, such as is used among them as a drum, its roots spreading southward and apart from each other. In its neighbourhood the first acts of the mythical twin-heroes Keri and Kame were performed, and among the Caribs even to this day are co be seen living animals which originally issued from its trunk.

The distinctly circumscribed, sharply defined shape of Orion is compared by the Indian with familiar objects of a rhomboidal form, or similar shaped animals. The Bakairi see in this constellation a dried stack of manioc, the Karayas a beetle, the Ipurinas a turtle, and so on. In myths he appears first in connexion with the neighbouring star-groups of the Pleiades and Hyades (Aldebaran). He then becomes among the Indians a mighty hunter who follows a female, our Pleiades, as Orion in the Greek legends pursues the daughters of Pleion, with whom he had fallen in love, until they are changed by Zeus into a swarm of doves. So in the legend of the Caribs of Guiana the hunter Seriko goes after his faithless wife Wailya, whom the Tapir (Hyades group) had taken away from him.

The wifely relationship of the Pleiades with the Indian Orion is also met with under the sign of Seuci (Tupi), Ceiguce (Amazonia), though it cannot be said that the idea can solely be ascribed to the Tupi. The myth tells how a girl of the kindred Uaupe race (Tariana or Temiana) flees her village in order to escape from the local marriage customs and enters the house of a Yacami chief who takes her to wife. She brings forth two eggs, from which a boy and girl are hatched, both ornamented with stars. The girl, decked with seven stars, is Seuci; the boy, Pinon, is girdled with a star-serpent, and perhaps Orion's belt. The children return home with their mother, where the boy secures recognition by the performance of prodigies, such as the slinging of giant stones.



Myths of death are obviously ætiological—that is, manufactured ad hoc, to account for death, usually regarded by primitive peoples as an unnatural event, due to magic or the breaking of a taboo or the neglect of some ritual act. Thus death was let loose upon the world by the breaking of the taboo or prohibition which had been placed upon the opening of Pandora's box. The apple myth of Adam and Eve bears similar evidences of the idea of taboo. An Australian myth recounts how a woman approaches a forbidden tree and thus meets her doom. Several myths relate how death came into the world through the agency of Night—obviously a connexion of mortality with the phenomenon of sleep. Thus a Polynesian myth tells how Mani tried to pass through Night, but a little bird sang and awakened the night-monster, who ate Mani up. In Southern India it is believed that "the death-snake bites while God sleeps." A Central African story tells that when sleep was unknown in the world a woman offered to teach a man how to sleep. She held her victim's nostrils so hard that he could not breathe, but died.

Taboo myths of importance are not so numerous as might be supposed. Perhaps the chief is the tale of Cupid and Psyche. In its later form the bride was forbidden to look upon her husband, but her curiosity overcame her fear and she beheld his face, with dire results. This myth is, of course, a legacy from an age when for various reasons it was taboo for a woman to see her husband for some time after her marriage, just as it is to-day among certain African peoples, the 'reasons' being to neutralize the dangers supposed to be attendant upon the matrimonial state. Akin to this is the name-taboo, found in the story of Lohengrin, whose bride is not permitted to ask the name and rank of her lord and master, the reason being that the real name, like the soul, is part of one's personality and that it is dangerous for any other person to know it, a pseudo-name being commonly employed among many savage races. Thus, if the names of certain evilly disposed supernatural beings are known and pronounced their power disappears, as in the well-known stories of Tom-tit-tot and Rumplestiltskin.



It has been thought that such dismemberment myths as those of Osiris, Dionysus, and Demeter, the Algonquin Lox, and the Polynesian Tangoroa have their origin in a primitive custom, the dismemberment of a human victim, who was buried in the corn-fields and supposed to renew his life in the harvest following his burial. It is considered that such a practice gave birth to the myth of Osiris in Egypt and became symbolic of resurrection. The practice is probably connected in some manner with the almost universal savage custom of preserving the bones of the dead for the owner, who at some future period will desire to claim them.



Dualism is the belief in opposing good and evil deities, and is found in connexion (1) with such peoples as have advanced[Pg 144] far on the path of theological thought and progress, (2) with races whose original beliefs have been sophisticated by those of more civilized peoples. A good example of the first is the widely known Persian myth of Ormuzd and Ahriman. The second class is well illustrated by the myth of Joskeha and Tawiscara, already alluded to in dealing with sophisticated myths.



The following tables have been compiled for the purpose of bringing together the most important types of myth and indicating their geographical incidence. It is not pretended that these are in any way exhaustive, but much care has been taken in their compilation and it is hoped that they will assist the student of myth as a ready reference to parallels.




Zeus, Poseidon, Pluto, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia, children of Cronus. All but Zeus were swallowed by their father when infants and all disgorged by him at one time full grown.

Perseus, son of Zeus and Danaë.

The Dioscuri (Zeus visits their mother Leda as a swan).


Agni, both son and father of the gods—son of Heaven and earth—begotten by the sky, the clouds, and the dawn—born among men, in Heaven and in the waters.

Algonquins. Manibozho, born of a virgin.

Hurons. Joskeha, born of a virgin.

Mexicans. Quetzalcoatl, born of a virgin; Uitzilopochtli (ball of feathers falls from heaven into his mother's breast).

Peruvians. Viracocha, born of a virgin.

Thlinkeets (N.W. America). Yetl's mother by advice of friendly dolphin swallows pebble and sea-water.

Uapès (Brazil). Jurapari (his mother drinks fermented liquor).



Beasts and birds are credited with divine or semi-divine attributes.


Io as a cow chased into Egypt by gad-fly sent by Hera.[Pg 145] Amphitryon chases the Cadmean fox with the Athenian dog. Bellerophon slays the Chimæra with the help of Pegasus. The Centaurs.

Caribs (Antilles). The ibis.

Chinooks (Colombia River). Blue Jay.

Aschochimi Indians (California). The coyote.

Thlinkeet Indians. Yetl the raven.

Australians. Pund-jel the eagle-hawk.

Ahts Indians (Vancouver Island). Tootah, the thunder-bird, universal mother.

Banks Islanders. Marawa the spider.

Tinneh or Déné Indians (Hare-skins). Miraculous dog is creator.



(the good god combating the bad god). This idea is very general, being found practically all over the world. The creator of all good things is constantly thwarted by the evil spirit or principle, who, for every good and beautiful thing that the beneficent god makes, produces a corresponding evil.


Osiris and Set or Apep. Ra (light and goodness) and Apep (darkness and evil).

Babylonians. Merodach and Tiawath.

Persians. Ormuzd and Ahriman.


Zeus and Typhon.
Apollo and Python.
Perseus and the Gorgon.

Teutons (Scandinavia).

Thor and Loki.
Sigurd and Fafnir.

Hindus. Indra and Ahi or Vritra.

Hottentots. Gaunab (bad) and Tsui-Goab (good).

Algonquin Indians.

Michabo or Manibozho and the prince of serpents.
Great Manitou, whose heart is the sun, made men.
His wife, the moon, brought disease and death to the race.
Glooskap and Malsum.

Huron Indians. Joskeha and Tawiscara.

Incas (Peru). Piguerão (day) and Apocatequil (night).

Iroquois Indians. Enigorio and Enigohatgea (Good Mind and Bad Mind).

Thlinkeet Indians. Yetl and Khanukh.

Tupi-Guarani (Brazil). Aricoute (darkness) and Tamandare (light).

Australians. Pund-jel, the eagle-hawk (good) and the Crow (bad).

Pentecost Islanders. Tagar (good) and Suque (bad).

Banks Islanders. Qat and Tangaro Lologong (the Fool).



In which a god or demigod is torn to pieces and the parts widely scattered and afterward collected.

Egyptians. Osiris and Isis.


Orpheus and Eurydice.
Dionysus and Demeter.
Medea and Pelias.

Finns (Kalevala epic). Lemminkainen and his mother.

Rumanians. Frounse Werdye and Holy Mother Sunday.

Russians. Morevna and Koshchei.

Bushmen. Moon cut down by sun; piece left grows.

Algonquins. The demon Lox.

Caribs. Story of their ancestor.

Dindje. Crow killed by the Navigator.

Pawnee Indians. Pa-hu-ka-tawa.

Zuñi Indians. Woman beloved by the sun becomes the mother of twins.

Madagascar. Ibonia, joiner together and life-giver.

Polynesians. Tangaroa and Mani.



In these there is nearly always a vast world of waters, over which broods the creative agency, who by a spoken word, force of thought (will-power), or by sheer physical labour creates the earth, or, more often, raises it from the midst of the watery abyss.

Babylonians. Bel or Merodach forms Heaven and earth from the two halves of the body of Tiawath.

Persians. Ormuzd (Ahura Mazda), father and creator.

Greeks. Uranus (Heaven-Father) and Gæa (Earth-Mother) beget all things.

Teutons (Scandinavia). Ginnungagap, the gulf existent. World made from body of the giant Ymir.

Finns (Kalevala epic). Eagle hatches the land.

Hindus. Brahma, in his avatar as the boar, raised the earth on his tusks from out the waters and then began his work of creating.

Japanese. Izanagi and Izanami (creative pair).

Bushmen. Cagn (the praying mantis) created the world.

Zulus. Unkulunkulu (the great ancestor-creator).

Ahts Indians (Vancouver Island). Quawteaht was the 'framer of all things.'

Algonquin Indians. Michabo or Manibozho, the Great Hare, creates all things.

Arawaks (Guiana). Aluberi (from Alin 'He who makes').

Athapascan Indians. Yetl, the omnipotent raven, descended to the ocean from Heaven, and the earth rose.

Incas (Peru). Ataguju is creator of all things.

Iroquois Indians. Divine woman falls on turtle (earth).

Mexicans. Tonacatecutli breathes and divides the waters of the heavens and earth.

Navaho Indians. Ahsonnatli 'the Turquoise Hermaphrodite' creates Heaven and earth.

Oregon Indians. Coyote is creator.

Peruvians. Mama-cocha (the whale), 'Mother Sea,' was the mother of mankind.

Pawnees. Ti-ra-wa or A-ti-us (Atius Tirawa) is creator.

Papagos Indians (Gulf of California). Coyote or prairie-wolf acts as creator.

Kiche Indians. Nothing but the sea and sky, stillness and darkness. Nothing but the Maker and Moulder, the Hurler, the Bird-serpent. Under sea, covered with green feathers, slept the mothers and the fathers. Hurakan passes over the abyss, calls "Earth," and land appears.

Tacullies (British Columbia). Say earth is mud spat out of mouth of a pre-existing musk-rat.

Tinneh or Déné Indians. The dog is creator.

Tzentals (Chiapas). Alaghom or Iztat Ix, she who brings forth Mind—the mother of Wisdom—creatrix of the mental or immaterial part of nature.

Zuñi Indians (New Mexico). Awonawilona creates the world.



These are closely allied to the creation myths. Man is usually made out of clay or the 'dust of the earth' by a supernatural being, who sometimes moistens the clay with his or her own blood or sweat, and imparts to it 'the breath of life.' There is sometimes a prior creation of wooden men, who are found wanting.

Greeks. Prometheus makes man and woman, Deucalion and Pyrrha.

Hindus. Brahma or Prajapati makes man.

American Indians (generally). Man is evolved from coyotes, beavers, apes, or issued from caves.

Aztecs. After the destruction of the world Xolotl descends to Mictlan and brings a bone of the perished race. The gods sprinkle this with blood and from it emerge the progenitors of the present race.

Hurons. Joskeha makes men.

Karaya Indians (Brazil). Kaboi led their ancestors from the Underworld.

Peruvians. Apocatequil digs up men from the Underworld with a golden spade.

Kiches (Central America). The gods in council create man. At first they make wooden men, the remainder of whom turn into monkeys. They then create the present race from yellow and white maize.

Zuñi Indians. Janauluha leads men from the Underworld to the world of day.

Bushmen. Men came out of a cave.

Zulus. Men came out of beds of reeds.

Australians. Pund-jel makes two men from clay, one with straight and one with curly hair (bark). He dances round them and breathes life into them.

Australians (Dyiere). Men came out of wattle-gum tree.

Maoris (New Zealand). Tiki makes man of clay.

Polynesians (Mangaians). The woman of the abyss makes man by tearing from her right side a piece of flesh, which becomes Vatea, father of gods and men.

Melanesians. Qat makes man.



Babylonians. Story of Sargon.

Hebrews. Story of Moses.


Perseus, son of Danaë. His father Zeus descended in a shower of golden rain.

Heracles, son of Zeus, who deceives the mother of Heracles by pretending to be Amphitryon, her absent husband.

Romans. Story of Romulus.

Celts. Sagas and romances of Arthur, Merlin, and Beowulf.

Indians. Saga of Rama, in Ramayana.

Mexicans. Uitzilopochtli, myth of his birth.

Kiches. Hun-Apu and Xbalanque in the Popol Vuh.

Peruvians. Ataguju, the creator, begets Guamansuri, who seduces a woman, who gives birth to two eggs. From these emerged Apocatequil and Piguerão. Apocatequil was prince of evil and the most respected hero of the Peruvians.



In which a supernatural being—usually a bird—steals fire from Heaven and brings it to earth for the benefit of mankind.

Greeks. Prometheus.

Vedas. Matarisvan.

Bretons. Golden-crested wren.

Normandy Peasantry. The wren.

Ahts Indians (Vancouver Island). Quawteaht.

Athapascan Indians (N.W. America). Yetl the raven.

Cahrocs and Navaho Indians. The coyote.

Murri Tribe (Gippsland, Australia). Man who became a bird.

Thlinkeets (N.W. America). Yetl the raven.

New Zealanders. Mani.

Andaman Islanders. A bird.



A god or culture-hero teaches man the useful arts. The outstanding figures in such myths are:

Egyptians. Osiris.
Babylonians. Oannes.
Greeks. Prometheus, Bacchus, Cadmus.
Celts (Irish). Nuada of the Silver Hand.
Teutons (Scandinavia). Wieland the Smith.
Japanese. Okikurimi.
Bushmen (South Africa). Cagn.
Zulus. Unkulunkulu.
Algonquins. Michabo or Manibozho.
Antis Indians (Brazil). Son of Ulé.
Arawaks. Kamu.
Carayas. Kaboi.
Caribs. Tamu (grandfather).
Cherokees. Wasi.
Chiapas. Votan.
Hurons. Joskeha.
Maya (Yucatan). Itzamna, Kukulcan.
Mexicans. Quetzalcoatl.
Orinoco Tribes. Amalivaca.
Paraguayans. Zumé.
Peruvians. Manco Ccapac; Viracocha arises from the depths
of Lake Titicaca on a civilizing mission.
Toltecs. Hueymactzin.
Australians. Pund-jel.
Melanesians. Qat.



Myths which relate the existence of, origin of, and necessity for certain taboos or forbidden things.

Hebrews. Adam, Eve, and the eating of the apple.


The myth of Cupid and Psyche.
Actæon turned into a stag for observing Artemis when

Teutons (Scandinavia). Lohengrin and Elsa (name taboo).

Ningphos (Bengal). Think they became mortal by bathing in tabooed water.

Australians. Death introduced by woman going to tabooed tree.



To account for death, regarded by some savage races as unnatural. Usually some custom or taboo is supposed to have been broken, or some ritual neglected[Pg 151] or mismanaged, and death has followed. The reasons given by the different races are as follows:

Greeks. Death comes from lifting cover off Pandora's box.

Hindus. Yama is pioneer to the Otherworld.

Southern India. Death (snake) bites men while God sleeps. God makes dog drive away snake; thus dogs howl at approach of death.

Ningphos (Bengal). Think they became mortal through bathing in tabooed water.

Bushmen. The mother of the little hare is dead. The moon strikes the hare on its lip, splitting it in two, and tells it that its mother is really dead and will not live again as the moon does.

Hottentots. The moon sends the hare to men to tell them that they will live again as he (the moon) does, but the hare forgets the message and tells men that they will surely die, for which mistake the moon burns a hole in his lip.

Namaquas. The hare and the moon's mother.

Central Africans. Sleep unknown; woman offers to teach man how to sleep; holds his nostrils; man never wakes; dying made easy.

Hurons. Atænsic (the moon) destroys the living,

Australians. Woman goes near a forbidden tree.

New Zealand. Mani was not properly baptized.

Fiji Islanders. The moon desired that men should die and live again like herself, but the rat opposed this, and so men die as rats do.

Polynesians. Mani tries to pass through Night, a little bird sings, night awakes, snaps up Mani, and "so men die."

Banks Islanders. Qat, Mate, Panoi, and Tangaro the Fool. Tangaro the Fool is set to watch the path taken by Death, that men may avoid it, but makes the mistake of pointing to men the path to Hades as that of the path of the upper world. So men have, perforce, to follow this road to Panoi and the dead.

Pentecost Islanders. Tagar makes man die for live days only and live again, but Suque causes them to die for ever.

Solomon Islanders. Koevari resumes cast-off skin.



(1) In which the idea is found that a person's life, heart, or soul may be separated from him as a[Pg 152] life-token or life-index, and that so long as this is kept safe or remains concealed, its owner is immortal. (2) Other myths dealing with the passage of the soul to the Otherworld.

Egyptians. Story of the two brothers.

Hebrews. Samson and Delilah.


Meleager and the firebrand.
Misus, King of Megara, and his purple hair.
Souls ferried across the Styx by Charon.

Romans. Silvia and the son of Mars.

Yorkshiremen. 'Brig o'Dread, nae braider than a thread.'

Mohammedans. Reach Paradise across bridge composed of a single hair.

Cingalese. Story of Thossakin, King of Ceylon, who kept his soul in a box when he went to war with Rama.

Ainu (Japan). The 'inao.'

Tinneh or Déné Indians. Etwa-eke and his stone hatchet.

Malays. Tree-trunk across boiling lake to 'Island of Fruits.'

Eskimos. Kujanguak and his life-lock (hair).

Universal. Belief in birth-trees.



In which the world is destroyed by fire.

Romans. Seneca (see Natur. Questiones, iii, cap. 27).

Hebrews. Bible belief.

Teutons (Scandinavia). The "Völuspá": "The sun shall grow dark, the land sink in the waters, the bright stars be quenched, and high flames climb Heaven itself."

Algonquins. Michabo will stamp his foot, flames will devour the earth and only a chosen few (probably one pair) be left to re-people the new earth.

Arawaks (Guiana and N. Brazil). Aimon Kondi.

Aztecs. Extinguished every fire on last night of each cycle of fifty-two years. Then priests made new fire by friction. If this failed the end of the world had come.

Maya. World to be destroyed by ravening fire and the gods with it.

Peruvians. Amantas taught that some day an eclipse would veil the sun for ever, and earth, moon, and stars be wrapped in devouring flame.

Tupi-Guarani (Brazil). Monan, Irin Magé.



A great deluge in which Heaven or the earth or both Heaven and earth are submerged in water and all living things drowned with the exception of one individual or family favoured by the god or gods.

Egyptians. Tem, Temu, Atem, Atmu.
Babylonians. Ut-Napishtim, the Babylonian Noah.
Hebrews. Noah.
Persians. Yima.
Greeks. Deucalion and Pyrrha.
Teutons (Scandinavia). Bergelmir and Ymir.
Hindus. Manu, son of the sun-god Vivasvat.
Ahts Indians (Vancouver Island). Wispohahp.
Algonquin Indians. Michabo or Manibozho.
Antis Indians (Brazil). Yurukares.
Arawaks. Sigu, Marerewana.
Aschochimi Indians (California). Coyote.
Caribs (Antilles). The ibis.
Hare Indians. Kunyan 'the intelligent,'
Mexicans. Atonatiuh (the Water-Sun) descends upon the earth.
Muyscas (Bogota). Chia or Chin, the moon, floods earth out of spite.
Peruvians. Re-creation after deluge at Tiahuanaco.
Tupi-Guarani (Brazil), Monan, Irin Magé.


(the celestial garden of God).


Country or Race Place of Reward

Egyptians Aalu

Persians Alburz

Greeks The Elysian Fields

Romans The Fortunate Isles

Celts The Otherworld beyond or beneath the sea. Tir-nan-og, Avalon, etc.

Teutons (Scandinavia) Valhalla

Vedas Agni (or Pushan) conducts the souls to the abodes of bliss

Buddhists Nirvana

American Indians Happy hunting grounds (generally)

Aztecs Tlalocan 'the east, the terrestrial Paradise.' Tamoanchan, in the west

Caribs Braves feast in happy islands served by Arawak slaves

Tonga Islanders Island Paradise of Bolotu



Country or Race Name of place of punishment Name of presiding Deity or Deities

Egyptians Amenti Osiris

Babylonians Sheol or Aralu Allatu or Nergal

Greeks Tartarus, Hades Pluto and Persephone

Celts Annwn

Teutons (Scandinavia) Hel Hel

Ladaks (Tibet border) Bad men become marmots

Japanese Land of Yomi Eruma-o

Caribs 'Bad' men (i.e. cowards) become slaves to Arawaks in barren land beyond the mountains

Gallinomero, 'Bad' men become Californian Indians Coyotes

Guatemalans (Kiches) XibalbaHun - Came and Vucub-Came

Mexicans MictlanM ictlantecutli and Mictecaciuatl

Peruvians Çupay



Egyptians. Osiris.

Babylonians. Descent of Ishtar through the Underworld.


Orpheus and Eurydice.
Persephone and Pluto.
The punishment of the Danaides.
Alcestis is allowed to return from the Underworld.
Bacchus brings his mother Semele from the Underworld to Olympus.

Medieval Britain. The Harrying of Hell.

Japanese. Izanagi descends into Hades in search of his wife Izanami.

Chinooks (N.W. America). Blue Jay in the Supernatural Country.

Kiches of Guatemala. Adventures of Hun-Apu and Xbalanque in the Popol Vuh.



An individual 'dies' or is kidnapped, proceeds to the Otherworld, and, having partaken of the food there, is unable to return to earth.

Babylonians. Adapa loses his chance of becoming immortal by refusing the food and drink of life offered him by Anu, as he feared it was the food of the dead of which he had been warned by his father Ea.

Greeks. Persephone.

Finns. In the Kalevala.

Chinooks (North American Indians, N.W. coast). Found in shamanistic practice.



The principal figures in sun myths are the following:

Egyptians. Ra and Horus.
Accadians. Amar-utuki or Amar-uduk.
Babylonians. Merodach and Shamash.
Greeks. Apollo (Helios) and Phaethon.
Celts. Lug.
Hindus, Agni.
Aztecs. Piltzintecutli.



These are closely associated with flood myths. In many of the Indian myths deluges are said to have been caused by the moon falling on the earth. She is nearly always held to be the goddess of water, dampness, dews, rain, and fogs. Moon and water are both mythical mothers of the human race.

Egyptians. Isis. All maladies were traced to her anger.
Babylonians. Sin, the moon-god.
Greeks. Selene.
Romans. Diana or Luna.
Algonguins. Moon, night, death, cold, sleep, and water (same word).
Aztecs. Constantly confounded Citatli and Atl (moon and water). Painted moon two colours—beneficent dispenser of harvests and offspring, goddess of night, dampness, cold, ague, miasma, and sleep; the twin of Death. Also known as Metztli, Yohualticitl, or Teciztecatl.
Brazilian Indians. Mothers shield infants from rays which are said to cause sickness.
Hidatsa. Midi is both moon and water.
Hurons. Atænsic is the moon (also water).
Muyscas. Chia the moon floods earth out of spite.
Peruvians. Mama Quilla.
Bushmen. Sun cuts moon down by degrees, but leaves a piece from which a new complete moon grows, and so on.



In both primitive and later myths the stars are metamorphosed men, women, or beasts; in some cases ancestors, in others gods. The belief that the good at death become stars is very widely spread.

Egyptians. Plutarch was shown Isis and Osiris in the sky.
Babylonians. Many gods are represented by stars. Babylonian
astrology favoured the evolution of gods into planets.
Greeks. The Pleiades are young girls.
Castor and Pollux are young men.
Hindus. Prajapati and his daughter become constellations.
Bushmen. Metamorphosed men.
American (Chinook Indians, N.W. Coast). Aqas Xenas Xena.
Indians (North American). Ursa Major is a bear.
Mexicans. Quetzalcoatl becomes a planet—our Venus.
Peruvians. Beasts, anthropomorphic gods, and stars are
confounded together.
Eskimos. Regard stars as ancestors.
**Australians. The Pleiades are young girls.**



(ætiological myths), such as the general belief that water is the mother of all things. This accounts for sacred fountains, lakes, and rivers, baptism, etc. A few examples only can be given.

Greeks. Myth of Dionysus and Pentheus, to explain festival of the former. See Euripides, The Bacchæ.

A-Kikuyus (Bantu tribe, E. Africa). To explain sacrifices to Ngai (rain-god).

Todas (Southern India). To explain why the sacred dairyman sacrifices calf to Notirzi.

Blackfeet Indians. To explain sun-dance.

Pawnee Indians. To explain skull-dance, buffalo-dance, bear-dance (dramatized myths).

Wiradthuri tribes (Australia). Dhuramoolun and the bull-roarer.

Almost universal. Belief in ghosts accounts for funeral rites to prevent ghosts' return.




Source:  Lewis Spence, An Introduction to Mythology


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