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A Short History of Myth.

Karen Armstrong. A Short History of Myth. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005.

What are myths? How have they evolved? Do we still need them? This book explores these questions in a concise and lucid way.

Myths have always been used to help people accept their mortality and to provide courage to change and grow. In the Paleolithic Age, myths were used to help hunters go beyond their guilt of having to kill living creatures like themselves. In the Neolithic Era, myths became associated with climate and soil conditions. When early civilizations developed, and cities formed, myths helped people to structure meaningful existences in new social circumstances.

The Axial Age (800-200 BCE) marked the beginnings of the religious era as we know it. Confucianism and Taoism developed in China, Buddhism and Hinduism grew in India, and monotheism advanced in the Middle East. A commonality that these philosophies had was a new concern for individual conscience and morality, a concern that tried to address a gulf that was beginning to separate mortals from their gods.

In the Post-Axial Period, 200 BCE-1500 CE, humans still relied on Axial-Age mythological insights. However, when the Roman Empire fell in the West, Saint Augustine developed the myth of Original Sin. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Christians rediscovered the works of Aristotle and Plato, which had been lost to them during the Dark Ages.

The Great Western Transformation, 1500-2000, revolved around a new outlook--a pragmatic, scientific spirit. Western people began to look forward rather than backward. Copernicus, Bacon, and Newton pushed science ahead. Darwin with his theory of evolution went against the cosmogony of Genesis and Marx argued that religion was a symbol of a sick society. Nietzsche declared God dead.

In the twenty-first century, we live in a highly demythologized world, unprecedented in the history of our species. Can people maintain a sense of compassion and veneration for our planet's resources in such spiritual circumstances? Time will tell.

REVIEW BY MARTIN H. LEVINSON, PHD
COPYRIGHT 2007 Institute of General Semantics
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Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Apr 1, 2007
Words:327
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