Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in society, such as foundational tales.
We all know the basic mythology that we use in writing but each culture has different lore, some that can offer different types of stories, fables, myths, and gods to play within our writing.
If you are looking for something besides the typical Greek-Roman or Egyptian gods to put into your modern myth, here are some great alternatives that you might want to consider diving into:
Slavic ( x )
These are what I would call “The old gods” but really aren’t they all old? Slavic people are of eastern European descent though they are typically divided into Eastern Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians), Western Slavs (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Lusatians) and Southern Slavs (Bosnians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, and Bulgars). Needless to say that these three groups have a lot in common when it comes to their mythology (Seeing as how myths were passed around) but also a lot of individual details to their myth. Sadly the first mention of them isn’t until the 6th century and there is a lack of cultural relics to look back on. Even the reference to them and anything recorded was made by Christian hands, leaving it vastly open to interpretation.
Since so much of American myth is imported, we tend to forget about this one. But native American folk lure is absolutely fascinating and can give you a huge idea as to how some fables that we imported transformed into what they became from their home roots. Again few Native American myths were written down before the 19th century, and many different groups of Native American peoples had differences in their myths, there seems to be an overarching certainty of a single extreme life force that expresses itself through all of the creatures in the universe. Unlike any folklores, Native American tales seemed to be more focused on ordinary people- thus making ordinary people and animals the divine.
Japanese Folk Tales are absolutely lovely as they are becoming fashionable again, as are many of the practices of building altars whether its the healer Yakushi Nyorai or the more well-known Budda. One of the wonderful things about using Japanese folklore in writing and just exploring it, in general, is that there is a very real sense of the spectacularly leaking into the every day. Japanese folklore is also riddled with mythical creatures and the embodiments of moral principles.
Heathen is what we would often associate with “Paganism” (though this term isn’t accurate as Christain Romans referred to all nonchristian religions as Pagan. However, for the purpose of this, I am referring to the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples that were encountered and practiced Old Norse religions. The cosmos in Norse mythology consists of Nine Worlds that flank a central cosmological tree, Yggdrasil. Many of us know the names of Odin and Thor, popularized by Modern movies but there is so much more to these myths then that and because Norse people had proto-English many of the texts and fables were translated by monks. But if you feel comfortable after further study, I wouldn’t mind hearing a story told by a Völva!
One of my favorite hybrid religions (syncretic mixture) of Roman Catholic beliefs from the French colonial periods and a mixture of African religions including Dahomey, Kongo (No longer exists as a country) and Yoruba. Like the saints or angels in the Catholic religion, the Loa are spirits that interact with people to bring them closer to one monotheistic god (The Bondye). Songs and dance are used in rituals lead by a priestess to invoke the Loa. Here is a list of them that can give some great inspiration for interaction.
Reincarnation. Need I say more? I probably dont and that probably set off a whole list of ideas for anyone with a creative mind. But I’ll say more anyway because there is always so much more to a religion then we see on the surface. Hindi is wonderful because there is so much to work with. Along with a wide range of gods, it explores the orgins of the cosmos and many other topics that we think about during world building. There are a huge amount of sources including Ramayana Mahabharata and the 9 Puranas.
West Africa and Central Africa are highly important for multiple reasons. Some of our oldest texts come from libraries in Ethiopia and Timbuctoo. This section focuses on sub-Saharan sections of Africa because one I do not consider Egyptian myth as underused as some other myth from this continent and two because of the dissemination of this religion through….well let’s just say nonvoluntary means. But it is this group that had their folklore travel to places like Haiti (Vodun as we discussed), the Caribbean (Santeria) and Brazil (Candomblè). Bantu folklore is an overarching term for many different groups (Literally hundreds) but they also have overarching themes such as the chameleon, the fact that there is one supreme god and the fact that the dead play a large role in the world of the living, hanging around to influence it after their mortal death. This is also where many believe the myth about mirrors and spirits to have originated.
This one here is a particularly mythology that stretches all over the globe, making it absolutely a must have for anyone that likes cross-cultural mythology or fables. I’m talking Maylasian, Native American, African, Central American, Japanese, Serbian…. you name it, a cultural probably has mention of the entire universe being connected. Shamanism is the practice of harnessing that power to heal and enlighten.
Christianity, Judaism and Islam
I know that it might seem a bit odd to write about these still very VERY relevant religions and while I am trying not to be insulting here and do not by any means want to say that anyone is wrong in their beliefs. I would encourage people to take a look at the theology of these religions and not be afraid to use them in your writing. They are thick with prose that can inspire. I was raised Catholic and understand the power of the ritual. Because of that I feel a deep connection to all of these prose and let me tell you, Islamic and Hebrew tales are ridiculously overlooked. I personally have a fascination with the Hebrew tales of Gollums, Leviathans, and other creatures.
is the combining of different beliefs while blending practices of various schools of thought. Haitian like we talked about is one of these but let’s not forget the blending of the myths of the different immigrate populations when they migrated to American, the Christain influences on Islam, the blending of Christianity with Norse and Celtic Mythology in Europe and the Modernization of Judaism. All of these are hybrids of each other.
Let’s not forget modern myth in our stories either-all hail Neil Gaiman for his genius American Gods rendition. But that’s not all that Neil did. No looking at many of his books you can see a modern myth in the pages. Books like “The Grave Yard Book” is directly (in his words) from The Jungle Book. There are so many stories that we tell now that we think are set in stone. But all of the cultures above considered their theology set in stone too (And some still do-modern religions included). Don’t be afraid to take a deeper look at your favorite stories, fables, and theologies to see where they came from. A rich cultural tapestry is not limited to the past but to the present stories that we present as moral foundations.
Disclaimer: I, as a writer, respect all of these theologies and apologies if anyone reading this feels offended. Every culture has a rich cultural heritage and should be treated with the utmost respect regardless of what your personal religious views are.
What are some of your favorite underutilized myths to use or that you would like to see more of in writing/ storytelling?