Tag Archives: mythology

Tools for Creating Your Own Mythology

In yesterday’s post we asked if it was possible to create mythology and why, as writers, we need to. In this post, I’ll talk about some of the tools I use to build mythology.

The truth is that our rational minds want to and need to rationalize what we cannot control. We need to make sense of the paradoxes and the unexplainable. It doesn’t need to be far out – it can be based on pagan principles (survivalist on Maslow’s hierarchy*), technological environment (Robert J Sawyer’s trilogy, Wake, Watch, and Wonder in which hte world wide web wakes up. Although doesn’t tackle the question of myth creation directly, it makes a good case for a developing a myth based in technology). In a world of proto-people, vampires, werewolves, zombies, revenants and the rest, how do your characters view their own origins and existence? How do the humans view them? Are these proto-people like mythological figures to the humans?

The starting point is to look at the geography, the world that your characters inhabit. Is it a harsh environment like the poseidonpolar ice cap, low gravity of mars, void like the moon, rich and abundant like Tolkein’s Middle Earth, or is it an urban setting on modern? Whether it’s an alien on/from another planet, ancient peoples, futuristic people on space ships, a post apocalyptic world (in Hunger Games they lived with the mythology, the “gods’ who determined whether they were chosen to die) you need to know your environment and then determine how your characters will respond to it.

So, what challenges will your protagonist face based on where she lives? How does her environment affect her and those around her? Most importantly, how does she make sense of what is happening around her? In my current work, a fantasy with historical overtures, the ancient civilization lives on a volcanic island. Rules, conduct, religious practices are all based on keeping the God of Thundering Mountain happy so he doesn’t erupt. When He rumbles, then the Magic Master is in trouble. Throw in the Earth Mother and her goddesses who have been upset since the God of Thundering Mountain arrived. Now the world is rife with possibilities. Of course, we don’t get to see the God and Goddesses interact, we know the tension exists between them through the interactions of the High Priestess who serves the goddesses and the Magic Master who serves the god. Throw in some commerce-based political drama, a murder and a foreign kidnapping and all actions in this new mythological background are bound to blow up – literally and figuratively … especially when we learn that the God wants to be incarnate so he can walk the world and rule it.

So you can see how this mythology developed from the environment. First, by determining the geography, the time period and the level of technology. Then there’s the interpretation of that world by its inhabitants which then determines how people act and react. But let’s talk about technology for a moment. In the time period I’m working in, 2000 BC on Crete, archaeologists discovered that the Minoans had developed some basic, actually very sophisticated, astronomy.

The cool thing is that the constellation we know as Orion’s Belt, was known to them as the Double Headed Axe. That’s all we know about it – not even why they saw it that way. Isn’t that the most exciting piece of information a writer can have? I mean, it’s the perfect symbol in the book! When it pops up, all sorts of things are going to happen! And, I’ve even mentioned that for one character, the double axe looks like it’s slung on a belt. That modern reference draws the astute reader further into the mythology because there is now a ring of truth, a familiarity to it. So even basic technology and information can tell us a lot about how people interpreted their world and how they would have reacted. Most importantly, it can help us create that mythology with a deeper meaning rooted in basic survival.

The thing to watch for is not to assume that the current value systems we hold, religious, political, economic and law enforcement systems we adhere to are the same for the characters in your book. If they are, that makes for safe, dull writing unless you’re writing a great emotional drama in that specific environment. The purpose of writing is to entertain, to challenge readers with new thoughts and perspectives. Readers want to understand and experience the world you are delivering. Even if it is set in modern day, they want to read about those who rightly or wrongly challenged the status quo, became the hero, went on an epic journey mentally and physically. And the easiest way, to my mind, is to do that by developing a new mythology for that makes it a fun and safe way to deal with paradoxes.

I’ll share one more tidbit with you. On Minoan Crete, they had tholos tombs where bodies were put to rot before the bones were placed in pithos jars. Cool, eh! So the basic questions are, why? What did this mean? How does it relate to their world view and what’s happening? My answer was that the Earth Mother, who helped give them life needed to feast on the flesh of her children to welcome them back into her womb and her world. The bones remained so people would remember their connection to their ancestors and the Earth Mother. What’s your interpretation? Go, delve into the world you’re creating. Look closely through the eyes of your characters and let them tell you how they see it. You never know what great mythology lies in that first inkling of an idea!

*for more information on Maslow’s check out my post: http://www.fictorians.com/2011/10/17/valuing-your-characters-or-maslow-for-writers/

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Just a small reminder to not forget about Monique Bucheger’s Book Bomb today! You can now get 30 ebooks by participating, 19 free and 11 at $.99. Go to Moniquebucheger.blogspot.com for full details.

Creating Your Own Mythology

Creating your own mythology – how cool! And loads of fun! We write in an era where readers embrace modern and new myth. When Bram Stoker penned Dracula, he took an obscure legend, gave it its own rules and a new mythology was born. Today, we understand the social action and values for vampires, werewolves and zombies. This is newly created mythology has been embraced by generations of readers. In Tolkien’s books, the fantasy world received a new mythology Middle Earth and that lore, that mythology, is still embraced by people today.

There are those who argue that because myth is defined as being of the distant past, that it has its own cultural criteria Zeusand that it requires organic growth in a culture, that it can’t be instantly created. Humbug! Myth is a way for people to reconcile the paradoxes of life – the things that don’t make sense to us. How was life created? How do the gods and people interact? What are the rules for interaction? Apply it to everyday life and we can call it religion. Apply it to books and we call it world building.

And perhaps that is the difference – scholars will argue that because what writers create isn’t part of the everyday, ordinary belief systems for people, then it isn’t legitimate myth. But who draws that line? Who determines when an idea crosses that line? And does it matter? Is it any less compelling? I think not. We no longer believe in the Greek Pantheon of gods yet they’re as popular as ever in literature like in Rick Riordon’s Percy Jackson and the Olympian’s series. Do we have to believe in those specific gods for the mythology to be relevant, to explain creation, our relationship with the world, our struggle with life’s paradoxes and our need to have legitimate heroes to inspire us? Not at all. When we delve into other people’s belief systems, we challenge and enrich our own. We discover new ways to escape and to solve problems.

Mythology creates rules. How do heroes, people and proto-people (vampires, werewolves and the like) behave? What kills them (silver bullets, kryptonite or a stake through the heart)? Who are the gods, and what are their rules? How did creation happen and what happens after death? Why are their problems? Can man solve them or is he powerless?

We’ve established that not only can we create new mythology we must do it to explain the rules of the new worlds we’ve created. And many myths born of ancient legends and modern science are being created and believed by people (no judgements here). This is the mythology of ancient aliens coming to earth for their own purposes and seeding mankind (biologically and technologically). It is all a way to rationalize, to understand our history, what makes us human and to explain the anomalies and paradoxes of who we are and where we’ve come from.

And where will the next new mythology arise? The future. Outer space, I think. With the newly emerged and proven theories of space and time and the universe expanding faster and faster (not more slowly as some would believe) to end up in a black hole that swallows it entirely – like how do we explain that? Mythology, that’s how. A futuristic mythology born of predicted apocalyptic events. How cool would that be?

In creating the mythology for my books, I look closely at the world I’ve built along with the premise of the story. Mythology is about explaining how things came to be. Why they are the way they are. Why people believe as they do. It’s answering these questions that makes a world unique and believable. In one series, I asked what makes this one item so valuable? Why is it such a threat? How did it get where it is? What happens now that it’s been loosed upon the world? What do people believe about the item and their power to change destiny?

In the historically-based fantasy series I’m currently working on, the creation and afterlife myths mythology are crucial to how this world acts. The problem is, there is very little information about societal beliefs for the time period I’ve chosen to write about and I’ve been scouring academic journals for months. And that, for a writer, is perfect! From minute tidbits of factual information on tools, trade and astronomy, I’ve got just enough information to ground the story in history yet enough leeway to create a whole new mythology as to why things were done the way they were. This has forced me to really see the world through my characters’ eyes and in doing so, their actions and reactions have a genuine truth. And in doing that, the story has become so real, so alive and so fascinating!

You can take more modern or current historical events such as the decay of an empire, an evil despot trying to conquer the world, invading armies, geological tragedies, interpersonal tragedies, whatever you wish – take these larger events and change the details of the experience. Create a new world, a new way of looking at things, a new mythology which your characters use to explain their circumstances, their world, why the scourge seeps through the country – use all that to create and influence your hero, your proto-humans and your society. Or, take one of the ten basic creation myths, put you own spin on it and ask yourself, how would this influence a given society? Again, Rick Riordon did this in his series when he brought the Greek gods to America. Neil Gammon has his own unique spin on mythological figures come to the Americas in American Gods.

So go for it! Create new worlds with ground breaking, mind bending mythologies. There’ll always be a flick of our modern realities and value systems in them, how can there not be? Besides, those bits of our world in them is what will make the issues, the dilemmas and the challenges ring true for the reader. Mix, mash and have fun with it.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll talk about how I create new mythology for my worlds.

Happy mythology building!

The Myth Behind the Days

The God Mars
The God Mars
Humans are incredibly imaginative creatures. When faced with concepts that cannot be explained with the current level of technology, we create elaborate stories to fill in the holes. Of course, as time passes and our level of understanding increases, we are able to replace these stories and they become the myths and legends of old. However, we never truly leave these legends alone, and if you look closely, you can see their memories reflected in modern day life.

Mythology can be seen in many aspects of our lives from the names of the months to the stories we tell our children. Even the days of our week, words that many of us use daily, are remnants of these past gods and their influence upon the world.

This will be posted on a Tuesday. A simple word that probably resonates more to you as the second day of the workweek than an old homage to the lost gods. The real story, however, relates Tuesday with the Roman god Mars. Mars, or Tiw in Old English, is the Roman god of war, and second in the pantheon only to Jupiter. Tuesday (Tiwesdæg) is a reminder that Mars was always watching with his spear raised, and that you only lived in peace because you won the war.

Next we look at Wednesday. Wednesday was named after Wōden, the Old English equivalent of the Norse god Odin. Wōden and Odin both of whom gain their origins from the Roman god Mercury, who is the messenger of the gods. His appearance was very close to that of Hermes to include the winged shoes and the herald’s staff. He is attributed as being a psychopomp, which is a being who guides the dead to the afterlife. There are even stories of Mercury bringing dreams to people as they slept.

Thursday is probably easily recognizable these days as remembering Thor, the Norse god of thunder. Thor is well known for his giant hammer, Mjolnir. This hammer had the ability to return to Thor’s hand when thrown. Even with all his power, he wore a belt that doubled his strength. He is known for his temper and was a dangerous warrior. Thor was a favorite god among the working class. Many wore necklaces of Thor’s Hammer and asked him for blessings of fertility.

Friday was named after Freya, the Norse goddess of sex, beauty, love, and fertility. She was awesome. She was beautiful, a leader, and she had a chariot pulled by cats! She owned an amazing necklace that was coveted greatly and a cool falcon feather cloak. Back in the day, Friday was considered a lucky day. It was a day to get married, have children, plant crops, etc. This was all due to the blessings the goddess would grant on her day.

Of all the days of the week, Saturday is the only one that maintains its Roman origin. Saturday is named after Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and harvest. Saturn’s influence can be seen in Roman lore as a golden age, or time of abundance, among men.

Sunday, named for the Norse goddess Sunne (or Sunna) also known as Sól. Sunne rides across the sky in her chariot pulled by the horses Allsvinn and Arvak (meaning “Very Fast” and “Early Rising”.) Sunne is said to be pursued by a wolf named Skoll. (In fact, Eclipses are said to be the cause of the wolf getting close enough to take a bite out of the sun.) Sunne will continue until the Ragnarök, the “end of days’ for the gods. During Ragnarök, many of the gods, such as Odin, Thor, Tyr, Heimdall, etc, will be killed. Sunne herself is said to be finally caught and consumed by Skoll. Once this happens, Sunnes daughter will take her place and provide sun to a new world of peace and love.

And we’ll end with a beginning. Monday gets its name from the old English Mōnandæg, or Moon day. The Greek Goddess of the moon is Selene, or Luna to the Romans. She is depicted as a beautiful woman with long black hair. She rides across the sky in a silver chariot that is pulled by either a pair of horses, a team of oxen, or even dragons. She is well known for her love affairs, including one with Zeus, the king of gods. Selene is a favorite among poets and authors for the love of the moonlight.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Looking at the history and myth behind simple words we use to tell what day of the week it is does more than tell a nice story, it adds depth to our world. You can take one word and link it back to centuries of people and gain an understanding of how their minds worked. As you build your worlds, maybe you should take some time and look at how the past has influenced and defined the people and their beliefs. It can be the little things that not only provide a little bit of depth and dimension to your world, it can be a fun exercise to get your ready for writing in a new world.