Anthropology 166 Role of Myth in Religion Industrial society has no body of shared beliefs, no common mythology. Its members hold onto a collection of disconnected beliefs and are vaguely familiar with fragments of many myths. The advantage that some new religions have in this situation is that they possess powerful connected mythologies that have ancient experiences. The mythologies of new religious movements are created out of numerous disconnected myths found in society generally. By weaving these unrelated myths into compatible wholes, new religions create a sense of continuity with society. Through the use of traditional myths, they are able to give themselves an apparent historical depth that legitimates their claims to be the carriers of a high culture.
In common speech, to call a story a myth is to say that it is untrue. Once accepted, a myth can be used to glorify the past, explain the present, and hold out hope for the future. It gives individual and social life meaning and direction. This ability to guide action distinguishes myths from legends, folk tales, and other stories. In short, myths have the power to change lives and shape societies. The validity of individual myths is enhanced when they are incorporated into larger or related myths. In many societies, myths are officially sanctioned through public recognition. Thus in medieval Christian Europe many myths, such as those about King Arthur and the Holy Grail, were publicly recognized. In Hindu society, myths about Krishna and other deities are given sanction in all areas of life. Christian societies have traditionally given official recognition to Christian mythologies, Islamic societies to Islamic mythologies, Buddhist societies to Buddhist mythologies, pagan societies to pagan mythologies, and so on. In other words, the common religion in any given society typically provides its members with a powerful mythology that receives full recognition and social support.