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Myth is such a harsh term. Can't we just call them faith-promoting stories?

Faith promoting stories based on a lie hardly promotes faith. While on my mission, the story of large men protecting sister missionaries from rapists was going around. At the time, I thought is was wonderful, how the Lord would protect his missionaries. Imagine my dissapointment when I found out years later on Snopes that this story is not even unique to the Mormon faith.

Sorry, I should have put a smilie at the end of my post. I actually prefer the term faith-promoting rumors. The danger of these FPRs is that when they are proven false, people who have based their testimony on them, at least in part, may have their belief shaken. I suspect that the vast majority of stories we hear are false. It's sad really. If I ever hear one that happens to be true, I will listen with an ear of cynicism.

"The danger of these FPRs is that when they are proven false, people who have based their testimony on them, at least in part, may have their belief shaken."

Interesting question: what happens if an FPR is NEVER proven to be false--at least never to the knowledge of the person who believes in it?

I would have to distinguish between FPRs (which are just rumors with nice effects on the listener) and myths (which ideally connect to more universal themes and truths, although of course what counts as a universal truth is subject to disagreement). In the Mormon context, a Mormon FPR would be something like the example in the prior comment of large strangers protecting LDS missionaries in need, which sounds a lot like a Three Nephites story.

For Mormon myths, I would look at the story of the crickets and the seagulls or the story of how those listening to Brigham Young address the Saints saw him "transfigured" into the image of Joseph as he preached. Additionally, I would include the popular understandings (or misunderstandings) built on scriptural texts or stories, especially from the BoM.

We should also cite Galadriel's explanation of the mythmaking process: "History became legend, legend became myth . . ." Perhaps "Mormon legends" is a better description of what I referred to earlier as "Mormon myths."

my favorite mormon myth/fpr is that the american indians and polynesians are literal descendents of the nephites and lamanites.

The seagull story would be my vote. The transfiguration story, while not as widespread as typically told, seems to have enough people experiencing it first hand so as to be history. Further I'm not sure of the mythic connection there.

The whole thing about myth studies from the 1950s - 1980s was more or less a kind of structuralism. i.e. the myths all had the same structures and it is the structures that are true, not the particular story. So it becomes this weird mix of Freudian psychology with more than a little bit of hidden platonism. (Plato, because the forms are more true than the details we encounter)

I'd also point out that the divide between myth and history can be a false one. True stories can also have mythic overtones. I have a few books on hero myths and people like George Washtington or Abraham Lincoln (or Joseph Smith for that matter) fit most of the characteristics of the mythic hero. Sometimes real history is more mythic than the myths.

I think the myth that high ranking church officials (FP/QoT) have visitations from Jesus is one that serves members well in sustaining them.

And I'd like to thank Clark for pointing out that "myth" and "lie" are not synonyms. A myth can be either history or fiction with ease; its mythic value comes as the story is seen as a template for behavior or worldview today.

Thus, Thoreau's two years in Walden, while being entirely historical, can also be mythic, if that story is seen as instructive for someone's life now. Helen Keller's life is a fact; her triumph over adversity, and her later devotion to social causes, can both be mythic. As Dave mentioned, Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings can be seen as mythic, despite a complete absence of historical basis, if they exemplify paradigms and behaviors of value in crafting one's model of the world we live in.

And being a lover of myth, I'm really tired of seeing the word used as a pejorative.

Nathan, I think I might be being picky here, but I see the difference between a mythic story and myth as being two different things. Fact can be mythic, in so much that the facts remind us of something spectacular and maybe roughly analogous to a myth we know. On the other hand, I see a myth as a de facto untrue, non-historical story. Implying that a myth is inherently a lie has negative connotations. However, if a person knowingly propagates a myth (untrue story) as true, historical events with mythical undertones, then that person is a liar telling a lie. The lie results from the intent and/or knoledge of the storyteller.

Part of the modern tension between myth and history flows from the "just the facts, ma'am" orientation of modernism. This extends to not just science but religion as well, as reflected in the urge of fundamentalists to read as history (and insist that other so regard it) stories that many scholars regard as mythical accounts. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia article I linked in the post:

Some people, especially within "revealed" religions that are justified in terms of an authenticated scripture, may take offense at the characterization of any aspect of their faith as an expression of myth. An aspect of fundamentalism requires that every incidental element be accepted as literally true. However, most people concur that every religion has a body of myths that express deeper truths that are ineffable on the surface level.

I certainly agree with Nathan that it's wrong to see myths as lies. Of course, it's also wrong to treat myths as fully accurate historical accounts. In fact, from the modern perspective (which we all share), it's hard to figure out just what to do with myths or how we should regard them. And there's no GA guidance here--I frankly cannot recall ever hearing the word "myth" over a Mormon pulpit.

Does the First Vision count as a myth?

That wasn't really the direction I was headed in, Kim. It would be good to distinguish between full-blown myths (as in "Greek myths"), stories that come from the pre-modern worldview and have been told and retold for millenia; and what I glossed as "legends" in an earlier comment, stories that have a historical basis but seem to have acquired some mythical elements over the years. One finds more emphasis on the mythical structure or elements of "Mormon legends" in informal talks or lessons than in written accounts, although CES publications might be seen as a part of the LDS legend-building process.

With that introduction, I'd respond to your Big Question by agreeing that the standard accounts one hears in Church have acquired some mythical elements. However, there are also several historical sources we can consult (including Joseph's own accounts of the event) and the underlying events happened in historical times, not "long, long ago," so I think it would be misleading to call it a myth.

I notice you didn't weigh in with your own opinion or analysis on the question, Kim.

Here's my analysis: I don't have a favourite myth. :)

I am not too sure what you mean by "uses and abuses". Do you mean, "what purpose do they serve"?

Kim, I was speaking loosely when I used the phrase "uses and abuses of Mormon mythology." Restating it more carefully, I would ask how Mormon myths or "legends" are used in the Church today, and which of those uses are proper or improper.

I sometimes wonder if myths are used in an effort to fill a seeming void left when all the miracles of the pioneers saints disappeared.

I'd have to say for false myth, my favorite is the old one that Mormons have horns.. I mean.. if you're going to tell me that, I at least want a set!

Otherwise.. and going with the thought that a myth doesn't have a guaranteed proof, I'd go with the visitations of the 3 Nephites. I think it'd be neat to meet them personally.

[typo edited, 10/22]

Does the First Vision count as a myth?

Absolutely, in two ways:

It legitimizes the LDS Church's claims to a special dispensation.

It encourages an imitation of Joseph's search for knowledge.

Both of these mythic importances are emphasized when missionaries teach the Joseph Smith story.

(And because I am using the definition of "myth" which I propounded in my earlier post, please understand that I consider the account of the First Vision as both historical and mythic, and my acknowledgement of its mythic elements is in no way a challenge to its historicity.)

I'm with Nathan on the deep truth of myths. Myths communicate the most fundamental moral principles of a community, they illustrate values, and they organize behavior. Furthermore, myths in the strictest sense always accompany ritual behavior, narrating ritual for the accolyte. In this sense, the series of stories from the Garden of Eden are our primary myths. (And as Nathan articulates, this understanding of "mythic" does not preclude the historicity of the stories.)

As for restoration myths, I've always been deeply moved by the story of Joseph healing the sick along the banks of the Missouri river. That episode seems to encompass so much of Joseph's character and mission, and of the community values of the early saints.

I'm with Rosalynde and Nathan on this. We shouldn't underestimate the power and necessity of myth as an organizing principle in society--something that can transcend differences in caste, education, and even religion.

Check out a great related post by Jordan over at the Book of Jordan about cultural constructs of deity and how that happens in LDS culture. I think that this is closely related to the function of myth, as it concerns its rise and creation in the first place (such as the First Vision example).

Rosalynde, nice comment. I believe this is the first time you've dropped in here! About myths . . . sure, sometimes myths contain "deep truth" in symbolic form, or embody the "fundamental moral principles of a community." On the other hand, sometimes myths represent deep misunderstandings or now-discredited moral principles of an ancient community. So appealing to a mythic understanding in modern religious communities is problematic.

This isn't much of a problem if we're talking about Greek myths, as no religious community regulates its membership or expresses its deep truths through Greek mythology, although a few Unitarians might contest me on that. It's more of a problem in the Church, where mythic perspectives play a key role and are accepted non-critically. But I won't belabour that point.

I don't know that I have a favorite Mormon myth. One that I really noticed as a youth was Enoch striding out onto the plains against the people of Shum, where "he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command . . . so powerful was the word of Enoch" (Moses 7:13). Now that's mana! As a teenage fan of Tolkien and LeGuin (two modern mythmakers) that passage really grabbed me at the time.

I'd say the big myth for Mormons, whether they recognize it or not, is Exodus. Notice how Nephi patterns his journey on Exodus as does Brigham Young. (Notice how the promised land of Utah is, in part patterned on the geography of Israel)

That's interesting, Clark. From here in California, the myth tends to be that Brigham and the Saints stopped 700 miles short of the promised land.

Hugh Nibley's piece "Myths and the Scriptures" says:

"The idea was that the Egyptians had picked up a lot of stuff from the Israelites during the latter’s sojourn in Egypt, and of course the Egyptians got it all mixed up. Also, since Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham had all left writings behind long before Moses, it was only to be expected that in times of apostasy their teachings, in contaminated form, should fall into profane hands.
There is a good deal to be said for this theory, for the myths and rites of all the ancient world, if traced backward in time, do show a marked tendency to conform more and more to a few basic themes and to converge on a limited geographical area as their apparent place of origin. But whatever the real explanation, there is a very real relationship between the biblical and the worldwide pagan traditions. There has been no question of proving that such a relationship existed; however there has always been the neglected task of showing just what that relationship is."

Pretty much all myths have vestiges of truth. And all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole. By studying the myths of the planet, it is possible to fill in the pieces of the huge jigsaw puzzle, or at least a great deal of it. Of course, we don't have to...since the Lord has given us the fullness of the Gospel. But our testimonies can grow from the realization that God has in every dispensation given the Gospel to His people, and the similarities of worldwide myths is evidence of that.

Peggy, nice comments, thanks for dropping in. When someone inserts a disclaimer like "Whatever the real explanation, . . ." in their remarks, that should alert the reader to the fact that the speaker does not have an explanation. Nibley is, at times, brilliant, but when facts are lacking he's not bashful about filling in the gaps with speculation. The idea that the Egyptians (who vastly predate the Israelites) picked up their ideas from the Israelites (and then got it all mixed up) is pretty lame--you should go find Leeming's short book (the one I linked in the post) at your local library and read it, I think you'd enjoy it. Although if you are a zealous member of the Church of Nibley, I don't suppose any alternative source makes much of an impact. [edited, 10/26]

Well, thanks for being so nice yourself.
No, I am definitely not of the church of Nibley, in fact there is much that I disagree with him on.
Again, thanks for the warm and charitable welcome.

I think Nibley pushes the diffusionist view of myths *way* too far - well beyond what he can establish. It is somewhat interesting in that beyond that, his position really isn't that far removed from Eliadi or Campbell. He just tends, I think, to buy into a narrow reading of Genesis too much.

The question is even if all myths have vestiges of truth, what are these vestiges and how did they get their? I tend to think mythic analysis presupposes a bit too much there.

Thank you, mormonboy, for that rousing rendition of the Articles of Faith. However, it's not clear whether you are really Mormon, as few Mormons I know publicly accuse anyone else of being a hypocrite or claim to speak for all their fellow Mormons. Why don't you fill us in a bit?

mormonboy's first comment was incoherent. At first, it seemed like a Latter-day Saint who was mad at a blog intellectualizing aspects of LDS culture and belief. But by the second or third comma it started to seem like someone who isn't LDS. Actually, I think it is someone who must think that this is an anti-mormon website (you must admit the name "Dave's Mormon Inquiry" could seem like an anti site to someone unfamiliar with your project).

I suppose it's too late to rename the site "Dave's Friendly Mormon Inquiry." I can, however, change the byline (which I've been playing around with lately anyway) to something warm and friendly.

What this site is about: "A friendly place to chat about Mormon history, doctrine, and culture." That's going to be my new tagline. For a more comprehensive answer, just read the prior posts and comments.

Okay, mormonboy, you're the president of your local teacher's quorum. I suppose that makes you the only 15-year-old in Utah who would start a sentence with "Furthermore," but it's not your fault you're a gifted child. Toning down Kaleb's advice just a notch, perhaps you should just hang around and get the feel of the site for a few months before plunging in with more comments.

Well, judging from the prior comments and posts, this site, and nobody that writes in, believes in any of the mormon stories.

Wow, I am officially inducted into the realm of apostates for the first time as a result of my blogging activities!

As to being the president of the teacher's quorum, I believe it considering the spelling, syntax, word-choice, and grammar of his/her posts.

To my knowledge, all of us are LDS here.

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