Myths and Legends

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Why were the stories told?

As well as making fascinating reading, these stories also tell us a great deal about how people in the past saw, and understood, the world around them.

There are many reasons why stories are told and passed down the generations. Here are just a few of them:

To strengthen a community and provide a common understanding. Stories often reflect the beliefs of the people who tell them. The popularity of any story depends on whether those listening approve of the values underlying it. By telling and listening to stories, people confirmed their ideas about the world around them. Things that people found scary, infuriating or desirable all found their way into the stories and they were passed on, because people wanted to be assured that other people around them were thinking along the same lines.

As a way of providing moral guidance and showing people how they should conduct themselves, including the consequences of not doing so. Myths and legends, like any good stories, often include a moral. Within the myth, the hurt or embarrassment experienced by people is often due to their own stupidity, greed, dishonesty or negligence.

To explain how the world works, for example why the seasons change, and to explain strange happenings or phenomena such as eclipses - the reasons for which were unknown in early times.

For entertainment purposes. Stories were told to amuse and enthral an audience in the days before TV and other forms of mass entertainment.

To pass on history and knowledge, such as the outcome of battles and tales of courage, in ages when many people could not read or write. Many myths have an element of truth that has been built upon and embellished over the years.

For fame, money or recognition - as in all areas of life, not all stories were told for good reasons. For example, stories of bravery in battle could enhance the status of an individual or a group or, in later centuries, a good ghost story could be sold for money. The truth was not always the most important consideration.

Regardless of why they were told, many of the stories still remain popular today and, although we no longer swap stories around the fireside, the tradition of storytelling still continues in the form of urban legends. Many older stories also live on in current day carnivals or festivals, which have their roots in a very different past.

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