IE Myth 1: Differences and Similarities

At long last I am done with this painful course!

5.  To what extent do you think we can offer conjectures about Indo-European myths in general? Are the common themes strong enough that the myths seem like variations? Or are the differences so powerful that the themes are less important than the cultural variations? (minimum 300 words)

It is abundantly clear from the work of George Dumézil and his followers that many of the myths of Indo-European speaking peoples derived from common roots.  The tripartite social structure appears again and again in these stories.  We see echoes of common roots in the similarities between concepts such as Elysium and Tír na nÓg.  A reading of Puhvel’s tome shows us dozens if not hundreds of these faint relations between different cultures.

However, while we do see many common themes and elements, the fact is that the stories themselves are far more different than they are similar.  The proto-Indo-Europeans lived around 4,000 BCE.  However, the first texts do not appear until approximately 800 BCE — a delay of some 3,200 years.  For some of the Indo-European speaking cultures we do not have written accounts until many more centuries had past.  Given this vast time span it is perfectly understandable that the original stories would have mutated constantly until they were no longer recognizable beyond a few general themes.  The unstable nature of oral traditions, diffusion from neighbouring cultures, and continual adaptation to new socio-political and geographical circumstances would have all worked together to create powerful change in the myths over time.

This is not to say that comparative analysis of the myths has no value for a Neo-Pagan tradition.  Common themes within the stories can be drawn upon to create powerful rituals that tap into the deep well of ancestral wisdom within us.  Those working to recreate a proto-Indo-European practice can certainly use the commonalities to sketch broad elements that are ripe for creative reconstruction.  However, if the question is whether we can view the extant myths of Indo-European speaking peoples as simple variations on clear themes then the answer must be no.  The hard fact is that the best sources for understanding a specific Indo-European speaking culture are the primary sources for that culture.

 

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