Anthropologists on Myth

  • Dorothy Emmet


‘A story connected with a ritual’ is one of the ways in which anthropologists have defined a myth. I do not think that all myths need have a ritual associated with them, any more than that all rituals (for instance those of a ceremonial kind) need be associated with myths. Of course, as with all matters of definition, this is largely how we choose to use words. We could choose to say that rituals which have no symbolic reference to a story behind them are ceremonies; we could say that stories not concerned with rituals, but with how something began, or with doings in a heroic past, partly remembered, partly imagined, or with transactions between men and animals and superhuman beings, are legends or sagas or fairy tales. I think this would unduly narrow the range of what has been counted as myth, as should become apparent in looking at some of the theories that have been held about it. Nevertheless, the association of myth with ritual calls attention to a feature of some myths which may be of importance not only for the social anthropology of religion but also for their religious significance.


Fairy Tale Parental Discipline Symbolic Reference Creative Outcome Dialectical Logic 
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  1. 1.
    B. Malinowski, The Foundations of Faith and Morals, Riddell Lectures (O.U.P: London, 1936).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    M. Eliade, Cosmos and History: the Myth of the Eternal Return (London, 1955).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    C. Lévi-Strauss, La pensée sauvage (Paris, 1962).Google Scholar
  4. English translation The Savage Mind (London, 1966).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Nuer Religion, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), p. 120.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    This is the translation of Lévi-Strauss’ Le cru et le cuit. Mythologique I (Paris, 1964).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dorothy Emmet 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dorothy Emmet
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.University of ManchesterUK
  2. 2.Lady Margaret HallOxfordUK
  3. 3.Lucy Cavendish CollegeCambridgeUK

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