Etiological myths are those myths that explain origins and causes. Creation myths are etiological, explaining how the universe or the world or life in the world came into being. Etiological myth does not have to situate itself at the beginning of all things; it can account for the creation of a new entity or activity within the established order of creation, just as much as for the creation of an ordered world out of primal chaos.
Religions can be set along a spectrum from those primarily focussed on beginnings, on events within an established universe, and on endings. Although “etiological” is a term derived from classical Greek (aition meaning cause), the belief systems of classical Greece were oriented more to the afterlife, and most of their etiological myths concerned particular places and rituals. The Roman poet, Ovid, collected a large number of etiological myths of transformation in his long poem, The Metamorphoses. Such myths as Daphne’s transformation into the...
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