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Myth and Legend: Discover the Differences and Similarities

Myths are stories about supernatural beings, such as gods or monsters, that serve to explain certain facts or phenomena. Read more about the Myth and Legend.

The legends, on the other hand, are stories of wonderful or imaginary events framed at a certain historical moment. Although they are used as synonyms, they are not always interchangeable.

The legend and the myth have, however, certain similarities: both have passed from generation to generation through oral or written transmission, both are stories that seek to explain an event or phenomenon that is enigmatic or mysterious.

Myth and Legend

Below we explain in more detail what the myth is and what the legend.

Myth Legend
Tales of events or fantastic characters to explain an aspect of reality symbolically. Stories of events or fantastic characters to explain an event with a real context.
Chronology of the stories Before the appearance of humanity. Concrete time and space.
Characters Fictional, symbolic. Real or based on real characters.
Origin of the story Metaphysical. The gods transmit history to humanity. Testimonials of people transmitted orally.
Types
  • Cosmogenic myths
  • Theogonic myths
  • Anthropogonic myths
  • Foundational Myths
  • Moral myths.
  • Etiological myths
  • Eschatological myths
  • Historical Legends
  • Urban legends.
  • Rural Legends
  • Local legends
  • Etiological legends
  • Religious Legends
  • Eschatological legends

What are myths?

Myths make up the belief system or worldview of a people or culture because in them the beliefs with which this has traditionally explained itself to the origin and reason of all things are poured. For this reason, they are located outside historical time.

Taken as a whole, myths configure mythologies. Hence there are different mythologies for each culture. There is Greco-Roman, Norse, Aztec, Mayan, Inca or Chinese mythology, among many others.

In Greek mythology, for example, the world began with a deep emptiness called Chaos. Earth (Gea) emerged spontaneously from Chaos and gave birth to heaven (Uranus). From there began the so-called “era of the gods”, in which the first deities that are the ones that initiate civilization are created.

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On the other hand, in Mayan mythology, there is a series of stories and myths compiled in the Popol Vuh, a book that is considered sacred in that culture. There the emergence of the first gods is described, the creation of the first wooden men, then of mud and finally of corn, which are the ones that begin to reproduce and populate the world.

Characteristics of the myths

Myths have their own characteristics that differentiate them from other types of stories:

  • It is a story of traditional origin: they are transmitted orally from one generation to another.
  • They have a foundational context: the stories and stories that make up a myth are located at a time prior to the presence of humanity.
  • They have a religious or spiritual burden (worship of natural phenomena gods).
  • They are the result of imagination and creativity.
  • They address universal themes: the creation of the universe and humanity, human conflicts, love, violence, grief, wars, etc.
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Types of myths

Myths can be classified according to their thematic axes:

  • Cosmogenic myths: they are those that explain the origin of the universe, such as the origin of Gea, the Earth, in Greek mythology.
  • Theogonic myths: explain the origin of the gods. The origin of the first generation of Greek gods is recounted in Hesiod’s Theogony,
  • Anthropogonic myths: they explain the origin of humanity, such as the stories of the first corn men and women, in the Popol Vuh.
  • Foundational myths: describe the creation of towns or cities at the hands of a higher entity. In Roman mythology, Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus, two twin brothers sons of a god (Mars) and a princess (Rhea).
  • Moral myths: they represent the struggle of good and evil or contrary concepts.
  • Etiological myths: explain the origin of plants and animals.
  • Eschatological myths: they announce the end of the world, usually through natural catastrophes that will end civilization, such as the Apocalypse, in the Bible.

The Legends

The legends, on the other hand, are also stories that can include fantastic or wonderful elements, but they usually have a certain more or less recognizable historical basis, which, unlike the myth, gives it some likelihood. A classic example of legend is the stories of Robin Hood.

Today, in addition, there is the urban legend, I know that it is based on popular knowledge topics about whose reasons or motives are speculated. Urban legends would be the Walt Disney freeze or the investigation of extraterrestrial lives in Area 51, in the United States.

Characteristics of the legends

  • They help explain what is difficult for a social group to understand, but it has at least one trait or real element.
  • They take place in an easily recognizable context, space or time.
  • They can be composed of a series of stories that revolve around the same character or event, as is the case with all the stories about Cid Campeador or Robin Hood.

Types of legends

HISTORICAL LEGENDS

They explain facts that occurred during warlike conflicts, such as wars or conquest processes. In Spain, there is the legend of a nobleman whom they called Guzman the Good, who let the Moroccan invaders kill his son so as not to hand over the castle he had been entrusted to defend. This made him worthy of the lordship of Sanlucar by King Sancho IV, as a sign of loyalty.

URBAN LEGENDS

They are part of contemporary folklore and generally develop in a city context. Social networks have contributed to feed or create new legends of this type, as they are means in which information is shared very quickly.

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In the United States there is an urban legend about an arcade game called Polybius, which supposedly existed in the eighties and left physical sequels in those who played it. With the massification of the internet and the culture of video games, the legend has regained strength in recent years and attempts have been made to recreate a similar game.

LOCAL LEGENDS

They are the ones that try to explain events of a very specific place, such as the origin of the name of a street.

In Caracas, Venezuela, there is a corner called “The Dead”, which according to legend owes its name to a curious anecdote: during the Federal War (1859-1863), soldiers badly wounded and killed in combat were piled up in the streets. One day, a gang was in charge of taking away the bodies and one of the soldiers, who was believed dead, got up screaming that he was alive.

This caused the gang to run away in horror. Since then, the corner was renamed “The Dead”.

RURAL LEGENDS

They are narratives that take place in a rural context, and being so specific they cannot be transferred to an urban context. In many parts of Latin America there are legends about goblins, fantastic animals or entities that terrify the inhabitants, eat or steal the cattle or take the children.

ETIOLOGICAL LEGENDS

They are stories about the origin of elements of nature, such as animals, plants, rivers, etc.

In Mexico, there is a legend about a sorceress who lived in what is now Baja California and that had killed almost all the natives of the area. One of the members of the last family left alive was able to enter the cave and kill the sorceress. Then, they burned the place, and from the ashes formed the volcano of Cerro Prieto.

RELIGIOUS LEGENDS

They explain anecdotes related to saints or religious characters, or stories about the righteous and sinners.

The legend about the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico or the virgin of Chiquinquirá in Venezuela, are part of the religious legends.

ESCHATOLOGICAL LEGENDS

They are catastrophic stories about the end of the world or about paranormal events.

In Latin America, there are many stories about chance encounters with people who turned out to be dead. Even traditionally rural stories like La Llorona have moved to an urban context.

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