Read The Origins of the World's Mythologies by E. J. Michael Witzel Online


This remarkable book is the most ambitious work on mythology since that of the renowned Mircea Eliade, who all but single handedly invented the modern study of myth and religion Focusing on the oldest available texts, buttressed by data from archeology, comparative linguistics and human population genetics, Michael Witzel reconstructs a single original African source for our collective myths, dating back some 100,000 years Identifying features shared by this Out of Africa mythology and its northern Eurasian offshoots, Witzel suggests that these common myths recounted by the communities of the African Eve are the earliest evidence of ancient spirituality Moreover these common features, Witzel shows, survive today in all major religions Witzel s book is an intellectual hand grenade that will doubtless generate considerable excitement and consternation in the scholarly community Indeed, everyone interested in mythology will want to grapple with Witzel s extraordinary hypothesis about the spirituality of our common ancestors, and to understand what it tells us about our modern cultures and the way they are linked at the deepest level....

Title : The Origins of the World's Mythologies
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 0195367464
ISBN13 : 978-0195367461
Format Type : Paperback
Language : Englisch
Publisher : OXFORD UNIV PR Auflage New 14 M rz 2013
Number of Pages : 298 Pages
File Size : 673 KB
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Origins of the World's Mythologies Reviews

  • blake
    2019-01-04 14:25

    Wenn ich allen, die an dem Studium der Mythologie interessiert sind nur ein einziges Buch empfehlen könnte, dann ist es dieses.The Origins of the World's Mythologies hat zum Inhalt, dass die unterschiedlichen Mythologien der Welt, sich nicht unabhängig voneinander entwickelt haben, sondern einen einzigen gemeinsamen Ursprung haben, nämlich in Afrika, bevor die Menschheit damit begonnen hatte den Kontinent zu verlassen und den Rest der Welt zu bevölkern. Was sie mitgenommen haben war ihre Weltanschauung.Der Großteil des Buches widmet sich der Erforschung der vielen (unterschiedlichen, sowie ähnlichen und identischen) Elemente, Motiven und Themen, die in den Weltmythologien auftreten. Diese werden untersucht und miteinander verglichen, wobei eine Vielzahl von Erkenntnisse aus der Archäologie, der Linguistik sowie aus der modernen Genetik zu Hilfe genommen werden.Dadurch werden hypothetisch, frühe Mythologien rekonstruiert, hauptsächlich die Laurasien- aber auch die ältere Gondwana-Mythologie, sowie der noch älteren, jedoch nur skizzenhaften Pan-Gaea-Mythologie. (Abgeleitet von den gleichnamigen Superkontinenten, jedoch werden die Begriffe leicht anders verwendet.)Es wird dabei betont, dass die Arbeit heuristisch ist und dass Einzelheiten durchaus geändert werden könnte, sollten in Zukunft neuere Erkenntnisse gewonnen werden. Die eigentliche Hypothese mag gewagt oder 'revolutionär' erscheinen, der Autor Michael Witzel ist sich der Größe des Unterfanges aber durchaus bewusst. Es wird gesagt, dass dieses Buch keine abschließende, allumfassend Arbeit ist, sondern dass (im Gegenteil) noch weitere Forschung notwendig ist. Das Buch macht jedoch einen großen und entscheidenden Schritt auf dem Weg die Mythologie zu verstehen, und den Geist der Menschen zu versehen, die diese Mythologie einst gelebt haben.

  • MaryMAC
    2018-12-27 15:11

    A good book.

  • rosanna fierros
    2019-01-12 12:29

    E.J. and I had a love hate relationship while i read this book. Some concepts wete great others list me completely. The last chapter in my opinion was the best it summarized his thoughts and he did less rambling.

  • Jo
    2019-01-15 11:28

    Essential scholarship and source material for the story of the ages: the Laurasian Novel! A novel idea indeed!

  • Nicholas Collins
    2019-01-06 17:14

    Origins In The Origins of the World's Mythologies, Michael Witzel utilizes a historical-comparative method to analyze mythologies across cultures and history, not only at the level of individual stories and motifs- the method developed by Vladmir Propp and Stith-Thompson- but at the more telling level of entire myth-structures, taking into consideration both content and chronology. Where Propp and Stith-Thompson’s respective concepts of “mythemes” and “tale-types” identify congruencies among the mythic narratives of various divergent groups, cataloguing a number of structural and substantive similarities, Witzel goes beyond this to compare the structure of entire bodies of mythology, while also considering their courses of development over time, in order to reconstruct their earliest form, that of a common pan-human or pan-gaean mythology originating in South Africa by at least 100,000 years ago. Having determined a probable pattern of historical descent, he posits that, initially, at least two distinct migrations out of south Africa occurred around 65,000 kya. The earliest groups travelled southeast toward what would later become Australia, New Zealand, the Andaman Islands, and Melanesia- collectively referred to as Gondwanaland (also inclusive of sub-Saharan Africa)- while successive migrations occurring anywhere between 65,000-40,000 years ago went northeast to Eurasia, Siberia, and eventually down to the Americas. These latter groups constitute what is termed the Laurasian stream, whose characteristic innovations with respect to mythology and culture have allowed it to develop into the overwhelmingly dominant system of thought undergirding ordinary perception for roughly ninety-five percent of humanity, its numerous present manifestations being both overt and subtle, religious and secular, restrictive and liberating. While the history of mythological and religious innovation provides a plethora of archetypal forms whose presence in human thought patterns variously pervades all areas of culture – the creative externalized expression of these patterns – the simplistic drive toward literalism not only regarding one’s own self-referential understanding of their relationship to existence (universally conceived though always only partially apprehended in perception) and the judgments or valuations made toward certain behaviors and activities may prevent adequate conceptual reevaluation in light of perceptual novelty (and its implications for ever-evolving conceptual schema in other areas of culture, such as the sciences and humanities), resulting in irreconcilably dissonant perspectival encounters. The Laurasian story line is foremost a conceptual artifact, albeit one so deeply engrained in human thought and culture that it seems destined to endure as long as the species itself, at least at its most basic structurally resonant level – as an absolutely inclusive, adaptable architecture for intercultural communication- one that provides an affirmation of comprehensiveness at the widest macro-level, and in whose construction and maintenance any and all individuals and groups might participate. However, it is only valuable as far as it establishes and affirms the reality of this common, conceptual space that mentally correlates with and relates to perceptual experience. To that end, the content of the story may appear in any number of forms conditioned by habit and cultural influence, seeming quite at odds if taken simplistically and without individual effort and participation in the process of understanding, that is to say in the act of interpretation of these essentially metaphorical lenses with which to view reality. The understanding of universal comprehensiveness is juxtaposed to that of personal resonance – that one’s activity of interpretative understanding calls upon not only demarcated cultural systems of knowledge, but, additionally, whichever forms that seem to best allow for inclusion of all known data at the most intimate and individualized level. The intimate if not identical relationship between the two requires a correlative synthesis that is the ongoing project of those involved in maintaining and reworking cultural systems in their interdisciplinary and interpersonal encounters such that they are adequately inclusive of one another’s claims to objectivity and accuracy, both in the synchronic sense – the present configuration of cultural knowledge systems across domains– as well as the diachronic – the continuity and progression of such systems over time. In this spirit, Witzel’s method attempts to overcome the inherent deficiencies in theories relating to human cultural or mythological/religious origins which fail to take into account the full range of available knowledge found across various scientific, scholarly, and aesthetic disciplines. By both contributing the valuable lens of comparative mythology, and by checking the assertions found in these various fields against one another, Witzel aims to present a more integrative and accurate account of early mythology and culture. Among those disciplines he engages, comparative linguistics, archeology, genetics, aesthetics/media-theory, and anthropology are significantly valuable tools in the construction of a cladistic or “family-tree” model for mythology, one which traces the numerous branches back to their shared foundational trunk. (Witzel, 46) All these disciplines are involved in historical descent to some degree, either at the genetic or cultural level, and many have had success using similar cladistic methods. They also offer comparative data at many historical levels of remove, with archeology and genetics providing information regarding the earliest stages of human life, even in the absence of abundant cultural artifacts. Witzel, himself a very prominent Vedic sanskritist, understands comparative linguistics to offer an exemplary case study of what should be the aim of comparative historians of religion and myth, and cites the success achieved in that area of study with regard to reconstructing and charting the progression of linguistic forms in collaboration with the insights of population genetics. The corroborating or revealing insight afforded to linguistics is expanded in the case of mythology by the inclusion of the history of food production, both agricultural pastoral, as well as geological theories regarding continental drift and periods of glaciation. Witzel consciously breaks away from the fragmentary, often isolated arenas of specialist knowledge systems which regard religion as their circumscribed area of study, whether theological, psychological or stemming from the very recent academic tradition of religious studies scholarship, in favor of correcting the deficiencies and misinterpretations made by such perspectivally limited methods of study when considering a topic that is essentially not disconnected from the larger dynamic processes of cultural development, and as such, requires an integration of disciplinary perspectives at the most advanced and inclusive levels such as their claims are seen not in opposition but in combination - unified in their teleological aim of understanding. Further, by considering religion historically as well as comparatively, and across domains of expertise, Witzel aims to correct inadequate “monolateral” accounts of religion, whose unconscious assumptions blind them to achieving a comprehensive as well as accurately nuanced perspective on the nature of the process as a whole – and indeed in connection with the whole developmental and spiritual history of human culture. He chooses not to involve himself within interdisciplinary debates, such as that of the Chicago school’s History of Religions, though he cites what he considers to be the most egregious missteps in the methods utilized by J.Z. Smith, Wendy Doniger, and Bruce Lincoln, as well as the discipline’s founding scholar, Mircea Eliade, with whom he is in general agreement, though not without qualification and correction on certain issues (namely the development of shamanism). Because the assumption foundational to historical comparative analysis, in linguistics and mythology, is that “isolated and unmotivated similarities found in widely separate areas usually are indicators of an older, lost common system, higher on the structural and cladistic tree,” (Witzel, 44) Witzel’s massive project is itself reflective of this fact – by examining diverse perspectives which exhibit unmotivated similarities and convergent conclusions, such as in scientific, geneological, and comparative religious-mythological study, as these similarities are shown to be presently emerging across specialist boundaries, it follows from this that these disciplines are indeed all merely particularized and limited expressions of an older pan-human tradition of intellectual and spiritual culture, one whose essentially common character, long-neglected, holds the most promising key to a comprehensive understanding applicable and visible within all of its disciplinary progeny, whatever such “disciplines” might look like today. Within the sphere of comparative mythology and religion, Witzel addresses what he considers to be the most widely accepted models of origination and development, those which understand cross-cultural similarities or correspondences to be the result of either diffusion or innate pan-human archetypes. The former view, as posited by Frobenius and Baumann, asserts the gradual spread of particular myths between cultures, with stylistic differences being the result of subsequent elaborations, originating in a Near East center during the Bronze Age. (Witzel,16) This may occur through trade, expansion, missionary work, or any other means of diffusion, and thus, cultures separated by great distances have certain myths in common because they were exposed to and adopted the same myths. The other prominent explanation has been developed most extensively by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, who see the cross-cultural presence of shared myths as the independent manifestations of pan-human psychological archetypes, or subconscious psychic universals “with contents and modes that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals,” stemming from questions of ultimate origins and explanations of human experience. (Witzel, 12) While archetypes are subconscious (not consciously elaborated), myths are a form of elaboration, if only the most basic and cryptic form, whose symbolic structure gives rise to a “system of thought that ascribes order to the world.” (Witzel, 13) Physical and social environments, as well as individual histories, influence the particular forms of archetypal myths that arise, accounting for common themes and occasionally, strikingly similar mythic narratives. Neither the diffusionist or archetypal models however, take into account the comparison of whole systems of myths, arranged in similar story lines, and thus both fail to fully address the historical and comparative dimensions of mythology as it appears in various cultures over time. By identifying a common narrative structure appearing in most of the world’s mythologies, Witzel can compare the manifestations and elaborations of this structure, in conjunction with data from other disciplines, to chart its historical development among distinct cultural groups. It is precisely the presence of such a common structural framework found widely across a majority of the world’s mythological corpuses (both textual and oral) that forms the basis of Witzel’s primary distinction between Laurasian and Gondwanan mythology and culture. It is only in Laurasian myth that this delimited narrative structure occurs, and this is its distinctive feature, its characteristic initial “elaboration” on earlier mythic stories which were themselves an elaboration or symbolic representation of fundamental perceptual experience. Questions of origins and purpose inform all mythology, but they do so in an innovative way for Laurasian as opposed to Gondwanan myth. While older myths like those found in Gondwana groups emphasize the origins and purpose of humanity in a preexisting, mysterious world- asking “where do we come from and where do we go?”- the Laurasian narrative structure begins and ends with the respective birth and death of the universe itself, forming a delimited span of existence into which all subsequent mythic tales may be placed. (Witzel, 437) The narrative progression involves a sequence of events and archetypal characters, synthesized from parallel and divergent tracks of mythological development: universal creation, father heaven/mother earth, their offspring, the victory of the gods over their predecessors; the release of the hidden sun, the descent of humans from a sun deity; the defeat of the dragon, a primal human misdeed and the subsequent emergence of death, a culture-hero shaman bringing culture to the world (a la Promethius, the raven or other trickster deities in Native North American myth), the hierarchical division of nobility and the concern with history, and, finally, the world’s destruction, final or within an implicit scheme of progressive or degenerative ages (four or five), accompanied by the rebirth of individuals in heaven or the next phase in the 4/5-age world-scheme. This story-line, in addition to identifying a number of archetypal features, provides a narrative framework in which individual and cultural developments might comprehend the entirety of their experience – reflected in the external form of myth. In concerning itself with the world’s origins and end(s), within which correlationally resonant forms of individual life-experience may play out as they recapitulate the process, the Laurasian story line constitutes “a metaphor of the human condition” as it is experienced, including birth, age, death, and the hope for rebirth. (Witzel, 422) Reflecting the human desire for rebirth, the universe (as well as those who inhabit it) may be cyclically regenerated, typically following four (or five) stages of successive degeneration from (or development towards) a ideal state of harmony. This is not a perpetual everlasting state of perfection, but rather a particular stage or “generation” in the cyclical life of the universe, one which must necessarily change- just as human individuals must also transform in awareness at the moment of (metaphorical) death. The generational stages constituting the life of the universe are thought to mirror those experienced by humanity, where an individual typically encounters three or four generations in the course a lifetime. “The genial stroke of the creator of Laurasian mythology is that is correlates and thus, explains at the same time both the universe and the human condition… a metaphor applied to everything around us, to the world and to the divine powers that govern it.” (Witzel, 422) Where linear conceptions of temporality have developed, the death of the universe may simply result in an apocalyptic end to phenomenal existence in favor of a transcendent divine reality. One well-known example of such a persisting ultimate reality is the Christian concept of heaven, a realm beyond the ordinary world created and sustained by a similarly transcendent God. The idea of a high God who does not depend on the world for his existence is actually a typically Gondwanan mytheme, but it is not originally a creator deity such as appears in later monotheistic religions (Zoroastrianism’s Ahura Mazda representing the first instance of this concept, followed by the God of the Abrahamic traditions). Rather, the Gondwanan “deus otiosus,” the typical otiose high god, is the first ancestor from which humans are descended, who remains uninvolved in the world and is certainly not identified with as being only the all-encompassing reflection of self-perceived individuality or representative of a superseding utopian paradisiacal environment attained only by the faithful. (Witzel, 314) Laurasian monotheisms represent a later developmental stage where the initial universal narrative structure has become increasingly abstract following intense and persistent cross-cultural exchange of particular mythologies containing apparently divergent content. This organizing narrative of universal birth and death represents humanity’s oldest novel, yet it may also represent the emergence of a particular type of mediating technology in the creation of human experience, one which extends the conceptual power of thought to abstract, analyze, and integrate in ways that have the potential to profoundly alter the structural nature of human perception and experience. The psychological and social effects of media technologies figure prominently in Witzel’s analysis of Laurasian mythology, and the medium, as Marshall McLuhan aphorized, is indeed a significant component of the message. Apart from citing the novel as the characteristic feature of Laurasian myth, Witzel also speculates on the nature of language in early Laurasian cultures as a possible factor in their later developments, notably the emphasis on the power of speech in shamanic practices and the eventual canonization of sacred speech increasingly available only to specialist religious functionaries (more individual-oriented shamans, priests, ritual specialists, etc.) who maintained and transmitted them. (Witzel, 576) He also discusses the sudden “artistic explosion” of rock art and cave painting which occurred around the same time and place as the appearance of the Laurasian novel around 40 kya and which was also accompanied by more obviously practical technological innovations, such as the spear-thrower. (Witzel, 277) This coincides with archeological dating of (anatomically modern) human migrations into Eurasia as well as significant increases in the number of human groups present, and might also coincide with the emergence of fully formed human speech, as opposed to less developed oral-and-gestural symbolism. The capacity for communicating, preserving, and reengaging cultural creations over time afforded by their externalization, significantly bolstered by collective structural inclusion in narrative form, both extends the processes available to human thought (structural comprehensiveness and coherence), and also allows a greater level of complexity regarding the progressive development and expansion of cultural content as the datum for conscious reflection and comparison. “Any comparison,” Witzel states, “involves the linking, correlation, or identification of two items on roughly the same plane of existence or thought… humans correlate certain items, objects, things, beings, and their characteristics when perceiving, describing, and classifying them. Importantly such mental activities are based on certain neurological factors of our brain, which has a predilection correlating a two items.” (Witzel, 97) At the same time, the utility and pervasive effects of structural novelty on ways of thinking establish a new conceptual baseline, a platform for thinking on which is allowed a plethora of further innovative developments in myth. Having become established in this way, foundational or particularly significant forms such as the Laurasian novel, persist in the collective externalized and private internal consciousness of individuals and groups over time and history, a phenomenon Witzel (citing his work in neurobiology and computational modeling with scholars Steve Farmer, John Henderson, and Richard Sproat) has termed “path dependencies.” “Current and earlier cultural forms” states Witzel, “that precondition, through path dependency, most of humanity’s adherence to the Laurasia story line also guarantee its survival. The Laurasia story line, a prime example of the path dependency of cultural traits, is perhaps the oldest of such dependencies. Others include duty toward gods and ancestors, rebirth or immortality of the individual/soul, suffering and compassion, purity versus impurity, the notion of closeness, and monotheism.” (Witzel, 437)

  • Delton
    2019-01-12 13:10

    Well done.