Mythology Packet

Introduction to
World Mythology
6 Grade Reading
What is Mythology?
The word “myth” comes from the Greek word mythos meaning a word or a story. In everyday
speech, it often refers to something people believe that is not really true: “It is a myth that
carrots help you see in the dark.” But mythology is not a collection of lies; it is a collection of
stories that help people to make sense of their world.
Mythology is the rich collection of traditional tales from cultures all over the world. Myths tell
of gods, heroes, and events that a group believes, or at one time believed, to be real. A
culture’s myths are often closely tied to its religion. Thousands of years ago people did not have
sciences to help them understand life. For instance, they did not know why the sun rises each
morning or why the seasons change. Ancient people saw sickness, death, and natural disasters,
but they did not understand what caused them. Groups of people developed their own stories
and beliefs to explain the world around them. These myths were usually not written down.
Instead, one generation of people passed them along to the next generation by telling them out
loud as stories.
Some terms to know:
 Myth – A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or
explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural
beings or events.
Epic – A long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the
deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation.
Hero – The larger-than-life hero who embodies the values of a particular society. Most
heroes undertake some sort of quest to achieve something of tremendous value to
themselves or their people.
Legend – A traditional story usually based on a significant historical figure, though
Folk Tale – A characteristically anonymous, timeless, and placeless tale circulated orally
among a people. Folk tales often have to do with everyday life and frequently feature
wily peasants getting the better of their superiors.
Fairy Tale – Fairy tales are a subgenre of folk tales and almost always involve some
element of magic and good triumphing over evil. A good rule of thumb: if there’s a fairy
in the story, it’s a fairy tale.
Fable – Another sort of tale from the oral tradition typically with animals as characters,
conveying a moral.
The image below should help you to determine whether a story is a myth, legend or folk tale.
Types of Myths
Each group of people has developed its own explanations about the world, but all myths try to
answer basic questions such as: How was the world created? How did life on Earth begin? Why
is there evil in the world? What happens to people after they die? Myths also try to account for
a society’s customs and rituals.
Origin Myths (Creation of the world, cosmos, humankind, gods/goddesses):
Ancient stories about the world’s origin are called cosmology myths, or myths about the birth
of the cosmos. They deal not only with the appearance of Earth and the heavens but also with
the beginning of everything else - plants, animals, family, work, sickness, death, evil, and, in
some cases, of the gods themselves.
End of the World / Afterlife:
Since humanity began people have told stories to explain what happens after death. In some
myths, the end of the world recurred in a cycle followed by a new creation. Some mythologies
blamed catastrophic ends of the world on human wickedness. It was inconceivable to most
ancient peoples that humans would not survive in some form after death.
The Elements/Natural World:
All over the world, the elemental forces that shape our planet have been the focus of myth.
Almost all mythologies tell how humans acquired the gift of fire (often stolen from the Sun). All
elements of the natural world - animals, flowers, plants, and trees – were considered gifts of
the gods, and they remain in their care.
Myths of the Gods:
One god who reigns over all others is part of most mythologies. The mythologies associated
with polytheism (belief in many gods) varied among the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and
Teutonic peoples. There were gods for every aspect of nature and human life, and myths about
each of these gods’ lives, personalities, and special talents.
Many myths have a hero who is brave, clever or strong. Men and women who achieve great
feats courage are celebrated in all mythologies. Often they are said to be the children of gods,
or to be specially favored by gods. The hero brings important gifts to their people and is a role
model of right behavior. Stories about superhuman individuals are common to nearly all
ancient civilizations. The best known is probably the Greek legend about Hercules, or Heracles.
Trickster Tales:
Light-hearted comedy and dark humor are introduced into myths by trickster figures such as
the Native American Coyote or Anansi of West Africa. In mythology, a trickster is a god,
goddess, spirit, human or animal who plays tricks or otherwise disobeys the rules. Often, the
breaking of rules takes the form of tricks or thievery. The story of the trickster is sometimes
combined with a hero myth.
Focus On: Origin Myths
Norse Creation Myth: Ymir
Location: Norway
The first people to inhabit Norway were hunters who lived in small settlements. Around 800
AD, groups of people living in the south and the west of the region called Vikings started to
move away in search of new land. The name Vikings meant ‘men of the Vik’, a huge area that
lies between Norway and Sweden. Together with other groups of Vikings from other regions of
the Scandinavian peninsula (Sweden and Denmark), the Norwegian Vikings sailed westward.
They invaded and settled in Ireland, Scotland, England, and France. They also settled in
uninhabited lands such as Greenland and undertook expeditions as far as the northeast coast of
America. Vikings were skilled sailors and they specialized in building robust and fast ships for
both war and exploration.
In the 11th century, the Vikings established a Scandinavian empire consisting of England,
Denmark and Norway. As time progressed the Viking way of life changed. Leading chieftain
families accumulated land and power, trade routes expanded and the first towns were
founded. Also the religion changed; through their expeditions, Viking chiefs came into contact
with Christian monarchies. Olaf II, a Viking chief, was converted to Christianity and, once back in
his country in 1015, he became the king of Norway and brought Christianity to Norway.
During the Viking Age physical strength, speed, resilience and endurance were considered the
most important qualities for men. Physical competition between men – wrestling, archery,
javelin, swimming and skiing – were common forms of sport. The Vikings also developed a great
talent for metalworking. They built swords, axes spears and shields that they used in the battle.
Nature and natural forces such as fire and cold were important to
the ancient Norse and were at the root of their mythology. The
world was represented as a great tree (Yggdraisil) with deep roots.
Norse gods and goddesses all had human traits and, like the Greek
gods, they often fought. They possessed some magic qualities but
unlike most gods in other cultures, they were not immortal.
The Norse believed that gods could help them against evil forces,
but they needed to treat their gods well. To sacrifice a valuable
animal to the gods was a ritual meant to put the gods in good
mood. Especially in the Viking age, a rich tradition developed around the burial of dead people.
The dead could not be buried without burial gifts. Along with their gods and goddesses, the
Norwegians also worshipped other magical creatures.
Today, about 90 percent of Norwegians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran National Church.
Other religious groups are Roman Catholics, Methodists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Baptists. As
a result of Asian immigration, there are also groups of Muslims and Buddhists.
The Norse Story of Creation:
Ginnungagap was the great emptiness before there was a world, or any living things in it.
Far to the South of the Ginnungagap was the fiery realm of Muspell, with its long, hot rivers full
of poison and vast lakes of fire. Nothing could grow in this burning realm.
To the North was the dark and cold realm of Niflheim, where icy fountains spewed forth
freezing rivers. Nothing could grow here either, for the sky was always dark and the mountains
were blocks of solid ice.
Slowly, over years and years and years, the fiery blasts from Muspell began to melt the icy
mountains of Niflheim.
Out of the melting ice, the giant Ymir emerged, the first being of the vast Ginnungagap.
Next to him there emerged a cow from the ice. The cow licked the salt from the ice mountains
and Ymir drank the cow’s milk. Ymir grew larger and larger.
The cow licked away entire mountains of ice. Slowly she licked the ice from two more beings,
this time the god Buri and his goddess wife. They had a son named Bor, and his son was named
Odin, who became the king of all the gods.
Ymir was cruel and brutal. Odin and the other gods could no longer abide by his evil acts and
together the gods slew him.
Ymir’s huge body formed the earth. His blood became the sea, his flesh became the land, his
bones the mountains and his hair the trees. Odin and the other gods formed the sky with his
skull, held up by four towering pillars.
Odin gathered sparks from the fiery depths of Muspell and created the sun and moon. These he
set in the sky.
As the sun and moon shone over the new world in the Ginnungagap, the ice began to melt and
plants and trees began to grow.
The greatest tree of all was the Yggdrasil, which grew in the very center of the earth. Its roots
penetrated into the bottom of creation and its leaves reached the very top of the sky.
Odin was satisfied with the new world, and named it Midgard, ‘The Middle Land’.
But the world still needed people.
On one of his walks, Odin found two fallen trees, an ash and an elm. He lifted them from the
mud and formed the first man and woman from them. Odin breathed life into the beings, gave
them reason and feelings, hearing and sight.
He named the man Ask and the woman Embla. From these two sprang the entire human race.
The humans had the task of looking after Midgard, while the gods ascended to Asgard, their
realm in heaven.
However, not everyone was pleased with Odin’s work. Ymir’s giant sisters were still mourning
his death and were looking for a way to take their revenge on the gods who killed him.
They gathered at the foot of Yggdrasil and began carving lines into it.
Each line was a human life, filled with twists and turns, beginning with a man’s birth, and
ending with his death. At the end of each line they made a deep cut to ensure that humans
would never be as powerful as the gods.
These spells were so powerful that not even Odin could do anything to change them.
Thus Yggdrasil became known as ‘The Tree of Life’ and humans knew death and suffering in
their world.
Chinese Creation Myth: Pangu and Hundun
Location: China
The earliest human settlements in what is today called China date back to about 5000 BCE.
From 1500 E onwards, China was ruled by a number of different dynasties. According to
Chinese tradition, the first imperial dynasty was the Xia who emerged around 2000 BCE. The
first Chinese dynasty that has historical records, Shang, settled along the Yellow River in eastern
China from the 17th – 11th century BCE. Following that, dynasties conquered the country and
took power through war.
The main traditional religions in China date from the Imperial period. They are Confucianism,
Taoism, and Buddhism. Confucianism is the oldest Chinese religion. It was founded by a
philosopher, Confucius, in the 5th century BCE and stressed love for humanity, ancestor
worship, reverence for parents and older people, and harmony in thought and behavior.
Taoism also emphasized a life of complete simplicity and non-interference in the course of
natural events. This would lead to a happy existence, according to believers. Taoism developed
a pantheon that included many local gods that already existed in the ancient traditions of
China. The chief of the gods is the Jade Emperor. Directly under him, ruling from Mount Tai,
was the Emperor of the Eastern Mountain, who was believed to be a high judge, giving out
rewards and punishment to those on earth.
Buddhism, originally an Indian religion, arrived in China in the 1st century. Its principles—
meditation, wisdom and observance of moral principles—were not very different from the
other Chinese religions. Therefore they were easily integrated with the Chinese religious
tradition. Despite attacks from other religions, Buddhist religion has remained very lively,
especially in isolated mountain areas far from the centers of political power where Buddhist
monks devote their lives to meditation.
Traditionally, Chinese people followed a combination of religious beliefs and practices, such as
ancestor worship and meditation, together with the worship of gods and magical rituals. After
the Communist regime came into power, Taoism and the practice of all other religions were
strongly discouraged and even forbidden. However, Taoism is still practiced to some degree in
modern China.
Popular religious traditions can still be found in Chinese festivities. At Chinese New Year
celebrations, people wear red clothes (red symbolizes fire). According to legend, this can drive
away bad luck. The fireworks that one sees at the festivities go back to a similar ancient custom.
Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten
away evil spirits.
The Chinese Story of Creation:
In the beginning, there was an enormous egg containing chaos. On
the inside the chaos raged on and on- both yin and yang were
mixed together. All the opposites were writhing together: male and
female, cold and hot, wet and dry, dark and light.
Finally the egg burst open, and out leapt the giant dragon Pan-gu.
Yin and yang swirled around him and he pushed the two shell
halves apart. Thus the opposites were separated and the earth began to take shape.
Every day for 18,000 years Pan-gu grew ten feet – thus the sky was raised a little higher every
day. Once the sky was 30,000 miles above the ground, Pan-gu stopped and began to hammer
out the mountains and fill the valley with water to form great oceans.
He created rivers with his fingers and stamped the earth down to create flat lands. He gathered
raw light and tossed them into the sky to become stars.
After 18,000 years, Pan-gu had grown old and tired. He had made the world with his hands and
formed the basic principles of yin and yang. He wanted to lie down and sleep forever. Once he
lay down he never rose again. When Pan-gu died, his body formed huge mountains. His skull
formed the top of the sky; his hair formed all flowers and plants, his bones turned to jade and
pearl and his arms and legs the four directions.
His blood became the rivers, his breath turned into the wind and his voice to thunder. One eye
became the sun and the other the moon.
For many years the world was a very beautiful place but also lonely; there were no people.
The half-dragon goddess Nuwa was born after Pan-gu died, from part of the mixture of yin and
yang that he had separated. She decided to create humans to have some other beings to talk to
and share ideas with, but mostly just to love.
Nuwa went down to the edge of the Yellow River where there were vast, soft mud banks. She
began forming figures out of clay. She decided that it would be much more practical for her
creations to have legs instead of a dragon tail, thus her humans were not made in her image.
No sooner did she set the first little mud man on the ground did he start to jump, and dance
and sing. He began to speak. “Look at me!”
Nuwa was delighted and began making more and more humans.
She made hundreds and hundreds of mud humans, but soon realized that it would take
centuries for her to make enough people to fill the vast earth completely. Nuwa grabbed hold
of a muddy stick and flung drops of mud across the land.
As the sun dried each drop, it became a new man or woman. Some say that these humans were
the less intelligent ones. Those formed by Nuwa’s own hands became great leaders.
She told them to go and populate the earth. As they grew she loved them and protected them,
and was revered as the mother of all humans.
Mayan Creation Myth: The Popol Vuh
Location: Southern Mexico/Guatemala
Records show that the first people to live on the Yucátan peninsula were hunters and gatherers
who were nomads and lived in small family units. These first inhabitants arrived around 9,000 BCE.
The Maya arrived in the Yucátan area much later, around 2,600 BCE. They were heavily influenced
by the civilizations before them on the peninsula, the Olmec and Izapan.
Mayan culture expanded quickly as they developed new tools and scientific methods. City-states of
between 5,000 and 50,000 people were created and large temples resembling pyramids were built
to honor the gods. The most famous of these is Chichen Itza in the Yucatan. The height of Mayan
civilization was around 250 AD.
For reasons still unknown, Mayan civilization went into decline around 900 AD. The Maya in the
Southern part of the territory left their cities around this time. The Northern Maya became part of
the Toltec society around 1200 AD. This was the end of the powerful Maya city-state civilization,
although some Mayan cities survived until the Spanish arrived several hundred years later. After the
decline of the great Mayan cities, the Maya returned to a simpler way of life living mostly in villages.
The great cities and temples quickly disappeared in the jungle vegetation.
Today about 7 million people would call themselves Mayan or would say they have Mayan
ancestors. Most of these people live in Mexico.
The ancient Maya believed that the earth was flat (like most other civilizations at that time), and
that it had four corners. Some Maya believed that the earth was actually the back of a huge
crocodile, resting in a pool of water lilies.
Heaven was believed to have four layers, and each layer had its own god. The underworld, a cold
unhappy place, had nine layers. The Maya believed that when the sun and moon set (helped by the
gods) they went through this underworld. The mountains and hills are believed to have been the
homes of such ancient gods.
Mayan priests were in control of education and rituals. Because they could marry, their sons often
succeeded them. Priests were also responsible for bloodletting and human sacrifice. Bloodletting
was an important part of many rituals. Blood was offered to the gods to please them and to nourish
them. Human sacrifice was also quite common. Prisoners, slaves and many children were killed to
please the gods.
The Maya believed that when you died you entered the underworld through a cave. Kings,
however, would be reborn as gods in the sky. Ordinary people who died were buried beneath the
floors of their houses, their mouths filled with food for the voyage. Important noblemen were
Maya traditional religion survives until today, but now contains many elements of the Christian
faith. Nevertheless, many Mayans today believe, as the original Mayans did, in the influence of the
cosmos and the need to pay homage to the gods through rituals. The sun is now associated with the
Christian belief in God and Jesus Christ and the moon with the Virgin Mary.
The Mayan Story of Creation:
Before the world had a true form, there were two
gods, Tepeu the Maker and Gucumatz the Feathered
While the world around them was dark, these two
glittered with brilliant blue and green feathers. They
came together to create the world.
Whatever they thought came into being. When they
thought “Earth”, land formed in the darkness. They
thought mountains and valleys, pine trees and water
and sky. All of these things appeared the instant they
thought them, and thus the earth was formed.
Tepeu and Gucumatz decided they needed beings there to look after their vast creation, and to
praise their names as the creators.
So they created deer and birds and panthers and serpents, all the creatures that roam the earth
“Now, praise us! Say our names!” commanded the creators.
But the animals could only roar or howl, bleat, bark, twitter or moan. They tried as hard as they
could to speak, but could not. They chirped and mewed at the top of their lungs until the noise
was so deafening, that Tepeu and Gucumatz ordered them to stop.
Disappointed, the makers agreed that they would have to create better beings, ones who
would be able to worship them properly.
The first race of men was made from wet clay. The creators gave them life, and the first men
tried to speak; but they crumbled apart soon after they were made.
The Maker and the Feathered Spirit were determined to create a hardier race of men. The
second race of men were carved from wood. These were much stronger, and were able to walk
and talk and multiply.
But these men had no minds and their hearts were empty. They had no memories of their
creation and when they spoke their words were just as empty and meaningless. They could not
praise their gods.
Tepeu and Gucumatz sent a great flood down to destroy them. They commanded the animals
to attack the survivors and tear them to pieces.
The few who managed to escape fled to the woods and became monkeys. The creators left
them there as an example to the next race of men.
The Maker and the Feathered Spirit thought for a long time about how they should make the
race of men they wanted. There seemed to be no perfect material to build them.
Finally some of the animals brought the gods a stack of white corn which grew on the far side of
the earth. Tepeu and Gucumatz ground this into a paste and from this formed four individual
The new beings seemed perfect. They were sturdy enough to last and their minds were rich
with thoughts and feelings. Their first act after their own creation was to immediately worship
Tepeu and Gucumatz, and thank them for their lives.
Tepeu and Gucumatz were pleased.
“What do you see?” they asked the corn men. “We can see forever, through rocks and trees
and mountains and to the edges of the earth. We can see your entire creation, with all of its
animals and plants. We can see and understand everything!”
Tepeu and Gucumatz looked at each other. “Perhaps we made these beings too well...” They
should not see as well as WE do!”
The makers removed some of the men’s vision. After that they could only see things close to
them, and they were no longer able to see through or above things that they should not. Thus
their great understanding of the world was weakened.
But the men still sang the creators’ praises and settled down to live on the new land.
Tepeu and Gucumatz made four women to be their mates.
These eight men and women were the ancestors of all Quiche men and women today. Even
today their sight and understanding of the world is not perfect.
Comparing Creation Myths
Please answer the questions below comparing the Norse, Chinese and Mayan creation myths
you’ve just read about.
What was present “in
the beginning?”
What did the world
look like?
Who were the first
What is their
relationship to the
creator (or creators)?
How does the
creation myth relate
to what you know
about the culture?
Comparing More Cultures and Myths
Now it’s your turn to find some interesting myths! Using the links on our class website, and/or
books from the classroom, select and read two myths (not origin stories) and then answer the
questions below.
Myth 1 Title:
Myth 1 Culture:
1. Who are the primary characters?
2. What are the supernatural elements?
3. What are the most important events?
4. What does this myth explain about the world that people of the time may not have
Myth 2 Title:
Myth 2 Culture:
1. Who are the primary characters?
2. What are the supernatural elements?
3. What are the most important events?
4. What does this myth explain about the world that people of the time may not have
You may recall that stories of heroes occurred in nearly every culture’s mythology. The hero
character was brave, clever and/or strong and achieved great feats of courage. The hero served
as a role model of right behavior for a culture and was always greatly admired.
The life story of a mythical hero usually follows this pattern:
1. Unusual Birth/Childhood
2. Call to Adventure; Must Pursue Journey/Quest
3. Supernatural Aid: Guardians/Helpers/Mentor
4. Talisman or Special Weapon
5. Leaves Familiar, Safe World & Begins Journey
6. Must Succeed at Trials to Build Strength and Character
7. Achieves Goal
8. Reconciles with Father-Figure
9. Returns Home
10. Is Rewarded for Effort
One of the most famous hero myths of all time, and one that has been re-told in different
variations throughout history and even in today’s books, movies and cartoons, is the story of
Odysseus. The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to the author
Homer. It is the second oldest work of Western literature and is believed to have been
composed near the end of the 8th century BCE.
The poem mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus and his journey home after the Trojan
War. It takes Odysseus 10 years to reach Ithaca and he has been assumed dead. His wife
Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of suitors who compete for Penelope’s
hand in marriage.
Video Summaries of The Odyssey:
More Hero Stories
Can you think of heroic figures you’ve read about or seen in movies or video games whose
stories follow the hero myth pattern? Complete the chart below to compare and contrast three
hero stories with which you are familiar.
Hero 1:
Hero 2:
Hero 3:
Which gods /
supernatural powers
help this hero?
What is the goal of
each hero’s quest?
What superhuman
qualities, strengths
or talents does the
hero have?
List a few heroic acts
performed by each
What are the hero’s
personality quirks or
Does the hero
experience a happy
ending? Explain.
Final Project: Write Your Own Myth!
You will use everything we’ve learned about mythology in this unit to create an epic story of
your own imagined hero. Everyone will create their own story and will then translate a hero
myth as a group using digital media (an iStop Motion movie or a Garage Band radio play).
Steps to Project Completion:
1. Write your own Hero myth using The Hero’s Journey interactive program on the Read
Write Think website.
a. Remember to save all text in a Google Doc; there is NO way to save your work on
The Hero’s Journey website!
2. Meet with your group and share summaries of your stories. Decide which one would
make the best animated movie or radio play.
3. Decide, as a group, whether you will create an animated movie or a radio play.
4. Begin working on your project in iStopMotion or Garage Band
5. Present project to the class!
"Britannica School." Britannica School. 2013. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.
Huber, Raymond. Myth: Lesson Plans. N.p.: n.p., 2013. Print.
Passantino, Fiona. "THE BIG MYTH." THE BIG MYTH. N.p., 2007. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.