The Relationship Between Ritual and Myth
Myths are a part of the human cultural fabric due to their place through the years in helping man understand his environment as well as his place in it. Therefore, we have myths in science, in philosophy, psychology and religion — which is the topic special emphasis will be placed on today.
Nineteenth century students strongly tended to study mythology apart from associated rituals (and indeed apart from the life of the people generally). Myths were held to be symbolic descriptions of phenomena of nature. One prominent school, in fact, tried to find an astral basis for all mythic tales. Others, among whom Andrew Lang was prominent, saw in the myth a kind of primitive scientific theory. Mythology for these psychoanalysts was also a symbolic structure par excellence, but the symbolism which required interpretation was primarily a sex symbolism which was postulated as universal and all-pervasive. Reik recognized a connection between rite and myth, and he, with Freud, verbally agreed to Robertson Smith's proposition that mythology was mainly a description of ritual. To the psychoanalysts, however, mythology was essentially (so far as what they did with it is concerned) societal phantasy material which reflected impulse repression. There was no attempt to discover the practical function of mythology in the daily behaviors of the members of a society nor to demonstrate specific interactions of mythology and ceremonials.
Finally, many of the objections to this prima facie interpretation of myths are removed by arguing for the proposition that the descriptions of which myths are constituted are grounded in mythopoeic experiences. These experiences are interpreted by those who report them as revelations of the inner nature of reality. The argument for this proposition consists in drawing analogies between characteristics of myths and reports of these experiences.