AbstractThe question of how myth, folklore, and religion originated has exercised the scholarly imagination at least as far back as the Greek philosopher Euhemerus. The answers often have depended more on imagination than evidence. In the Victorian era, the German philologist Max Muller promoted “solar mythology” as the solution for all such origins, arguing that the movements of celestial bodies, seasonal events, and weather phenomena preoccupied the minds of primitive peoples, and their natural poetic abilities distorted these observations into fanciful anthropomorphic tales of gods and heroes. Freud applied psycho-analytic theory to the problem and found that myths began in dreams as the psyche struggled to resolve Oedipal and other developmental conflicts throughout the course of life. Structural anthropologists regarded myths as templates arising to reconcile logical contradictions in the concrete thinking of the primitive mind. A sweeping explanation for origins may gain widespread acceptance for a time, but this dominance seldom endures for long. Anthropological fieldwork typically uncovers exceptions and alternative possibilities that overthrow the theory. In retrospect, it appears obviously wrong, and worse still the evidence and arguments that once seemed so convincing come to look as embarrassing as “Ancient Astronaut” speculations. Once burned, scholars shy away from the subject and frown on any efforts in its direction. Yet the problem of origins never stays down for long. Because it remains one of the “big” questions of human science, the origins problem continues to tease scholarly curiosity and sooner or later another ingenious proposal comes forward.
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