The Role of Myth in Indigenous Religions Traditions

The Role of Myth in Indigenous Religions Traditions


Religion can be defined as the belief in a supernatural being or power. The belief is accompanied by practices and specific performances that reinforce this belief system. Worship is the most common and conspicuous form of expression of religion and religious beliefs and it includes the performance of acts such as song and prayer toward the deity being. Myths, on the other hand, can be defined as a traditional story on historical events that seeks to explain or unfold some mystery surrounding a practice in order to offer a world view of a given society regarding some phenomenon or practice. This paper will seek to identify and explain the role of myth in indigenous religious traditions in various societies in the world.


Indigenous religion traditions involve a number of myths, whose roles are to explain the origin of the religion and help to understand the evolution of the religion to its present state. Indigenous people have many stories that they use to identify with in relevance to the origins of the religion that they practice. Practitioners of the various religions believe that the stories behind their religions are true and must be ascribed to effective practice of the religion (Campbell, 1991). These believe that these stories, which constitute myths to those who do not believe them, are not only true and accurate in the information that they have, but divine in nature as they are ordained by the deity in power. According to the practitioners, therefore, these stories are not myths and consider those who call them myths as disrespecting their religion and religious practices.

Myths play a role in explaining the events and origins of the practices of religious traditions. In Christianity, for instance, there are a number of myths that seek to offer explanations for the various beliefs and practices of Christians.  One myth common in the Christian faith is that of the creation of the universe. According to the myth (as referred to those who do not believe in the creation story in the book of genesis), the universe was created by a supernatural being (God) in six days, resting on the seventh day. Using this myth, Christians have identified one day in their calendar to rest in following in the footsteps of this superior and supernatural being (God). Because this myth forms the core of their beliefs, Christians ascribe high levels of respect to God’s creation as evidenced in their quest for the respect and protection of human life and that of animals. This myth also forms the basis of many laws like that of protecting life and making it illegal and a crime to take the life of another because according to the myth, life was created by God, making it sacred and holy. This is just on popular example of a myth that explains the importance of myths to indigenous religious traditions (Buxton, 2004).

Another role of myths besides explaining the origin or religious practices as practiced is to offer detailed explanation of the features that form the practices and doctrine of the religion. These myths explain the existence of certain practices, what they mean, and their implications when they are adhered to or not to those who belief and practice the religion. One popular myth is the Buddhist parable of the arrow, which works to warn Buddhists against speculation on the existence of eternal life. This way, the myth forms the religion’s doctrine that is based on the existence of eternal life for all believers, and guides the actions and faith of the believers to constraint from wandering from the core teachings and beliefs of the religion.

Myths serve to offer direction to the religion that is being practiced. Through the myth, believers of a given religion are able to determine their future through the actions and practices of the religion. One popular Christian myth and in other religions is that of punishment for sinners at the time when the universe will come to an end (Bierlein, 1994). Through this myth, Christians and believers of other religions are able to determine their destiny as gauged from the quality of lives that they lead, hence given them the chance to change their lives toward the destiny that they desire.


Some scholars argue that all religions are based on a set of myths, which are ascribed to by those who do not believe in the stories behind the myths. These myths form the core basis of the doctrines behind these religions, as they explain the origin of the super being behind the religions and who the believers refer to as their deity, they explain the practices of the religion, explaining their origin as well as the manner in which they should be performed. Of utmost importance is that these myths offer the longevity and future of the religion by providing the believers with a direction to which their lives are headed with regard to the future of the religion as held in the myths. This is what gives believers hope and faith in their religions, knowing that as held in the myths they hold, their worship for the superior being in their religion will pay well with the reward of eternal life. Religion, therefore, is based on myths that form and guide the religions processes undertaken.



Bierlein, J.F. (1994). Parallel Myths. New York: Ballantine.

Buxton, R. (2004). The Complete World of Greek Mythology. London: Thames & Hudson.

Campbell, J. (1991). The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. NY: Penguin.




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