"Is there anything truer than truth? Yes, Legend." (Kazantzakis)
MYTHOLOGY represents a "alternative belief system." It is one not based on the recently traditional Western "scientific" methods involving "objective" consensual validity and falsifiability (disprovability). Myths are thus not regarded as sufficiently validated to invite high levels of confidence by those committed to the view that we can (and should) establish progressively more valid and verifiable views of reality). The phenomena myths are based on do not meet repeated tests of "correspondence" (with the "real" world) and "coherence" (with the body of knowledge into which new observations or findings are received). In general myths may be VERY COHERENT, but correspondence to the real world is at best, fragmentary. Such alternative views, however, often tap into tacit knowledge which --despite their subjective origins-- are often externalized in ways that are nevertheless valid and illuminate the human condition. In some way, mythology is a systematic map of human consciousness.
The behavioral patterns --art, fiction, myth--that such perceptions are involved with are virtually universal among humans and are important if not crucial elements in our cultural lives. The aspects of the "real world that engender such perceptions are, however, often lost in a mass of symbolic transformations, coincidental interactions with nature at a crucial moment, congenital predispositions, or ecological circumstances. While our subject matter consists of observations, interpretations, and beliefs that are less than objective, our approach to them and the behavior that underlies them is ethological in that we will simultaneously consider (1) developmental and experiential, (2) ecological, (3) evolutionary, and (4) physiological aspects of each topic. Such an approach is most likely to confer a unifying, guiding insight to our survey. Although mythologies and the cultures in which they are embedded reflect behavioral patterns, and we are likely to encounter profound (possibly insurmountable) difficulties in being objective about ourselves, this approach to behavior is the least vulnerable to distortion in practice.
Our review of each topic will proceed by first forging a guiding paradigm from ethology, anthropology, mythology and religion; and then examining selected examples from all areas of zoological concern in the light of the paradigm.