My concern about the use of mythology tag

One of my question has been edited and tagged under . The question was about Mahabharata and Hindus believe that Mahabharata is not a myth but an authentic history. Myth and history are contradictory.

Of course, I know that there are two meanings for the word myth: (1): a traditional story (2): a widely held but false belief or idea.

There was a similar question here. Keshav, in his answer there, has stated that the tag is being used in the meaning of a traditional story. But the word mythis now widely being used in the context of a false idea. That would naturally cause confusion to a normal user, especially to the new ones.

Actually, even I was taken aback when I first saw my question tagged under mythology. So, what if we have a separate tag to be used with questions about ancient Hindu history?

• Well, avoiding this sort of confusion is why the tag description specifically says "For questions about stories that are part of Hindu religious beliefs." – Keshav Srinivasan Jan 21 '15 at 17:02
• And by the way, while the word myth has these two disparate meanings in English, the word mythology has only one meaning and that is related to the non-pejorative usage of the word myth, i.e. "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." – Keshav Srinivasan Jan 21 '15 at 17:06
• We mods are going to revamp the site by weekend so some of the cleaning will go on where we will decide together of what's wrog and what's right so give us a day or two, till than lets not get into these discussions – Mr. Alien Jan 21 '15 at 21:51
• I think we already have similar discussion here meta.hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/290/… and keshav already given an appropriate answer. – Ankit Sharma Feb 2 '15 at 9:57
• @AnkitSharma I know that a similar discussion already exists and I have mentioned that in the above question too. – TheLoneKing Feb 16 '15 at 15:30
• Possible duplicate of The one tag cleanup post to rule them all – sv. Mar 16 '16 at 18:47
• I agree with the answers that contest the definition of myth/mythology in the context of Hindu literature/scripture. I don't understand why 1) the post cannot be edited and the tag removed 2) if there is a common agreed upon definition of mythology within this SE and that definition does not apply to the mahabharata, why the tag must not be removed. 3) we cannot have an "itihaasa" tag. This particular Q, however, does not require a mythology or itihasa tag as it already has a "mahabharata" tag. – user1195 Nov 27 '17 at 6:41

It is a very valid question. To say that myth mean a traditional story is incomplete and misleading, mythology means the study of myth.

A myth is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as

an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mythology as such:

the myths of a particular group or culture

ideas that are believed by many people but that are not true

I assumed that we are studying history here and not false beliefs.

Whether or not the Mahabharata is 100% authentic history and true or partially true or just myth is not important. What I do believe is that it came from God and that it is meant to teach us lessons as to how to be Hindus.

Don't get lost in the wrong argument. It is better to be a person who follows the moral values taught in the Mahabharata and believe they are myths than to be a person who does not follow the values taught in them and believe they are authentic history.

The mythology tag should not be used because:

1. To avoid confusion with the pejorative usage of the term.
2. Gives the impression that these stories are not historical. For example, calling the Mahabharata war a "myth". There is also no way to distinguish between "real" history and "mythical" history, because both happened in the past.

The word "Mythology" is the study of "Myths". According to Wikipedia,

Mythology or godlore refers variously to the collected myths of a group of people[1] or to the study of such myths.[2] Myths are the stories people tell to explain nature, history, and customs.

Then, once you click on the hyperlink for myth, you will read,

A myth is a traditional story consisting of events that are ostensibly historical, though often supernatural, explaining the origins of a cultural practice or natural phenomenon.

Definition of ostensible,

stated or appearing to be true, but not necessarily so.

However, wikipedia does state,

The word "myth" is derived from the Greek word mythos (μῦθος), which simply means "story".

This is the literal etymological meaning of the word "myth" used in academic circles,

The term is common in the academic fields of mythology, mythography.[11] or folkloristics. Use of the term by scholars has no implication for the truth or falsity of the myth.

Ok, but then the next line says this,

In fact, depending on the field the terms legend, fiction, fairy tale, folklore, fable and urban legend can be used interchangeably.[12]

In popular usage,

A myth can be a collectively held belief that has no basis in fact. This usage, which is often pejorative,[13] arose from labeling the religious myths and beliefs of other cultures as incorrect, but it has spread to cover non-religious beliefs as well.[14]

And it is this popular usage of the word that most people who come to Hinduism SE will see, not the usage of the word known by academicians. In fact, most people will think we are fools for calling our own stories "myths".

There is a reason why the word "myth" has two meanings, and it is not a coincidence.

It is also not a coincidence that the Sanskrit word "mithya" means "not real". It is a linguistic cognate with the word "myth" in other languages. The reason why myth has two meanings is quite clear from a linguistic perspective, and is a known occurrence in linguistics, that is, in course of time, the word is applied to something else and then takes on that new meaning. So, in the case of myth, one of two things happened:

1. Myth originally meant "not real", then the word was later applied to traditional and religious stories thought to be false, and the word finally meant "traditional stories", but with the connotation that the stories aren't true.

2. Myth originally meant story, then the word was later applied just to traditional stories (to distinguish them from stories not mentioned in scriptures), then the traditional stories were thought to be false, then the word myth took on a new meaning as "false".

This is at the same time as the word "history" meant "true history".

For example, the word "gay" etymologically and originally meant happy, but then later meant same-sex attraction. Nowadays, gay primarily means the latter definition.

Also, there are better alternatives, such as "sacred stories", "divine stories", etc.

• I agree with you that we don't need this tag. There are many like me who too agree that the tag should be removed. It is a shame that it is top most tag on HSE. Scripture or Vedas should be the top tag here and we have separate Mythology.Se i guess. So, for what reasons we should maintain this tag here? – Rickross Nov 24 '17 at 11:45
• To make it clear, there are tag wikis and excerpts. Why is it a shame if mythology is a top tag? Mythology has many other meanings besides a false story. dictionary.com/browse/mythology?s=t See meaning 3. If you always want to see the negative meaning, then none can help it. Be positive. There are many sites which share topics, that doesn't mean it is on topic on only one site and off-topic on other sites. If a word becomes popular in a negative way, then it is not the mistake of the word. Mythology originally meant story not false. @Rickross – Sarvabhouma Nov 25 '17 at 16:48
• @NogShine It's not about seeing the positive or negative, it's about using a word that doesn't have unwanted connotations. If we believe our "myths" are real, then we should call it "itihasas", right? – Ikshvaku Nov 25 '17 at 19:39
• Yes and @Ikshvaku in Hindu scriptures nowhere is defined what Mythology is... So why to use it at all which is so vague (undefined in the realm of Hinduism) and of course derogatory because it gives the impression that the stories in our scriptures are false. And now there is a separate site for Mythology. – Rickross Nov 26 '17 at 6:12
• That's what I call @Ikshvaku. But mythology doesn't only mean false beliefs and stories. – Sarvabhouma Nov 26 '17 at 8:58
• @NogShine Although Mythology has other meaning, "majority of users or scholars" just feel myths as pure fiction. So, i feel we need to reconsider on this tag. It's like branding our own legends as "myths". – The Destroyer Nov 26 '17 at 11:23
• @TheDestroyer Well, the tag excerpt says what the tag is for. And majority of the scholars call many things in Hinduism. That doesn't mean we should change them for them. There are many other tags on our site which are unparliamentary that doesn't mean we are talking about them and discuss about them. So, I feel there is no need to reconsider the tag. Keshav has given the reasons in the site's earlier days only and it got received well too. What is the need again? – Sarvabhouma Nov 26 '17 at 11:53
• @TheDestroyer The tag creation at the onset itself was a wrong thing to do. If the story is from Purana tag the Q with Purana, if it's from the Ramayana or Mahabharata tag Itihasa. And if you are asking about a story found in the Vedas tag Veda so on...The tag is problematic, as you can see many many users are having problems with it and that's because myth is false. – Rickross Nov 26 '17 at 12:08
• @NogShine Tag mythology has bad connotation in India as well as abroad. This reason alone is enough. Many things that were well in initial days were changed later. Why not tag mythology? – The Destroyer Nov 26 '17 at 12:12
• After seeing your answer I have proposed a new Meta question, see here: hinduism.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1015/… – Tejaswee Nov 28 '17 at 6:06
• Many stories in Ramayana and Mahabharata do sound like mythology in the pejorative sense. See one example in my answer here where a fish delivers human twins. You expect people to believe this is a "real story" because it's part of "itihasa" which means "it happened thus"? IMO, 'mythology' tag is perfect for such stories. – sv. Dec 1 '17 at 18:35
• Perhaps there may just be a few stories like that where we don't know the explanation, but that doesn't mean the rest of the text is not historical. – Ikshvaku Dec 1 '17 at 19:43
• "There is also no way to distinguish between "real" history and "mythical" history, because both happened in the past." - there is a way, it's called archaeology. Dinosaur fossils are real. There's also no way to distinguish if Santa Claus is real or mythical. Too many books and stories about him. There's no way to disprove alien abduction stories so let's all start believing in them until proven otherwise! – sv. Dec 5 '17 at 1:03
• @sv. First off, archaeology cannot tell you what happened in the past because it's solely based on interpretation of evidence and anyone can infer anything. All it can tell you is whether something exists or not, which usually means nothing unless something of value is inferred. Second, I meant you can't distinguish between "mythical" texts vs what historians consider "real" historical texts, because both happened in the past. – Ikshvaku Dec 5 '17 at 1:19
• @sv. In the case of dinosaur fossils, all that can be known for sure from those fossils is that some kind of animal that has died and is preserved as a fossil existed here previously. Everything else is a matter of inference and personal interpretation. – Ikshvaku Dec 5 '17 at 1:27

The answer given by Amit already mentions that a "myth" is "that which is not true" and "mythology" is "the study of myths". Now, that is exactly the opposite of what we believe the stories in Puranas and Itihasas to be.

There is no justification IMO in using the tag given that we already have all the relevant tags.

For example, if a question is about a story (it seems that it is a story is the only reason of using mythology as tag) which is present in the Puranas, we can tag the question with Purana. If the story is in some other scriptures, we can tag it with relevant tags accordingly. Why "Mythology" is even needed? Why and how it is important? Just because it was created by some user, we should continue using it for ever?

So, there is no valid reason we can give to justify the act of continuing using this tag on Hinduism.SE. It is purely redundant.

And, for people who have fondness for mythology, they can join the site Mythology.SE. It's specifically designed for them.

Some user, elsewhere, suggested the term ancient stories as a replacement. This is good. Because the stories, which some people here are too obsessed to call as mythologies, are basically Pouranic (or Purnaic) Katha-s. Or stories or incidents that happened in Purakala i.e in ancient times.

Another user suggests the term legend, this is also quite good IMO. But mythology should be removed or changed to something else.

Another point to be concerned, is the fact that, mythology is never defined in Hindu scriptures. So, Hinduism does not define what mythology is.

And, if we remove this tag or alter it to something else, there is nothing lost with respect to anything. So, i don't understand what the arguments to keep this tag are from our opponents.

Because it was created by an user who then used to have many misconceptions about Hinduism himself, itself is a good enough reason to remove it or to alter it. Plus we have more valid reasons on our side too.

So, in short:

1) Mythology is disrespectful. It gives the impression that the stories our scriptures say are false, which is equivalent to saying Rishis, like Vyasa, are lying
2) The word Mythology itself is non-existent in Hindu scriptures or in Hinduism. So, there's no way we could allow it to be the top tag here, which is the case now. We don't need it actually
3) Creation of this tag itself was a mistake made by an user who was then full of misconceptions about Hinduism. So, that mistake should be corrected.
4) Altering the tag to something more appropriate does not harm in any way.
5) Keeping the tag does not benefit in any way either.

• "It gives the impression that the stories our scriptures say are false, which is equivalent to saying Rishis, like Vyasa, are lying" - this is a circular argument. First you start with a false premise that Rishis/Vyasa cannot speak lies. So whatever they speak must be true even if it is impossible in nature. Like the fish Adrika mentioned in the Mahabharata that delivers human babies. "The word Mythology itself is non-existent in Hindu scriptures or in Hinduism" - this site is about Hinduism and not a replacement for Hindu scripture. – sv. Dec 1 '17 at 18:45
• Since this is a site about Hinduism why to use it? Use Itihasa when apt or Purans or any other according to the Q. Whether u believe the stories as true or not does not matter. Because u are not tagging based on what ur beliefs are but based on where the stories are found. So problem solved. – Rickross Dec 2 '17 at 4:44
• @sv. "First you start with a false premise that Rishis/Vyasa cannot speak lies." False premise? So you know as a matter of fact that Rishis can speak lies? You haven't demonstrated the circular reasoning. It is indeed a premise, arrived at for good reason, that Rishis are trustworthy individuals of integrity, and based on this trust, we consider their scriptures as truthful. It would be circular reasoning if we say that Rishis are truthful because scriptures say so. You also cherry-pick one fish example that we have little understanding about and then say "everything is myth". – Ikshvaku Dec 5 '17 at 1:31
• @Ikshvaku "that Rishis are trustworthy individuals of integrity" - my neighbor is also a trustworthy individual. I believe 99% of the things he says except his alien abduction story for the 2 weeks he went missing. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If a Rishi makes a supernatural claim like a fish delivering human babies or levitating mid air using some yoga technique, since this is not a common thing, there is no reason to believe it. The burden of proof lies with the (supernatural) claim maker not the skeptic. – sv. Dec 5 '17 at 1:41
• @sv. The Rishi can show you his levitation powers or teach you how to get the Siddhi levitation. And in fact, levitation and other Siddhis are common among Rishis so your claim that it's uncommon is not necessarily correct. There are 3 sources of knowledge: 1) direct perception 2) inference, and 3) verbal testimony of trusted, recognized authority. Scripture is verbal testimony, so there is a reason to believe. I can almost guarantee the fish thing is either a translation problem or manuscript transmission problem. "fish" probably means "fisher woman". – Ikshvaku Dec 5 '17 at 1:49
• @Ikshvaku "fish" probably means "fisher woman" - if that's true what about the story of the Brahmana who cursed the woman to turn into a fish before it/she delivered the babies? Do curses really work? Are they instantaneous? The problem with 3) verbal testimony of trusted is, how do we get to decide if someone is to be trusted or not? Should I trust my neighbor who claims he was abducted by aliens? Why not focus on the subject matter ('alien abduction') instead of relying on the "strength" of someone's verbal testimony ("my neighbor is a trustworthy person, so he must be right")? – sv. Dec 5 '17 at 18:07
• @sv. Everyone relies on verbal testimony, including you. Since we can't personally verify everything, we must rely on verbal testimony of recognized authorities. For example, the scientific community, news reporters, and historians are all recognized authorities whose word people take as evidence. This is why, for example, scientists cite the papers of other scientists as evidence. Now, how to establish who is trustworthy? We can see how honest they are, if they follow what they preach, are compassionate to all, free from agenda, etc. – Ikshvaku Dec 5 '17 at 19:23
• @sv. How does a fish give birth to humans? I'm not exactly sure, but one way could be this: The fish laid an egg, and the organism's DNA inside the egg mutated into the human genome. – Ikshvaku Dec 5 '17 at 19:23