We should now understand what a myth is. Myth is the imaginative fiction of the minds of the ancient natives of a country who believed that there were some kind of nature gods who were involved in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the world, and in some way they also influenced the social life of the people. Thus, they formulated imaginative stories about them and started worshipping them in their own style by offering sacrifices of such animals which they themselves used to eat.
There are thousands of mythologies. Every country in the world has a number of mythologies. Their imaginations about the shape of god also differ from country to country. For example, Greek gods are portrayed in human form, whereas the Egyptian gods are portrayed as having a human body with a human or an animal head and with a peculiar dress. There are all kinds of mythologies: cosmogony or creation myth, myth about the last judgement and death, myth of the destruction of the world, myth of human generation like of Adam and Eve, myth about the period of creation, just like the Zoroastrians of ancient Persia believed in four periods of 3,000 years (12,000 years) only, myth about the soul leaving the body after death, just like the Egyptians believed that the soul flies out from the body like a bird after death, and many more.
There are eight main characteristics of the myths.
(1) They have no philosophy of any kind.
(2) They have no exact time of the births of gods. It means they have no real history of their imagined gods.
(3) They have no scientific description of any kind regarding the creation and destruction of the world, or birth of souls and their karmas etc.
(4) The number of their gods and goddesses is flexible. It means that during various periods of time new gods and goddesses have been created and added to the mythology.
(5) There is no definite place or dimension for their gods to live in. Just some vague imaginations like the Greek gods are supposed to live on Mount Olympus in Greece.
(6) There is absolutely no description of the Divineness of gods.
(7) Their gods and goddesses are filled with human weaknesses like lust, greed, jealously and anger etc., and
(8) their gods and goddesses have never been visualized in actual life because they are just the fiction stories of primitive minds. These are the common characteristics that are found in all the mythologies of the world. These mythologies assume the shape of the religion of that country and people keep on worshipping these imaginative figures for their whole life, just like Alexander worshipped Heracles and his mother worshipped Dionysus.
The source of mythological imaginations
If someone studies these mythologies carefully he will find that in spite of great descriptional differences there is some kind of basic similarity among them which makes one think that they might have come through some common source, and it is a fact that they did come from one common source.
All these mythologies describe about the creation of the world from the void or the sky. They also describe about the destruction of the world. They describe about the beginning of human civilization from some original couple like Adam and Eve. They also tell about gods and demons or evil spirits. Some mythologies (like that of Germanic people) tell about a huge ‘world serpent’ holding the earth, and about a certain distant land of happiness where good people go after death. Some mythologies tell about a certain region where all the dead people go, and so on. These are the general descriptions of the mythologies of the world. These descriptions are vague, bear no philosophical details and have no preciseness of the number of gods or goddesses or their living abodes etc., yet they have a general similarity. They also tell about the god of rain and thunder, god of fire, god of water, god of wisdom and god of arts etc.
The prime source from where these ideas originated was, of course, the stories of the Puranas of Bharatvarsh which travelled through the trade routes from word of mouth and reached the other countries in a broken form because they travelled from mouth to mouth. Then, from there, they travelled to other far-off countries of the world. As a general instinct, the primitive people also thought that certain invisible super forces might exist somewhere in the space which cause or control the natural happenings like disastrous rain, hail, strong thundering clouds, stormy wind or brush fire etc., which affected their daily life. When the stories of god of fire or god of rain and thunder etc. reached these people it supported their basic imaginations, and thus, all such stories of gods and goddesses that reached these places were incorporated in their folk tales with their added imaginations. In this way the mythologies started. They prevailed in the society for a long time. Later on, when the writing system started, they were written down in a book form. Thus, among the variations of the descriptions of the mythologies of different countries, there remains a similarity because the basic stories of creation, destruction and gods and goddesses came from one single source, India
Swami Prakashanand Saraswati