Symbol and Myth

Philosophy 20 (76):162 - 171 (1945)
Abstract
There are two ways in which Symbol and Myth are related to each other. Firstly, a certain class of symbols represents the remnant of myths. Such figures as, e.g. the Dragon, Leviathan, etc., which we find in Biblical literature, are not used in the full sense of the underlying mythological conception, but in a metaphorical sense. They are chosen by the author because of their mythical associations, but not in their mythical meaning. Ametaphor of this kind is, as H. J. D. Astley put it, “broken-down mythology.” There are a great many symbols both in poetry and mysticism which must be understood as the relics of mythical thought. We owe a great deal to ethnology for having thrown light on this relation. The microcosm-macrocosm symbolism, for instance, becomes more intelligible if we consider that in primitive mythology the world emerged from the body of primordial man. The gifts to the dead appear in later forms of sacrificial cults as purely symbolical, but there is no doubt that originally they were intended for the real use of the dead. In these and in numerous other cases the symbol has only a reduced value as compared with the original-myth from which it is borrowed. It is not self-evident, but relies on the mythical conception, without, however, taking it seriously. It is “merely” a symbol, and has no truth of its own
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