Myth is a universal religious phenomenon in human culture. As such, it is a field of concern in anthropology. On the basis of the many myths that have come down to us from the distant past or that have been collected by ethnographers from contemporary cultures, various theories have been elaborated by anthropologists, philosophers, psychologists, and others to account for this phenomenon. Some seek to explain the origins of myth, others the modes of mythical thought, some the functions which myth fulfills for man and society, others again the similarities and differences which occur in myths throughout the world in time and space.
Much has been written in the field of mythology and one feels that very little of it is of any real value. It is a fascinating cultural phenomenon and one that is somewhat embarrassing to the modern scientific man of the Western world. Poets, philosophers, theologians, linguists, psychologists, as we1 I as anthropologists, have all added their contributions to the ever increasing and confusing literature on myth.
The first part of this work is devoted to a critical review of the more important theories of myth. Each theory is an attempt to account for the phenomenon of myth. The second part suggests that many of these theories are built on false assumptions endemic to the era in which they were elaborated. It is further suggested that the cognitive aspect of mythology, so long abandoned, needs to receive more serious attention and that the whole phenomenon of myth needs to be approached from a more existential viewpoint. These needs become all the more imperative when we turn the search light of recent important insights from philosophy and psychology onto the field of myth.
Thus there are two dimensions to this work. Firstly, it is a survey of the historical development of anthropological theories about myth against the background of considerations from the sociology of knowledge. Secondly, it is an effort to arrive at some understanding of the nature of myth itself. Because it takes into account various related disciplines, this work could be considered as an exercise in phiJosophico-psychoJogicaJ Anthropology. Before analysing the various theories, i t will be necessary to say something about methodology, to consider various definitions of myth, and to outline a genera1 background to the theories of myth................................