Folktales and Human Migration

An interesting article from Scientific American, in which the author breaks several folktales, like the origin of the contellation Ursa Major—the “Cosmic Hunt”—into memes and then treats them in a sort of genetic way, to see if they match up with ancient human migrations, to the extent that we understand those.

Carl Jung, the founding father of analytic psychology, believed that myths appear in similar forms in different cultures because they emerge from an area of the mind called the collective unconscious. “Myths are first and foremost psychic phenomena that reveal the nature of the soul,” Jung argued. But the dissemination of Cosmic Hunt stories around the world cannot be ex­­plained by a universal psychic structure. If that were the case, Cosmic Hunt stories would pop up everywhere. Instead they are nearly absent in Indonesia and New Guinea and very rare in Australia but present on both sides of the Bering Strait, which geologic and archaeological evidence indicates was above water between 28,000 and 13,000 B.C. The most credible working hypothesis is that Eurasian ancestors of the first Americans brought the family of myths with them.

Read it all (with graphics): “Scientists Trace Society’s Myths to Primordial Origins

2 Comments

  1. Medeina Ragana says:

    Glad you saw this as I was going to send you a link to it. I found it very interesting.

  2. Pitch313 says:

    From the Pagan/magical side, I suppose that we can use phylogenetic studies of human mythology as a guide to ancient ritual and practice that incorporates a notion of relationship among the various historical cultures. Proto-India-European practitioners have done something similar using linguistic reconstruction. Phylogenetic studies of mythology may help reconstruct a version of Paleolithic magic and ritual that today’s Pagans might employ.

    I need to mull over what relationships within a phylogenetic tree may mean for practice in today’s world. What, for instance, does a closer relationship between Classical Greek and Ojibwa than with, say, Mohawk tell us or allow us in regard to Pagan practice? These days we hold concerns about cultural autonomy and appropriation that may outweigh phylogenetic closeness.

    Lastly and for myself, the Paleolithic has always turned out to be too long ago and scattered to offer a resource for practice. I don’t feel that phylogenetic analysis removes this obstacle, even if it does suggest a means of reconstruction.