Mythology can refer to the study of myth, or to a body of myths.
A myth is a sacred narrative explaining how the world and mankind came to be, often closely linked to religion. The cultures originally telling the myths generally considered them to be true. Myths often explain natural phenomena, or how various customs were established.
Myth, Legend, and Folktale
The difference between a myth and a legend is typically one of time and character. A legend tends to be about a recent or contemporary figure, generally a human. By contrast, the main characters in myths are usually gods or supernatural heroes, and many myths take place before the dawn of man. Like a myth, a legend is typically regarded as true in its original culture, but unlike a myth it is not a sacred truth. Denying a legend may be an insult to your ancestors, but it's not heresy - denying a myth is generally both.
The difference between a myth and a folktale has to do with the myth's status as a sacred truth. A folktale or fable may be about characters that would normally be found in a myth or a legend, but the folktale is understood to be fictional, allegorical, or at least debatable. No one's getting stoned for not believing a folktale. That said, some folktales are true, or have an element of truth. An Urban Legend is a modern form of a folktale, a story that happened to "a friend of a friend", and has been exaggerated or distorted with the retelling.
One possible explanation of where myths come from is Ritual. If this theory is correct, myths began with rituals, often magical in nature. When later generations no longer remembered why the ritual was conducted, or began to lose faith in it's magical power, a new explanation was needed to justify continuing to perform the ritual. These new explanations were narratives that incorporated the imagery of the ritual, and built up a religious context for the ritual. In such an interpretation, all myths are essentially coded myth, and what is encoded within them is the method of performing some ancient magical rite.
List of Myths, Legends, and Folktales
This short list includes elements of myth that cannot be conveniently connected to a single body of mythology. For elements and stories of specific mythologies and cultures, see List of Mythologies.
- Classical Mythology
- Coded Myth
- Interpretatio Graeca
- Mythological Characters
- Mythological Creatures
- Mythological Places
Game and Story Use
- Pretty much any setting can benefit from a deep background mythology - not just fantasy, but also science fiction, as the myth arcs of Babylon 5 (to name just one example) show. It immerses the player characters - and thus, the players - into their world.
- However, care should be taken not to overwhelm the players with background information at the start of the campaign. Instead, they should gradually learn more as the campaign progresses - and also want to learn more.