Myths, Legends, and Folk Tales



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Myths, Legends, and Folk Tales

In the process of making sense of the events that occur in our environment, different civilizations have looked for answers in religion and folklore. These are interpretations based on beliefs and not based on rigorous observations and descriptions of naturally occurring events.

One of the major goals of a science curriculum is that of encouraging children's natural curiosity to make observations of their environment so they can begin to make predictions as to why changes take place. In a sense, when we talk about myths, we talk about non-scientific interpretations as to why certain events occur. As such, they can be viewed as hypotheses, which need to be studied in order to ascertain if they pass the rigor of the scientific method.

A myth is a sacred story from the past, which is concerned with the powers that control the human world and the relationship between those powers and human beings (Rosenberg, 1997). Bierlein (1994) describes myth as the earliest form of science. A folk tale is a story which is pure fiction and which does not have a particular time or space. It is usually a symbolic way of presenting the way human beings cope with the world where they live. A legend is a story from the past about a historical individual. These stories are concerned with people, places, and events in history. Yet, the term myth has and is also used to mean "not true". For example, some of the myths about tsunami are that: a tsunami is a single wave, or that you can surf a tsunami. Although these

There are many myths and legends that explain natural phenomena related to natural disasters. These myths fall under the themes of cosmic disasters (the end of the world), the Great Flood, cyclical disasters, punishment of humanity, the doom of the gods, or cosmic fires. Of all the many myths relating to disasters, those related to the creation of the world, and of floods and storms are the most numerous ones. This is in part due to the fact that the theme of the flood is one of the most widespread myths, what Bierlein (1994) calls parallel myths because they occur across cultures and times. Thus, from stories like Noah and the ark, to the Magic mould (Verniero, 2001), these stories all explore the theme of destruction, and then the recreation of the Earth in one way or another (Please see Beirlein, (1994) for an extensive collection of creation, the earliest times, and flood myths from many different cultures).

Of all the cultures regarding cosmic disasters, the Aztec tradition is the most representative one. According to the Aztec myth of the five suns, the world was destroyed four separate times in the struggle between gods. The first world was destroyed by jaguars, the second by a great hurricane, the third by fire, and the fourth by a flood. We are presently in the fifth world; predestined to be devastated by earthquakes (Willis, 1993). In the Hopi mythology, we are in the fourth world; the previous destroyed by fire, by ice (when Earth toppled on its axis), and by a flood, in that order (for an extensive discussion of these myths see Willis, 1993 and Bierlein, 1994).

In the Japanese tradition, the two youngest gods, Izanagi and Izanami create the first island, Onokoro, by trusting, on the mud floating everywhere, a spear given to them by August lord of Heaven. Once the island was formed, the spear began to rain water and the oceans were formed. After consummating their marriage, the myth explains how it is that Izanami gave birth to the rest of the islands that make up Japan. They continued the creation of the world after she gave birth to the gods of wind, rain, mountains, mist, streams, rivers and the seas (Verniero, 2001).

According to Tibetan folklore, the Earth is being sustained on its back by a giant frog. When it moves, or jumps in the water, it causes an earthquake. According to Bali tradition, it is a tortoise that carries Earth upon its shoulder, and that when it moves produces earthquakes. In the Polynesian tradition, it is Ruau-Moko, the youngest child of Papa, the Earth goddess, moving in the womb that causes earthquakes. The Chincha of Peru have Mama Pacha as the Earth mother, often not only overseeing the planting and harvesting, but depicting her as dragon that is the originator of earthquakes (Lindemans, 1995). The Mayan god of earthquakes and mountains is Cabrakan.

There are also many myths and legends related to how mountain ranges were formed. In Chinese mythology, Pangu's body became the Earth, as we know it. Thus, from his head the mountains of the East were formed; from his stomach, grew the mountain of the Center; his left arm originated the mountain of the South, and the mountain of the North grew from his right arm; and it was from Pangu's feet that the mountain of the West originated. Even the constellations, stars, and the planets originated from his beard and his eyebrows respectively. The sun originated from his left eye, while the Earth grew out of his right eye. His voice emerged into thunder and lightning. The seas and rivers have their origin in Pangu's blood (Verniero, 2001).

Among the Native American tradition, the integration of myths related to mountain formation and volcanoes, it is of no surprise. Especially, when taking into account that in the history of many of the Northwest tribes still endures the memory of early accounts of eruptions of what is now called Mount St. Helen. For the Puyallup tribes, St. Helen with a symmetrical cone covered in perpetual snow is the body of Loowitlatkla ("Lady of fire"), is surrounded by Mount Hood (Wyeast mountain) and Mount Adams, who represent two brothers who admired so much the beauty of Loowit that after a long fight for her admiration caused the great chief Tyee Sahale to turn his two children into the respective mountains (VolcanoWorld, 2007).



The origin of the word hurricane is based in Taino mythology (Uracan) referring to the evil god who was the originator of sea storms. In the Mayan mythology, Hurakan (meaning one-legged) is the creator god of wind and storms. He lived in the mists over the primeval flood. Hurakan was believed to be the creator of the ancestors of the Mayan people, after he destroyed the previous inhabitants of Earth by sending floods to destroy them.


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