From greek mythos (“story”), a myth refers to a tale of wonderful events whose protagonists are supernatural characters (gods, monsters) or extraordinary (heroes).
Myths are said to be part of the religious system of a culture, which considers them to be true stories. They have the goal of awarding a narrative backup to the core beliefs of a community.
Functions of a myth
This brings us to the functions of myth in society, within the framework of a culture, since they are not arbitrary or spontaneous stories. In short, we can say that it has three vital functions: an explanatory one, a meaningful one, and a pragmatic one. The first refers to the fact that the myth serves to explain, develop or justify the emergence, the cause and the reason for being of various aspects of society or of the lives of individuals, as occurs with the Greek myth that tells the origin of the world or the book of Genesis of the Bible.
On the other hand we have the pragmatic function, because the myth is the foundation of some actions and structures social in that it is strong enough to establish who has the right to rule. In other words, you can specify and justify the reasons why a particular situation is one way and not another.
Third is its function of meaning. The myth is not simply a story that seeks to explain or justify issues of a political nature, but it can offer us the inner peace that we need at certain times, that comfort that helps us get up and continue when we have had to face death, pain for the loss of a loved one or personal defeat. The myth is close to the one who receives it to give meaning to its life, combining the three functions just mentioned.
The Lévi-Strauss analysis
The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss adds that every myth fulfills three attributes: it deals with a existential question, it is formed by irreconcilable opposites and provides the reconciliation of those poles to end the anguish.
In its origin, the myth is a oral account. Over time, its details vary according to the transmission of knowledge of generation in generation. Once societies developed writing, the myth was reworked in literary form, with which it extended its versions and variants.
Types of myth
Scholars have distinguished different kinds of myths, such as cosmogonic (trying to explain the creation of the world), the theogonic (refer to the origin of the gods), the anthropogonic (about the appearance of the human being) and foundational (birth of cities), among others.
The cosmogonic myth is a story that seeks to offer an answer to the mystery of the origin of the universe and of our species. Theogonic, on the other hand, focuses on the cosmos and the gods of Greek mythology. The anthropogonic myth also has a religious focus on our origin, since it contemplates that we have been created by a higher being. The founding myth is also known as founder and pursues an explanation for the emergence of certain rites or polis (the Dark Age city-states of Greece).
The concept today
When, in ancient times, scientific explanations began to compete with mythical ones, the term myth acquired a context pejorative, which began to be used as a synonym for a widespread but false belief or hoax.
On the other hand, the concept of myth is also often used to refer to historical figures or events, which have left an unmistakable mark. In this case you can also use your adjective. For instance: “Juan Manuel Fangio is a mythical figure of motorsport”.