• Proto-Indo-European Religion
• Indo-European Languages
• Proto-Indo-European Goddesses
• Proto-Indo-European Myths
• Creation Myth
• Myth of Ymir
• Correspondents in Other Languages and Religions
• IE Creation Myth in Hebrew and Phoenician
• How Lleu Lhaw Gyffes Got his Name
• Proto-Indo-European Rituals
• Festivals, Food and Farming
Proto-Indo-European myths may be defined as narratives which have certain elements in common, such as a God/person X who does Y in connection with a God/person/being Z, where X and Z are cognates, respectively, in several Indo-European languages, and Y is something specific like “kills monster.” Many Indo-European myths have at their core some simple observation of nature or life, such as that the sun is “born” each morning and “dies” each night, or that wheat must be cut and threshed (“killed and tortured”) before it can be used to make bread.
Types of sources for the reconstruction of Indo-European myths
George Cox gives just such a list of sources on p. 53-56, in the Mythology of the Aryan Nations. See also the Oxford Introduction, which lists “myth, history, folklore” on p. 432. Jacob Grimm gives a more complete list of types of sources including riddles and proverbs, but they must be used with care. In areas where the original religion has been replaced by hostile monotheistic religions, many Indo-European myths persist in the form of fairytales, romances and saints’ tales, and sometimes as the “history” of the Gods or heroes in the monotheistic religions themselves, a point of which they do not like to be reminded.
Proto-Indo-European Myths: Although many myths might be considered “Indo-European myths” on the grounds that they are told in some Indo-European language, the very brief list of myths which follows can be shown by the cognate names to descend from a common ancestor (as distinguished from a common source) in the Indo-European languages and therefore qualify as Proto-Indo-European myths. Most of these were identified and described as early as 1887 by George Cox, in The Mythology of the Aryan Nations, and they have been discussed by many other authors with a better understanding of linguistics since that time. There are in fact some 28 myths that can be reconstructed to a Proto-Indo-European original based on this very high linguistic standard, but most of these have not been recognized by Indo-European linguists. In the list that follows, the numbers after each myth, such as 5 of 11 language families, are used to indicate that a certain myth is known in cognate forms in at least five of the eleven major language families among the Indo-European languages. Three examples of a cognate myth in widely separated languages represent a minimum criterion for inclusion.
• Birth of the Horse Twins from the grain/horse mother (Cox, p. 234; found in 7 of the 11 language groups.)
• Danu killed and cut open to produce a river (a Partition Creation myth; found in at least 3 of the 11 language families.)
• Time gives birth to the Sun and the Moon, see How Lleu Lhaw Gyffes Got his Name.
Cyclic or Seasonal Myths
• Cloud/cows stolen from the Sun God by the Wind God and then returned (Cox, p. 232; found in 4 of the 11 language groups.)
• Dying Corn God, dies and is reborn, causes seasons (Frazer, Vol. 8 and 9 of the Golden Bough, esp. Vol. 9, p. 412-423; found in 4 of the 11 language families.) The John Barleycorn song is widely recognized as a form of this myth.
• Uncle Water (Apam Napat or Neptune) melts the ice and releases the water causing flooding (Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, p. 582-3; found in 5 of the 11 language families.)
Religious Uses of Myths
Interestingly, for what it says about humans, myths are very often used to present ideas about social or political conditions or concerns, usually in an indirect manner. It might be thought that in the “old days” myths were told because people actually believed in them, but when the myths are no longer believed, they are just told for entertainment value, since they now appear in comic books, operas, movies and other modern works of fiction. But it can be shown that in the time of classical Greek drama, for example, many myths were told as a commentary on Greek society, which is a way in which myths are often used now. And people were not more credulous in the old days. There are people now, as there were in the past, who believe in all sorts of nonsense in a simple-minded way, and then there always were and still are people who have a more sophisticated understanding of the world and of the nature of the information that is presented to them. The character of myths that allows them to be bent to any use has allowed them to be of continuous interest and utility and it is probably this very factor that is responsible for their preservation.
The Internet Sacred-Text Archive is the most useful general website for myths in Indo-European (and other) languages.
The page was published at pierce.yolasite.com/piemyth but Yola was hacked in Nov. 2011 and they could not salvage their servers. It is now published here with many revisions based on continuing research.
© 2007, last updated 7/17/2017, at piereligion.org/piemyth.html