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Exploring the Role of Myths in Shaping Societies

Jun 13, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jun 13, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


According to Campbell (1968), a myth is a hero’s story which coordinates a person living with his or her life’s cycle, with the environment they are living, and the society in which they have been integrated in the environment. Similarly, Campbell (1972) defined a myth as a story of a vague or forgotten origin, basically supernatural or religious in nature which seeks to rationalize or explain one or more societal or world’s aspects. The essay will provide an original commentary on the topic of “myths and their functions in societies” using an Irish myth in highlighting the functions.


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According to Campbell (1968), people from cultures different tend to create their own myths because many are just like stories. Myths are like a way of passing knowledge and wisdom down from one generation to the other. Campbell (1972) stated that with each generation passing, the story changes. The myth is embellished with notions that are fanciful and loaded with symbolism and iconography. For example, the myth of a certain culture may suggest that wildlife resides in a forest and therefore no one should go to the forest in darkness. However, the reason behind the myth is act as a deterrent to the people of a culture not to go into the forest when there is darkness for they might get lost or be stuck there. Another reason why cultures create mythology is to finding something to aspire, amaze its people or to make them afraid. This is achieved by embellishing the stories that frightens, concentrate on its people s needs as humans. Lastly, Campbell (1968) also stated that cultures create their own myths to find a way of explaining normal things happening around them every day. For example, the reasons why the tides flow and ebb, why the sun rises and sets. Therefore, culture will create creatures and deities to be responsible for the nature’s events.

According to Campbell (1972), myth can do several things to a culture. For instance, mythology and myths helped in shaping values and culture which are the context in which decisions are made by individuals. Similarly, myths instils social conscience that could bring individuals to put the groups good above their biological drives, and self-indulgence.

Banshee- Irish Myth

The banshee according to Bunting & McCully (2009) was a woman who carried a death omen with her. In Irish mythology, she was a female spirit usually seen as a messenger of death and from the underworld. Sometimes people could see banshee as a young beautiful girl and sometimes as an old woman who is dressed in rags or and as a wash woman ringing clothes full of blood. Whenever banshee was seen, she would cry horribly, and legend elaborates that her cry brought death to the families that heard it. For example, King James I of Scotland was approached by banshee and thereafter he died shortly at the Earl of Athol. According to Millar (1983), there are particular Irish families who legend believed had banshees attached to them, and whenever she cried, a member of the family must die. Though not all, most surnames that are associated with banshees have the “Mac” or “O’” prefix which indicates their natives are Ireland natives, and not descendants of the invaders. Examples include the O’Gradys, O’Neills, O’Longs,O’Brians, McCnaimhins among others.

Different versions of the banshee have been put across from a woman with very pale skin and red long hair, to an old woman with grey stringy hair, fiery red eyes and rotten teeth. Often she is depicted with a comb stacked in her hair and this has resulted to superstition amongst the Irish that finding a comb lying on the ground is a bad luck. According to Bunting & McCully (2009), the Irish do not believe that death was not caused by banshee, but merely to warn

Functions of mythology

Metaphysical function: the relationship of humans to the supernatural

The first function of mythology is that a myth can help in explaining the natural and the supernatural universe. That is the stories about the creations of the goddesses, gods, weather among others. This is mystical in nature since it brings out the realization of what wonder people are, the universe and experiencing the awe (Campbell, 1968).
According to Campbell (1972), this function answers questions of where people came from, where people go after death. Majorly it explains the relationship between humans and the supernatural. How they relate to the spirituality or the unknown such as the magic, spirits, ghosts, goddess and the gods or the unworldly things.

The factors in the story that qualifies the banshee myth to qualify in this function is; banshee was seen as death omen and a messenger from the underworld. Another factor is that in legend, when someone is about to die, a banshee will scream nearby.
There are several lessons and values this myth promotes based on the factors that qualifies it as a myth that has relationship between humans and the supernatural. To begin, the first lesson learnt from the myth is that supernatural beings are scary. Both from physical appearance and their actions, they scare people around. For instance, in the myth of banshee, the narrative describes the physical appearance of banshee as an old woman with very pale skin and red long hair, to an old woman with grey stringy hair, fiery red eyes and rotten teeth. This physical description shows how she was scary to the people who saw her. Furthermore, supernatural beings are also being depicted as scary from their actions or what befell people from their actions. It is believed among the Irish people that the scream of banshee was a bad omen. Her thin scream it is believed predicted death to a member of one of the five major families in Ireland. This is a scary nature of the supernatural beings since her action never came with good news, but sad news which scare people very much (Millar, 1983).

Another lesson learnt from some supernatural beings is that there are only associated with other groups of people or cultures. In the myth about banshee, it is evident that banshee only visited specific families in Ireland and let out other Ireland people or the non-residents living in Ireland. Furthermore, Bunting & McCully (2009) pointed out that even when the families blended with time, and even some emigrated to other places from Ireland, banshee still followed them across the globe to their new locations. This is an indication that the descendants of particular families associated with banshee were bounded to the mythology however where their location on the face of the earth.

Cosmological function: the relationship of humans to nature

This is the second function of myths according to Campbell. According to this function, myth can assist a culture in explaining what it values and its traditions. That is how people should behave in relation to the other people in the culture. According to Campbell (1968), cosmological function explains the relations of human beings to the physical universe, and that is things that people can smell, taste, touch, hear and see. Moreover, this function also explains the hierarchy of the world. That are the animas lower or higher than people? Do the animals work together, or they are against each other?
The first factor that qualifies banshee myth as a cosmological function is a special relationship Irish people have with a comb. Banshee is described as a fairy lady with a comb stacked in her hair, and this has resulted to superstition amongst the Irish that finding a comb lying on the ground is a bad luck. The second factor is that it is on record that the banshee is rarely seen or heard by daylight except only on one occasion at midday. Generally at night is the chosen time by her to visit her mortals (Millar, 1983).

The lesson learnt from that element is that picking objects found lying on the ground can be fatal or have evil associated with them. The Irish people believe that because banshee always has a comb on her hair, a banshee can transform and take any of the forms including that of a comb and shifts between them, just the way she shifts from being a fairy lady to an old rugged women by the riverside. Similarly, for the comb it was believed that if a person see the comb in Ireland lying on the ground, they should never pick them up since the banshees may have placed them there just to lure the unsuspecting human beings (Bunting & McCully, 2009). This shows the relationship between the Irish people and the comb found lying on the ground. They have a fear of a comb on the ground as much as it is just an object.
The second lessons learnt is that darkness is associated with evil. In many folklores, narratives, fables, darkness is always associated with evils spirits or evil deeds associated with death. This is also depicted in banshee’s myth where she visited her targets at night wail and then disappeared leaving people in despair. This indicates that darkness is linked with evils spirits and evil deeds.

Sociological function: relationship of humans to the society

According to Campbell (1972), myth can help people in growing up as individuals by providing them with inspiration. In the sociological function, myths explain relationships of humans to each other. That is how human beings should in interact in relationships and in groups. Moreover, it explains the individual and its relation to the society. It also explains the traditions, social norms and values of a society. Lastly, sociological function covers the relationship of people with other people, how people should react, values in a group.

The first factor is qualifying banshees’ myth as a sociological function relationship of the group of people that believe in the banshee myth. The banshee is said to an earthly attendant of the Ireland s ancient families and the true descendants of the noble race of Gaelic with prefix O’ and Mac to their names. The families having the old chieftains names of the Gaels such as the the O’Gradys, O’Neills, O’Longs,O’Brians, O’Donnels, O’Learys, McCnaimhins, or the Kavanaghs amongst others each has their own banshee cry which whenever was heard by any of the members of the family, it was a forewarning of impending death (Bunting & McCully, 2009).

The lesson learnt is that being a member of a certain grouping or a community, you are bound by its traditions and myths. It is remembered well that banshee exclusively belongs to the Celtic race she has never, and is never heard wailing and approaching death of any members of other communities and races that forms the composition of Ireland population. Not everybody who lives in Ireland were visited by the banshee despite the fact there were different families, communities and the non-natives of the land (Millar, 1983). It is said that the cry of the banshee predicted the death of a member related to one of the major five families. The relationship between the families to each other was that they were true descendants of the noble race of the Gaelic which banshee happened to belong to. When banshee’s canoine or wailing was heard in the vicinity of the old Gaelic house family, it was believed that death or misfortune awaited one of the members of the family. For instance, many cases had been quoted where all the members of the family were in good health when they heard the cry of the banshee. But before even a week elapsed, someone k get killed or drowns and even meet a sudden death in a similar fashion (Bunting & McCully, 2009).

Psychological function: the relationship of humans to themselves

Some of the factors that qualify banshees’ myth under this myth include the following; the Irish people do not have a belief that the banshee causes death, but just mere warning of death. Despite the fact that during the middle ages, it was believed that the banshees would protect people’ souls who had a good heart and good deeds after they had passed on. Most of the people regard banshee as just a mere entertaining folklore while others believe genuinely in their existence (Millar, 1983).
The first lesson is that experiencing a phenomenon associated with evil or death worries people. Many Irish people believed that the cry of the banshee was simple a mere warning while others believed it was the cause of death.in overall, being associated with an evil phenomenon scares people and even leads to death even in situations where it was not a real event
The second lesson is whether spirits that impact our daily lives significantly whether they are good or evil spirits.in the myth of banshee, her cry associated with bad omen and death to certain Irish families. However, some people believed that the same spirits associated with bad omen are also responsible for protecting good souls after they have passed on. This is totally ironical to the believers of the myth (Millar, 1983).

Another lesson learnt from the banshee’s myth is that some of the stories and myths are believable or sometimes unbelievable amongst the human race. Sometimes evidences of banshee coincided consistently with the long term illness death or some death causes that are easily foreseeable that makes it hard to assume that it is as a result of banshees wailing. However, some cases are reported where there are sudden deaths, reports of drowning of perfectly healthy individuals after some weeks of a believed sound of banshees cry. For example, the death of King James I of Scotland, who being reported to have been approached by an Irish seer believed to be a banshee, was soon murdered (Bunting & McCully, 2009).


In summary, this write-up discussed the myths and their functions in the societies. The essay applied the Irish myth of banshee, a fairy ghostly woman who appears to specific families in Ireland and make melancholic cry to indicate the impending death of one of the family members. The write up used the banshee myth to highlight the four functions of myths as outlined by joseph Campbell. The four functions of the myth include metaphysical, cosmological, sociological and psychological functions.


Bunting, E., & McCully, E. A. (2009). The Banshee. New York: Clarion Books.
Campbell, J. (1968). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Campbell, J. (1972). Myths to five by. New York: Bantam.
Millar, M. (1983). Banshee. New York: Morrow.

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