Mythology is an integral part of the human civilization, particularly in the Western worldview. Myths and religious values are mixed up in the present culture, so that we can trace both differences and similarities of how prehistoric people viewed the origins and functions of the physical world and how modern civilized people regarded these issues. In this relation, the role of women and gender segregation are very interesting components of culture. Feminine roles in folk tales and myths are extremely high: they play the roles of mighty queens, tricky witches, innocent girls, and many other hypostases they possess. For the present culture, it is evident that there is strong relationship between gender (feminism) and mythology, since the images from mythical worldview have been successfully transferred into the modern culture. Still we can observe these traces in the literary works and even in modern feminist movements. There is no secret that mythological societies valued women very much, as they played a very important role in social communities, giving birth and taking care about children. In the middle Ages, the priorities between genders turned down, so women were suppressed by the social burdens, and in their eager to set free, they were burnt and tortured by inquisitors. The shift of gender preferences for society can be easily understood in the opposition between pagan ideals and Christian religious values.
The purpose of this paper is to find out the aspects of relationship between feminism and mythology. Hypothetically, the background of feminism lies in the obsolete roots of mythological understanding of the reality. This issue will be analyzed on the basis of contemporary researches on this matter.
The Background of the Mythical Worldview
The origins of story-telling lie very deeply in the roots of history; and from ancient times until now, we can observe the well-defined and preserved traces of mythical worldview. Landau states that “human beings tend to tell stories, even the same stories, in almost everything they do” . In many cultures, the folk art of story-telling was considered to be the most important part of the skillful mastery that had been taught for many years, sharing experiences from one generation to another. “The teller opens his tale, then, with a small but effective bit of foreshadowing-of all storytelling devices the most frequently used in native literature, in part I suppose because narrators could count on audiences knowing their stories in outline and thus being able to respond to narrative anticipations”. In the modern context, myths give us a feeling of touch to something mysterious, “with a supersensuous, preternatural or "supernatural" sphere of reality and refer to some prehistoric time”, that can be understood only through hermeneutics.
The art of hermeneutics is related to the art of interpretation of the text. Unlike the followers of structuralism, with their regard of text as an autonomous object, some researchers stood in the viewpoint that texts should be interpreted according to some contexts. Landau (1984) believes that the mythical heritage can be interpreted in different ways, including in application of the principles of hermeneutics and choosing the context, according to which the interpretation will be successfully developed.
In relation to this paper, the feministic aspect was chosen in order to clarify the major relationship between mythology, folk tales and other ethnical artifacts, and feminism. The role of women in prehistoric ages and in the modern world will be examined in a way of interpretation the examples in myths, based on the careful study of the mythical characters. The principles of hermeneutics will be applied for the gender issues in myths accordingly. According to Altmann (1945), some “remnant myths”, such as Dragon or Leviathan, are evidently presented in the Holy Bible, however, these images do not bear any mythological values, and are just the ancient traces of the fairy-tale perception of reality that is successfully applied to the modern Christian worldview in a figurative manner.
Some aspects of the mythical worldview are particularly related to the distribution of the overestimated gender roles in the context of the prehistoric society. In the primitive societies, indeed, there were not that many social burdens and constraints that would later develop in the Middle Ages, when religious norms and typed of conduct tended to repress femininity in many aspects. However, some concepts remained in the Western culture throughout the centuries. In particular, Jung (1964) calls them “archetypes” that were forming the models of social behavior for many upcoming generations, for whom mythical worldview was even not that familiar. Jung was confident that these archetypes are the background of both culture and psychology.
In the context of our essay on femininity, it is worth mentioning that the archetype of the “Great Mother” depicted Jung is crucial for giving importance to understanding relationship between mythical worldview and femininity. The woman was considered to be a great mother that gave birth to the upcoming generations, so she indeed deserved respect. In many cultures femininity was considered to be valuable and respectable, in comparison with the role of women. In myths, women were often compared to Earth that is also the Mother for all human and living beings.
Myth about Kokopele
The nature of women, however, was two-fold in myths. Some women were the hard-working labor forces who lived poorly, and others stand for queens and witches. This contrast we can observe with the example – the myth about Kokopele (South America). The research by Titiev (1939) presents the excerpts from this myth illustrated by the examples of archeological occurrences that were revealed in the studied region. This was a hunch-backed katchina, bearing the notion of “phallic erotic motives”. This myth depicts the fairy-tale story of the young girl, who was going to fulfill their natural need to some place. There, she performed a sexual act with Kokopele, however, none in her village knew about this occurrence. Thereafter, the girl became pregnant, and similarly, none knew the either origin or name of the father of this child. However, when the child was born, the community of the village decided to provide the test to get to know who child it is. According to the rules of this experiment, many village men were going to propose a child to take a bouquet of wild flowers, but it refused to take it from anyone of them. Finally, the child took the bouquet offered by Kokopele, and he was recognized to the father of the child. The couple got married and lived happily. However, many witches were in this land, and some other men, being jealous to Kokopele’s attractive and pretty wife, plotted to kill him. Kokopele asked for advise from the Spider Woman, who offered him to use some prepared medicine to conquer the witchery. Finally, they were all conquered, and Kokopele lived happily thereafter with his young wife.
This story turned to be the background for the later development of the national folklore. And even until now, people have a good tradition in this region. They perform a special Kokopeltigo katchina dance every spring in a festival, when young women are usually going to pick wild flowers after breakfast and make beautiful bouquets to glorify both the rise of the nature and the overcome against the witchery. When putting this myth in the gender aspect, it turns clear that people respected women and family values. The good nature of women is considered to be the major part of humanity and civilization insights. When the girl gave birth to the child in spring, her femininity rose; and response to this fact, the nature gave people the flower gifts of spring. The role of men in this myth is secondary, as soon as they are conquerors to be the husband of so pretty young girl. However, it is very symbolic that it is baby who selects his father by means of accepting the offered bouquet from him. In the community, it is expected that the baby will make no mistake in its choice, as the baby is innocent and it can feel the father of its.
The myth about Kokopele can be interpreted in other aspects as well; however, it is rather the gender aspect that covers the limits of this essay. Hermeneutically, Kokopele myth is the evidence of relationship between femininity and mythology. This aspect was also studied by Propp (1984), and this researcher contributed much to studying some aspects of folklore in relation to symbols from mythology. It is evident that this research was influential on the matter of applying the basic concepts of hermeneutics practically.
It was found out that there is a strong connection between mythology and femininity, rather than feminism and gender identity, as they are understood in the modern context. Nowadays, gender and feminism are concepts that are understood by society in the way of giving strength and power to women, fulfilling their rights for equality in society. In comparison to myths, in primitive societies women were granted opportunities of the other type, related to their natural function. This statement is illustrated in this paper with the example of myth about Kokopele. This hero married a beautiful girl and was recognized as a father of her child with the help of a unique ceremony that lasted for centuries before until nowadays. This festive ceremony predetermined offer the bouquets of wild flowers to this child to let it finally accept the gift of beautiful flowers from its father.
In Kokopele myth, femininity is considered to be as of its complying with the natural forces and strong female energy that women were bearing in them. They were destined to give birth to children, bring up them, and lead a well-defined married life. Mythology is the way how people were going to express their national identity, and the role of women was well-defined in society. There is a definition between femininity and feminism that is distinguished between mythological worldview and modernity.