Comparing myths,  comparing mythologies:  a Laurasian approach

Similarities in myth are usually explained by diffusion or by archetypes. Thus, either a  gradual dispersion of  motifs from a known or assumed center, or a common psychic inheritance of Homo sapiens.  Both approaches are difficult to sustain when studied comprehensively.

However, this project assumes  a common origin of most of Eurasian and Amerindian, thus of "Laurasian" mythology. Apart from single myths that "are found world wide", we also have to compare complete (sets of) mythologies -- a feature that has usually been neglected.  The present framework was developed some 12 years ago (see: Zinbun 36, 1990) and has been pursued on and off since (see MT VI), with special focus on the counter-indications that would falsify it. It indicates that various complete mythologies, such as the Vedic Indian or old Japanese one, do not only have similar contents (individual myths with similar motifs/archetypes) but that these items are also arranged in similar fashion,  in sum,  that  they share  a common story line.

This result is arrived at by looking at the various common features, then taking account of the whole extent and the structure of the various local mythologies, and finally by reconstructing a coherent mythology (with a common story line) for much of Eurasia, North Africa and the Americas. Its narrational scheme encompasses, in succession, the ultimate of origins of the universe and the world, subsequent generations of the gods, an age of semi-divine heroes, the emergence of humans, and the origins of "royal" lineages.  It frequently includes a violent end to our present world, sometimes with the hope for a new world emerging out of the ashes. Ultimately, the universe is seen as a living body, in analogy to the human one: it is born from primordial incest, grows, develops, comes of age, and has to undergo decay and death -- not unlike the career of the shamans who told such stories.

Once the main outline and geographical extent of Laurasian mythology have been established,  several additional features must be studied: (1) ''regional'' (sub-)varieties, for example the Indo-European  or the Near Eastern myth-families,  (2) historical developments of such (sub-)groupings,  (3) how far individual mythologies represent the  Laurasian type, what they miss, and what can be reconstructed by internal comparison; further, a delineation of the influence arising from the surrounding areas, and by contrast, purely local developments.

However,  the mythologies of Australia and Papua, as well as that of  most of sub-Saharan Africa, represent distinct types that are very different from the Laurasian one. Certain motifs are altogether missing in this Gondwana belt, e.g., creation myths that tell the origin of the world, or  flood myths, or  female witches. Areas of geographical isolation, such as  those of Australia and highland New Guinea may help in dating such mythologies.  However, in West and East Africa certain northern (Sahel, North African) influences have long been established by Africanists. Now, that means they have overlaid the older Gondwana patterns.

All such comparisons indicate that only certain individual motifs and myths occur across all the four types of mythology, the Sub-Saharan African, Laurasian, Papua, and the Australian ones. Generally,  these  truly universal motifs are isolated  in Laurasian myth,  are  not part of the ''official''  local story line, but occur as isolated myths, generally in form of folk tales or märchen. They are the fragmentary remnants of a tradition that precedes the individual four types of mythology. Laurasian  mythology seems to be  an offshoot of the older Gondwana one. Based on the four types of mythology, an early Pan-Gaean type might be reconstructed.

In short, Laurasian mythology is the first novel, and the Pan-Gaean motifs are the oldest tales of humankind. The Laurasian (and Gondwana) project will  take us back beyond all written literature, and beyond most cultural data encapsulated in individual languages or reconstructed for the various language families.  It will enable us to take a glimpse at the human condition as experienced by our most distant ancestors, both before and after they moved out of Africa.