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Thursday, June 4, 2015

What is Lower Mythology?

I had a very interesting discussion with a bright young man in the Center for Paranormal Studies Facebook Group. He asked, “ I am wondering why there is such as thing as lower Myth. I am sure U are familiar with the Hero’s Journey and I am not really sure if there is a lower myth in this case. Jung never mentioned a lower myth or anyone who follows their lead.”

To answer his question, , the theory of “lower mythology”, or the “demonological theory” represent myths as “a reflection of everyday phenomena”. The theory was advanced by German scholars F.L.W. Schwartz and W. Mannhardt. The academic work done on lower mythology started while mapping the mythic structures of early Indo-Germanic Tribes and has since been used with many Indo-European mythological studies. “Lower Mythology” is a classification created to help map extremely complex mythic structures.

What Constitutes a Creature of Lower Mythology?

In short, creatures of lower mythology consist of beings that have no objective reality yet are regarded in folk traditions to actually exist. They are generally up to no good, and usually (for one reason or another) rank below spirits, angels, deities, and ghosts.
Generally these creatures take up residence in water, trees, rocks or hide in human form. For instance, Norse Mythology classifies Dökkálfar (dark elves) as “lower” creatures because they are not a God or Giant. In the case of the Philippines, this classification can be attributed to creatures such as the aswang, tikbalang, kapre, batibat etc.

The Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology by Dr. Maximo Ramos

Dr. Maximo Ramos completed his Ph.D dissertation on the Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology under the guidance of Wayland D. Hand – the former President of
The American Folklore Society and former Director of the Center for Comparative Folklore and Mythology at the University of California. I hesitate to point out the error in using the term “higher mythology”, but I believe I must. Dr. Ramos used the term to help separate the ghouls from the Gods, and in the context of his dissertation, it was wonderfully effective. However, in the context of world mythology, it is confusing.

It is easy to mix up the realms of mythological existence with the “lower” classification. We are taught early on about Mt. Olympus and The Underworld, good vs. evil – and assume this thinking would apply to “lower mythology” and “higher mythology”
Since earthbound creatures such as the aswang are considered “lower mythology”, one may try to assert that Bathala (Supreme God of the ancient Tagalogs and King of the Diwatas), who is said to exist in the “Skyworld” would therefore be “higher mythology”. This is not the case. Skyworld is the realm in which the ancient Gods exist and Lower Mythology is a classification given to certain mythological beings. Bathala falls into the classification of “mythology”.

One would be hard pressed to find people who still believe in the ancient Gods of the Philippines, but the creatures of Philippine lower mythology still hold a firm grasp on the superstitious. Both are integral to understanding early Philippine society and both
should be included as part of the K-12 curriculum in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the negative context of lower mythology and Catechistic interpretations has made the subject almost taboo. 

This mentality has stunted studies in Philippine lower mythology since the mid 70’s. As this gap in time widens, the window into the past closes. I am hopeful that we will soon see a young, brilliant, Filipino anthropologist make a huge name for himself by effectively mapping the historical importance of these creatures in early Philippine society.

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Jordan Clark is a Canadian documentary director/producer at 
High Banks Entertainment Ltd. He made the 2011 feature length documentary The Aswang Phenomenon - an exploration of the aswang myth and its effects on Philippine society. Currently he is in production for The Aswang Project web-series, which will feature 8 mysteries and myths from the Philippines.

1 comment:

  1. This blog is nice, before anything else.

    I suppose it would be best if I would ask for clarifications or elaborations from you so I have a full grasp of your perspective.

    First, this Indo-Germanic term you are using, is it from the term coined by German Orientalist Heinrich Julius von Klaproth in 1823, “indogermanisch” which refers to Indo-Aryans? and which includes the modern day Hindu India and Islamic Iran?

    Second, what does “a reflection of everyday phenomena” really mean? Is it a fragmented collection of ideas compiled into some form of a Theoretical Framework? and What does this Framework look like visually?

    Third, is the Mythology presented more for the sake of Taxonomy or is it more about the Evolving Consciousness of this Indo-Aryan or Indo-Germanic Culture?

    Fourth, does the contrast of Lower and Higher Mythology has some bearing to understanding Character [Consciousness] or something else?

    Fifth, since Mythologies are cultural, does this suggest that there are two different cultures or value systems -- which we can clearly distinguish while interacting with the locals?

    The idea of the Lower Myth and Higher Myth reminds me of Hegel. A brilliant philosopher and not well understood.

    I am happy I am given this opportunity in clarifying my questions as regards this matter with you.

    This is my second attempt. The first one did not appear to be sent.

    May God ease your ways.