googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: How Are Myths Born?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Are Myths Born?

After my last post about unicorns, I began to wonder how the legend of the western unicorn arose. As I discussed already, there have been true one horned animals throughout history but how did the idea of a horned horse become popular? I did a cursory search on Google and found there are many opinions. Interestingly, all of the various theories had one thing in common – they all involved elaboration on real animals. Even if we never know which animal it might have been, the mere fact that everyone thinks it was based on a real animal intrigued me. Is that how myths are born?

What other legendary animals might have been born out of encounters with real animals. Many creation apologists have long speculated that dragon legends were depictions of man's encounters with dinosaurs. I've thought about writing on that in the past but there's been so much said on the subject that I decided not to unless I come up with some original angle. However, there are many other creatures of legend. Could they too be elaborated upon depictions of real animals? Let's look at a few.

In the movie, Jurassic Park, velociraptors were very dinosaur-looking. Since then, a few new fossil finds and much artistic license have made more recent renderings much more bird-like. I've always said that dino-to-bird evolution has been occurring in the minds of scientists. Anyway, if a Renaissance-era person were to describe a modern depiction of a velociraptor, he might say it looks like a cross between a bird and a reptile. Are there any bird-reptile creatures of myth? Certainly there is. According to Wikipedia, "the cockatrice is a legendary creature, essentially a two-legged dragon with a rooster's head." If the modern renderings of velociraptors are accurate, I would say it very much looks like a cockatrice. So perhaps the velociraptor gave birth to the cockatrice legend.

The lindworm is described by Wikipedia as “a wingless, bipedal dragon.” That's interesting. If there is any truth to the claim that “dragons” is a reference to “dinosaurs”, then the lindworm is basically a wingless, bipedal dinosaur. The lindworm shown here was used in British heraldry. Tell me the truth, doesn't it resemble a bipedal dinosaur?

The wyvern is basically a winged reptile with two legs (sometimes depicted with no legs) and a barbed tail. Here, I have placed a drawing of a wyvern next to a depiction of a rhamphorhynchus. Again, isn't there an uncanny resemblance?

If modern scholars look to real animals as the inspiration for mythical animals (as they have done with the unicorn), then we would have to admit that these “prehistoric” creatures could serve as candidates for these various creatures of myth – assuming they were contemporaries of men. Now, I can't claim with absolute certainty that these are the very animals that gave rise to legends. However, I do know with certainty that men lived together with dinosaurs. It wouldn't surprise me, then, to find depictions and descriptions of various types of dinosaurs. If some dinosaurs were feathered, what better animal would serve as a candidate for the legend of the cockatrice? If a lindworm is a bipedal “dragon,” wouldn't a bipedal dinosaur be the most likely source of that legend?

In this post you've seen the legendary creatures side by side with real creatures. No one can credibly deny there are similarities. The only reason they would not be considered by some as the inspiration of legends is because evolutionists believe dinosaurs to be separated from man by millions of years. If that is the case, then they aren't going where the evidence leads but they are using their theory to shape the evidence. I say the fantastic depictions of dinosaur-looking animals are evidence of man's eye witness to these animals.

Further reading

How to Answer “The Bible says that Bats are Birds” and Similar Criticisms

Does The Bible Say There Are Unicorns?


Steven J. said...

Various comments:

An interesting suggestion, perhaps first made and certainly popularized by Adrienne Mayor, was that the griffin (eagle's head and wings on a lion's body) may have been derived from fossils of Protoceratops, a beaked dinosaur whose bones are found in the region where griffons are supposed to have lived. It has also been suggested that the typical dragon of medieval European lore has a general shape and proportions much like a plesiosaur, and may be based partly on plesiosaur fossils. Note that such explanations only require that the fossils, not the actual living animals, be contemporaries of humans.

The lindworm, according to Wikipedia, takes many different forms, winged or wingless, legged or legless. and seems to have been applied to several different fabulous animals rather than being based on one real creature.

The cockatrice, according to the Wikipedia article on it, is ultimately derived from misinterpretation of ancient written descriptions of the (not noticeably feathered) Nile crocodile -- which implies that if, e.g. the lindworm was based on one or more real animals, the real animals need not have born a very close or obvious resemblance to depictions of lindworms.

Velociraptors are increasingly depicted with feathers because fossils of them with feather impressions are increasingly being found. The obviously feathered specimens are all small species (such as Microraptor, but there is a forelimb from a fairly large specimen with bumps resembling the attachment points of feathers on modern birds.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

You said, “Note that such explanations only require that the fossils, not the actual living animals, be contemporaries of humans.”

Yes, I've heard that theory. For example, many people have suggested that the mythical cyclops arose from people finding elephants' skulls. In that case, it seems very reasonable because there is no living creature that I know of that even remotely resembles a cyclops. Pictures I have seen of elephant skulls don't look anything like an elephant and could very easily be reconstructed to look like a cyclops. However, there are a couple of other points.

First, in cases like the velociraptor, it has only recently been suggested that the creatures were feathered. So if the cockatrice legend arose from from a feathered, bipedal dinosaur (like the velociraptor (assuming it was feathered)) they would have only known the dino was feathered if they had seen a living one.

Secondly, a plausible sounding alternative isn't automatically the correct alternative. We merely have competing theories. You say the myths could have risen from people finding fossils of mysterious creatures and I believe the myths could have risen from people seeing living specimens of mysterious creatures. Which is correct? Well, in addition to the legends of these creatures, we also have dozens of accounts of people claiming to have seen them alive.

However, I again repeat that I cannot dogmatically say that it was dinosaurs and only dinosaurs that inspired these (and other) mythical creatures. I'm saying they are possible candidates. The response that the legends arose only from fossil finds of the creatures isn't a thorough rebuttal.

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!


Glenn said...

RKB, is it your view that belief in each different mythical creature arose for basically the same reason? (namely, that it was an actual creature)?

RKBentley said...


Thanks for visiting my blog.

I'm not saying dogmatically that all of these various creatures arose from encounters with real creatures. I did point out in my post how it's typical for people to theorize that mythical creatures (like the unicorn) are based on real creatures. If that is true, then my question is, "what real creatures gave birth to the cockatrice, Lindworm, and wyvern"? I think dinos are good candidates.

Steven J seemed to suggest that such legends could arise from finding the fossils of ancient creatures. That's not entirely unreasonable (though it suffers a few weaknesses) yet even that theory, though, is another tacit admission that the mythical creatures were conceived from real creatures.

Thanks again for visiting. Your comments are very welcome. I look forward to hearing from you again.

God bless!!