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Because this is the Mythology SE, we need to make sure we have a clear definition of mythology. We talked about this a bit on the Area 51 proposal, but we need to make clear guidelines for mythology.

Here are a few (related) questions that we need to answer:

  • What is the line between mythology and folklore?
  • What is the line between mythology and religion?
  • What is the line between mythology and fiction?
  • What other characteristics will we use to define mythology?
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    Excellent summarization of the key distinctions that need to be made. – veryRandomMe Apr 28 '15 at 16:13
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    As usual, I think the best thing to do is to first ask some questions that might be deemed out-of-bounds, and only then discuss them. That way, we have some concrete examples to base our discussions around. – senshin Apr 28 '15 at 17:21
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    It may be a bit earlier to think about limiting the scope. And these should be separate questions! Religion and Mythology is the central question in [Is scientology on topic here?]meta.mythology.stackexchange.com/questions/2) – James Jenkins Apr 28 '15 at 18:52
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    Similar question regarding History vs Mythology: meta.mythology.stackexchange.com/questions/21/… – Adrian773 Apr 28 '15 at 21:32
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    I am voting to close this question. It asks 4 separate questions and there is an answer from one person addressing their thoughts on all four questions. Each of these 4 questions is worthy of individual attention. – James Jenkins Apr 29 '15 at 10:02
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    @JamesJenkins: Aye, each question could be considered individually, but it's good to have them all in one place. I drew on my very significant experience working with the scope of Christianity.SE and what is or isn't on-topic to come up with an initial scope for Mythology.SE. The whole thing is subject to change depending on where the community goes, but I think it's very good to start out with a good overall scope. – El'endia Starman Apr 29 '15 at 13:19
  • This is meta. This is a discussion topic. It does not need to be closed. – James Apr 29 '15 at 14:23
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    @El'endiaStarman once they have all been discussed the one place the answer can and should be is mythology.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic but there is no need to combine them now. – James Jenkins Apr 29 '15 at 15:56
  • I also wondered about the four separate questions thing, but came down firmly on the side of having them all in one place while we are discussing and deciding the scope of the site. :) – Luna Apr 29 '15 at 18:12
  • @JamesJenkins: I have asked a question regarding the mythology vs. religion distinction. In my answer, I painted on-topic and off-topic with broad strokes. We can and certainly should ask more focused questions about each of the distinctions/points. – El'endia Starman Apr 29 '15 at 21:17
  • Folklore is specifically addressed in this post: Should we include folklore? – user93 Apr 30 '15 at 0:48
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Okay, I'm going to take a stab at this.

  • mythology vs. folklore

    To me, folklore is more localized to one geographic area or span of time, whereas mythology tends to be more encompassing. In addition, mythologies tend to have an overall structure, whereas folklore tends to be mostly composed of independent stories. I don't see a particularly good reason to exclude folklore from the scope of this site, however, because their natures are rather similar. That is, they have a similar "feel", so to speak. The "feel" of being fantastical. So, it's like a particular culture's folklore is a vague mythology that is...less grandiose and overarching than the "traditional" mythologies we think of.

    For this, I think it would be useful and good to have a rule of thumb based on notability or similar concept. Skeptics.SE requires that a claim be notable - that is, there is proof the claim was made and that it wasn't just some random guy on the internet. Christianity.SE has something somewhat similar in that questions about denominations or beliefs with little or no external evidence are discouraged. I would say that folklore should be on-topic and in-scope, but that producing a good question should be a little harder and take more work. Questions need to be interesting and at least somewhat objectively answerable.

    This aspect of this site's scope is definitely something I can see evolving over time. Also, very relevant Wikipedia page.

    Examples:

    • Did the events in Hansel and Gretel actually happen?
      Off-topic! Avoid questions of validity!
    • Why did children believe the story of Hansel and Gretel, and why did adults continue telling it?
      Off-topic. This is really more of a sociology/psychology question.
    • Was Hansel's strategy of putting down a trail of breadcrumbs inspired by the Greek myth of the Minotaur?
      On-topic...maybe. Might not be a good question, but I'd consider it acceptable.
    • What is the likely origin of the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel?
      On-topic. In part because there isn't another site for folklore, and I doubt a separate site would ever be created that could handle questions like these. Except maybe History.SE.
  • mythology vs. religion

    Okay, I am a moderator on Christianity.SE and I believe that most events spoken of in the Bible actually happened, yet I still believe that Christianity has a mythology. C.S. Lewis calls Christianity a true myth, so I do not believe that mythology has to be considered false, inaccurate, or incorrect. Hence, in my view, all religions have an associated mythology.

    My proposal in this regard is that if a question is specifically about a mythological aspect of a religion, then it is in scope for this site. A question about Creationism (especially Young Earth Creationism) would be out of scope for this site, unless it deals specifically with the origin myth aspect of it. I'm not sure how such a question would be worded though.

    Also in scope would be comparing, say, the resurrection myth of Jesus Christ with the resurrection myth of Horus. I personally believe the former is true and the latter is false, but I'm still perfectly fine with calling both of them "myths". I think a useful rule of thumb might be if it's in-scope at <Religion>.SE, it's off-topic here.

    We should definitely avoid questions of validity. Avoid them like the plague!

    Examples:

    • Jesus never existed. He's just a myth. Why do people believe he did?!?
      Off-topic. If I were a mod, I'd close immediately and probably delete not long after. (Questions like Was Jesus a myth? should similarly be burninated.)
    • Why were the apostles so enthusiastic about spreading the myth of Jesus Christ? Off-topic. Would fit better on Christianity.SE, and this is not really directly about mythology. Same goes for similar questions for other religions.
    • Was the myth of Jesus Christ's resurrection inspired by the myth of <insert god here>'s resurrection?
      On-topic. May somewhat overlap with Skeptics.SE, so answerers on this site should also pay attention to mythological aspects, rather than just focusing on historical juxtaposition and the like.
    • How much did the myth of Gilgamesh, especially the global flood, inspire the Flood myths of other cultures?
      On-topic. Might be too primarily-opinion-based, so might be closed for that reason.
  • mythology vs. fiction

    One big distinction between these is that fiction is considered by few to be true, whereas mythologies typically have adherents that whole-heartedly believe in the stories. If someone's belief system is at least partially not science- or fact-based and they are genuinely and sincerely willing to die for it, there's a pretty good chance that belief system is a religion and/or a mythology. There might be a few such people who would genuinely stake their life on Star Wars being true and factual - of which I am not one (Lord help my unbelief) - but they are few in number and generally not considered to be sane and intelligent. A minor point: there is definitely a Star Wars mythology (feel free to swap in your favorite fictional universe), but it is universally (ha) considered only in an in-universe context, so questions dealing with the Star Wars mythos would go on SciFi.SE and similar StackExchange sites.

    In contrast, people lived and died in the context of great mythologies such as the Greeks, Egyptians, and Norsemen, to name a few big examples. This is also true of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and all sorts of other religions, which adds support to my stance that the mythological aspects of religions should be on-topic for this site.

    Meta-questions about fictional mythologies, however, might be on-topic if phrased appropriately. Questions asking about some mythological characteristic of some fictional story, for instance.

    Examples:

    • Who were the first people to use the Force in Star Wars?
      Off-topic. This would go on SciFi.SE, not here. This is an in-universe question.
    • What are the major components of the mythology of the Na'vi in Avatar?
      Off-topic. Though in a funny way. I would say that this should go on SciFi.SE, but if enough people in this community decide otherwise, then so be it.
    • Is the Hero's Journey a common device in myths?
      On-topic. I was thinking specifically of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, but you could ask much the same about many other fictional characters. A good answer would probably bring up Joseph Campbell's work in this area.
    • Why, according to Joseph Campbell, is the monomyth is so common?
      On-topic. Well, I'm a bit biased since I just asked that question, but I do think it's a good on-topic question for this site.
    • How did George Lucas incorporate mythological elements into Star Wars?
      On-topic. At least, I'd say so. Lucas has given interviews where he discussed the mythological aspects of his story, and this is out-of-universe.
  • other characteristics

    Should Loch Ness, Bigfoot, and UFOs be considered myths? I would say no. Myths tend to be stories with characters, as far as I can tell. These examples are simply fantastical creatures/entities that are believed to exist by some. Not much more than that. An okay question might be one like: Does <myth> mention what we would now call UFOs? I think it'd be hard to successfully pose a question like that. On top of that, such things tend to be more current, whereas mythologies tend to be more historical/ancient.

    Examples:

    • Where is Bigfoot considered to be hiding?
      Off-topic. I dunno where this question would go, but I wouldn't leave it open on this site.
    • Does <myth> mention what we would now call UFOs?
      On-topic. Maybe. Depends on how well the question is written.

    Addendum: Luna contributed a very good comment:

    Re: the last distinction about Nessie, UFOs etc. - it may be worth stating that while folklore is on-topic, cryptozoology is not. So, questions about the legend, story or mythos of Bigfoot might be relevant (I believe there are stories about this creature and similar ones that predate the sightings/discovery obsession), but questions about his existence or sightings would certainly not be.

    Folklore = on-topic. Cryptozoology = off-topic.

In summary, the following are on-topic (including but not limited to, and subject to change):

  • classical/traditional/ancient mythologies
  • folklore
  • mythological aspects of religion (mostly stories)
  • mythological aspects of fictional stories

and the following are off-topic (including but not limited to, and subject to change):

  • questions of validity
  • primarily historical questions
  • primarily sociological/psychological questions
  • doctrinal questions
  • fictional mythology from an in-universe perspective
  • cryptozoology
  • astrology

As always, please discuss this and your opinions in the comments.

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  • I think this is a very good take on what we should deem "mythology" for the purposes of this site. One question, re: "Why were the apostles so enthusiastic about spreading the myth of Jesus Christ?" - you obviously know a lot more about this than me, but my understanding is that some of the apostles (esp. Paul and Judas ) themselves are substantially mythologized in the Bible and its apocrypha. Is that not the case? – senshin Apr 28 '15 at 20:52
  • @senshin: That is a pretty good point, actually. So maybe you could ask such a question, but the answer would be different on Mythology.SE and I would think should not be supported by any Biblical passages (especially since to do so would veer into the forbidden territory of arguing validity). – El'endia Starman Apr 28 '15 at 20:55
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    We should definitely avoid questions of validity. Avoid them like the plague! - Exactly. I think that will be the key to success, particularly in those cases where what one group calls "myth" another calls "truth". the last thing we want is a bunch of comments debating whether something is true on a given question or answer. – David Stratton Apr 29 '15 at 2:28
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    For the George Lucas question, that seems to be a bit more into the SciFi SE realm than ours, because it feels like it's just asking for what he took inspiration from. Of course, my issue with it may just be more with how the question is worded than the actual topic; if it's something like "What mythology is reflected in Star Wars?" I would probably be more okay with it. – kuwaly Apr 29 '15 at 7:27
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    I like this, I'll come back to it when I have a bit more time. Re: the last distinction about Nessie, UFOs etc. - it may be worth stating that while folklore is on-topic, cryptozoology is not. So, questions about the legend, story or mythos of Bigfoot might be relevant (I believe there are stories about this creature and similar ones that predate the sightings/discovery obsession), but questions about his existence or sightings would certainly not be. – Luna Apr 29 '15 at 11:22
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    @kuwaly: Yeah, I agree with you. Of course, this is only a first attempt and we'll see where the community goes. – El'endia Starman Apr 29 '15 at 13:01
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    @Luna: Ah, excellent point! I'm going to edit that into the answer now! – El'endia Starman Apr 29 '15 at 13:02
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    This is about as close to a perfect answer as I can imagine. Well done. – Mr. Bultitude Apr 29 '15 at 15:05
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    For the sake of completeness here is Wiki's definition of cryptozoology: "pseudoscience involving the search for animals whose existence has not been proven due to lack of evidence. The animals studied are often referred to as cryptids. It includes looking for living examples of animals that are considered extinct; animals whose existence lacks physical evidence but which appear in myths, legends, or are reported, such as Bigfoot; and wild animals dramatically outside their normal geographic ranges. It relies heavily upon anecdotal evidence, stories and alleged sightings. – Luna Apr 29 '15 at 18:05
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    Overall, I think this is a great answer. Well done! I agree with all the lines you've drawn. One thing I would like to be clarified is the take on astrology - you've classed it as off-topic (which seems sensible), but since there are some constellations, for example, which heavily draw on myths, I'd like to clarify the line. I'll have a think :) The question of astronology has also been raised by @senshin here: mythology.stackexchange.com/questions/75/… – Luna Apr 29 '15 at 18:11
  • I recently offered this meta answer: Should we include folklore? I do not think any of the folklore example questions you gave should be on-topic. – user93 Apr 30 '15 at 0:49
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    I would suggest a custom close reason of Questions of Validity and/or Rationality reality are off topic. – Chad May 13 '15 at 14:58

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