A mythology is a collection of myths, stories that range from the seemingly random adventures and fantastical creatures to the stories that comprise a certain belief system; the connotation of the words "myth" and "mythology" is that the stories are false, or dubious at best. Mythology figures prominently in (typically, extinct) religion, and most mythology is tied to at least one religion. Myths are generally stories based on tradition and legend designed to explain the universe, the world's creation, natural phenomenon, and anything else for which no simple explanation presents itself. Not all myths need have this explicatory purpose, however. Likewise, most myths involve a supernatural force or deity, but many are simply legends and stories passed down orally from generation to generation.
Mythology is most often used to describe the archaic religions of ancient societies, such as Roman mythology, Greek mythology, and Norse mythology. However, it is important to keep in mind that while some may view the Norse pantheon as mere fable, others may hold it as a religion.
By extension, many people regard the stories surrounding the origin and development of religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam as not literally true, but rather as a collection of myths. People within these religions take great offense at the characterization of their faith as a myth, for this is tantamount to claiming that the religion itself is a lie. However, most people concur that each religion has a body of myths that have developed in addition to scriptures. One can speak of a Jewish mythology, a Christian mythology, or an Islamic mythology, in which one describes the mythic elements within these faiths without speaking to the veracity of the faith's tenets or claims about its history; though the "mythology" term is apt to cause objections, since it connotes dubiousness or even falsehood. Many modern day rabbis and priests within the more liberal Jewish and Christian movements have no problem viewing their religious texts as containing myth; they see their respective Biblical canons as indeed containing God given religious truths, in the language of mankind. Others, of course, disagree.
An alternate reading of the term myth (held by whom? This is a complex theory not to attribute to anyone or any group of people) is to see it on a continuum of societal acceptance that starts at religion, moves to mythology and ends at folklore. That is, if a collection of stories comprise the dominant beliefs of the time, then it is usually honored with the term "religion" (e.g. Hinduism or Christianity). Adherents of a religion would generally object to their stories being characterized as a mythology in any way. If a collection belongs to a tradition outside the scope of the dominant belief system, but comes from a society admired by the dominant belief system, then it is a mythology (e.g Greek mythology). At the end of the spectrum, if a collection of stories belongs to a group that is on the outs with the dominant belief structure, it is kindly referred to as "folklore" or a "folk tradition" (e.g. urban legend or witchcraft), or not so kindly, it is called "heresy" or a cult (e.g. Cathars, Moonies or conspiracy theory). Within that, we can see that the basic unit is the same: a collection of stories. Sometimes the stories explain things, sometimes they are heroic, sometimes they convey secular lore and sometimes they have a moral component.
Although many people think that a mythology must be old, it does not have to be so. Thus, for example, television and book series like Star Trek and Tarzan have strong mythological aspects, that sometimes develop into deep and intricate philosophical systems. An excellent example of such a mythology is that developed by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings.
- Celtic mythology
- Irish mythology
- Egyptian mythology
- Greek mythology
- Japanese mythology
- Norse mythology
- Roman mythology
- Polish mythology
- Sumerian mythology
(many others-please add more)
Mythologies of extant religions (but not deriving from sacred writings)
Mythologies in fiction
Mythological or cryptozoological creatures:
- Elf, pixies, gnomes, goblins, and other little people
- Sidehill Gouger
(many others-please add more)