The Mythology of Natural Disasters
Since the beginning of humanity, great tales were handed down from generation to generation about what created monstrous, unexplainable, natural disasters. Why do great mountains spew fire into the sky? Why do tsunamis batter coastlines and destroy whole villages? Why does the earth quake with great wrath at times? In today’s day and age, we know the answers to all these questions, but in the ancient days, the secrets of nature had not been discovered.
Most myths came from individuals a long time ago, who had very active imaginations. We know this because of cave paintings from humans thousands of years ago. They depict stories of great beasts or the wrath of some terrible entity. If you go back to the age of the Romans, you would see that myths about natural disasters varied by region in the ancient world. The Romans for instance had an abundance of gods to explain things, such as Hephaestus god of fire, Poseidon lord of the sea, and Zeus god of storms. The Romans could conveniently blame volcanoes on Hephaestus, tsunamis on Poseidon’s displeasure, and dangerous storms on the wrath of Zeus.
Although most people assume ancients invented gods to explain away things such as natural disasters, I tend to disagree with this. The Greeks and Romans were intellectual and open-minded peoples with an intelligent group of philosophers and thinkers. To say that they could do no better than make up stories to explain things is ludicrous. The only people who would have bought the myths would have been peasants and perhaps the middle class. There was a strategic positive to creating these myths though. Even though the scholars of the day probably didn’t know what did cause natural disasters, using the gods as an excuse would have been a good way to calm the public and explain things away.
There are always two sides to a story. As I mentioned earlier, myths about natural disasters varied by region. If the Romans and Greeks were at the skeptical end of mythology, then the Gauls and and the people of the north were at the other end. The Gauls, tended to be less civilized and more superstitious in nature. In other words, the gods would have dictated a large portion of their lives. The Gauls were polytheistic like the Greeks and Romans, and so were even more susceptible to blaming natural disasters on having angered the gods.
So, when did humanity begin to discard mythology and accept the truth? The answer is that we will never have all the answers, and the mythology of natural disasters will never end. Humans never truly left mythology behind us, we just slowly adapted it over time to cover the things still unknown in today’s world. An example of this is theories about how humans were first created. I am personally a creationist, believing that God made humanity and everything on the earth, but creationism has about as much “real” evidence as evolution. Both theories have their defenders, but until we have absolute proof, it will remain to many people of the world a myth, as to how we came to be.
Another example of this is the famous Bermuda Triangle off the U.S coast and the “Devil’s Triangle” off the coast of Japan. There have supposedly been many ship disappearances and plane crashes in these areas, including the famous disappearance of famed pilot Amelia Earhart. There have many theories proposed by leading scientists and adventurous greenhorns alike, but so far, no concrete evidence has been produced. Until any significant leads have been made, it will remain the center of many sailor stories and myths.
Even as human knowledge continues to expand, I believe that the mythology of natural disasters will continue to play a part in our society and go down in history as the next generations discover more and develop their own tales about how and why. It’s just part of our nature as humans to wonder and dream, and as long as that is in us, the stories will never die.