Nessie: Myth or Messiah?

Image by Michael Noinola

In every period in history, in every part of the world, cultures have developed their own myths, often in the form of a creature. This creature strikes either fear or admiration in those who hear its tale. It is either one extreme or the other: friend or foe. Oftentimes if a monster is adored, it becomes a risk of turning into a tourist attraction. Bigfoot, for example, has earned several documentaries, a museum, television shows, and even merchandise. Some devote their life to the search for these figures, others scoff at the perceived naiveté of those who believe, and many take the stories and are able to enjoy them casually. People interpret the stories of legendary creatures in completely different, all legitimate ways. But what is for sure is that these stories are ultimately beneficial for our society.

It is not only good but historically important to have legendary beliefs. Historically, myths have allowed people in present societies to understand the values of older societies. For example, ancient Sumerians believed that whether their river flooded or not depended on the mood of their gods. Just from this belief, historians know how dependent their agriculture was on the rise of their river and the extent to which the ancient Sumerians valued crops in their society. Other than science, Romanian historian and professor Mircea Eliade argues that myths, along with religion, help people to understand themselves and their societies.

There is a range of intensity at play here; every culture and its legends ultimately cannot be generalized because they all have different contexts, varying their purposes. Religious tales can help one find themself through spirituality, while at the same time, a young child can find bliss in their belief in unicorns. How legends are used in religion is a vastly important subset of this conversation, but the role of the mythical separated from religion should also be acknowledged. Sometimes it is just enjoyable to have hope.

There will always be discourse over the authenticity of any myth. There will always be those who devote their life to the pursuit of their chosen creature, and there will always be those to dismiss the theories immediately. While it can bring disappointment and maybe even devastation if those in pursuit never find what they are looking for, that does not mean the effort was not worthwhile. Was the work of a Bigfoot explorer who spent years hiking in the Northern Californian woods and testing out new tricks all in vain just because they did not find what they were looking for? Wholeheartedly believing in something and finding the smallest clues multiplies the hope and wonder that is already held.

Lots of critics believe mythical creatures to be anti-scientific and unnecessary. 19th century Oxford professor Max Müller even referred to myths as a “disease of language.” He believes that originally abstract theories were then transformed into a creature or elaborate story when languages were first being developed, but now that human knowledge has advanced, it is absurd not to dismiss them. Along those lines, professor of biblical studies and prominent voice in early 19th century liberal Christianity, Rudolf Bultmann set out to separate myths and religion.

Myths, and the creatures within them, have ingrained themselves into human history. Different regions developed their own figures based on their individual societies, geography, and values, like the scary Chupacabra or the friendly Centaur. Eventually, people have to interpret the different legends for themselves. Life devotion is not necessary; there is nothing wrong with taking a trip to Scottish lake, Loch Ness and spending the day with someone trying to spot the legendary Nessie.

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