Mythology fulfills one function without question: it unites entire peoples with a common cultural narrative. In ancient times, this was a critical task, helping societies stand together in the face of natural threats like famines, droughts, and illnesses that often plagued them, as well as conflicts and wars with other societies. By instilling the same set of beliefs-and by extension, the same moral codes-into cultures, myths allow them to become closer and stronger. In addition, myths served as a sort of coping mechanism for whole societies, further bringing them together. By explaining once-inexplicable aspects of the natural (and internal) world, myths simplified the lives of the people who were so devoted to them. Many myths also promised a reprieve from the trials of the mortal world. No matter how badly a person suffered on earth, they could be sure that Vahalla, Elysium, or the Field of Reeds was waiting for them on the other side. Even today, modern mythology, like superhero fiction-or, to some, religion-fulfills the same function, bringing together subcultures, establishing a unifying moral code, and providing a form of escapism. It is evident mythology is far more than mere fairy tales. Rather, it is a crucial ingredient for a well-functioning, unified culture.
While such unification is certainly a side effect of mythology, that is not its main purpose. The creators of ancient myths did not invent them with the goal of uniting their peoples in mind. Rather, it is more likely that they were attempting to explain the world around them. In addition, this argument glosses over the fact that most people in ancient times genuinely believed the myths that inculcated their cultures. For example, an ancient Greek did not worship the gods simply because it brought their community together; he did so because he believed he would be punished if he didn’t.