Myth, the root of mythic and mythology, means “sacred.” Mythology technically means “sacred story” or “sacred study.” In modern casual language, myth is often used as a synonym for false or untrue, but that usage itself is what is not true. Myth is not used in that sense in this book. Myth doesn’t mean “it didn’t happen.” It means that what is being discussed is sacred, not mundane.

Myths are complex narratives that can be understood on many levels. Myths may or may not be literally true (some are; some are not), but that does not mean they are false or do not contain truth. Spirits and the mysteries of the universe cannot be reduced to simplistic terms. Myths are stories intended to nourish human souls: they have something of the same nature as dreams and may best be interpreted in the same way that one interprets dreams.

Myths are symbolic stories, a means of expressing something whose meaning may transcend language, something too profound to be conveyed by words. Myths serve many functions. Epic myths explain the creation of the world or the afterlife, but others explain traditions: why people do whatever it is that they do.

Myths are the sagas of spirits. It is a rare myth that does not contain some sort of spirit. (This is the traditional dividing line between myths and legends: myths involve sacred characters, while legends are not required to do so.) Myths tell us who spirits are, what to expect from them, and how best to behave in their presence.

Myths are our earliest stories, dating back to primeval times, but until relatively recently in the scope of history, myths were not written down. Many have been lost or suppressed. In some cases, only fragments survive.

Sometimes one spirit possesses many myths. Sometimes these multiple myths are complementary, but often they are contradictory. All of the following is told of Aphrodite:

* Aphrodite is born from the merger of blood from Uranus’ severed genitals and sea foam.

* Aphrodite was conceived when Uranus’ blood impregnated the sea spirit Thalassa.

* Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and his wife, Dione.

* Aphrodite is a West Asian spirit, similar to Astarte, Anat, and Inanna-Ishtar, who was later incorporated into the Greek pantheon.

* Aphrodite is Astarte incorporated into the Greek pantheon.

Analyzing myths and exploring the asserted relationships between spirits can be very revealing about spirits and humans alike. Humans and spirits share historical circumstances. Human history is often encoded in myths. The reluctance of so many Greek goddesses to wed may preserve information about human gender relationships of the time when those particular myths were born.