While stories are often fun, they contain very powerful patterns that transcend time, even though the claimed weapons against mythological beings are often silly. No matter where you look, everyone across the lens of history tells the same stories, with the only anthropological differences coming from constraints like geography, neighboring cultures’ influence, and shared communal experiences.
If we connect those patterns, we can often see universals in common with all aspects of the human experience. The myths are often a product of societies who were less educated (but by no means less qualified) and trying to pass on their understanding to their children who were even less educated than them. The fear-based themes, especially, are direct symbolism to real-life threats.
Most modern vernacular runs on the same mythology (e.g., “witchcraft” becomes “pharmaceuticals”) even while the faces have changed.
- Historical fiction are thought experiments for the audience to imagine themselves in that past period of time.
- Alternate histories are heavily-leaning thought experiments, often with political predictions involved.
Water always symbolizes the unknown, which closely connects with the risks of dying, and the unbounded opportunities that come with traveling on bodies of water. At the same time, running water represents life, which is why it’s a popular deterrent against certain monsters like vampires.
The woods, by contrast to water, also symbolize the unknown, but with more trauma and less death.
Using gold or silver to ward off monsters is symbolic of how money and wealth can cure most problems.
Repelling evil with salt comes from how salt symbolizes preservation of food (and therefore ensuring survival), and was once highly valuable for that reason.
An object of unbelievably extreme power (e.g., magic lamp, Holy Grail) is our imagination of a technological (i.e., human-controlled) means of controlling the forces of nature directly.
Multiple doors are the raw representation of decisions and choice.
The human body, especially when contrasted with a much larger environment or with death, represents how we are finite and mortal.
Depictions of heaven and hell (as well as any other variations, including Nirvana) are moral balancing for the unfair situations we often find ourselves exposed to in this life. It’s inescapably connected to some form of judging authority, though the rules move around a lot based on implementation.
Any depiction of a predator (e.g., sharks, wolves) are representative of people who exploit others.
Often, monsters represented fantastic versions of real-life animals:
- Dragons are simply dinosaurs, but with fire.
- Basilisks/cockatrices are hybrids of snakes and chickens, with the fear element ratcheted up heavily by making them absurdly dangerous to even perceive.
Most grandiose stories of giants (e.g., Titans, Paul Bunyan) are simple explanations of how incredibly large naturally-occurring things came into existence. They often merge their phenomenology with the natural disasters surrounding where they purportedly reside.
Commonplace animals represent certain aspects of society:
- Cows connect to the means of acquiring prosperity and wealth, as well as safety connected to available food.
- Pigs represent excess and waste because, even though they’re very efficient farming, they run risks to the environment in the process.
Many monsters represent natural disasters:
- Trolls (especially mountain trolls) represent mountain risks (e.g., landslides, earthquakes). They vary quite dramatically because geological formations have been interpreted by different cultures as various forms of strength, danger, adventure, and refuge.
- The Kraken represents the dangers in the open sea, especially storms and hurricanes. The Loch Ness monster is a bit of a smaller version over large lakes.
Quite a few creatures represent females and femininity:
- Elves and Asian fox spirits, even when male, represent feminine characteristics (e.g., clever, elegant, flighty).
- Sirens represent the deceit of beautiful women.
- Witches represent the technological brilliance and deceit of an older matriarch. Her witch’s brew symbolizes her means to influence society in subtle ways, and the broom represents the custodial work that came with homemaking.
- Nymphs represent the wispy and (from males’ point of view) disjointed connections inherent to females.
- An old crone typically represents the convergence of the unknown with the wisdom from experience.
Other creatures represent males and masculinity:
- Dwarves, even when female, represent masculine characteristics (e.g., strong, rugged).
A few directly represent extremes of mental illness:
- Werewolves represent rageaholics who abuse people during their fits of rage.
- Vampires represent narcissists who selfishly steal life and meaning from others.
- Ogres and orcs are deformed humans, often representing physical manifestations of evil people.
A golem is the symbol of technologically creating automation that reproduces human behavior. This includes Frankenstein’s monster, and goes all the way to its modern implementation of artificial intelligence.
Some beings simply depict the unknown:
- Chupacabra is the random set of mysterious events that may happen to livestock.
- The Hydra represents how we interpret problems, where killing one “head” brings about 2 others, carrying on in a parade of endless issues that we never adequately accomplish.
The phoenix is an optimistic take on how we see death, with the implication that life necessarily exists after it and that death is simply a part of moving to the next life.
Many of them are complex mix-and-match elements of multiple things:
- Zombies, a product of modern society, represent crowds of people mindlessly set in their ways, with our fear of death and the uncertainty of the afterlife mixed into it.
- Unicorns’ representation toward purity and virginity comes from the combination to the association of the color white and purity, mixed with aspects of virility with the horn.
Most gods and deities are simply named depictions of concepts we understand, and there are several popular ones that keep cropping up:
- Sun god (e.g., Ra), who often mixes closely with a creator god (i.e., the bringer of life)
- Weather god (e.g., Thor, Nimbus), which tends to be the bringer of change
- The chaos and the unknown, often named (e.g., Loki, Anansi), and often takes on an antagonistic form (e.g., Satan)
- Fertility gods/goddesses that express the uncertainty around child-bearing
Christmas has created a few repetitions:
- Santa Claus represents our latent desire for everyone to be good, with a moral justification in this life for it by receiving presents.
- Krampus is the counter to Santa Claus, with bad children receiving severe punishment or eternal hell.
Multiple characters represent man’s relationship with the divine or desired relationship with the divine:
- Thor is a central character because lightning is a major convergence between celestial objects and earth.
- Anytime there’s a religious prophet (e.g., Muhammad, Joseph Smith), they are either the messenger or pathway to mankind’s meaning and salvation for after this life. The farthest version of this is Jesus, representing God directly with a personal relationship with humanity.
Fair folk and gnomes are the masculine and feminine forms of the “little things”, where taking care of them will manage the big things. When they were once considered hostile in old folklore, it represented how little things can cause big problems (e.g., not fixing a squeaky wagon wheel means getting stuck on the side of a road). The Elves and the Shoemaker story’s moral is basically “little by little goes a long way”.
The minotaur’s labyrinth story represents the mentally strong Daedalus (i.e., intelligent person) ruling over the physically strong but mentally weak minotaur (i.e., working class) using clever tricks to keep him contained.
The story of the spiritual and physical realms temporarily merging or cross (e.g., Night Parade of 100 Demons, the Wild Hunt, Walpurgisnacht) represents the cyclical nature of seasonal change and how new trends arise after a “reset”.
Fair folk were once regarded as volatile or hostile beings who would sometimes capture humans as a type of pet, but that story is now representative of personal development in a coming-of-age story. Much of this ties to how we interpret our relationship with God.
Many stories have a flood or some sort of early near-apocalypse. Beside the possibility that it may have happened, they symbolize hope in spite of the utter destruction.
Every apocalypse story is the same thing: termination of everything we understand as our existence, with final judgment on humanity. We all know evil ought to be repaid, and that there’s something waiting after this life.
- The apocalypse stories of mainstream monotheistic religions (e.g., Islam, Christianity) is the final connection between man and God before God has no more distance from us.
- Ragnarok is a final battle for all great warriors, which indicates the pinnacle of life is war.