‘…history became legend, legend became myth…’
What a pleasant conceit, to suppose that this process produces myth. Whilst undoubtedly true for many legends the process can also work the other way. Many legends for example have produced history. Pre-eminently in this respect, at least for Britain, is ‘King Arthur’ whose story the scholars do indeed now refer to as a mythos.
But what is really going on here?
It is probably more accurate to regard all these forms as stories. We are not supposed to regard History as a story but as ‘recorded fact’ and also ‘true’, but well, really, the clue is in the name. So why do we set such store by stories? The clue is in the question.
The truth of stories lies in a realm other than the literal. And what is ‘the literal’ anyway’?
‘The literal is something that actually happened.’
‘And what do we mean by something?’
‘We mean an ‘act’.’
‘Do we mean an act in a play?’
‘No, we mean a physical act; we mean the physical actions of a person.’
‘What, any act, and any person?’
‘Usually a significant act and a significant person’…
…A woman set off in the west, coming this way.
She was carrying her baskets for plant foods, her digging stick and a fire-stick.
She was coming, travelling along, camping and then setting off again.
As she went along she was looking about her and where she saw plenty of small creatures and plant food she would stop and eat and then camp.
At sunset she would settle down and sleep and early in the morning she would set off again.
Going on she saw that salt-water tide had come up at a place she hoped to go across.
So she camped there.
She made a sleeping platform in a tree because so many mosquitoes were biting her.
When at last early morning came she made a paper-bark canoe, paddling with her hands to cross to the other side.
Then she started off again and eventually came to a cave house…
…A Dust-Devil was living in the cave house.
Tall, thin and hairy he was with a crooked body and bat-like wings.
‘My woman has come,’ he said, ‘my body’s no good but today we two will sleep together.’
When they met the woman offered him vegetable food and the Dust-Devil reciprocated with fish.
They slept together but the woman did not like the look of him so she cast about the cave house, found a stone axe and began sharpening it whilst he slept.
The Dust-Devil woke up.
He stretched himself and was preparing to eat the woman. She slashed his neck.
Then she looked around made a fire and cooked his body.
Perhaps he just tossed away the flames that Dust-Devil?
He came out the fire, ‘you woman, why did you kill me? I will cover you with my wings.’
The woman tried to hide but he found her.
He sealed her up in the cave where she was lying.
That cave remained for her then a dark cave.
She kept on talking in there, abusing the Dust-Devil.
At last she became like a rock.
She stands there a rock, forever.
– A Young Woman meets a Dust-Devil
(Adapted from ‘Speaking Land’ by R.M. Berndt and C.H. Berndt)