Myth and Ideology

by Cyril Levitt (Volume editor) Sabine Sander (Volume editor)
©2021 Monographs LXX, 344 Pages


This posthumously published work by Lawrence Krader surveys the study of myths from ancient times (in classical Greece and Rome, Egypt, Babylon, Akkad, Sumer, China), in the Biblical traditions, of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia, and from Northeastern and Central Asia. It also covers the various approaches to the study of myth in Europe in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and the Romantic movement in the late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth century; it discusses evolutionist, structuralist, hermeneutic, and linguistic approaches. The book covers on the one hand the treatment of myth from the inside, that is from the experience of those committed to the myth, and on the other the perspective of those ethnologists, philosophers and other students of myth who are outsiders. Krader takes up the theme of esoteric and exoteric myths as he rejects some of the assumptions and approaches to the study of myth from the past while singling out others for approval and inclusion in his general theory of myth. The book includes a discussion of myth in science and in infinitesimal mathematics. It also considers the relationship between myth and ideology in the twentieth century in relation to politics and power. It both incorporates and broadens Krader’s theory of nature as a manifold consisting of different orders of space-time which he developed in his magnum opus Noetics: The Science of Thinking and Knowing.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • Editors’ Preface
  • Editors’ Introduction
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Rebels as Demons in Ancient Chinese Myths
  • On Terminology
  • Myth and States of Mind
  • Myth and the Science of Myth
  • Part I
  • 1 Myth in Classical Antiquity: Plato and Aristotle and the Myth of the Ancient Wisdom. Cicero, Sallustius, The World as a Myth
  • 2 Myth in the Renaissance and Enlightenment: The Deciphering of Myth
  • 3 Myth in the Nineteenth Century
  • Hegel and the Hegelians; Schelling
  • Myth and Voices of Doubt. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Scheler
  • Part II
  • Introduction to Part II. Modern Studies of Myth: Bachofen, Tylor, Müller, Frazer
  • 1 Durkheim and His School: Alcheringa, or Dreamtime
  • 2 Myth as the Myth of Others: Biblical Myth. Myth of Gilgamesh
  • 3 The Force of Myth in Our Own Time: Myth in Ideology. Sorel, Pareto, Weber, Mannheim
  • 4 Myth of Another Time and Space: Buber, Otto, Cassirer, Langer, Jensen
  • On the Psychic Unity of the Humankind
  • 5 Myths of the North Pacific Peoples: Boas, Bogoraz, Jochelson. The Myth of Asdiwal/Asihwil. A Creation Myth of the Chukchis
  • Two Versions of a Tsimshian Myth
  • The Myth of Asdiwal
  • The Myth of Asihwil
  • A Chukchi Myth of Creation, töt-tömwa-pynyl
  • On Lies and Trickery
  • A Genuine Myth (lye lumnyl) of the Chukchis. This Is a Healing Myth
  • Myth in the Foreign and Domestic Relations of the Chukchis
  • On Myth, Time, and Mythic Time
  • 6 Winnebago Trickster Myths: Radin, Malinowski, Kluckhohn
  • 7 What Is True Myth?: Pawnee Creation and Coyote Myths. Dorsey and Grinnell
  • A Pawnee Creation Myth
  • Coyote and Scalped Woman
  • On the Relativity of Standards of Social Life and Myth
  • 8 Structuralists, Lévi-Strauss, Leach
  • Myth and the Realm of the Possible
  • 9 Myths and Universals
  • Part III
  • Introduction to Part III. Theory of Myth
  • A Note on Allegory, Symbol and Metaphor
  • 1 The Treatment of Myth as a Code
  • The Code of Justinian
  • The Code of Napoléon
  • Codes, Cryptanalysis and Ciphers
  • 2 Myth of the Law in the Book of Daniel
  • Redundancy in Myth
  • On Form and Substance in Myth. Myths and Ghost Stories
  • 3 Esoteric and Exoteric Myth: Bella Coola Myth. The Myth of the Drunken Goddess
  • 4 The State as Myth and Myths of the State: Hegel and the March of God through the World. Hobbes, Leviathan and Behemoth
  • The Descent of the Emperor Chingis Khan
  • The Myth of Alan the Fair
  • 5 Sacred and Secular Myth
  • Sin and Crime
  • The Absurd and the Irrational. Tertullian, Unamuno, H. A. Murray
  • Myths of Utopia, Technics and the Machine. Myths of the Angst of Our Time. Frankenstein, Juggernaut
  • Myths of Science. Archimedes, Galileo, Laplace. Kapitza’s Crocodile
  • Friedrich Engels and the Myth of the Dialectic of Nature. Hertz and Nagel on the Myths of Science
  • Myths of Infinitesimals in Mathematics
  • Further Discussion on Infinitesimals
  • 6 Myth in the Making: The Transition from One Myth to Another. Benedetto Croce, Barrington Moore, Karl Popper
  • Myth as Pastime Activity
  • Myth as Oecumenic Expression
  • 7 Myth, the Known and the Unknown: The Myth of Theseus and Sciron
  • 8 Myth and Ideology
  • Ideology and the Development of Marxist and Anti-Marxist Thought
  • Ideology as the Activation of the Myth
  • References
  • Index


Mayán Cervantes

Lawrence Krader was an exceptional man. I had the good fortune to work with him and share some 3 years of his life—from 1979 to 1982. Over these years, I came to know him, love him, and respect him deeply as a teacher, as a philosopher, as a thinker, as a scholar, as a human being. He spoke six languages fluently and had a workable knowledge of many more. He had a deep knowledge and appreciation of art, music, literature.

Guillermo Bonfil, Director of the CISINAH (Centro de Investigaciones Superiores del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia), convinced Krader to come to Mexico and live here, so a group of professors could learn from him and with him. I was one of the privileged few he invited to work with him. Only a few of us endured the rhythm of the work, the extensive readings and the intense reflections needed to approach and understand his theoretical proposals, his critical positions which were so innovative and, at times, incomprehensible—at first.

The very topic of this book shows that Krader was a very open-minded thinker, for he chose a complex and slippery subject, myth, as the object of study, a “bricolage” in its form and substance. Myth, he wrote, “is unsystematic, fantastic, mystical, utopian, and without autonomy for it is bound to the people and the traditions from where it comes.”←xi | x→

This novel approach led him to argue that myth is nothing if it is not part of people’s lives. Krader’s approach states that myths and subjects are linked, which in itself is a great contribution. Most typical studies of myth treat the objects of study without the subjects who perceive and believe them.

Krader took the risk of writing his “divertimento.” In this work, he freely shapes his perceptions regarding art, as well as many of the emotions of his aesthetic experience. He also includes material from his unpublished fieldwork. His myth research is less ideologically committed and less formal than his previous works; it is more accessible. I was attracted to it for these reasons along with the great erudition and the subject matter which was also close to my heart. I was greatly honored when he asked me to play a major role in translating the book. I am extremely gratified to see that this important work will be made available to an audience of English readers.

Mayán Cervantes was a student and colleague of Lawrence Krader during his extended trips to the Centro de Investigaciones Superiores in Mexico City. She is the translator of the Spanish edition of Myth and Ideology [Mito e Ideología, 2003].

Editors’ Preface

Cyril Levitt and Sabine Sander

The publication of Myth and Ideology is the fifth by Peter Lang of works by or about Lawrence Krader1 (1920–1998), the last four under the aegis of The Lawrence Krader Research Project at McMaster University. Krader’s formative years were spent at the City College of New York (CCNY) as a student of philosophy (1936–1941) which included a year (1939–40) of study with Morris Raphael Cohen and Rudolf Carnap at the University of Chicago.2 It was upon his return to City that Krader made the acquaintance of Franz Boas whose influence in part led him to study anthropology after his return from serving in the US Merchant Marine during World War II. Having worked as an assistant to Karl August Wittfogel at the University of Washington in the late 1940s, Krader entered the doctoral program in anthropology at Harvard University focusing on the Altaic speaking peoples of the Central Asian Steppes. His many field expeditions to Soviet Central Asia (he was the first Western anthropologist allowed to conduct field research in that part of the world in the 1960s) allowed him to observe the customs of the indigenous populations and the telling of their myths. In this he was following in the footsteps of Vladimir G. Bogoraz3 and Waldemar Jochelson4 who had done pioneering work among the peoples of Eastern Siberia, some of it in conjunction with the work of Boas in British Columbia. Krader’s ethnographic research and writing on Chukchi myth and shamanism among the Buryats, and ←xi | xii→his secondary appreciation of the work on myth by Bogoraz, Jochelson, Paul Radin, Franz Boas and other ethnographers and ethnologists provide the grounding for the ambitious project which resulted in Myth and Ideology.

But Krader situates the empirical and theoretical anthropological material within a much broader view in the history of ideas.5 The book is more than its simple title suggests. It does indeed present the main features of myth from ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt, Babylon, and China, from the world’s major religions, from indigenous peoples of Latin America, North America, Mongolia, Siberia and Central Asia, but it does this by tracing at the same time the history of the reception and study of myth, mythology, from earliest times down to the late twentieth century. As the reader will come to appreciate, the text does not develop a straight-forward theory or understanding of either myth or ideology. Rather, it wrestles with the differences in approach adopted by the leading figures in the study of myth from the beginnings of recorded history and traces these differences as they developed over time. And yet Krader explicitly attempts to outline a theory of myth and of ideology which is the product of a rigorous assessment of all the approaches of his predecessors in which he accepts some but rejects many of their assumptions and conclusions. The result is a new understanding of myth and ideology which the reader may not be able to readily access due to the sheer volume of detail concerning differences among the various thinkers and their schools. In addition, the significant number of qualifications that Krader makes throughout the book may impede access to all but those who possess a commanding overview of the field. This introduction will serve as a guide to understanding Krader’s main points of critique and his own theory of myth and ideology.

Most of the book concerns myth, the study of myth, myths of myth, the possibility of the science of myth which involves a serious look at the myth of science and aspects of the myth of mathematics. Ideology is only brought explicitly into play by the author in the last few score of pages. And as with myth as outlined above, the various approaches to ideology represent such vast differences that the reader may find it difficult to find the foothold that Krader offers in relation to a new and viable approach to both myth and ideology.

In this introduction, we attempt to outline Krader’s understanding of myth and ideology, selectively review his extensive treatment of the attempts to comprehend myth over the millenia, to highlight Krader’s rejection of some of the ideas of his predecessors and the reasons he offers for doing so, to bring out in a focused way Krader’s own theory of myth and ideology, and to take up certain aspects of this work in light of Krader’s other writings with which the reader may not be familiar.

←xii | xiii→


1In chronological order they are: Labor and Value (2003), Noetics (2010), Beyond the Juxtaposition of Nature and Culture (2018) and The Beginnings of Capitalism in Central Europe (2020).

2When Krader returned to CCNY in 1940, he served as a research assistant to Polish logician Alfred Tarski, whose book on an introduction to logic he helped translate into English. Further information on Krader as a scholar can be found in D. Schorkowitz (ed.). Ethnohistorische Wege und Lehrjahre eines Philosophen: Festschrift für Lawrence Krader zum 75. Geburtstag. Frankfurt a. M. 1995; C. Levitt and R. Hay (eds.). Labor and Value. New York 2003; C. Levitt (ed.). Noetics: The Science of Thinking and Knowing. New York 2010; S. Sander, C. Levitt, and N. McLaughlin, Beyond Fields, Networks and Fame: Lawrence Krader as an “Outsider” Intellectual, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 53 (2017) No. 2, pp. 155–175; C. Levitt and S. Sander. “Introduction,” in: C. Levitt and S. Sander (eds.). Beyond the Juxtaposition of Nature and Culture. New York 2018, pp. 3–82; and The Lawrence Krader Research Project, www.lawrencekrader.com, Krader Biography.

3See the obituary of Bogoraz by Franz Boas published in the American Anthropologist, 39:2 (1937), pp. 314–315. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1937.39.2.02a00100

4For an overview of Jochelson’s life and fieldwork among the Koriaks, Yukagirs, Yakuts, and other peoples of Eastern Siberia, see D. Brandišauskas, (2009) “Waldemar Jochelson—a prominent ethnographer of north-eastern Siberia,” Acta Orientalia Vilnensia, 10 (1– 2), pp. 165–179. doi: 10.15388/ AOV.2009.3665. Krader was likely first made aware of the pioneering work of the two Waldemars (Vladimirs) through their association with Franz Boas.

5As a graduating student at CCNY in 1940– 41 Krader won the prestigious Ketchum Award in the history of philosophy which is all the more noteworthy considering that his competition for the award included some of the leading American intellectuals of the next generation, including, but not limited to: Daniel Bell, Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Seymour M. Lipset and the future Nobel prize winner, Kenneth Arrow.

Editors’ Introduction

Cyril Levitt and Sabine Sander

We begin our Introduction with Krader’s own words outlining his scope and purpose in writing the book:

The purpose of this book is twofold, first to write a short book on a rich, complex, and fantastic field, and therein to confront a number of viewpoints to one another, which are not usually brought under one heading. The second is to advance a theory which arches over the several viewpoints of the anthropologists, the Biblical and classical scholars, folklorists, the cultural critics of modern society, historians, philosophers, students of political ideology, psychologists, and sociologists. (lxvi)1

My purpose is to advance a theory of myth, to add other perspectives to it, some of which are well known, likewise some of which have been overlooked and forgotten. There is, as we shall see, a common direction extending over many centuries in the study of myth. (2)

And beyond this focus, Krader writes, that by means of the book’s “… exploration we learn something of ourselves, and indeed the more deeply we probe into the study of myth, the more profound and telling will be our understanding of how we think, how we feel, how we see the world and how we relate to one another in these human processes.” (lxvii)←xiv | xvi→

In a way, this is reminiscent of Durkheim’s [1912 (1995) 8] claim in his last and perhaps greatest major work, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, that religious thinking was the fons et origo of logical, scientific and philosophical thinking. According to Durkheim,

If philosophy and the sciences were born in religion, it is because religion itself began by serving as science and philosophy. Further, and less often noted, religion has not merely enriched a human intellect already formed but in fact has helped to form it. Men owe to religion not only the content of their knowledge, in significant part, but also the form in which that knowledge is elaborated.2

Reading Krader’s book Myth and Ideology is both an enriching and daunting task: Not only is the subject matter covered in the book vast in scope, enormously broad in terms of time, and deep with regard to the logical, epistemological and philosophical concepts he pursues, but it cannot be approached from within one discipline or scholarly perspective. For not only is the reader confronted with Krader’s unparalleled erudition in philosophical, historical, cultural, and political matters, but reading this instructive work also requires the reader to wear different hats and view it through different glasses—to read it as an ethnographer, a philosopher, a sociologist and linguist, as a scholar and as a reader with an interest in the marvelous stories of myth. Krader not only writes about myth but allows myths to speak for themselves.

This multi-perspectivity, which interweaves an emic and an etic perspective on myth, requires an open-minded reader. Myths constitute a world of their own, in which things beyond our empirical experiences occur, and they force us to extend our curiosity beyond the well-known or familiar, or as Krader puts it:

In myths, some people hold that the world rests on an elephant standing on a turtle, others think of the sky as a roof, of life as spiritual breath, and of the world as the offspring of processes of biological generation. Myths are the expressions of the recombination and fabulation of our perceptions in both possible and impossible forms. (167)

Krader was aware of the challenges he was facing and responded by embracing different disciplines, perspectives, and methods:

My ambitus is broad, which, I contend, is the only way to study myth. I leave it to others to extend or deepen it; indeed, this is to be welcomed. For if you touch only the elephant’s leg without seeing the other parts of the beast, you may well take it to be a tree. (lxii)

←xvi | xvii→

Krader’s approach to the study of myth or mythology as he defines it, is indeed reminiscent of the story to which he alludes here of the king’s counselors who were sent to report back to the king on the nature of a beast, the elephant, which had never before been seen in that kingdom. Now the elephant was kept in the hold of a ship without light and the king’s counselors could only rely on their sense of touch to gather information on the nature of the beast they were to describe to the king. Each counselor felt a different part of the elephant and reported back to the king with his description of the beast as he had experienced it. What resulted from this was nothing but confusion and contradiction. It is much the same with Krader’s report on the vast differences in the nature of the study of myth by various individuals and schools of thought over the millenia. Whereas one had seen a deep truth in myth, a revelation of the earliest and deepest strata of the human mind, a valuable secret to be revealed, others have seen in myth nothing but nonsense and noise. Where some have studied myth in terms of popular tradition and folklore revealing something deep about the nature of a culture through the study of myth, others see the ideological reworking of pristine tradition for the benefit of the ruling strata. And as Krader points out: “Myth is greatly variable in form and substance” (11). There are so many diverse aspects in myth and in the approaches to the study of myth in relation to both form and substance, that a question arises as to whether there can be one theory of myth that arches over the disparities, contradictions, differences in the various myths and approaches to the study of myths themselves. Krader answers this in the affirmative, both by rejecting some elements of the approaches to the study of myth while accepting other aspects, adding yet other elements which he feels establish the common features which define the category. As he states:

“Platonists and Neoplatonists, Aristotelians, Neo-Kantians, Hegelians, ideologists, objectivists, subjectivists, cryptanalysts, philologists and structuralists have all looked into myths according to their tenets; each of these schools of thought has fixed on one quality of myth, or a related set of qualities, to the exclusion of others. It is not our task to refute any of them, but rather to confront the different views to one another, to show what about them gives a good account of myth, and what falls short, what is living and what is dead.” (283)3

In reading this book a scholarly parkour through the history of ideas unfolds before the eyes of the reader, as Krader accompanies his readership through the writings on myth of the most important figures in the history of philosophy from ancient Greece and Rome to the twentieth century, from the Old to the New World, from various religions and cultures, through Greece, Rome, Egypt, ←xvii | xviii→Babylon, the ancient Near East and China, North and Central America, Siberia, Mongolia and Central Asia. Krader reconstructs and critically comments on theories of the main scholars who studied and wrote on myth, among them Aristotle, Plato, Giambattista Vico, G.W.F. Hegel, Benedetto Croce, Emile Durkheim, Franz Boas, Vladimir G. Bogoraz, Georges Sorel, Paul Radin, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Ernst Cassirer. Moreover, the book is an important milestone in the sociology of knowledge, as Krader emphasizes the close relationship between myth and ideology and studies the secular and religious worldviews included in both ideology and myth.

In terms of the modern study of myth, which, Krader argues, begins roughly in the middle of the nineteenth century, he traces the developments succinctly as follows:

We date the beginnings of the “modern” era in the study of myth very approximately from the middle of the nineteenth century. Up to that time, mythology appears to have had definite ethnic locations which aroused the intellectual ardor and the passions of those who devoted themselves to it. By myth the students of antiquity, the renaissance and the enlightenment had first the myths of the Greeks in mind; this was expanded to include the Romans, then the Egyptians and other peoples of antiquity. The myths of the Arabs and the peoples of India were incorporated into the mythological field, the Bible as myth and the myths of the European peasants were studied. Finally, mythology exploded to cover all parts of the Americas, Oceania, Asia, Africa, and Polar regions. It was still regarded as an object outside the world of the learned, the cities, and the industrial life of the present. It was thought that erudition, urban and industrial conditions spoiled the mind and feelings, and that true myth was only to be found among the literate, the humble, and those who lived in distant places. The industrial proletariat was thought not to have any myths; only late in that century were these prejudices overturned in the minds of the majority of the workers in the field and it was discovered that even science is a myth or has its myth. (46–47)

Myth and Ideology contains a grand overview of myths, approaches to myth, and myths of myth from around the world over five millenia. Given Krader’s careful attention to detail and his parcelling out of similarities and differences with a fine precision regarding the various approaches to myth, the editors are of the opinion that many readers could profit from a clear set of guidelines to serve as an orientation to the text. One might read this work as an instructive first introduction to myth and mythology, to get the bigger picture in a general way, or to focus on parts of it for a more detailed study of the approaches and conclusions of specific thinkers and schools. Of course, this latter approach presupposes ←xviii | xix→some background knowledge of the authors Krader has selected, without which Krader’s critical comments are difficult to follow. Therefore, we would like to offer the reader a series of topics for purposes of orientation concerning those aspects of myth that Krader uses as points of orientation. We follow up on this with a larger number of detailed positions that Krader pursues in the text. And finally, we selectively explore in still greater detail Krader’s discussions of specific thinkers and schools as well as some of the important topics that he raises in the text. The chief axes of his analysis are:


LXX, 344
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. LXX, 344 pp.

Biographical notes

Cyril Levitt (Volume editor) Sabine Sander (Volume editor)

Cyril Levitt (Ph.D., Freie Universität Berlin) is professor and a past chair in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University in Canada. A fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, he has been a visiting professor at the Freie Universität Berlin and the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Sabine Sander (Ph.D., Leipzig University; Habilitation, University of Coblenz-Landau) is an academic research associate and former visiting professor at McMaster University. She is the editor of Language as Bridge and Border (2015), and the author of Dialogische Verantwortung (2017), as well as of numerous articles in journals and books.


Title: Myth and Ideology