Culture Hero

prometheus

A culture hero is a mythological hero specific to some group (cultural, ethnic, religious, etc.) who changes the world through invention or discovery. A typical culture hero might be credited as the discoverer of fire, or agriculture, songs, tradition, law or religion, and is usually the most important legendary figure of a people, sometimes as the founder of its ruling dynasty. In some cultures, there are dualistic myths, featuring two culture heroes arranging the world in a complementary manner. Dualistic cosmologies are present in all inhabited continents and show great diversity: they may feature culture heroes, but also demiurges (artisan-like figures responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe), or other beings; the two heroes may compete or collaborate; they may be conceived as neutral or contrasted as good versus evil; be of the same importance or distinguished as powerful versus weak; be brothers (even twins) or be not relatives at all.

In many cultures, the mythical figure of the trickster and the culture hero are combined. To illustrate, Prometheus, in Greek mythology, stole fire from the gods to give it to humans. In many Native American mythologies and beliefs, the coyote spirit stole fire from the gods (or stars or sun) and is more of a trickster than a culture hero. Natives from the Southeastern US typically saw a rabbit trickster/culture hero, and Pacific Northwest native stories often feature a raven in this role: in some stories, Raven steals fire from his uncle Beaver and eventually gives it to humans. The Western African trickster spider Ananse is also widely disseminated.

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