Overlooked Mythologies: Fascinating Books on Folklore from the Rest of the World

While we’re all familiar with some ancient cultural tales, many are left forgotten. Come explore lesser-known mythological gems that deserve more hype.

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In Western media, there are certainly more prevalent or dominant mythologies. Norse, Greek, ancient Egyptian, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Japanese myths are the mythical tales that the mainstream is most familiar with. Not only do we have copious amounts of information on them thanks to the preservation of their writings, but also, entertainment media has run with the stories and characters from them a great deal.

Myths are a great way to see how people of set periods once viewed their world and explained its many unexplainable occurrences. Whether it’s the start of the world, why the rains come, or why you shouldn’t venture too close to the river, there’s a wealth of information to be found by peeking under the cover of myths from around the world.

So, let’s venture into these great, often overlooked mythologies from around the world and some great books to pick up to learn more about them.

Slavic Myths: Origins of Horror Legends

Hailing from Eastern Europe, some Slavic myths have entered the mainstream. The Baba Yaga in its menacing hut is one of the most notorious, but the two that have risen to the most prominence started in Slavic myth as one. The name of werewolf can be traced back to Greek myth, as we explore at Bookstr, and the beast is distinctly different from vampires, but in Slavic myth, the two are essentially the same.

werewolf and vampire on a full moon twilight

It might sound bizarre because they’re depicted so differently in modern media. One is a human that transforms into a feral wolf creature, while the other tends to be a more sophisticated person who needs to feed on human blood. You can see the difference in movies like Dracula and American Werewolf in London as well as in the online slots at Betway. Vampire Riches DoubleMax and Cure of the Werewolf Megaways are as distinct in their gameplay as we perceive the mythical creatures. While they hold up as their beings, originally, they were one.

The Noah Charney and Svetlana Slapšak book The Slavic Myths perfectly delves into this intertwined history. Here, you can read about how folklore written before the 20th Century detailed werewolves as we do vampires today. In the tales, wolves do come into play, but the rising from the earth and the powers of the beasts are very much like vampires as we know them. It’s a fascinating look at the unique take on these iconic creations.

Aztec Myths: Fifth Time’s the Charm

The history and mythologies of Mesoamerican cultures offer an incredibly colorful and sometimes downright bloodthirsty view of the world and how the world works. Reading into Aztec history – the most famed of ancient Mexican civilizations – can offer a glimpse at modern-day Mexican culture, as can be read about in The Broken Spears. One of the most fascinating premises of Aztec lore was the creation of the world.

Aztec circular engraving

It turns out that it required five attempts and the bodies of the gods not just to create our world but to set the days in motion. It’s said that Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, and Chalchiuhtlicue all failed to become a sun and sustain the human world. Then, Nanahuatzin sacrificed himself to become the Sun, but it was believed that he needed human sacrifice to keep going. Aztec Myths & Tales, published by Flame Tree, is a great exploration of the myths, and on May 2, 2024, Thames and Hudson will extend its myths series with The Aztec Myths.

West African Myths: Animals Have Their Say

It’s not uncommon for animals to be given voices and characters in mythical tales. In the many different tales and folklore stories hailing from the diverse populations of West Africa, the iconic local fauna often take center stage to impart the people’s wisdom. The incredibly important work of Robert Hamill Nassau, Where Animals Talk: West African Folk-Lore Tales, recounts many of these and is available for free at Gutenberg.

table of black and white witch craft candles, grimoire, and other things

One of the great tales, hailing from the Fang Tribe, details the story of competition between an elephant and a parrot, which is noted as perhaps influencing the practice of preserving a body in witchcraft investigations. Witchcraft is fascinating as a topic on its own, as books like Wicca prove, but here, the focus is on how far pride can take you toward your ultimate demise. In it, an elephant convinces their children to saw off their leg to match their parrot rival.

Explore the ancient cultures of the world through the retellings of their tales and mythologies by seeking out these excellent books!