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Culture hero


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 (exemplifying dualistic creation myths in the latter case), 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 trickster and the culture hero are combined. To illustrate, Prometheus, in Greek mythology, stole fire from the gods to give it to humans as did Māui in Polynesian mythology.

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 United States 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.



  • Long, Jerome H. (2005). "Culture Heroes". In Lindsay Jones et al. Encyclopedia of Religion. 3 (second ed.). Macmillan Reference USA: Thomas Gale. 
  • Zolotarjov, A.M. (1980). "Társadalomszervezet és dualisztikus teremtésmítoszok Szibériában". In Hoppál, Mihály. A Tejút fiai. Tanulmányok a finnugor népek hitvilágáról (in Hungarian). Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó. pp. 29–58. ISBN .  Chapter means: "Social structure and dualistic creation myths in Siberia"; title means: "The sons of Milky Way. Studies on the belief systems of Finno-Ugric peoples".
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