Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism

Symbolical head from How to Read Character by Wells.

"Symbolical Head, Illustrating the Natural Language of the Faculties." (Image from Wells, Samuel. How to Read Character. New York: Wells Publishing, 1870. p.36.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Spring 2004



Cite This Course

Course Features

Course Description

Human beings are symbol-making as well as tool-making animals. We understand our world and shape our lives in large part by assigning meanings to objects, beings, and persons; by connecting things together in symbolic patterns; and by creating elaborate forms of symbolic action and narrative. In this introductory subject we consider how symbols are created and structured; how they draw on and give meaning to different domains of the human world; how they are woven into politics, family life, and the life cycle; and how we can interpret them.

The semester will be devoted to a number of topics in symbolism.

  1. Metaphor and Other Figurative Language
  2. The Raw Materials of Symbolism, especially Animals and The Human Body
  3. Cosmology and Complex Symbolic Systems
  4. Ritual, including Symbolic Curing and Magic
  5. Narrative and Life
  6. Mythology

James Howe. 21A.212 Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism, Spring 2004. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

For more information about using these materials and the Creative Commons license, see our Terms of Use.