"The first mythical impulse...was not toward making a sun g-d, or a lunar deity, but a community of stars." -Ernst Cassirer
"Man lives with his objects chiefly...as language presents them to him. By the same process whereby he spins language out of his own being, he ensnares himself in it; and each language draws a magic circle round the people to which it belongs, a circle from which there is no escape save by stepping out of it into another. - Wilhelm von Humboldt.
There are different understandings of the relationship between myth and language. We have studied theories of language using Wittgenstein's early critique of the positivistic discursive, or logical function of language as a hidden calculus whose critique assumed a therapeutic role of philosophy finding and correcting logico-linguistic defects. Paul Tillich once wrote that all understanding of spiritual things is ultimately circular. The very definition of logical consistency, or validity, is nothing more than the tautologous sentence form. In fact, propositional tautological circularity is the standard of "proof" for all logically deductive valid arguments. Myth and language also exist in circularity.
The most common understanding of the interaction between myth and language is the "diseased language" theory of myth. At first glance this view has some merit and is frequently used to generate anti-religious boilerplate polemics by naive realists. The diseased language view has its roots in romanticism and is expressed in the thoughts of Herder and Schelling. Language has within it a "faded mythology" that holds the distinctions in verbal stories and names. In this view myth dominates language and so is mythic-linguistic.
Another understanding of myth is exactly the opposite: language generates myth, or linguistic-mythic in function. Max Muller represents this point of view. This position methodologically investigates the factual nature of linguistic usage by comparing the use of language in varying cultures and times. In both schools of thought myth is seen as a verbal-linguistic activity. In both schools of thought myth is a deviant use of language.
Ernst Cassirer understands "radical metaphor"(Greek: μεταφορ-ά , metaphora, meaning transference) as the concept that links together language and myth. Metaphor brings together concrete objects to represent abstract ideas. Mythic metaphor brings together concepts and names in substitution of one another to explain an idea in terms of another dissimilar idea. However, something amazing happens is this seemingly innocent transference: we find that there is also a creation and transition to new categories, meanings, and significance. There is a μετά-βα^σις εἰς ἄλλο γένος , "A change into another genus, or kind." The Greek term, μετά-βα^σις, metabasis, means "shifting" to a different, γένος, genus, or kind. Such a change could result in a Copernican scale shift in perception of sense experience, and accepted mythico-religious formulations.
Cassirer writes of language and myth:
They are two diverse shoots from the same parent stem, the same impulse of symbolic formulation, springing from the same basic mental activity, a concentration and heightening of simple sensory experience. In the vocables of speech and in primitive mythic figurations, the same inner process finds it consummation: they are both resolutions of an inner tension, the representation of subjective impulse and excitations in definite objective forms and figures...The intellectual process here involved in one of synthetic supplementation, the combination of the single instance with the totality, and its completion in the totality. But by this relationship with the whole, the separate fact does not lose its concrete identity and limitation. (Language And Myth, by Ernst Cassirer, 1946, Harper and Brothers, p. 88-89.)
Through mythic conception a new genus, the holy, reveals patterns in experience that were once invisible. Eliade coined the term "hierophany" which has its eytmological origin in the Greek word ἱερός heiros, meaning sacred, and φαίνω, phainein, meaning to show. The appearance of the sacred is a prelogical conception of thought and acts as "organs of reality."
"...myth, art, language, and science appear as symbols: not in the sense of mere figures which refer to some given reality by means of suggestion and allegorical renderings, but in the sense of forces each of which produces and posits a world of its own....Thus the special symbolic forms are not imitations, but organs of reality, since it is solely by their agency that anything real becomes an object for intellectual apprehension and as such is made visible to us. The question as to what reality is apart from these forms, and what are its independent attributes, becomes irrelevant here....the central problem now is that of their mutual limitation and supplementation." (ibid, p.8.)
Whenever the ancient Greeks encountered the experiences of fear, joy, creation, destruction ,or philosophical insight and became focused on a concrete objective point of intense mometary excitment and contemplation, the δαίμων, or deity appears to organize, summarize, its essence into some subsituting dissimilar foreign concept. The Cora Indians' cultural mythmaking first formed a community of stars as a necessary requirement for establishing the sun g-d and other lunar deities. Such creative acts changes meanings and expands the boundary of our collective intersubjective world.
Since language really becomes actual as conversation, the g-ds have acquired names and a world has appeared. But again it should be noticed: the presence of the g-ds and the appearance of the world are not merely a consequence of the actualisation of language, they are contemporaneous with it. And to the extent that it is precisely in the naming of the g-ds, and in the transmutation of the world into word, that the real conversation, which we ourselves are, consists....The poet names the g-ds and the names all things in that which they are. This naming does not consist merely in something already known being supplied with a name; it is rather that when the poet speaks the essential word, the existent is by this naming nominated as what it is. So it becomes known as existent. Poetry is the establishing of being by means of word. (Existence and Being, Martin Heidegger, p. 279-281.).
When we name the g-ds, we name ourselves in an act of self revelation.