According to The Penguin Dictionary of American Folklore
, the purpose of myth is etiologial -- meaning that people-groups use myths to explain the origin of things. In many myths, the main characters are gods or demi-gods and the story may have some religious meaning or background.
In the Eskimo tale of the First Tears
retold by S.E. Schlosser, we discover how Man learned to cry.
Excerpt: "Once long ago, Man went hunting along the water's edge for seals. To Man's delight, many seals were crowded together along the seashore. He would certainly bring home a great feast for Woman and Son. He crept cautiously towards the seals. The seals grew restless. Man slowed down. Suddenly, the seals began to slip into the water. Man was frantic. His feast was getting away." Read more.
In the book Indian Why Tales, Frank B. Linderman explains How the Ducks Got Their Fine Feathers.
Excerpt: "It was in the fall when leaves are yellow that it happened, and long, long ago. The Duck-people had gathered to go away, just as they are doing now. The buck-deer was coming down from the high ridges to visit friends in the lowlands along the streams as they have always done. On a lake Old Man saw the Duck-people getting ready to go away, and at that time they all looked alike; that is, they all wore the same colored clothes. The loons and the geese and the ducks were there and playing in the sunlight. The loons were laughing loudly and the diving was fast and merry to see. On the hill where Old Man stood there was a great deal of moss, and he began to tear it from the ground and roll it into a great ball. When he had gathered all he needed he shouldered the load and started for the shore of the lake, staggering under the weight of the great burden. Finally the Duck-people saw him coming with his load of moss and began to swim away from the shore.
'Wait, my brothers!' he called, 'I have a big load here, and I am going to give you people a dance. Come and help me get things ready. '" Read more.
Folktales may be used etiologically -- that is, to explain origins -- but they do not contain characters who would be considered gods or demigods.
Why Dogs Chase Cats retold by S.E. Schlosser is an example of a folktale explaining the origin of the enmity between cats and dogs.
Excerpt: "Once long ago, Dog was married to Cat. They were happy together, but every night when Dog came home from work, Cat said she was too sick to make him dinner. Dog was patient with this talk for a while, but he soon got mighty tired of fixing dinner for them both after a hard day's work. After all, Cat just stayed home all day long." Read more.