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Myth vs. Folktale: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 14, 2023
A "Myth" is a traditional story explaining natural phenomena or cultural beliefs, while a "Folktale" is a tale passed down orally, reflecting cultural morals and traditions.

Key Differences

"Myths" and "Folktales" are both integral to cultural narratives, but they serve different purposes. A "Myth" primarily addresses the mysteries of life, creation, and the universe.
They often involve gods, goddesses, and supernatural elements to explain natural events or the origins of cultural practices. "Folktales," in contrast, are more diverse in nature, often encompassing legends, fables, fairy tales, and more. These stories are shared orally and represent the morals, values, and traditions of a community.
While "Myths" are deep-rooted in religious or spiritual beliefs, often giving them a sacred tone, "Folktales" might be more secular, focusing on everyday lessons or cultural customs. Interestingly, "Myths" tend to be more fixed in their narratives due to their sacred nature, while "Folktales" can evolve, adapting to changes within the culture or the storyteller's preferences.

Comparison Chart


Addresses life's mysteries & origins
Reflects cultural morals & traditions


Gods, goddesses, & supernatural beings
Humans, animals, magical beings


Explain natural events & cultural beliefs
Entertain & impart cultural lessons


Religious or spiritual beliefs
Oral traditions of a community

Flexibility in Narrative

Generally fixed due to sacred nature
Can evolve with culture & storyteller

Myth and Folktale Definitions


A story involving gods, ancestors, or heroes, shared as a fundamental type in the worldviews of a particular culture.
In Norse mythology, the myth of Ragnarok details the end of the world.


A traditional narrative, typically passed orally, that originates in popular culture.
The folktale of Cinderella has versions in cultures around the world.


A person or thing held in awe or generally believed to exist.
The Fountain of Youth is a myth many have sought but none have found.


A story that often contains elements of fantasy and imparts a moral lesson.
The folktale of the tortoise and the hare teaches the value of persistence.


An allegorical narrative or lesson conveyed through traditional tales.
The myth of Icarus teaches about the dangers of hubris.


An anonymously authored narrative that has been retold and reshaped by many generations.
The story of Red Riding Hood is a folktale with numerous variations.


A traditional story explaining the historical events of a people or explaining natural or social phenomena.
The Greek myth of Prometheus explains how humans got fire.


A story that may feature humans, animals, or supernatural beings and mirrors the hopes, fears, and values of a society.
The Japanese folktale of Momotaro depicts the adventure of a boy born from a peach.


A widely held but false belief or idea.
The notion that lightning never strikes the same place twice is a myth.


A tale from a specific culture that provides insight into social customs, beliefs, and values.
Folktales from Native American tribes often highlight the importance of nature.


A traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people, as by explaining aspects of the natural world or delineating the psychology, customs, or ideals of society
The myth of Eros and Psyche.
A creation myth.


A story or legend forming part of an oral tradition.


Such stories considered as a group
The realm of myth.


A tale or story that is part of the oral tradition of a people or a place.


A popular belief or story that has become associated with a person, institution, or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal
A star whose fame turned her into a myth.
The pioneer myth of suburbia.


A tale circulated by word of mouth among the common folk, especially one forming part of the tradition of a culture.


A fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology.


A tale circulated by word of mouth among the common folk


A fictitious story, person, or thing
"German artillery superiority on the Western Front was a myth" (Leon Wolff).


A traditional story which embodies a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience, and in which often the forces of nature and of the soul are personified; a sacred narrative regarding a god, a hero, the origin of the world or of a people, etc.


(uncountable) Such stories as a genre.
Myth was the product of man's emotion and imagination, acted upon by his surroundings. (E. Clodd, Myths & Dreams (1885), 7, cited after OED)


A commonly-held but false belief, a common misconception; a fictitious or imaginary person or thing; a popular conception about a real person or event which exaggerates or idealizes reality.
Scientists debunk the myth that gum stays in the human stomach for seven years.


A person or thing held in excessive or quasi-religious awe or admiration based on popular legend
Father Flanagan was legendary, his institution an American myth. (Tucson (Arizona) Citizen, 20 September 1979, 5A/3, cited after OED)


A person or thing existing only in imagination, or whose actual existence is not verifiable.


An invented story, theory, or concept.


A story of great but unknown age which originally embodied a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience, and in which often the forces of nature and of the soul are personified; an ancient legend of a god, a hero, the origin of a race, etc.; a wonder story of prehistoric origin; a popular fable which is, or has been, received as historical.


A person or thing existing only in imagination, or whose actual existence is not verifiable.
As for Mrs. Primmins's bones, they had been myths these twenty years.


A traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people


Can a story be both a myth and a folktale?

It's possible; some stories can blur the boundaries, depending on cultural interpretations.

Are folktales just for children?

No, while folktales can be kid-friendly, they often contain lessons and values for all ages.

Are myths true?

Myths are not factual but represent truths or beliefs significant to a culture.

What's a mythological creature?

It's a fictional being, often found in myths, like unicorns or dragons.

Did myths originate from a single author?

Myths typically have no single identifiable author and evolve over time.

Are all myths religious in nature?

No, while many myths have religious or spiritual elements, not all are strictly religious.

Why are folktales important?

They preserve cultural values, traditions, and shared community lessons.

Are folktales always fictional?

While based in fiction, folktales might be rooted in historical events or real-life occurrences.

Can myths change over time?

While myths can be adapted, their core narratives tend to remain relatively stable due to their sacred nature.

Are fairy tales the same as folktales?

Fairy tales are a subset of folktales, often involving magic and fantastical creatures.

Do all cultures have folktales?

Yes, every culture has its own collection of folktales reflecting its values and history.

Can myths be humorous?

While many myths tackle serious themes, some can have humorous elements.

Do myths only explain natural events?

No, they also detail cultural beliefs, origins, and societal structures.

How are folktales typically passed down?

Traditionally, orally from one generation to the next.

Can a folktale be about a real person?

Yes, some folktales are embellished stories of historical figures.

How long is a typical folktale?

Length varies, from short anecdotes to lengthy narratives.

Are folktales always set in the distant past?

Often, but not always. Some might be set in a timeless realm or even the present.

Is the concept of the "hero" common in myths?

Yes, many myths revolve around heroes and their adventures.

Is the purpose of myths only to educate?

While education is a component, myths also entertain and provide cultural identity.

Why do many cultures have similar myths?

Shared human experiences and cultural exchanges lead to common themes in myths.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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