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Does the fact that most world mythologies contain a core flood story mean that our forebears chronicled the melting ice caps or witnessed god’s vengeance? Or are such commonalities indicative of cross-cultural pollination? “Early Freudians thought that flood myths were a result of dreams people had when they had full bladders,” notes Falls Church writer J.F. Bierlein, the author of Parallel Myths (Ballantine Books, 353 pp., $14 paper). A professor with the Washington Semester Program at American University and a former director of research for the Democratic National Committee, Bierlein wrote Parallel Myths to aid mythological novices and introduce experienced folklorists to still-unfamiliar pantheons. He plumbed the world’s belief systems and assembled similar stories from Egyptian, Indian, Native American, and other disparate cultures, and his book’s final chapters brief readers on academic interpretation of myths. While many Western scholars argue that myths’ similarities indicate that Western beliefs were absorbed by the colonized, Bierlein’s ideas differ. “Many, many cultures have a Mother Earth, Father Sky division. It would be very hard, for example, to argue that the Greeks and thePolynesians had any contact,” he says. And since the purpose of myths is to instruct, is it any wonder the lessons are the same? “Myths are the eternal mirror in which we see ourselves. They tell us about the nature of life and provide object lessons on love, vanity, morality,” Bierlein says. He concludes that though myths have been equated with fantasy, or even falsehood, each culture must embrace its myths—religious and civic: “A myth is the bearer of truth.”