Not a new subject, comparitive mythology, but a new approach; to me of course. Contrary to the Dumézilian approach, Oosten uses the cultural anthropological angle to look at things. However he refers to Dumézil quite a bit, he sees problems with the tripartite structure (see here). Whereas Dumézil compares different myths and characters and structures therein by comparing the functions of for example Gods, Oosten uses “the social code” (cf. the subtitle of this book “the social code in Indo-European mythology”). This means that not the function of a God is of interest, but his/her relation to other Gods and entities. “The structure of the myths was determined by the relationship between different kin-groups (paternal relatives, maternal relatives, affines.” (p.165) In this manner the following kind of structure is identified by Oosten: “Wife-takers associated with warfare received women from wife-givers associated with religion and wealth.” (p. 165) Or a longer quote:
The ancient myths reveal the structure of a pantheon that did not represent a state, or a kingdom, but a family, ruled by a father-god. Relations between different groups of gods were based on kinship.
However I fail to see the significance of these relations and the conclusions are often comparable ‘that other system’, it is sometimes refreshing to see that all Aesir stem from giants (which in this idea are the original Gods), who fought against and then merged with the Vanir. The treaty between the Aesir and the Vanir resulted in mead and Oosten has identified “the cycle of the mead” in all Indo-European mythologies.
It is not that Oosten has come to new conclusions to me, but the way he builds towards his conclusions is both interesting and sometimes hard to follow. I have the idea that he jumps conclusions quite frequently (two comparable situations are generalised) and with the myths I am most familiar with, he is rather sloppy in the retelling of them. Also, however much Oosten opposes the structure of Dumézil, the only thing that he presents himself is a way to dissect myths, while the theory of Dumézil also has practical applications. Oosten’s approach is focused on the texts, while Dumézil can be applied to the actual religion.
All things considered, I find this little book (150 pages) well worth reading, since it forced me to look at things slightly differently, but for me as a practitioner, this is mostly an intellectual game.
1985 Routledge Kegan Paul, isbn 071020289X