Chaos (cosmogony)

Chaos (Ancient Greek: χάος, khaos) refers to the void state preceding the creation of the universe or cosmos in the Greek creation myths, or to the initial "gap" created by the original separation of heaven and earth.[1][2][3]


Greek χάος means "emptiness, vast void, chasm,[4] abyss", from the verb χαίνω, "gape, be wide open, etc.", from Proto-Indo-European heh2n-,[5] cognate to Old English geanian, "to gape", whence English yawn.[6]

It may also mean space, the expanse of air, the nether abyss or infinite darkness.[7] Pherecydes of Syros (fl. 6th century BC) interprets chaos as water, like something formless which can be differentiated.[8]

Greco-Roman tradition

Assistants and George Frederic Watts - Chaos - Google Art Project
Chaos by George Frederic Watts

Hesiod and the Pre-Socratics use the Greek term in the context of cosmogony. Hesiod's chaos has been interpreted as either "the gaping void above the Earth created when Earth and Sky are separated from their primordial unity" or "the gaping space below the Earth on which Earth rests".[9]

In Hesiod's Theogony, Chaos was the first thing to exist: "at first Chaos came to be" (or was)[10] but next (possibly out of Chaos) came Gaia, Tartarus and Eros (elsewhere the son of Aphrodite).[11] Unambiguously "born" from Chaos were Erebus and Nyx.[12] For Hesiod, Chaos, like Tartarus, though personified enough to have borne children, was also a place, far away, underground and "gloomy", beyond which lived the Titans.[13] And, like the earth, the ocean, and the upper air, it was also capable of being affected by Zeus' thunderbolts.[14]

Passages in Hesiod's Theogony suggest that Chaos was located below Earth but above Tartarus.[15] Primal Chaos was sometimes said to be the true foundation of reality, particularly by philosophers such as Heraclitus.

The notion of the temporal infinity was familiar to the Greek mind from remote antiquity in the religious conception of immortality.[16] This idea of the divine as an origin influenced the first Greek philosophers.[17] The main object of the first efforts to explain the world remained the description of its growth, from a beginning. They believed that the world arose out from a primal unity, and that this substance was the permanent base of all its being. Anaximander claims that the origin is apeiron (the unlimited), a divine and perpetual substance less definite than the common elements. Everything is generated from apeiron, and must return there according to necessity.[18] A conception of the nature of the world was that the earth below its surface stretches down indefinitely and has its roots on or above Tartarus, the lower part of the underworld.[19] In a phrase of Xenophanes, "The upper limit of the earth borders on air, near our feet. The lower limit reaches down to the "apeiron" (i.e. the unlimited)."[19] The sources and limits of the earth, the sea, the sky, Tartarus, and all things are located in a great windy-gap, which seems to be infinite, and is a later specification of "chaos".[19][20]

In Aristophanes's comedy Birds, first there was Chaos, Night, Erebus, and Tartarus, from Night came Eros, and from Eros and Chaos came the race of birds.[21]

At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus, and deep Tartarus. Earth, the air and heaven had no existence. Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebus, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light. That of the Immortals did not exist until Eros had brought together all the ingredients of the world, and from their marriage Heaven, Ocean, Earth and the imperishable race of blessed gods sprang into being. Thus our origin is very much older than that of the dwellers in Olympus. We [birds] are the offspring of Eros; there are a thousand proofs to show it. We have wings and we lend assistance to lovers. How many handsome youths, who had sworn to remain insensible, have opened their thighs because of our power and have yielded themselves to their lovers when almost at the end of their youth, being led away by the gift of a quail, a waterfowl, a goose, or a cock.

For Ovid, (1st century BC), in his Metamorphoses, Chaos was an unformed mass, where all the elements were jumbled up together in a "shapeless heap".[22]

Ante mare et terras et quod tegit omnia caelum
unus erat toto naturae vultus in orbe,
quem dixere chaos: rudis indigestaque moles
nec quicquam nisi pondus iners congestaque eodem
non bene iunctarum discordia semina rerum.
Before the ocean and the earth appeared— before the skies had overspread them all—
the face of Nature in a vast expanse was naught but Chaos uniformly waste.
It was a rude and undeveloped mass, that nothing made except a ponderous weight;
and all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap.[23]

According to Hyginus: "From Mist (Caligine) came Chaos. From Chaos and Mist, came Night (Nox), Day (Dies), Darkness (Erebus), and Ether (Aether)."[24] An Orphic tradition apparently had Chaos as the son of Chronus and Ananke.[25]

Fifth-century Orphic cosmogony had a "Womb of Darkness" in which the Wind lay a Cosmic Egg whence Eros was hatched, who set the universe in motion.


Depiction of the Christianized Chaoskampf: statue of Archangel Michael slaying a dragon. The inscription on the shield reads: Quis ut Deus?

The motif of Chaoskampf (German: [ˈkaːɔsˌkampf], "struggle against chaos") is ubiquitous in myth and legend, depicting a battle of a culture hero deity with a chaos monster, often in the shape of a serpent or dragon. The same term has also been extended to parallel concepts in the Middle East and North Africa, such as the abstract conflict of ideas in the Egyptian duality of Maat and Isfet or the battle of Horus and Set.[26]

The origins of the Chaoskampf myth most likely lie in the Proto-Indo-European religion whose descendants almost all feature some variation of the story of a storm god fighting a sea serpent representing the clash between the forces of order and chaos. Early work by German academics such as Gunkel and Bousset in comparative mythology popularized translating the mythological sea serpent as a "dragon." Examples of this myth include:

Biblical tradition

Wenceslas Hollar - Chaos (State 1)
Chaos by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677).

Chaos has been linked with the term abyss/tohu wa-bohu of Genesis 1:2. The term may refer to a state of non-being prior to creation[27][28] or to a formless state. In the Book of Genesis, the spirit of God is moving upon the face of the waters, displacing the earlier state of the universe which is likened to a "watery chaos" upon which there is choshek (which translated from the Hebrew is darkness/confusion).[16][29]

The Septuagint makes no use of χάος in the context of creation, instead using the term for גיא, "cleft, gorge, chasm", in Micah 1:6 and Zacharia 14:4.[30] The Vulgate, however, renders the χάσμα μέγα or "great gulf" between heaven and hell in Luke 16:26 as chaos magnum.

This model of a primordial state of matter has been opposed by the Church Fathers from the 2nd century, who posited a creation ex nihilo by an omnipotent God.[31]

In modern biblical studies, the term chaos is commonly used in the context of the Torah and their cognate narratives in Ancient Near Eastern mythology more generally. Parallels between the Hebrew Genesis and the Babylonian Enuma Elish were established by Hermann Gunkel in 1910.[32] Besides Genesis, other books of the Old Testament, especially a number of Psalms, some passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah and the Book of Job are relevant.[33][34][35]

Alchemy and Hermeticism

Lotto Capoferri Magnum Chaos
Magnum Chaos, wood-inlay by Giovan Francesco Capoferri at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, based on a design by Lorenzo Lotto.

The Greco-Roman tradition of Prima Materia, notably including the 5th and 6th century Orphic cosmogony, was merged with biblical notions (Tehom) in Christianity and inherited by alchemy and Renaissance magic.

The cosmic egg of Orphism was taken as the raw material for the alchemical magnum opus in early Greek alchemy. The first stage of the process of producing the philosopher's stone, i.e., nigredo, was identified with chaos. Because of association with the Genesis creation narrative, where "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2), Chaos was further identified with the classical element of Water.

Ramon Llull (1232–1315) wrote a Liber Chaos, in which he identifies Chaos as the primal form or matter created by God. Swiss alchemist Paracelsus (1493–1541) uses chaos synonymously with "classical element" (because the primeval chaos is imagined as a formless congestion of all elements). Paracelsus thus identifies Earth as "the chaos of the gnomi", i.e., the element of the gnomes, through which these spirits move unobstructed as fish do through water, or birds through air.[36] An alchemical treatise by Heinrich Khunrath, printed in Frankfurt in 1708, was entitled Chaos.[37] The 1708 introduction to the treatise states that the treatise was written in 1597 in Magdeburg, in the author's 23rd year of practicing alchemy.[38] The treatise purports to quote Paracelsus on the point that "The light of the soul, by the will of the Triune God, made all earthly things appear from the primal Chaos."[39] Martin Ruland the Younger, in his 1612 Lexicon Alchemiae, states, "A crude mixture of matter or another name for Materia Prima is Chaos, as it is in the Beginning."

The term gas in chemistry was coined by Dutch chemist Jan Baptist van Helmont in the 17th century directly based on the Paracelsian notion of chaos. The g in gas is due to the Dutch pronunciation of this letter as a spirant, also employed to pronounce Greek χ.[40]

Modern usage

The term chaos has been adopted in modern comparative mythology and religious studies as referring to the primordial state before creation, strictly combining two separate notions of primordial waters or a primordial darkness from which a new order emerges and a primordial state as a merging of opposites, such as heaven and earth, which must be separated by a creator deity in an act of cosmogony.[41] In both cases, chaos referring to a notion of a primordial state contains the cosmos in potentia but needs to be formed by a demiurge before the world can begin its existence.

Use of chaos in the derived sense of "complete disorder or confusion" first appears in Elizabethan Early Modern English, originally implying satirical exaggeration.[42] "Chaos" in the well-defined sense of chaotic complex system is in turn derived from this usage.

"Chaos magic" as a branch of contemporary occultism is a product of the 1970s.

See also


  1. ^ Euripides Fr.484, Diodorus DK68,B5,1, Apollonius Rhodius I,49 Kirk p.42
  2. ^ Kirk, Raven & Schofield 2003, p. 42
  3. ^ Kirk, Raven & Schofield 2003, p. 44
  4. ^ West, p. 192 line 116 Χάος, "best translated Chasm"; English chasm is a loan from Greek χάσμα, which is root-cognate with χάος. Most, p. 13, translates Χάος as "Chasm", and notes: (n. 7): "Usually translated as 'Chaos'; but that suggests to us, misleadingly, a jumble of disordered matter, whereas Hesiod's term indicates instead a gap or opening".
  5. ^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, pp. 1614 and 1616–7.
  6. ^ "chaos". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  7. ^ Lidell-Scott, A Greek–English Lexiconchaos
  8. ^ Kirk, Raven & Schofield 2003, p. 57
  9. ^ Richard F. Moorton, Jr. (2001). "Hesiod as Precursor to the Presocratic Philosophers: A Voeglinian View". Archived from the original on 2008-12-11. Retrieved 2008-12-04.
  10. ^ Gantz, p. 3, says "the Greek will allow both".
  11. ^ According to Gantz, p. 4: "With regard to all three of these figures—Gaia, Tartaros, and Eros—we should note that Hesiod does not say they arose from (as opposed to after) Chaos, although this is often assumed." For example, Morford, p. 57, makes these three descendants of Chaos saying they came "presumably out of Chaos, just as Hesiod actually states that 'from Chaos' came Erebus and dark Night". Tripp, p. 159, says simply that Gaia, Tartarus and Eros came "out of Chaos, or together with it". Caldwell, p. 33 n. 116–122, however interprets Hesiod as saying that Chaos, Gaia, Tartarus, and Eros all "are spontaneously generated without source or cause". Later writers commonly make Eros the son of Aphrodite and Ares, though several other parentages are also given, Gantz, pp. 4–5.
  12. ^ Gantz, p. 4; Hesiod. Theogony, 123.
  13. ^ Hesiod. Theogony, 814: "And beyond, away from all the gods, live the Titans, beyond gloomy Chaos".
  14. ^ Hesiod. Theogony, 700
  15. ^ Gantz, p. 3; Hesiod. Theogony, 813–814, 700; cf. 740.
  16. ^ a b William Keith Chambers Guthrie (2000). A History of Greek Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521294201. Archived from the original on 2014-01-03. pp. 59, 60, 83 ISBN 0-521-29420-7
  17. ^ W. Jaeger (1953). The Theology of the early Greek philosophers. The Gifford lectures p.33:Nilsson, Vol I, p.743
  18. ^ W. K. Guthrie (1952): The Presocratic World-picture p.87: Nilsson, Vol I, p.743
  19. ^ a b c Kirk, Raven & Schofield 2003, pp. 9, 10, 20
  20. ^ Hesiod. Theogony, 740-765
  21. ^ Aristophane. Birds, 693–699; Morford, pp 57–58. Caldwell, p. 2, describes this avian theogony as "comedic parody".
  22. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, 1.5 ff. translated by Arthur Golding
  23. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, 1.5ff. Translated by Brookes More
  24. ^ Hyginus. Fabulae, Preface, translated by Smith and Trzaskoma, p. 95. According to Bremmer, p. 5, who translates Caligine as "Darkness": "Hyginus ... started his Fabulae with a strange hodgepodge of Greek and Roman cosmogonies and early genealogies. It begins as follows: Ex Caligine Chaos. Ex Chao et Caligine Nox Dies Erebus Aether (Praefatio 1). His genealogy looks like a derivation from Hesiod, but it starts with the un-Hesiodic and un-Roman Caligo, ‘Darkness’. Darkness probably did occur in a cosmogonic poem of Alcman, but it seems only fair to say that it was not prominent in Greek cosmogonies."
  25. ^ Ogden, pp. 36–37.
  26. ^ Wyatt, Nicolas (2001-12-01). Space and Time in the Religious Life of the Near East. A&C Black. pp. 210–211. ISBN 9780567049421.
  27. ^ Tsumura, D., Creation and Destruction. A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory in the Old Testament, Winona Lake/IN, 1989, 2nd ed. 2005, ISBN 978-1-57506-106-1.
  28. ^ C. Westermann, Genesis, Kapitel 1-11, (BKAT I/1), Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1974, 3rd ed. 1983.
  29. ^ Genesis 1:2, English translation (New International Version)(2011): Biblica incorporation
  30. ^ Strong's Concordance H1516.
  31. ^ Gerhard May, Schöpfung aus dem Nichts. Die Entstehung der Lehre von der creatio ex nihilo, AKG 48, Berlin / New York, 1978, 151f.
  32. ^ H. Gunkel, Genesis, HKAT I.1, Göttingen, 1910.
  33. ^ Michaela Bauks, Chaos / Chaoskampf, WiBiLex – Das Bibellexikon (2006).
  34. ^ Michaela Bauks, Die Welt am Anfang. Zum Verhältnis von Vorwelt und Weltentstehung in Gen. 1 und in der altorientalischen Literatur (WMANT 74), Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1997.
  35. ^ Michaela Bauks, ''Chaos' als Metapher für die Gefährdung der Weltordnung', in: B. Janowski / B. Ego, Das biblische Weltbild und seine altorientalischen Kontexte (FAT 32), Tübingen, 2001, 431-464.
  36. ^ De Nymphis etc. Wks. 1658 II. 391
  37. ^ Khunrath, Heinrich (1708). Vom Hylealischen, das ist Pri-materialischen Catholischen oder Allgemeinen Natürlichen Chaos der naturgemässen Alchymiae und Alchymisten: Confessio.
  38. ^ Urszula Szulakowska, The alchemy of light: geometry and optics in late Renaissance alchemical illustration, vol. 10 of Symbola et Emblemata - Studies in Renaissance and Baroque Symbolism, BRILL, 2000, ISBN 978-90-04-11690-0, ch. 7 (pp. 79ff).
  39. ^ Szulakowska (2000), p. 91, quoting Chaos p. 68.
  40. ^ "halitum illum Gas vocavi, non longe a Chao veterum secretum." Ortus Medicinæ, ed. 1652, p. 59a, cited after the Oxford English Dictionary.
  41. ^ Mircea Eliade, article "Chaos" in Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3rd ed. vol. 1, Tübingen, 1957, 1640f.
  42. ^ Stephen Gosson, The schoole of abuse, containing a plesaunt inuectiue against poets, pipers, plaiers, iesters and such like caterpillers of a commonwelth (1579), p. 53 (cited after OED): "They make their volumes no better than [...] a huge Chaos of foule disorder."


Abyss (religion)

In religion, an abyss is a bottomless pit, or also a chasm that may lead to the underworld or hell.

In the Septuagint, or Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the word represents both the original unfinished creation (Genesis 1:2) and the Hebrew tehom ("a surging water-deep"), which is used also in apocalyptic and kabbalistic literature and in the New Testament for hell; the place of punishment; in the Revised version of the Bible "abyss" is generally used for this idea. Primarily in the Septuagint cosmography the word is applied both to the waters under the earth which originally covered it, and from which the springs and rivers are supplied and to the waters of the firmament which were regarded as closely connected with those below.

In Psalm 42 verse 7, "Deep calls to deep" (referring to the waters) renders the Latin "Abyssus abyssum invocat", developing the theme of the longing of the soul for God. Cassiodorus relates this passage to the mutual witness of the two Testaments, the Old Testament foretelling the New, and the New Testament fulfilling the Old.A discussion of the Biblical Abyss, as the Tehom-Rabba, and its relation to the Deluge formed part of the Sacred Theory of Thomas Burnet.In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus there is an abyss between the righteous dead and the wicked dead in Sheol.In the Book of Revelation, Abaddon is called "the angel of the abyss".

Cosmic ocean

A cosmic ocean or celestial river is a mythological motif found in the mythology of many cultures and civilizations, representing the world or cosmos as enveloped by primordial waters.

In creation myths, the primordial waters are often represented as originally having filled the entire universe, being the first source of the gods cosmos with the act of creation corresponding to the establishment of an inhabitable space separate from the enveloping waters.Frāxkard (Middle Persian: plʾhwklt‎, Avestan: Vourukaša; also called Warkaš in Middle Persian) is the name of the cosmic ocean.In the first creation story in the Bible, there is only earth and water in a disorganized state: "Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters." (...). (Genesis 1:2.) The world is also created as a space inside of the water, and is hence surrounded of it, "And God saith, `Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.' " (Genesis 1:6).

Cosmological argument

In natural theology and philosophy, a cosmological argument is an argument in which the existence of a unique being, generally seen as some kind of god, is deduced or inferred from facts or alleged facts concerning causation, change, motion, contingency, or finitude in respect of the universe as a whole or processes within it. It is traditionally known as an argument from universal causation, an argument from first cause, or the causal argument, and is more precisely a cosmogonical argument (about the origin). Whichever term is employed, there are three basic variants of the argument, each with subtle yet important distinctions: the arguments from in causa (causality), in esse (essentiality), and in fieri (becoming).

The basic premises of all of these are the concept of causality. The conclusion of these arguments is first cause, subsequently deemed to be God. The history of this argument goes back to Aristotle or earlier, was developed in Neoplatonism and early Christianity and later in medieval Islamic theology during the 9th to 12th centuries, and re-introduced to medieval Christian theology in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas. The cosmological argument is closely related to the principle of sufficient reason as addressed by Gottfried Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, itself a modern exposition of the claim that "nothing comes from nothing" attributed to Parmenides.

Contemporary defenders of cosmological arguments include William Lane Craig, Robert Koons, Alexander Pruss, and William L. Rowe.


Formlessness may refer to:

The lack of form

Chaos (cosmogony), the formless or void state preceding the creation of the universe in the Greek creation myths

Trailokya, world of formlessness, a noncorporeal realm populated with four heavens, possible rebirth destination for practitioners of the four formlessness stages

Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness) in Borobudur

Tohu wa-bohu (redirect from Formless and void), Genesis before creation

Formless, book by Rosalind E. Krauss

Formless, the 2nd album from progressive metal band Aghora, released in December, 2006

Formlessness, album by The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die


Hundun (Chinese: 混沌; pinyin: Hùndùn; Wade–Giles: Hun-tun; literally: 'muddled confusion') is both a "legendary faceless being" in Chinese mythology and the "primordial and central chaos" in Chinese cosmogony, comparable with the World egg.

The Void (philosophy)

The Void is the philosophical concept of nothingness manifested. The notion of the Void is relevant to several realms of metaphysics. The Void is also prevalent in numerous facets of psychology, notably logotherapy.The manifestation of nothingness is closely associated with the contemplation of emptiness, and with human attempts to identify and personify it. As such, the concept of the Void, and ideas similar to it, have a significant and historically evolving presence in artistic and creative expression, as well as in academic, scientific and philosophical debate surrounding the nature of the human condition.

In this sense, knowledge or experience of the Void could be said to actually be unknowing, given its inherent ineffability. In Western mystical traditions, it was often argued that the transcendent 'Ground of Being' could therefore be approached through aphairesis, a form of negation.

Tohu wa-bohu

Tohu wa-bohu (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ), is a Biblical Hebrew phrase found in the Genesis creation narrative (Genesis 1:2) that describes the condition of the earth (eretz)

immediately before the creation of light in Genesis 1:3.

Numerous interpretations of this phrase are made by various theological sources.

The KJV translation of the phrase is "without form, and void", corresponding to LXX

ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος, "unseen and unformed".

Ancient Greek deities by affiliation
Other deities

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