A creation myth (or cosmogonic myth) is a symbolic narrative of how the world began and how people first came to inhabit it. While in popular usage the term myth often refers to false or fanciful stories, members of cultures often ascribe varying degrees of truth to their creation myths. In the society in which it is told, a creation myth is usually regarded as conveying profound truths, metaphorically, symbolically and sometimes in a historical or literal sense. They are commonly, although not always, considered cosmogonical myths—that is, they describe the ordering of the cosmos from a state of chaos or amorphousness.
Creation myths often share a number of features. They often are considered sacred accounts and can be found in nearly all known religious traditions. They are all stories with a plot and characters who are either deities, human-like figures, or animals, who often speak and transform easily. They are often set in a dim and nonspecific past that historian of religion Mircea Eliade termed in illo tempore ('at that time'). Creation myths address questions deeply meaningful to the society that shares them, revealing their central worldview and the framework for the self-identity of the culture and individual in a universal context.
Creation myth definitions from modern references:
Religion professor Mircea Eliade defined the word myth in terms of creation:
Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of the "beginnings." In other words, myth tells how, through the deeds of Supernatural Beings, a reality came into existence, be it the whole of reality, the Cosmos, or only a fragment of reality – an island, a species of plant, a particular kind of human behavior, an institution.
All creation myths are in one sense etiological because they attempt to explain how the world was formed and where humanity came from. Myths attempt to explain the unknown and sometimes teach a lesson.
Ethnologists and anthropologists who study these myths say that in the modern context theologians try to discern humanity's meaning from revealed truths and scientists investigate cosmology with the tools of empiricism and rationality, but creation myths define human reality in very different terms. In the past historians of religion and other students of myth thought of them as forms of primitive or early-stage science or religion and analyzed them in a literal or logical sense. Today, however, they are seen as symbolic narratives which must be understood in terms of their own cultural context. Charles Long writes, "The beings referred to in the myth – gods, animals, plants – are forms of power grasped existentially. The myths should not be understood as attempts to work out a rational explanation of deity."
While creation myths are not literal explications they do serve to define an orientation of humanity in the world in terms of a birth story. They are the basis of a worldview that reaffirms and guides how people relate to the natural world, to any assumed spiritual world, and to each other. The creation myth acts as a cornerstone for distinguishing primary reality from relative reality, the origin and nature of being from non-being. In this sense they serve as a philosophy of life but one expressed and conveyed through symbol rather than systematic reason. And in this sense they go beyond etiological myths which mean to explain specific features in religious rites, natural phenomena or cultural life. Creation myths also help to orient human beings in the world, giving them a sense of their place in the world and the regard that they must have for humans and nature.
Historian David Christian has summarised issues common to multiple creation myths:
Each beginning seems to presuppose an earlier beginning. ... Instead of meeting a single starting point, we encounter an infinity of them, each of which poses the same problem. ... There are no entirely satisfactory solutions to this dilemma. What we have to find is not a solution but some way of dealing with the mystery .... And we have to do so using words. The words we reach for, from God to gravity, are inadequate to the task. So we have to use language poetically or symbolically; and such language, whether used by a scientist, a poet, or a shaman, can easily be misunderstood.
Mythologists have applied various schemes to classify creation myths found throughout human cultures. Eliade and his colleague Charles Long developed a classification based on some common motifs that reappear in stories the world over. The classification identifies five basic types:
Marta Weigle further developed and refined this typology to highlight nine themes, adding elements such as deus faber, a creation crafted by a deity, creation from the work of two creators working together or against each other, creation from sacrifice and creation from division/conjugation, accretion/conjunction, or secretion.
An alternative system based on six recurring narrative themes was designed by Raymond Van Over:
The idea that God created the world out of nothing – ex nihilo – is central today to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides felt it was the only concept that the three religions shared. Nonetheless, the concept is not found in the entire Hebrew Bible. The authors of Genesis 1 were concerned not with the origins of matter (the material which God formed into the habitable cosmos), but with assigning roles so that the Cosmos should function. In the early 2nd century AD, early Christian scholars were beginning to see a tension between the idea of world-formation and the omnipotence of God, and by the beginning of the 3rd century creation ex nihilo had become a fundamental tenet of Christian theology.
Ex nihilo creation is found in creation stories from ancient Egypt, the Rig Veda, and many animistic cultures in Africa, Asia, Oceania and North America. The Debate between sheep and grain is an example of an even earlier form of ex nihilo creation myth from ancient Sumer. In most of these stories the world is brought into being by the speech, dream, breath, or pure thought of a creator but creation ex nihilo may also take place through a creator's bodily secretions.
The literal translation of the phrase ex nihilo is "from nothing" but in many creation myths the line is blurred whether the creative act would be better classified as a creation ex nihilo or creation from chaos. In ex nihilo creation myths the potential and the substance of creation springs from within the creator. Such a creator may or may not be existing in physical surroundings such as darkness or water, but does not create the world from them, whereas in creation from chaos the substance used for creation is pre-existing within the unformed void.
In creation from chaos myth, initially there is nothing but a formless, shapeless expanse. In these stories the word "chaos" means "disorder", and this formless expanse, which is also sometimes called a void or an abyss, contains the material with which the created world will be made. Chaos may be described as having the consistency of vapor or water, dimensionless, and sometimes salty or muddy. These myths associate chaos with evil and oblivion, in contrast to "order" (cosmos) which is the good. The act of creation is the bringing of order from disorder, and in many of these cultures it is believed that at some point the forces preserving order and form will weaken and the world will once again be engulfed into the abyss. One example is the Genesis creation myth from the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
There are two types of world parent myths, both describing a separation or splitting of a primeval entity, the world parent or parents. One form describes the primeval state as an eternal union of two parents, and the creation takes place when the two are pulled apart. The two parents are commonly identified as Sky (usually male) and Earth (usually female) who in the primeval state were so tightly bound to each other that no offspring could emerge. These myths often depict creation as the result of a sexual union, and serve as genealogical record of the deities born from it.
In the second form of world parent myth, creation itself springs from dismembered parts of the body of the primeval being. Often in these stories the limbs, hair, blood, bones or organs of the primeval being are somehow severed or sacrificed to transform into sky, earth, animal or plant life, and other worldly features. These myths tend to emphasize creative forces as animistic in nature rather than sexual, and depict the sacred as the elemental and integral component of the natural world. One example of this is the Norse creation myth described in Gylfaginning exactly in the poem Völuspá.
In emergence myths humanity emerges from another world into the one they currently inhabit. The previous world is often considered the womb of the earth mother, and the process of emergence is likened to the act of giving birth. The role of midwife is usually played by a female deity, like the spider woman of several mythologies of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. Male characters rarely figure into these stories, and scholars often consider them in counterpoint to male-oriented creation myths, like those of the ex nihilo variety.
Emergence myths commonly describe the creation of people and/or supernatural beings as a staged ascent or metamorphosis from nascent forms through a series of subterranean worlds to arrive at their current place and form. Often the passage from one world or stage to the next is impelled by inner forces, a process of germination or gestation from earlier, embryonic forms. The genre is most commonly found in Native American cultures where the myths frequently link the final emergence of people from a hole opening to the underworld to stories about their subsequent migrations and eventual settlement in their current homelands.
The earth-diver is a common character in various traditional creation myths. In these stories a supreme being usually sends an animal into the primal waters to find bits of sand or mud with which to build habitable land. Some scholars interpret these myths psychologically while others interpret them cosmogonically. In both cases emphasis is placed on beginnings emanating from the depths. Earth-diver myths are common in Native American folklore but can be found among the Chukchi and Yukaghir, the Tatars and many Finno-Ugrian traditions. The pattern of distribution of these stories suggest they have a common origin in the eastern Asiatic coastal region, spreading as peoples migrated west into Siberia and east to the North American continent.
Characteristic of many Native American myths, earth-diver creation stories begin as beings and potential forms linger asleep or suspended in the primordial realm. The earth-diver is among the first of them to awaken and lay the necessary groundwork by building suitable lands where the coming creation will be able to live. In many cases, these stories will describe a series of failed attempts to make land before the solution is found.
For many they are not a literal account of events, but may be perceived as symbolic of a deeper truth.
How did everything begin? This is the first question faced by any creation myth and ... answering it remains tricky. ... Each beginning seems to presuppose an earlier beginning. ... Instead of meeting a single starting point, we encounter an infinity of them, each of which poses the same problem. ... There are no entirely satisfactory solutions to this dilemma. What we have to find is not a solution but some way of dealing with the mystery .... And we have to do so using words. The words we reach for, from God to gravity, are inadequate to the task. So we have to use language poetically or symbolically; and such language, whether used by a scientist, a poet, or a shaman, can easily be misunderstood.
Adam and Eve, according to the creation myth of the Abrahamic religions, were the first man and woman. They are central to the belief that humanity is in essence a single family, with everyone descended from a single pair of original ancestors. It also provides the basis for the doctrines of the fall of man and original sin that are important beliefs in Christianity, although not held in Judaism or Islam.In the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible, chapters one through five, there are two creation narratives with two distinct perspectives. In the first, Adam and Eve are not named. Instead, God created humankind in God's image and instructed them to multiply and to be stewards over everything else that God had made. In the second narrative, God fashions Adam from dust and places him in the Garden of Eden. Adam is told that he can eat freely of all the trees in the garden, except for a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Subsequently, Eve is created from one of Adam's ribs to be Adam's companion. They are innocent and unembarrassed about their nakedness. However, a serpent deceives Eve into eating fruit from the forbidden tree, and she gives some of the fruit to Adam. These acts give them additional knowledge, but it gives them the ability to conjure negative and destructive concepts such as shame and evil. God later curses the serpent and the ground. God prophetically tells the woman and the man what will be the consequences of their sin of disobeying God. Then he banishes them from the Garden of Eden.
The story underwent extensive elaboration in later Abrahamic traditions, and it has been extensively analyzed by modern biblical scholars. Interpretations and beliefs regarding Adam and Eve and the story revolving around them vary across religions and sects; for example, the Islamic version of the story holds that Adam and Eve were equally responsible for their sins of hubris, instead of Eve being the first one to be unfaithful. The story of Adam and Eve is often depicted in art, and it has had an important influence in literature and poetry.
The story of the fall of Adam is often considered to be an allegory. There is physical evidence that Adam and Eve never existed; findings in genetics are incompatible with there being a single first pair of human beings.Ancient Egyptian creation myths
Ancient Egyptian creation myths are the ancient Egyptian accounts of the creation of the world. The Pyramid Texts, tomb wall decorations and writings, dating back to the Old Kingdom (2780–2250 BC) have given us most of our information regarding early Egyptian creation myths. These myths also form the earliest religious compilations in the world. The ancient Egyptians had many creator gods and associated legends. Thus the world or more specifically Egypt was created in diverse ways according to different parts of the country.In all of these myths, the world was said to have emerged from an infinite, lifeless sea when the sun rose for the first time, in a distant period known as zp tpj (sometimes transcribed as Zep Tepi), "the first occasion". Different myths attributed the creation to different gods: the set of eight primordial deities called the Ogdoad, the self-engendered god Atum and his offspring, the contemplative deity Ptah, and the mysterious, transcendent god Amun. While these differing cosmogonies competed to some extent, in other ways they were complementary, as different aspects of the Egyptian understanding of creation.Baluba mythology
The Baluba are one of the Bantu peoples of Central Africa. Their creation deity's name is Kabezya-Mpungu.Chinese creation myths
Chinese creation myths are symbolic narratives about the origins of the universe, earth, and life. In Chinese mythology, the term "cosmogonic myth" or "origin myth" is more accurate than "creation myth", since very few stories involve a creator deity or divine will. Chinese creation myths fundamentally differ from monotheistic traditions with one authorized version, such as the Judeo-Christian Genesis creation myth: Chinese classics record numerous and contradictory origin myths.
Some Chinese cosmogonic myths have familiar themes in comparative mythology. For example, creation from chaos (Chinese Hundun and Hawaiian Kumulipo), dismembered corpses of a primordial being (Pangu and Mesopotamian Tiamat), world parent siblings (Fuxi and Nüwa and Japanese Izanagi and Izanami), and dualistic cosmology (yin and yang and Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu). In contrast, other mythic themes are uniquely Chinese. While the mythologies of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece believed primeval water was the single element that existed "in the beginning", the basic element of Chinese cosmology was qi ("breath; air; life force"). Birrell explains that qi "was believed to embody cosmic energy governing matter, time, and space. This energy, according to Chinese mythic narratives, undergoes a transformation at the moment of creation, so that the nebulous element of vapor becomes differentiated into dual elements of male and female, Yin and Yang, hard and soft matter, and other binary elements."Cook Islands mythology
Cook Islands mythology comprises historical myths, legends, and folklore passed down by the ancient Cook Islanders over many generations. Many of the Cook Islands legends were recited through ancient songs and chants. The Cook Islands myths and legends have similarities to general Polynesian mythology, which developed over the centuries into its own unique character.Genesis creation narrative
The Genesis creation narrative is the creation myth of both Judaism and Christianity. The narrative is made up of two stories, roughly equivalent to the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. In the first, Elohim (the Hebrew generic word for God) creates the heavens and the Earth in six days, then rests on, blesses and sanctifies the seventh. In the second story, God, now referred to by the personal name Yahweh, creates Adam, the first man, from dust and places him in the Garden of Eden, where he is given dominion over the animals. Eve, the first woman, is created from Adam and as his companion.
Borrowing themes from Mesopotamian mythology, but adapting them to the Israelite people's belief in one God, the first major comprehensive draft of the Pentateuch (the series of five books which begins with Genesis and ends with Deuteronomy) was composed in the late 7th or the 6th century BCE (the Jahwist source) and was later expanded by other authors (the Priestly source) into a work very like the one we have today. The two sources can be identified in the creation narrative: Priestly and Jahwistic. The combined narrative is a critique of the Mesopotamian theology of creation: Genesis affirms monotheism and denies polytheism. Robert Alter described the combined narrative as "compelling in its archetypal character, its adaptation of myth to monotheistic ends".Misunderstanding the genre of the Genesis creation narrative, meaning the intention of the author(s) and the culture within which they wrote, can result in a misreading; misreading the story as history rather than theology leads to Creationism and the denial of evolution. As scholar of Jewish studies, Jon D. Levenson, puts it:
How much history lies behind the story of Genesis? Because the action of the primeval story is not represented as taking place on the plane of ordinary human history and has so many affinities with ancient mythology, it is very far-fetched to speak of its narratives as historical at all."Ginnungagap
In Norse mythology, Ginnungagap ("gaping abyss", "yawning void") is the primordial void, mentioned in the Gylfaginning, the Eddaic text recording Norse cosmogony.Guarani mythology
The Guaraní people live in south-central part of South America, especially in Paraguay and parts of the surrounding areas of Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia.Izanagi
Izanagi (Japanese: イザナギ, recorded in the Kojiki as 伊邪那岐 and in the Nihon Shoki as 伊弉諾) is a deity born of the seven divine generations in Japanese mythology and Shinto, and his name in the Kojiki is roughly translated to as "he-who-invites". He is also known as Izanagi-no-mikoto or Izanagi-no-Ōkami.Japanese creation myth
In Japanese mythology, the Japanese creation myth (天地開闢, Tenchikaibyaku, literally "creation of heaven and earth") is the story that describes the legendary birth of the celestial and earthly world, the birth of the first gods and the birth of the Japanese archipelago.
This story is described first-hand at the beginning of the Kojiki, the first book written in Japan (712), and in the Nihon Shoki (720). Both form the literary basis of Japanese mythology and Shinto; however, the story differs in some aspects between these works, with the most accepted for the Japanese being the one of the Kojiki.List of creation myths
A creation myth (or creation story) is a cultural, traditional or religious myth which describes the earliest beginnings of the present world. Creation myths are the most common form of myth, usually developing first in oral traditions, and are found throughout human culture. A creation myth is usually regarded by those who subscribe to it as conveying profound truths, although not necessarily in a historical or literal sense. They are commonly, although not always, considered cosmogonical myths—that is they describe the ordering of the cosmos from a state of chaos or amorphousness.Mashya and Mashyana
According to the Zoroastrian cosmogony, Mashya and Mashyana were the first man and woman whose procreation gave rise to the human race.Norse cosmology
Norse cosmology is the study of the cosmos (cosmology) as perceived by the North Germanic peoples. The topic encompasses concepts from Norse mythology, such as notions of time and space, cosmogony, personifications, anthropogeny, and eschatology. Like other aspects of Norse mythology, these concepts are primarily recorded in the Poetic Edda, a collection of poems compiled in the 13th century, and the Prose Edda, authored by Icelander Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, who drew from earlier traditional sources. Together these sources depict an image of Nine Worlds around a cosmic tree, Yggdrasil.Pangu
Pangu (simplified Chinese: 盘古; traditional Chinese: 盤古; pinyin: Pángǔ; Wade–Giles: P'an-ku) is the first living being and the creator of all in some versions of Chinese mythology.Rangi and Papa
In Māori mythology the primal couple Rangi and Papa (or Ranginui and Papatūānuku) appear in a creation myth explaining the origin of the world (though there are many different versions). In some South Island dialects, Rangi is called Raki or Rakinui.Sumerian creation myth
The earliest record of a Sumerian creation myth, called The Eridu Genesis by historian Thorkild Jacobsen, is found on a single fragmentary tablet excavated in Nippur. It is written in the Sumerian language and dated to around 1600 BC. Other Sumerian creation myths from around this date are called the Barton Cylinder, the Debate between sheep and grain and the Debate between Winter and Summer, also found at Nippur.The Greek Myths
The Greek Myths (1955) is a mythography, a compendium of Greek mythology, with comments and analyses, by the poet and writer Robert Graves. Many editions of the book separate it into two volumes. Abridged editions of this work contain only the myths and leave out Graves' commentary.Uranus (mythology)
Uranus (; Ancient Greek Οὐρανός, Ouranos [oːranós] meaning "sky" or "heaven") was the primal Greek god personifying the sky and one of the Greek primordial deities. Uranus is associated with the Roman god Caelus. In Ancient Greek literature, Uranus or Father Sky was the son and husband of Gaia, Mother Earth. According to Hesiod's Theogony, Uranus was conceived by Gaia alone, but other sources cite Aether as his father. Uranus and Gaia were the parents of the first generation of Titans, and the ancestors of most of the Greek gods, but no cult addressed directly to Uranus survived into Classical times, and Uranus does not appear among the usual themes of Greek painted pottery. Elemental Earth, Sky, and Styx might be joined, however, in a solemn invocation in Homeric epic.World egg
The world egg, cosmic egg or mundane egg is a mythological motif found in the cosmogonies of many cultures that descend from the proto-Indo-European culture and other cultures and civilizations. Typically, the world egg is a beginning of some sort, and the universe or some primordial being comes into existence by "hatching" from the egg, sometimes lain on the primordial waters of the Earth.