A creation myth (or cosmogonic myth) is a symbolic narrative of how the world began and how people first came to inhabit it. – metaphorically, symbolically, historically, or literally. 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.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
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 myths develop in oral traditions and therefore typically have multiple versions;found throughout human culture, they are the most common form of myth.
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[ which? ] 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 myth 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 CE, 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.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 narrative 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.
Christian mythology is the body of myths associated with Christianity. The term encompasses a broad variety of legends and stories, especially those considered sacred narratives. Mythological themes and elements occur throughout Christian literature, including recurring myths such as ascending to a mountain, the axis mundi, myths of combat, descent into the Underworld, accounts of a dying-and-rising god, flood stories, stories about the founding of a tribe or city, and myths about great heroes of the past, paradises, and self-sacrifice.
Religion and mythology differ in scope but have overlapping aspects. Both terms refer to systems of concepts that are of high importance to a certain community, making statements concerning the supernatural or sacred. Generally, mythology is considered one component or aspect of religion. Religion is the broader term: besides mythological aspects, it includes aspects of ritual, morality, theology, and mystical experience. A given mythology is almost always associated with a certain religion such as Greek mythology with Ancient Greek religion. Disconnected from its religious system, a myth may lose its immediate relevance to the community and evolve—away from sacred importance—into a legend or folktale.
A creator deity or creator god is a deity or god responsible for the creation of the Earth, world, and universe in human religion and mythology. In monotheism, the single God is often also the creator. A number of monolatristic traditions separate a secondary creator from a primary transcendent being, identified as a primary creator.
A dying-and-rising, death-rebirth, or resurrection deity is a religious motif in which a god or goddess dies and is resurrected. "Death or departure of the gods" is motif A192 in Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (1932), while "resurrection of gods" is motif A193.
Germanic mythology consists of the body of myths native to the Germanic peoples. The category includes Norse mythology, Anglo-Saxon mythology, and Continental Germanic mythology. It was a key element of Germanic paganism. These stories establish the creation and creature myths that permeated Northern European cultures. They are concerned with the deities, mythical creatures, places and customs that shaped the early and proceeding Germanic peoples.
Chaos 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.
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 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.
Islamic mythology is the body of myths associated with Islam and the Quran. Islam is a religion that is more concerned with social order and law than with religious ritual or myths. The Oxford Companion to World Mythology identifies a number of traditional narratives as "Islamic myths". These include a creation myth and a vision of afterlife, which Islam shares with the other Abrahamic religions, as well as the distinctively Islamic story of the Kaaba.
Creatio ex nihilo refers to the belief that matter is not eternal but had to be created by some divine creative act, frequently defined as God. It is a theistic answer to the question of how the universe comes to exist. It is in contrast to Ex nihilo nihil fit or "nothing comes from nothing", which means that all things were formed from preexisting things; an idea by the Greek philosopher Parmenides about the nature of all things, and later more formally stated by Titus Lucretius Carus
In biblical cosmology, the firmament is the vast solid dome created by God on the second day to divide the primal sea into upper and lower portions so that the dry land could appear:
Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
In Greek mythology, the primordial deities are the first gods and goddesses born from the void of Chaos. Hesiod's first are Gaia, Tartarus, Eros, Erebus, Hemera and Nyx. The primordial deities Gaia and Uranus give birth to the Titans, and the Cyclopes. The Titans Cronus and Rhea give birth to Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Hera and Demeter who overthrew the Titans. The warring of the gods ends with the reign of Zeus.
Traditional stories, or stories about traditions, differ from both fiction and nonfiction in that the importance of transmitting the story's worldview is generally understood to transcend an immediate need to establish its categorization as imaginary or factual. In the academic circles of literature, religion, history, and anthropology, categories of traditional story are important terminology to identify and interpret stories more precisely. Some stories belong in multiple categories and some stories do not fit into any category.
An origin myth is a myth that purports to describe the origin of some feature of the natural or social world. One type of origin myth is the cosmogonic myth, which describes the creation of the world. However, many cultures have stories set after the cosmogonic myth, which describe the origin of natural phenomena and human institutions within a preexisting universe.
Egyptian mythology is the collection of myths from ancient Egypt, which describe the actions of the Egyptian gods as a means of understanding the world around them. The beliefs that these myths express are an important part of ancient Egyptian religion. Myths appear frequently in Egyptian writings and art, particularly in short stories and in religious material such as hymns, ritual texts, funerary texts, and temple decoration. These sources rarely contain a complete account of a myth and often describe only brief fragments.
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 have given us most of the 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. Some versions of the myth indicate spitting, others masturbation, as the act of creation. The union between the first divine couple brought forth another brother-sister pair, Geb and Nut, who in turn created Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. An extension to this basic framework was the Osiris myth involving god, his consort Isis, and their son Horus. The murder of Osiris by Seth, and the resulting struggle for power, won by Horus, provided a powerful narrative linking the ancient Egyptian ideology of kingship with the creation of the cosmos.
Anu or An is the divine personification of the sky, supreme god, and ancestor of all the deities in ancient Mesopotamian religion. Anu was believed to be the supreme source of all authority, for the other gods and for all mortal rulers, and he is described in one text as the one "who contains the entire universe". He is identified with the north ecliptic pole centered in the constellation Draco and, along with his sons Enlil and Enki, constitutes the highest divine triad personifying the three bands of constellations of the vault of the sky. By the time of the earliest written records, Anu was rarely worshipped, and veneration was instead devoted to his son Enlil, but, throughout Mesopotamian history, the highest deity in the pantheon was always said to possess the anûtu, meaning "Heavenly power". Anu's primary role in myths is as the ancestor of the Anunnaki, the major deities of Sumerian religion. His primary cult center was the Eanna temple in the city of Uruk, but, by the Akkadian Period, his authority in Uruk had largely been ceded to the goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven.
Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually gods, demigods, or supernatural humans. Stories of everyday human beings, although often of leaders of some type, are usually contained in legends, as opposed to myths.
The Ainu creation myths are the traditional creation accounts of the Ainu peoples of Japan. Their stories share common characteristics with Japanese creation myths and earth diver creation stories commonly found in Central Asian and Native American cultures. Ainu mythology divides time into three tenses: "Mosir sikah ohta", "mosir noskekehe", and "mosir kes". In one version, the creator deity sends down a water wagtail to create habitable land in the watery world below. The little bird fluttered over the waters, splashing water aside, and then he packed patches of the earth firm by stomping them with his feet and beating them with his tail. In this way, islands where the Ainu were later to live were raised to float upon the ocean.
The Genesis flood narrative is a flood myth found in the Tanakh. The story tells of God's decision to return the Earth to its pre-creation state of watery chaos and then remake it in a reversal of creation. The narrative has very strong similarities to parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh which predates the Book of Genesis.
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.
On the Earth-diver motif:
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