Creation Myths from Around the World

Aion-Uranus with Terra (Gaia)
Mosaic of Aion or Uranus and Gaia. Glyptothek, Munich, Germany. Public Domain. Courtesy of Bibi Saint-Pol at Wikpedia.

The term "creation myth" can be confusing because the term doesn't specify what is being created. Creation myth refers to either the creation of the universe or to the creation of mankind and/or gods.

The Nature of Greek Myths, by G.S. Kirk, divides myths into six categories, three of which are coming into being or creation myths. These creation myth categories are:

  1. Cosmological myths
  2. Tales of the Olympians
  1. Myths about the early history of men

Cosmological, or 'Creation of the Universe' Myths

In this article, we're focusing mainly on the first, the cosmological myths (or cosmogonies, defined by Webster's as "the creation of the world or universe; or a theory or account of such creation.")

For information on the creation of human beings, read about Prometheus.

Ab Origine: What There Was in the Beginning

There isn't one standard story about the first substance. The main contenders for the primordial substance is not a soup, but Sky (Uranus or Ouranos) and a kind of emptiness, referred to as either the Void or Chaos. Since there was nothing else, what came next must have sprung from these first or elemental things.

  • Chaos

    There wasn't clear unanimity on what Chaos was. Some thought Chaos created the specific bodies of the cosmos; others, the cosmos itself and order. Chaos is described as "the dark, silent abyss from which all things came into existence."

  • Uranus and Gaia

    One account of the beginnings of everything comes from the Library, conventionally attributed to Apollodorus, translated by Sir J. G. Frazer. Who exactly Apollodorus was still remains a mystery, although he may have lived around the second century B.C., which puts him much closer than us to the main writers to whom the ancient Greeks turned for religious information, Homer and Hesiod. Here's (Pseudo-)Apollodorus' version of the cosmogony:

    "Sky (Uranos) was the first who ruled over the whole world. And having wedded Earth (Gaia), he begat first the Hundred-handed.... After these, Earth bore him the Cyclopes.... But them Sky bound and cast into Tartarus.... And he begat children by Earth, to wit, the Titans ... and youngest of all, Cronus....But Earth, grieved at the destruction of her children, who had been cast into Tartarus...."
     
  • Void first; then Eros and Earth

    An earlier (7-8th century B.C.) version of the story (referred to above) comes from Hesiod, author of Theogony and Works and Days. In Theogony the Void or Chaos existed before anything else. Then came Earth (Gaia) and Eros (god of love or desire). Out of the Void or Chaos came Darkness (Erebus) and Night (Nyx); from Night, Light and Day.

    Earth produced the Sky (Uranus) to cover herself. Then, by coupling, they produced an enormous brood, including Oceanus (Ocean), Themis (Law), Mnemosyne (Memory), Phoebe, Cronus, the Cyclopes/Cyclops (producers of Zeus' thunderbolt) and the 50-headed monsters, Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes (the Hecatoncheires).

    Uranus Hides His Children Within Their Mother

    Not a very natural parent, Uranus took pleasure in preventing any of his children from seeing the light of day. He insisted that Gaia (Mother Earth) keep them locked up. Growing within the bowels of Mother Earth, the children of Uranus and Gaia caused great physical and emotional pain for Gaia. Eventually, she could take it no longer and so she created a new metal. From the metal, Gaia fashioned a sickle, which she gave to her boldest offspring, the Titan Cronus (Saturn).

    They Castrate Father Uranus

    The next time Uranus came to make love to Gaia, which he did by stretching out all over the Earth, Cronus sprang up from his hiding place, brandished his sickle, and attacked and castrated father Uranus. Additional offspring sprang from the spilled blood and organ of Uranus: Giants, Erinyes (Furies), Meliae -- and most spectacularly, Aphrodite, who was born from the foam.

    The Naming of the Titans

    In his translation of the following section of the Theogony, Norman O. Brown explains the etymology of the name Titans for these 12 children of Earth and Sky (Cronus, Rhea, Iapetus, Oceanus, Hyperion, Themis, Thea, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Coeus, Tethys, and Crius):

    Great Father Sky called his children the Titans because of his feud with them; he said that they blindly had tightened the noose and had done a savage thing for which they would have to pay in time to come. (lines 209-210)

    ...And they did have to pay. Just as Uranus (Sky) suffered at his son's hands, so would Cronus at the hands of his offspring, Zeus. But that's another story and The Five Ages of Man - Greek Myth on the Creation of Man

    Sumerian Creation Myths

    Christopher Siren's Sumerian Mythology FAQ explains that in Sumerian mythology there was originally a primeval sea (abzu) within which the earth (ki) and sky were formed. Between heaven and earth was a vault with atmosphere. Each of these regions corresponds with one of the four gods,
    EnkiNinhursagAn, and Enlil.

    Asian Creation Stories

    • Chinese creation myths: Pan Gu took an ax to break forth from his confinement in a cosmic egg. When he died he became the wind, mountains, land, and rushing waters.
    • Japanese Cosmogony says Earth and heaven were created from a divine egg.
    • Hindu: Another cosmogony from thought.
    • Sikh: Creation of everything by an all-powerful deity.

    Mesoamerican

    • Aztec; Coatlique got pregnant by an obsidian knife through which she produced her one legitimate litter of moon and stars. When she got pregnant, shamefully, a second time, she gave birth to the god of war, Huitzilopochtli, who murdered his siblings.

      Germanic

      • Germanic Creation Myth: In the beginning was the great void, Ginnungagap. A fiery region developed to the south and a windy, icy region to the north. Together they produced chaos and out of chaos sprang life.

      Judaeo-Christian

      In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And 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.