Creation myths are stories found in cultures around the world that explain the origins of the Earth, life, and the universe. With about 260 known myths, these narratives reflect the diverse beliefs and values of different societies.
Studying these myths offers insights into human thought, showcasing how various cultures seek to understand their place in the world.
The Biblical Creation Story (Christianity and Judaism)
Found in the Book of Genesis, it describes how God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.
The Dreamtime (Australian Aboriginal Mythology)
Describes a timeless time of creation when ancestral spirits formed the landscape, laws, and cultural practices.
The Enuma Elish (Babylonian Mythology)
A Mesopotamian creation myth that tells of the god Marduk’s victory over Tiamat and the creation of the world from her body.
Pangu and the Creation of the World (Chinese Mythology)
Pangu emerges from a cosmic egg and separates yin from yang to create the earth and the sky. When he dies, his body parts become features of the earth.
The Popol Vuh (Mayan Mythology)
Describes the creation of the world and the first humans by the Plumed Serpent and other gods, through trials and errors in creation.
Ymir and the Creation of the World (Norse Mythology)
Tells how the world was created from the body of the giant Ymir, killed by Odin and his brothers.
The Rigveda (Hindu Mythology)
Contains hymns speculating the origin of the universe, including the famous Nasadiya Sukta, which questions the existence of anything before creation.
Izanagi and Izanami (Japanese Shinto Mythology)
Describes the gods Izanagi and Izanami creating the islands of Japan and other deities with a spear.
The Creation of the Titans and the Gods (Greek Mythology)
Chronicles the emergence of the cosmos from chaos, the lineage of Titans, and the eventual rise of the Olympian gods.
The Ogdoad of Hermopolis (Egyptian Mythology)
Describes the creation of the world from the primordial waters of chaos by the Ogdoad, eight deities representing aspects of chaos.
Simularities between creation stories
The notable similarities found across many of these stories:
Primordial State: Many myths start with a primordial state of chaos, nothingness, or a cosmic void, which precedes the creation process. This state is often described as a dark, formless expanse or water.
Supernatural Forces or Beings: Creation is usually attributed to supernatural forces or deities, who either emerge from the primordial chaos or exist outside of it. These beings possess the power to shape the universe, Earth, and all living things.
Cosmic Egg or Birth: The motif of a cosmic egg or a divine birth from which the universe or gods emerge is common. This symbol represents the potential for life and the beginning of existence.
Order from Chaos: A central theme is the transition from chaos to order. Gods or supernatural beings often impose order on the primordial chaos, separating elements (like sky and earth) and creating the physical and cosmic structures of the world.
Creation of Humans: The creation of humans is a pivotal event in many myths, sometimes as the culmination of the creation process. Humans are often crafted from materials of the earth, such as clay, wood, or from the body parts of gods.
Sacred Texts and Oral Traditions: These myths are preserved and transmitted through sacred texts (like the Bible, Quran, or Popol Vuh) and oral traditions, playing a central role in religious and cultural practices.
Stages of Creation: The act of creation is frequently described as occurring in stages or over a set period of days or epochs, during which different parts of the world and beings are made.
The Role of Word or Sound: In some myths, creation is initiated through a word, sound, song, or command, emphasizing the power of speech and vibration in bringing the universe into being.
Shared Archetypes: Across these stories, common archetypal characters and themes emerge, such as the earth mother, sky father, trickster, or the world tree, reflecting universal aspects of human thought and experience.
Was the Earth formless?
Several creation stories from different cultures and religious traditions begin with the concept of the Earth being formless or in a state of chaos before the process of creation brings order and form. Here are a few notable examples:
The Biblical Creation Story (Christianity and Judaism)
In the Book of Genesis, the creation narrative starts with the Earth being “formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep,” (Genesis 1:2) before God begins the act of creation, separating light from darkness, and land from water, culminating in the creation of life on Earth.
Ancient Egyptian creation myths, particularly the Heliopolitan creation myth, describe the world before creation as an infinite, lifeless ocean of chaos called Nun. From this chaotic state, the benben, the primeval mound, emerges, upon which the god Atum (or Ra) stands to begin the act of creation.
In Hindu mythology, particularly in the Rig Veda, there are references to a state of nothingness or non-existence (neither existence nor non-existence) and darkness before creation. From this primordial state, the universe is created through the actions of Brahman, the ultimate reality, or through the cosmic egg (Hiranyagarbha) that appears from this nothingness.
In Hesiod’s “Theogony,” the universe begins with Chaos, a vast and dark void from which everything else comes into being. From Chaos emerge Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (the Abyss), Eros (Love), Erebus (Darkness), and Nyx (Night), setting the stage for the creation of the cosmos and the gods.
The Norse creation myth describes the Ginnungagap, a great void or chasm that exists before the world is created. Surrounding Ginnungagap are the realms of Niflheim (a world of ice) and Muspelheim (a world of fire), whose interactions eventually lead to the creation of the world, including the Earth, from the body of the giant Ymir.
Influential people and their creation stories
Creation stories are a central component of many religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions, often recounted by influential figures or foundational texts within those traditions.
Mathias de Stefano: recognized for his spiritual teachings and insights on the origin and structure of the universe
Rudolf Steiner: known for his anthroposophical spiritual science
Plato: In his dialogues, particularly “Timaeus,” Plato offers a philosophical account of the universe’s creation by a divine craftsman, the Demiurge, who organizes chaos into order according to eternal forms.
Laozi (Lao-Tzu): The founder of Taoism is credited with the Tao Te Ching, which presents the Tao as the fundamental, indescribable force that is the source of all existence, implying a form of creation through the unfolding of the Tao.
Hesiod: In “Theogony,” Hesiod, an ancient Greek poet, provides a genealogy of the gods and recounts the creation of the world and the cosmos from the primordial state of Chaos.
St. Augustine: This Christian theologian and philosopher wrote extensively on the concept of creation, particularly in “The City of God” and “Confessions,” interpreting the Biblical creation story and discussing the nature of God and time.
Carl Jung: The Swiss psychiatrist introduced the concept of the collective unconscious and archetypes, offering insights into the psychological underpinnings of creation myths and their symbolism in the human psyche.
Joseph Campbell: A mythologist known for his work on the hero’s journey and comparative mythology, Campbell explored creation myths in various cultures, highlighting their symbolic meanings and the universal themes in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” and “The Masks of God.”
Mircea Eliade: A historian of religion, Eliade studied and wrote about the sacred and the profane, including creation myths, in works like “The Myth of the Eternal Return,” exploring the significance of these myths in understanding time and existence.
Ovid: In “Metamorphoses,” the Roman poet recounts the creation of the world from chaos, offering a narrative that blends elements of Roman and Greek mythology.