These myths exemplify creation and the steps taken to establish it. They describe destruction and the destroyers that cause it. Each culture around the world has different myths that describe the various cosmic and natural occurrences that happen. All creation myths have similarities and differences in the steps of creation and cosmic elements, as well as their creators and creations.
The two myths chosen for this reading are the Genesis Creation (Hebrew origin) of the Christian culture and the Norse culture of Iceland (the Vikings). Both of these creation myths begin with a barrenness where conflict and chaos eventually develop. The Genesis conflict is between God, nothing, blackness, emptiness, loneliness and the need to create something. The Norse conflict is between the dark cold realm of Niflheim and the realm of Muspell where nothing can grow.
There are nine classifications of creation myths. Most myths include more than one motif. Both ex nihilo and deusfaber motifs are applied in the Genesis creation myth. God creates out of nothing, the light, the dark, the sun, the moon, the earth, the stars, plants, animals, birds and fish all within six days. This account is told in the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis. Next, God creates Adam, a man, in his own image from the dust of the earth and breathes life into him. God then realizes that Adam should not be alone and puts him in a deep slumber. While asleep God takes a rib from his side and creates woman, Eve.
The Norse creation myth combines the secretion, sacrifice, and accretion motifs. This myth conjoins the elements of fire and ice. The myths begins with Muspells warm breath meeting with Nieflheim, the artic frost, and causing the ice to melt. This meeting produces water droplets that come to life and create the evil giant Yamir. As Yamir sleeps sweat dripping from his armpit drop to create the first man and woman. The other giants grow to hate Yamir and eventually mutilate and slay him.
In the Genesis creation myth, the earth is floating matter that is formless and the darkness covered the waters. The God spirit covered the water surface and created the heavens and the earth below. According to biblical authors, the cosmos is a flat disc shaped earth in the center, with heaven above and the underworld below. The cosmic sea is below the earth and is home of mythic monsters that were slain by God.
The Norse culture were also known as Vikings. In their perception the cosmos was divided into three levels. Asgard,Aesir is the upper level where Odin, the fertility gods and light elves lived. Dwarves, giants, men and dark elves lived in Midgard, the middle level. The lower level, also known as the underworld, was called Niflheim. Niflheim is where the evil dead died a second death in the fortress city of Hel.
The earth was a dark, empty, formless matter according to the book of Genesis. Then the Spirit of God covered the waters to prepare and perform his most creative work (Fairchild, 2013). God spoke and his creation was formed. Day one, “God created the light and separated the light from the darkness, calling light “day” and darkness “night” (Fairchild, 2013, para 2). Day two, “God created an expanse to separate the waters and called it sky” (Fairchild, 2013, para 3). Day three, “God created the dry ground and gathered the waters, calling the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters, “seas” (Fairchild, 2013, para. 4). He also created plants, flowers, grasses and trees on the third day. Day four, “God created the sun, moon and the stars to give light to the earth and to govern and separate the day and the night” (Fairchild, 2013, para. 5). These things also serve to mark the days, seasons and years. Day five, “God created every living creature of the seas and every winged bird, blessing them to multiply and fill the waters and the sky with life” (Fairchild, 2013, para. 6). Day 6, “God created the animals to fill the earth” (Fairchild, 2013, para. 7). Next God created man in his own image, both male and female and Iearth to cultivate and care for it and every living thing upon earth (Genesis 1:28). On day seven, God was through with his work and blessed the seventh day making it a day of rest.
The Norse creation myth has many events and elements that emerge from one evil giant. This story starts off with a cow licking a way mountains of ice from two beings, which creates the god Buri and his goddess wife (Distant Train, Inc., 2011). Buri and wife had a son named Bor and his son was named Odin, who became the king of all the gods. Ymir was the evil giant. One day Odin and the other gods planned to kill Ymir. None of them wanted to follow his evil ways anymore. Ymir’s body became the earth, his flesh became the land and, his blood became the sea, his hair became the trees, and his bones became the mountains (Distance Train, Inc., 2011). Odin created the moon an sun by collecting sparks from Muspell and placing them in the sky. Yggdrasil, the largest tree, grew in the center of the world. It later became known as the tree of life. “Its roots penetrated into the bottom of creation and its leaves reached the very top of the sky” (Distant Train, Inc., 2011). Satisfied with his creation, Odin named the new world, Midgard. But he still needed people to take care of it. Odin found two fallen trees and ash and created the first man and woman. Odin breathed life into them and gave them feelings, reasoning, hearing, and sight (Distant Train, Inc., 2011). Odin named the woman Embla, and the man Ask, from them came the whole human race (Distant Train, Inc., 2011). This story is very similar to the Genesis myth of Adam and Eve.
In the Genesis Creation myth, God is identified as the creator of the earth and everything upon it. We are faced with divine drama of the beginning of creation that can only be understood by faith in the Genesis creation. Questions arise from this. How long did it really take? Were God’s days the same as ours or longer? These questions may never be answered and Genesis does not focus on them. Then God took Adam and Eve to the Garden of Eden to take care of it, and told them to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth(Genesis 1:28). The story continues with the devil, also known as the serpent, tricking Eve into eating from the forbidden tree and her convincing Adam to eat it also. They went against God and he expelled them from the Garden of Eden and forced them to labor over the earth.
The stars, the moon, and the sun help the Viking culture navigate through the ocean and mountains that exist in their world. These things of the natural world and their origin are explained in the Norse creation story. “The Norse creation myth not only describes the creation of the world the Vikings would have seen every day, but also the ones they didn’t: whole other worlds populated by gods, trolls, dwarves, and spirits” (Smoop, 2013, para.2). The Norse creation myth show the violent lives the Vikings lived. From murder and bloodshed comes beauty and order.
Most of us are self-conscious about our cultures and assumptions. What is normal? Many cosmogonic myths have presented creation as part of the natural process. This process has the understanding that it is an act of divine and creative will. You need to free one’s self from prejudices we hold from our cultural backgrounds and surroundings to effectively study myths.
Distant Train, Inc. (2011). Norse Creation. Retrieved from http://bigmyth.com/download/NORSE_CREATION.pdf
Fairchild, M. (2013.About.com. Christianity. The creation story-bible story summary. Retrieved from http://christianity.about.com/od/biblestorysummaries/p/creayionstory.htm
Genesis. (1979). The Holy Bible. King James Version. The Old Testament. The Book of Genesis, Chapter 1 and 2.
Leonard, S., & McClure, M. (2004). Myth & Knowing: An introduction to world mythology. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Shmoop. (2013). Norse creation myth. Retrieved from http://schmoop.com/norse-creation-myth/