Creation myths evolve in nearly as many ways as there are cultures. Sometimes they are used to solidify political power, as when Egypt moved back and forth from the gods Aten and Amen. More frequently they are used to explain the unknown. Some cultures used the familiar (animals, clay, mud, etc) to explain their existence, while others used the sun and moon, which were IN their lives, but not OF them. The Inuit creation myth turns the emergence tradition upside down; the sea goddess is the survivor of acts of extreme violence. Her parents cannot feed her and cast her into the sea to drown. When she survives and swims back to their canoe, they cut her fingers off, to prevent her from clinging to the boat. Those fingers becomes all the features of the sea, but she returned to the depths, sealed in by ice.
I’ve always found it interesting that where some peoples gave all power to a single entity (like the sun or Judeo-Christian God), while others, like the Japanese and the Maori, created a more balanced myth. (these are versions of the two-creator myth, but more critically in terms of culture, myths of balance) In Japan the Sun was female and the Moon male: to make the Sun a man would have given it too much power. The Maori used the sky and the earth as the father and mother of the universe (and no doubt many a dissertation has been based on the concept of the distant father).
Curiously, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic cultures have no true creation myths. The native peoples of Britain base their histories on invasions, which was their actual history. The very word “Heathen” comes from the word “heath” or rural areas of the UK.
Reading these various myths and the enormous faith people had in them, I cannot help but wonder – did the gods die, or are they perhaps still there, just awaiting the return of the faithful?
COMMONALITY OF CREATION MYTHS
Most of the myths can be traced to the needs and rhythms and requirements of daily life. The Sun rose and brought light and life. It set, and the less-reliable Moon waxed and waned, sometimes providing light, often governing water. People planted food and it grew in relation to the sun, earth and water. Animals could hold secret powers within them; even today we associate cats with witchcraft, and dogs with demons. Hell, the opposite of creation, was ruled by a cloven hooved creature, and in many cultures, the more intelligent animals with coven hooves – the pigs and goats – are still considered unclean or demonic. Sheep and cows, however, don’t seem to have to same connotation.
The earth mother nurtured and fed; the fire demons had to BE fed in order to sate their appetites. It would also seem that the way people viewed their world had a great deal to do with how they created their mythologies. Fire gods have fearsome roles in many cultures with volcanic activity, such as Aztec, Hawaiian and Japanese cultures, where storm gods also held court. Inuits depended on the sea, which is where their creation goddess resided, which leads to another common point – from wherever the people drew their sustenance, they created a goddess, while at first glance, most destruction is caused by males. Death is also often a woman – we come from the darkness of the womb and return to the darkness of grave; the use of black and red as the primary colors of death or mourning is hardly by chance.
We believe what we need to believe or what provides the most comfort to the heart or head. I garden and marvel and the extraordinary and complex interrelationships in each phase of life. Like foxholes, there are few atheists in gardens. To see a small seed grow into a complex plant that feeds a multitude of other life forms, and continues to regenerate, even after death, is to watch a miracle. The deep-throated trumpet vine draws the long-billed hummingbird, each perfectly suited to the others physiology. Planting man-made hybrids and allowing them to self-propagate is a lesson in the power of nature; over generations artificial colors gradually disappear and only the original tones remain, even as the plants increase in number. Conversely, to suddenly find a sport, unlike anything seen before, and help it to re-propagate is its own creation myth. From one thing comes something very different, but equally strong.
The shocking new green of spring is the sole constant of life across time and space. All of mankind has marveled at the new growth of a new crop, the first bright buds of life returning to keep body and soul alive.