13 Creation Myths in World History
Ever since the dawn of civilization, we humans have pondered where everything, including life, came from. It has also been the case of why and how did we and things around come to being. And so, with the passage of time, there have been quite a plethora of creation stories from different cultures and civilizations. Often times, those creation stories formed the foundations of many ancient religions across the globe. The 13 creation myths that we are about to explore are generally regarded as the most amazing creation stories of all time.
Heliopolis creation story – ancient Egypt
According to the ancient Egyptians, the universe started with a primordial ocean known as Nun. At the center of Nun was a giant pyramid called benben. Deep within benben, came forth Atum (in some cases Ra, the sun deity), the creator deity.
As the physical embodiment of the sun, Atum created life in an asexual manner. He also created the first Egyptian deities – Shu (air) and Tefnut (water/moisture). Together with his children, Atum was able to hold back the destructive forces of chaos and keep the universe in balance. Atum was also supported by Ma’at, the ancient Egyptian goddess of truth and order.
The union between Shu and Tefnut brought forth Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). Due to the immense love shared between Geb and Nut, the two deities remained inseparable. Atum then instructed Shu to separate Geb (the earth) from Nut (the sky). But just before Shu could carry out the task, Geb and Nut gave birth to famous Egyptian deities such as Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys.
Atum (or Ra) along with his eight descendants make up the Ennead of Heliopolis in ancient Egypt. Undoubtedly, the Heliopolis creation story is one of the major events found in ancient Egyptian religion.
Proto-Indo-European Creation Myths
Among many Proto-Indo-European cultures, Ymir was the force that existed in the time before time. This being was also the embodiment of the vast sea of chaos (Ginnungagap) – a region devoid of any life form or structure or order. Thus Ymir was there long before famous Norse gods like Odin, Thor or Freya even came onto the scene.
Due to the absence of any celestial body, sea, land or crops, Ymir is believed to have suckled on a primordial cow called Audhumla.
One time, while suckling on Audhumla, two enormous giants were asexually produced from Ymir’s perspirations. The myth goes on to say that a third giant, equally as large as the first two, also emerged from Ymir’s legs.
With regard to the primordial cow Audhumla, her source of nourishment was from the salt sediments found on the creature called Buri. Norse mythology regards Buri as the first god in the pantheon. As Audhumla licked Buri, the chains that held the god gradually faded away, and the god was free. Buri’s son, Borr, went on to mate with Ymir, producing a being called Bestla.
After Borr and Bestla mated Odin, the all father god in Norse mythology, was born. Envious of his grandfather Ymir, it is believed that Odin and his sibling killed Ymir. Odin then used the dismembered body of Ymir to create the world that we know.
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Each body part of Ymir produced a particular feature of nature. For example, an old Norse collection of poems – the Poetic Edda – state that: The earth was created from Ymir’s flesh; the seas/oceans of the world came from Ymir’s sweat; from his bones emerged the mountains; from his hair came the trees and the greens of the world; and finally, from Ymir’s skull burst out the sky. The poem also states that the clouds we see today emerged from Ymir’s brains. So where did men come from?
The myth goes on to say that Odin and the Norse gods fashioned a realm called Midgard (Earth) from the eyebrows of Ymir. They then used the Midgard to create the first humans, Ask and Embla.
Read More: 10 Most Famous Norse Gods and Goddesses
Mayan creation story
The Mayan creation story is contained in the Popul Vuh (also known the “Book of the Community” or the “Book of the People”). The text was written in Mayan hieroglyphics. Kind courtesy to the translation that was done later we know what the Mayan creation story is. According to the text, the beginning of time was filled with nothingness devoid of any structure or order.
Tepeu (the maker) and Gucumatz (the feathered spirit) joined their thoughts together to create the universe. They proceeded to create man. In their first attempt, they created man out of wet clay; however, that did not go as planned as the clay crumbled apart.
READ MORE: 11 Principal Maya Gods and Goddesses
In their second attempt, the gods created man out of wood; and just like the first attempt, the creation failed to please the creators. In their third attempt, they created man out of maize dough. It is believed that this form of man thrived and was able to speak, feel and think.
In order to make the earth very habitable for their creation, the gods created the sun, the moon and the stars. Subsequently, they created four kinds of animals – a parrot, a coyote, a fox, and a crow. These animals then went in four different directions to make a home for themselves. Because the animals could not speak, the gods commanded them to forever remain obedient to human beings. The humans were also allowed to feed on the animals.
Read More: Timeline of Maya Civilization
Babylonian creation myth
The ancient Babylonians believed that in the beginning two primordial gods – Aspu and Tiamet (or Tiamat) – existed. Prior to that, the universe was a vast void of nothingness, land and sky had yet formed.
Tiamet and Aspu mated and gave birth to a new crop of gods. It is believed that Tiamet grew enormous amount of hatred toward the new gods. Tiamet set out to destroy them.
However, just before Tiamet could carry out his plan, the gods found out and proceeded to stop him. Led by Marduk, the gods threw a strong, powerful net over Tiamet. Once trapped in the net, the gods beat Tiamet to pulp and cracked her skull.
Tiamet’s body was then dismembered; half of the body was used to create the sky while the other half was used to create human beings, plants, animals, and the creatures that occupy the land today.
READ MORE: Marduk’s Conflict with Tiamat
Creation of mankind according to the ancient Greeks
In ancient Greece, the predominant creation story was the one that involved the Greek Titan Prometheus, the Titan who created man.
In the beginning, the world was endlessly empty and full of a being known as Nyx – the deity of darkness. The goddess Nyx is believed to have laid a golden egg. After sitting on the egg for eons of years, the egg hatched, producing the deity of love Eros. The broken shells of the egg became the sky and the earth.
The earth was called Gaia, also known as the goddess of the earth. On the other hand, the sky was called Uranus. The goddess Gaia and the god Uranus mated, bringing forth a new generation of gods known as the titans, Hekatonkheires, Cyclopes, etc. Those Greek Titans included the likes of Oceanus, Crius, Iapetus, Tethys, Phoebe, and Kronus.
Kronus, who early on had overthrown his father Uranus, then went on to give birth (with Rhea) to another generation of gods, which included the likes of Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Hestia, Demeter, and Zeus. Similar to the fate that Uranus suffered, Kronus and his siblings were overthrown by his children who were led by Zeus (the King of the Olympians).
After the battle with the Titans, Zeus commanded Prometheus and his brother Epimethius to go down to earth and create the first humans. Epimethius created animals. Prometheus grew so fond of his creation – mankind – that he stole fire from the home of the gods and gifted it to mankind. This act of his incurred the wrath of Zeus who bound Prometheus to a stone and allowed an eagle to peck his liver for an eternity.
Read More: 10 Most Powerful Greek Gods and Goddesses
Ainu Creation story
The Ainu creation myth emerged from Ainu peoples of Japan. In this myth, time can be broken down into three parts – “mosir noskekehe” (“the world’s center”); “Mosir sikah ohta” (“a time when the universe was born”); and “mosir kes” (“end of the world”).
According to the Ainu people, the creator god dispatched his trusted water wagtail to create the land from the cosmic ocean. The bird used its wings to move the water to one side. Subsequently, he created islands for the Ainu people to populate.
Read More: Top 10 Japanese Gods and Goddesses
Raven creation story
In many Native American cultures, the raven is arguably the most powerful creature in the entire cosmos. It is therefore not surprising that many of ancient tribes in the Americas considered the bird the creator of the universe.
In one myth, the raven is believed to have encountered an adult man who he approached to inquire about the man’s whereabouts. The man is believed to have to told the raven that he lived in the inner regions of a pea pod for four days; and on the fifth day, the man came out of the pod a full grown man.
The man also told the raven that he used the vast sea of water in his surrounding to relief the excruciating pain in his abdomen. As the Raven listened to the man attentively, he began to see a striking similarity between the man and himself. Amazed by their shared features, the Raven inquired further.
Finally, the Raven implored the man to wait for him so that could go and fetch some berries. The Raven then commanded the man to eat the berries. Shortly after, the Raven took the Man to creek. At that point, the Raven tapped four objects with his wings, bringing the four objects to life.
Creation story according to Zoroastrianism
The Zoroastrianism faith states that there existed two opposing deities in the beginning of time. Those beings were Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainya, the deity of light and the deity of darkness respectively. Those two beings existed side by side, with each domineering over an area of the universe.
Being a benevolent force, Ahura Mazda created angels/beings that supported him in spreading the light across the universe. One such being was Amesha Spentas.
Together with his archangels Amesha Spentas (“Holy Immortals”), Ahura Mazda divided the universe into two sections – the spiritual section and the physical section. It is believed that the physical section was created about 3,000 years after the spiritual section. Shortly after the emergence of the physical section, Ahura Mazda created perfect man and a bull.
While Ahura Mazda was creating his perfect beings and man, Angra Mainyu was busily creating all the fiercest demons and evil forces in a bid to counter Ahura Mazda’s creations. It is believed that Angra Mainyu created scary animals such as ants, flies, mosquitoes, snakes, spiders etc. Angra Mainyu’s creations had the power to bring forth pain, diseases, and death.
As time went by, Ahura Mazda’s perfect man and bull died after succumbing to an evil force of Angra Mainyu. From the dead body of the perfect man came forth the first man and woman – Mashya and Mashynag. However, from the dead body of the bull, trees and vegetation sprang out.
The Sumerian creation myth (the Eridu Genesis)
During an expedition conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in 1893, an ancient Sumerian tablet was unearthed in Nippur (“Enlil City”) – i.e. modern-day Afak, Iraq. The tablet had the Sumerian creation myth – the Eridu Genesis.
The tablet describes how the main deities – An (the sky father), Enlil (the earth and wind god), Enki (god of water, knowledge and mischief), and Ninhursanga (the mother goddess) – created the world. They also create human beings to populate the world.
In one account of the myth, the gods collectively decide that mankind is not worth saving from a massive flood. However, Enki – the god of the waters – proceeds to warn an upright man by the name of Atrahasis. Enki instructs Atrahsis to construct an ark so that he could save humanity from the deluge. The flood is believed to have been caused by rains that fell for seven days and nights.
In another account, the builder of the ark is not Atrahsis; instead, it is Ziusudra, the ruler of Shuruppak. Once the flood ends, the sun god, Utu, appears outside the window of the ark. Ziusudra then bows down before Utu.
Read More: 12 Most Revered Gods of Ancient Mesopotamia
Hindu Creation Story
Hindus have quite a number of creation stories. What runs through most of those creation stories is the cyclical nature of birth, death and rebirth. According to one Hindu creation story, in the beginning there existed a mighty cobra that lived in the vast cosmic ocean. And in the hands of this cobra lay the sleeping Vishnu, the creator god.
As time went by, a lotus began to emerge from the belly button of Vishnu. And inside this sacred lotus was another Hindu god of creation called Brahma (also known as Svayambhu). The Lord of Speech, Brahma, then conceived the idea of creating the universe. But before he could do so, he goes into a deep state of meditation for several eons.
In creating the universe, Brahma – the four-headed god – is believed to have divided the lotus into three parts. The first part turns into the heavens; the second becomes the sky; and the final and third part gives birth to the earth. Pleased by how things are going, Brahma endows the earth with animals and plants of all shapes and sizes. He also creates the first human beings to dwell on the earth.
Now it must be noted that both Vishnu and Brahma are part of the Hindu triumvirate – a group of three very powerful Hindu gods responsible for creating and destroying the universe. The other god in this triumvirate is Lord Shiva, who is responsible for the destruction of the universe so that it could be reborn again. Together, these three gods – Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva – feature prominently in Hinduism and its creation story.
Read More: Lakshmi – Hindu Goddess of Wealth and Beauty
Genesis creation story
The line – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – is perhaps one of the most well-known lines in scriptures from the Abrahamic religions (i.e. Christian, Islam and Judaic faiths). In the Genesis creation story, a supreme being, who was hovering over the vast cosmic waters, is believed to have created the world in six days and resting on the seventh day. On day one, God commanded for light to come out before proceeding to separate the light from the darkness. On the second day, God parted the sky from the waters, gathering the waters at one place for it to become the sea. On the third day, the Supreme Being created all the greenery and vegetation on the dry land.
On the fourth day, God created the Sun, moon and all the stars that fill our cosmos. Satisfied with the progress of his creation, God went on to create all the sea and land animals on the fifth day. On the sixth day, God created the first man, Adam, in his own image. And from the rib of Adam, God created the first woman, Eve, to serve as a companion of Adam. Exhausted by the sheer amount of work, God rested on the seventh day.
Regarding the first human beings, the Genesis story states that God placed Adam and Eve in a magnificent garden known as Eden. In that paradise condition Adam and Eve knew no suffering, no death, and no misery. However, that all changed when a serpent in the garden convinced Eve and Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Angered by their disobedience, God cast Adam and Eve out of Eden and into the world, where they and their descendants were fated to endure pain, sickness and death.
The Yoruba Creation Myth – The Golden Chain myth
Predominantly located in the West African nation of Nigeria, the Yoruba tribe have for centuries believed in the Golden Chain creation story. In the beginning, the gods lived happily in the sky. The king and queen of the gods were Olorun and Olokun, respectively.
In spite of the bliss in the sky, a lesser god known as Obatala was not completely content. Obatala desired to have for beings in addition to the celestial beings in the sky. Therefore, he consulted with Orunmila, the oldest son of Olorun. Orunmila commanded Obatala to forge a golden chain out of a snail shell filled with sand, palm nut, a black cat, and a white hen.
Obatala then descends from the sky down to the earth using his magical golden chain. The god proceeds to create the land and all living things using a white hen, a black cat, a palm nut, and a snail shell filled with sand. He placed the items in a large pit. The palm nut grew into a full palm tree. The god then brewed palm wine from the palm fruits and sat by the tree.
Drunk on so much wine, Obatala started human beings. Owing to the fact that he was intoxicated, Obatala is believed to have created human beings that were imperfect relative to the gods in the sky.
Read More: 12 Most Famous Yoruba Gods and Goddesses
Creation myth of Chinese
In this creation myth, the universe began as a chaotic soup without any structure. In this universe lay a black egg that housed a gargantuan being known as Pangu – a hairy giant with two horns and two tusks.
The giant Pangu is believed to have slept in the egg for more than 18,000 years. All the while that Pangu slept, the universe was kept in perfect balance – i.e. equal amounts of darkness (yin) and light (yang).
Upon waking up from his deep sleep, Pangu proceeded to escape from the egg. By so doing, he broke the force that kept the universe in perfect balance. The top half of the egg shell, which represented yang, turned into the sky; while the bottom half, which represented yin, became the earth.
Standing in the broken shell, Pangu started to push the top part of shell farther away in order to keep yin and yang apart. As he pushes the sky up, he is believed to have grown taller – about ten feet. Aiding him in this task were four celestial creatures – the Qilin, the Phoenix, the Dragon, and the Turtle.
He would do this for close to 18,000 years before dying. Pangu’s body fell to the earth and turned into several earthly things. For example:
- His breath turned into the wind and clouds;
- His eyes became the sun and the moon;
- Pangu’s limbs and head turned into the mountains;
- His muscles turned into the fertile land;
- Pangu’s thick facial hair became the stars and the galaxy;
- And his voice became thunder.
- From the parasites that feasted on his body came forth the first human beings.
Did you know: The Daoist Xu Zheng is generally recognized as the first person to record the creation myth of Pangu?