Here are a few notes that are intended to be helpful in terms of making sense of the particular class of story that is Creations Myths.
1. In the beginning ……..
The Creation Myths typically start with ‘chaos’ but what emerges initially is primal, elemental principles which are abstract and devoid of character or colour. They are not the archetypal personalities that are so much part of the epics. In fact initially there is no story. There is often no time and therefore no dramatic narrative. This can be challenging and difficult to remember. However, these elements are the building blocks of the mythology and worth the effort and perhaps struggle.
2. The World as it was understood
The great Enlightenment forces of empiricism and scientific rationalities and the technique of the experiment have for many killed off the belief in myth. But it is a mistake to assume that the “world of spirit” is the same as the “world of matter”. Myth, especially Creation Myths are not naïve and primitive proto science. They are qualitatively different phenomena.
The Creation Myths are better seen as being about the subjective realities of the peoples of a culture. They are the world, and its creation as they understood it. They are not the description of the objective world. These origin myths were the world as it was understood. They were the culture’s world view and thus their belief systems. And from that point of view became the culture’s hard wiring, its operating system as it were.
3. From Chaos to Order
What Creation Myths do is to explain a culture’s belief about the transition from ‘chaos’ to ‘order’. They tell how culture and civilizations come into being. Typically having created the world they then highlight how that order can quickly be upended and returned to chaos. This is through human acts often of violence or cruelty, usually to another gender or being. In doing so they are addressing something central to every individual and culture, how do we ensure the structure of our culture (our myths and beliefs) is not disrupted. What we do know is that we will do anything, individually or collectively, anything to ensure we do not return to chaos or what science calls entropy.
What this means is that Creation Myths are a powerful way to get a handle on a particular culture’s core beliefs. They address:
- What creates and sustains order?
- What is our relationship to the natural world?
- What is the relationship between the genders?
- What is our relationship to animals?
- Who are the exemplary figures we would follow (or not) at times where chaos is threatened?
4. The Foundational Elements of Experience
The creation Myths, once we move beyond the primal elemental principles, typically contain a number of archetypal figures, personifications of experience. These are:
The Great Mother – The Goddess – represents the unknown
The Great Father – The God – represents the known
The Archetypal Son/Daughter – mediates
What is important to understand is that the Goddess, the Great Mother, creates out of the unknown. She is in the domain of what is not known. She is both Creator and Destroyer. In part because you have to destroy to create.
The Great Father, the God, is the Guardian of the known. In this capacity he is the Protector, he maintains order, the status quo. However, he is also the tyrant, the ruthless autocrat capable of punishing anyone who threatens the order.
The Archetypal Son (or Daughter) has the task of mediating between these two very powerful and more powerful than them, forces. This is the Hero’s (or Heroine’s) Journey.
5. Types of Creation Myths
Scholars have identified a taxonomy of the different kinds of Creation Myth. This can be used when listening to the various myths that will be shared:
i). Ex Nihilo
The world is made out of nothing, conjured up perhaps by thought and image by some divine being.
ii). Breaking up of a Primal Unit
This can be a father (sky) lying on top of the mother (earth). They are parted to create the world. Also known as separation of world parents myth. Or it could be the breaking up of a cosmic egg.
iii). Earth Diver
This is where an animal dives to the bottom of the water, sea in order to retrieve something out of which the earth is made.
iv). Dismemberment of a Giant/Monster
Here a great figure, a giant or a dragon or a monster is broken up and the world is created from the parts.
Here there is an emergence of a world as a result of a series of evolutions, perhaps through a series of disorder.
Into what category does the creation myth you are listening to fall?