Ep 25 – Creation Myths
Ancient people didn’t have the advantage of the scientific method to understand their world. They relied on observations, magically thinking and imagination. Creation myths are very common and most cultures have their own version with some common themes. In this episode, we are going to look at a handful of creation myths that could be taught in schools as counters to evolution [link]. This is C-Webb’s Sunday School!
Creation myths are cultural, traditional or religious myths that describe how the universe, earth and humans came to be. Here in North America and most Western countries, the most dominate creation myth is the one that is found in the book a Genesis, for a closer look at that myth, checkout episode 9 of this podcast. Christians claim that this is the only creation myth that is true because it is in the Bible and their God is never wrong well if we don’t count slavery, infanticide, genocide and polygamy. These very same Christians are working very hard to get their story to be taught in public school science classrooms. They hide it under the guise of intelligent design and use slogans like “teach the controversy.” So let’s give them what they want, let’s teach as many creation myths as we can and let the children see how they all stack up against the Theory of Evolution.
There are five creation myth categories I am going to look at in total. Let me break down the five categories and then I will give examples from each category. At the end I will refresh you on the Genesis account and do a quick comparison to the other creation myths discussed.
Ex nihilo [link]:
This type of creation is creation out of nothing. The most recognized version is that of the Old Testament. These types of creation myths usually begin with a creator bringing the world into being by speaking, dreaming, and breathing, through pure thoughts or even bodily secretions. The creators in these myths usually exist outside of the creation or the creations springs from within the creator.
Creation from Chaos:
Chaos here simply means disorder. The raw materials are present for creation but are shapeless or formless which is sometimes called a void or an abyss. Chaos is often described as having the consistency of vapor or water, dimensionless, and sometimes salty or muddy. Chaos is often associated with evil and order associated with good. Bringing order to the chaos is seen as good triumphing over evil.
This type of creation myth uses the parent analogy and creation occurs when the two parents split. An example would be sky and earth which are usually male and female. Creation here is usually from sexual union and this is achieved by the splitting of the two parents. Another form of this creation myth is that creation arises from the body or parts of the dismembered body of one of the parents which was sacrificed for creation. In this type of World Parent myth, creation is more animistic than sexual.
This type of creation myth tends to focus more on female deities than males. In emergence myths, humanity is brought into this world from another with a female deity playing the role of midwife. The main theme in this type myth is the process of moving from one stage to another, whether rising to a higher level or passage to a lower level. Birth and rebirth play a prominent role.
This creation myth centers on using existing materials in the building of creation. A supreme being usually sends an animal or lower being into the depths and allows them to form land for creation to live. Major emphasis is placed on beings arising from the depths. In these myths, if may take several times for these creators to get the formula just right [link].
First up is an example of an Ex nihilo myth as told in the African creation story of Bumba:
Let’s take a trip to the Congo region of Africa and visit the Kuba people. Here we meet their creator God Bumba. Bumba was a giant covered with white skin that took to form of a man. He was a lonely god and the earth was nothing more than darkness and water. One day, Bumba was feeling ill. His stomach begins to ache and heaves until he vomited out the Sun. As with must vomit fits, it’s never over after the first release. He then vomited out the Moon and the stars. The Sun, with its intense heat began to warm the Earth and the water started to evaporate, creating clouds. This caused the hills and mountains that were covered by the water to emerge from their depths. But poor Bumba was still not feeling too well, he started to vomit again. This time he spewed out nine animals: the leopard, the eagle, the crocodile, the fish, the tortoise, a black leopard-like animal, a white heron, a scarab and a goat. All of the world’s creatures came forth from these nine, vomit covered animals. Needing a break, Bumba turned over creation to his three sons. The first, Nyonye Ngana, vomited up white ants but died in the process. The ants du g deep into the earth to bury him and in doing so, they transformed the barren sands into fertile ground. His second son, Chonganda, created the first plant, which gave rise to all the trees, grasses and flowers. Finally, his third son Chedi Bumba made the last bird, the kite. Once creation was calm and subdued, Bumba turned it over to mankind, which he also vomited up and split back to heaven, leaving one special man, Loko Yima to serve as god upon earth. In the East, the woman of the waters Nchienge had a son, Woto, who became the first king of the Kuba people.
This is a pretty interesting story. You have a lonely god wandering the dark and formless earth, getting sick and vomiting up creation. What I find interesting is that in most of these creation stories, the Earth is almost always created first. You hardly ever see the Sun and Stars (essentially the Universe) being created first.
Let’s move on to the creation from chaos category, where we find the Korean creator god Cheonjiwang:
Cheonjiwang is the supreme deity of this Korean creation myth. His name means ‘King of the Heavens and the Earth.’ In this story, he plays second bill to his two sons Daebyeol and Sobyeol. The story starts with a formless void where the earth and the sky were joined as one. One day, I think it was a Tuesday, a gap formed and all that was light, as in the weight, went up and all that was heavy fell and created the Earth. The sky dropped blue drops of dew and the Earth spat up dark black drops of dew. When they mixed, they created all that existed except for the sun, moon and the stars, you know, the small things. These two drops created humans and gods alike along with three roosters: Rooster Emperor of the Sky, Rooster Emperor of the Earth and Rooster Emperor of the Humans. They crowed non-stop until Cheonjiwang created two Suns and two moons.
All was not right with creation because the King of the Humans Sumyeong Jangia ruled atop a mountain with his beast hoard. He took most of the crops for himself and left just enough for the rest of humanity to avoid starvation. Prideful and arrogant, he cried up to the heavens ‘Who dare subdue me?” Cheonjiwang heard this cry and gathered an army of his own and rode to meet Sumyeong Jangia. Cheonjiwang called out to Sumyeong Jangia and said “Foolish human, kneel before me.” Sumyeong sent his beast out to fight Cheonjiwang but with a wave of his hands, the beast turned on Sumyeong. Defeated, he kneeled before Cheonjiwang, where an iron band was put on his head. The pain was so intense that Sumyeong begged a slave to behead him and the slave abided.
Cheonjiwang must have been aroused after the battle because he found a pretty young maiden and impregnated her. Like most dead beat god dads, he went back to heaven and left his baby mama to birth twin boys Daebyeol and Sobyeol which means Large star and Small star. Cheonjiwang also left some gourd seeds behind. When his two sons grew older, they planted the seeds which instantly grew to heaven, the realm of Cheonjiwang. They climbed up a la Jack and the Bean Stalk and confronted their dad. Cheonjiwang was tired of ruling the heavenly realm, the mortal world, the earth and the netherworld. He wanted to pass some of the duties to his sons. To decide who would rule the mortal and netherworld, Cheonjiwang made his sons ask each other riddles. The loser would get the netherworld and the winner the mortal world. Daebyeol asked a riddle to Sobyeol about leaves and trees and Sobyeol got it wrong, so he lost. Not wanting to rule the netherworld, Sobyeol pleaded for another contest and Daebyeol relented. Sobyeol eventually won the new contest and was granted ruler of the mortal world.
Sobyeol’s first order of business was to destroy Sumyeong, who surprisingly, wasn’t dead after be decapitated. Finally wanting to relax, Sobyeol noticed that the mortal world was chaotic. Animals could talk and humans couldn’t think because of the constant noise. There were also two Suns and two moons which caused people to burn up during the day and freeze at night. On top of that, humans were extremely aggressive, promiscuous, and unjust and were great liars and tricksters. Sobyeol called on his more powerful brother to help him out and he did so by shooting out the second sun and moon with some magic arrows. He also spread pine seed across the Earth to stop the animals from speaking, if you have ever been in the south during the spring, you’d understand why this is effective. Daebyeol went back to the netherworld before Sobyeol could ask for his help with these evil humans. Apparently he only had one chance to fix the human problem and forgot. That is why we humans are forever evil and Sobyeol couldn’t do anything to fix it.
This story has a creator god and an epic battle between him and his creation. Like we see in Greek mythology, Cheonjiwang mated with his creation and had demigod son’s that helped their father rule. We are also presented with a reason for humans being evil which is a typical theme in many creation myths.
Now we are going to look at the World Parent Babylonian creation myth of Marduk and probably one of my favorite.
In the beginning there was no heaven or Earth but there were three gods. Apsu was god of the fresh water, Tiamat was goddess of the salt water and Mummu was the god of the mist. Apsu and Tiamat got together and produced two children and these two children gave birth until finally Ea was born and he became the god of the rivers. A clever fellow, Ea became the most powerful god. By doing this, he pissed off the other gods and the complained constantly to Apsu until he had enough of their constant whining. He went to Tiamat and suggested she slay their annoying offspring. She told him no but Apsu went ahead with his plan anyway. The other gods found out about his plan and immediately shut up, except for Ea, who hatched his own plan. Ea used his immense powers to cast a spell on Apsu. This allowed he to pull off his crown and when that was done, killed him. After the deed was done, he did the other deed with the goddess Damkina. Together, they produced Marduk, who was a four-eared, four-eyed giant that became god of the rains and storms.
The others god got nervous because Ea became even more powerful so they ran and told Tiamat what Ea did. Tiamat collected an army of dragons and monsters and placed the god Kingu at its head. Equipped with magical powers, Kingu began to march on Ea. Ea thought his best option was to put his son Marduk at the head of his army. Marduk agreed but on one condition, that when the battle was over and after he won, he would be the ruler of all the gods. The other gods agreed and at a banquet, they gave him is royal robes and scepter. Armed with a bow and arrows, a club, a net and lightening, he went out searching for Kingu with his storms and thunder leading the way. The storms and thunder confused Kingu and Marduk easily defeated him. Tiamat was left alone to defeat Marduk. The two engaged in an epic battle. Marduk threw his net and trapped Tiamat. Tiamat opened her mouth to devour Marduk but Marduk used his immense wind to hold her mouth open. With Tiamat’s mouth wide open, he shot an arrow down her throat and split her heart in two, killing her.
Not content with his victory, Marduk to his club and split Tiamat’s body in two. He took one half and put it in the sky and made the heavens. Across the heavens he made stations for the gods in the stars and he made the moon and set it on its schedule across the sky. With the other half, he made the land below the heavens. He used her eyes to make the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. All across the land he made the grains and herbs, the pastures and fields, the rains and the seeds, the cows and ewes, and the forest and the orchards. He took the gods that fought for Tiamat including Kingu and banished them to the earth to work the land. Soon, as any god would do, they began to complain about their work. They took the matter to Ea and Ea relented. He called forth Kingu and killed him. With the blood of Kingu and clay from the earth, Ea created humans. He released the gods from their duties and assigned those tasks to the humans. Now humans spend their days tilling the earth and worshipping the gods with Marduk being the chief god.
In this story, humans are more of an afterthought. It seems they were created to be servants of the gods. The main plot is the interaction between the gods. You have an almost political struggle between the gods with power grabs and back stabs. It’s very interesting to note that we never get a sense of where the gods came from, the initial gods. We see this in almost every creation myth. The main character is already on stage with no indication of where they came from.
The next creation story falls within the Emergence category and is the creation story from Hopi Indians of North America.
The world was an endless void that only existed in the mind of the creator, Taiowa. Eventually this infinite being created the finite and called on his nephew to create nine universes or nine solid worlds. Taiowa pulled the strings of his nephew and told him to make land in these newly created worlds, also instructed his nephew to create the winds and breezes. Needing something to occupy these new worlds, the nephew went to the first world and created the Spider Woman and gave her power to create life. She immediately grabbed some earth and mixed it with her saliva and created two beings. The first she tasked with solidify the earth, the second with sending out a sound that would resonate throughout the earth so that it vibrated with the energy of the Taiowa, the Creator. When they finished their task, they were sent to the poles of the earth to keep it spinning. She then created all the planets and animals of the earth and eventually took yellow, red, white and black earth, mixed it with her saliva and created four men. She did the same thing and created four women. Through a soft spot on their forehead, the humans could hear and feel the creator as well as talk with the animals. Each couple was given a specific language and they were sent out to multiple and fill the earth.
As humans spread out, they became more and more divided and soon they forgot their creator. This pissed the creator Taiowa off so he gathered together the few people that remembered him and told them to go down under the earth to live with the ants while he destroyed the world with fire. It took the earth awhile to cool down. During this time the creator’s nephew was done creating the second earth but it wasn’t as nice as the first. Emerging from their ant hill, the creator reminded the people to never forget him again. The people begin to create villages and setup trade routes. Soon they were so consumed with trading and getting more stuff that they forgot the creator. Again, the few that remembered the creator were sent to live with the ants so the second world could be destroyed. This time, the two beings that lived at the poles were told to abandon their post. The world stopped spinning and froze over with ice.
With the rest of humanity thoroughly destroyed, the people who were living with the ants emerged once again to a third world. Again, they were told not to forget the Creator but they multiplied quickly and soon built large cities and nations and began fighting with each other and soon they forgot about the Creator. To save the few people that remembered the Creator, the Spider Woman was instructed to take them to the edge of the shore and seal them large reeds. This kept them safe while the earth was flooded. After drifting for some time, they landed on a tiny island and the built rafts were the traveled from one island to the next, with each island growing in size until finally they reached a vast land. When they landed, the Creator’s nephew met them there, this was the fourth world. He warned them though, that life in this world was going to be hard with harsh climates both hot and cold and hard terrain with tall mountains and low valleys. He sent them on their way to settle the new land. Some clans stopped in warmer climates or rich lands, the Hopi sought out one of the harshest regions, the arid land between the Colorado River and the Rio Grande. They choose this spot because the harsh living conditions were a constant reminder and a link to their Creator, Taiowa.
Native American creation myths revolve around birth and rebirth focusing on the environment. In this myth, there are several earths or eras and each era is destroyed with only a few righteous people surviving. If we are to believe this account, we still have several more earths to go through. I didn’t see anything about a final judgment but I wonder with the arrival of the Europeans in the America’s, natives thought that this earth would be coming to an end?
The last category is Earth-driver. We head east and stop at the Ainu people of Hokkaido, Japan.
The earth was a void, a mess; nothing could live there at all. In the six skies above and the six worlds below lived gods, demons and animals. Demons lived in the lower sky, lesser gods lived amongst the stars and the creator god Kamui lived in the highest sky. Kamui made the world we live in a vast round ocean and set it on the back of a trout. The fish would suck in the ocean and spit it out, causing the tides and when it moved, it caused earth quakes. Kamui wanted to do something with the vast ocean world so he sent a wagtail bird to make land and bring forth islands that floated on top of the oceans.
The devil, Kamui’s enemy, wanted to put an end to his plans. He lay in wait one morning with his mouth wide open, his plan was to swallow the sun but Kamui was on to his little plan and he sent a crow to fly down his throat and this caused him to cough and he missed his opportunity. With the devil out of the way, the animals looking down on earth saw how beautiful it was. They begged Kamui to allow them to live there. He agreed and the animals left heaven to live on the earth. Kamui also created man out of earth, hair of chickweed and spines made of sticks. These created beings were the Ainu people.
The newly created people were none too bright, so Kamui sent the divine man Aionina do to teach them how to hunt and cook. With is task done, Aionina went back to heaven but the gods started complaining about the smell of the cooked food. The other gods found the source of the smell; it was on the clothing of Aionina so they banished him to earth until he changed his clothes. Down on earth, he kicked off his sandals and they became the first squirrels.
I like this creation myth because it’s a council of gods living in heaven and at very stages of heaven. Every being is pretty much already created but just living at different levels. It tries to explain the tides, fish breathes in, fish breathes out never a miscommunication and earthquakes which are something the Japanese live with constantly. Humans here are again created as servants to the gods.
We now have several creation myths from throughout the ancient world. Now let’s go look at the creation myth in Genesis and see how it compares. You will start to notice some similarities to the stories that I have already shared.
The earth was formless and empty and the spirit of God moved over it. He began to speak and create. On the first day he created light and darkness. On the second day he created sky. On the third day he created the dry ground. On the fourth day he created the sun, moon and the stars. On the fifth day he created every living creature of the sea and every winged bird. On the sixth day god created animals to fill the earth and created man in his own image. On the seventh day he rested.
That’s it, that is the creation account according to the Bible, this is the account that creationist claim brought our earth in existence and is the only true creation account. The Genesis creation myth falls under the Ex nihilo category but it could also fall within the creation from Chaos category. Now that we have an understanding of the Genesis myth, let’s go look back at the previous storiesand see how the Genesis account compares.
First we have the African creation account of Bumba. Bumba moved over the formless earth and instead of speaking, he vomited out most of creation but the basic narrative is still the same. In the Genesis account, God’s spirit moved over the empty and formless earth and when he spoke, things were created. In the next creation story, Cheonjiwang starts with a formless earth and it has a creator god mating with a young maiden, fathering twin god children. This is similar to how Jesus was brought into this world allegedly and many other gods throughout history. Again, we have a formless and empty earth with the stars moon and sun created as an afterthought just like in Genesis. In the story of Marduk, there was no heaven or earth, just a realm for gods to live. Eventually Marduk killed Tiamat and with two halves of her body created the heavens and earth. This is similar to day’s two and three in the Genesis account where God splits the water and land apart making the heavens and the earth. There can be a whole podcast and just the similarities between these two creation accounts. The Hopi Indians had paradise to live in but soon forgot the Creator and were kicked out to less than perfect worlds that were consumed by fire, ice and water. God did this to Adam and Eve, kicking them out of Eden to a less than perfect world where they had to toil the earth and eventually die. God would later flood the world, saving one family, Noah. Finally, the Ainu creation story tells of a shapeless earth where the creator god Kamui presided over, again this is extremely similar to the Genesis account with the shapeless earth, a god hovering over it and the stars, sun and moon as an afterthought. All of these accounts involve dirt, clay, blood and some part of a god or creator to make humans including the Genesis account. God created Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed life into this clay man. He then took one of Adam’s ribs and created Eve.
The Genesis account is not unique or even original but still people living in the 21 century claim it to be true. Why? I examined this in more detail in early episodes but it all comes to original sin and the need to justify Jesus. Christians that cling to creationism do so because they need original sin in order to have a reason to be saved. Basically, they need a first cause in order to justify Jesus. These may have been satisfying answers to pre-scientific people of the Bronze Age but it is outright laughable for people to believe this living in the modern age. More liberal Christians have come to terms with this, they may use the convenient scapegoat of theistic evolution, like the Catholic Church, stating essentially that evolution is true but God started the process off and maintained contact with his creation. Ok, that’s fine, you accept the basic tenants of evolution and science and you’re not trying to force it into our schools but these same liberal Christians need to step up and voice their displeasure with creationist. Atheist and non-believers can’t do it alone. Moderate and liberal Christians need to stand up and say “Science belongs in our schools, theology belongs in church.” Without their support, it is going to be a long hard fought battle to keep this non-sense out of our schools. Going back to my original assertion that if proponent’s creationism want it taught in our schools then we have to teach all creation accounts. I am almost positive they would be in an uproar if we taught our children that the heavens and earth came for the dismembered corpse of a goddess. They just want their brand of creationism taught.
These stories come from Mesoamerica, North America, East Asia, the Middle East and Africa. All of these stories share common narratives and plot points but why do creationist insist that the Genesis account is accurate and true? If you want to teach the controversy, then teach them all. The Genesis account is no more plausible then the rest of these accounts. They are all creation myths, stories pre-scientific people told each other to make sense of their world. You cannot base the foundation of your scientific knowledge on stories and myths. Science tells a more fascinating, a more complete and a more accurate story than these myths ever will. You can teach these myths in school but not in the science classroom. Let’s make sure our children have the proper understanding and tools they need to compete in a global economy. Dogma and tradition cannot and will not make our country stronger and our children brighter.