Across the world’s various cultures and civilizations, there was always a firm belief that humans – and the world that they dwell in – had some sort of supernatural origins. These beliefs were the core, the foundation of identity of each different civilization – and they were sometimes rather odd. Great celestial beings, gods of a primordial world, were said to have fashioned our planet in various unique ways, forming humans in their own image. This is a universal theme of many such beliefs, and some similar stories still exist today. However, with Christianity becoming the world’s foremost religion, many creation myths are nearly forgotten. Let’s prevent this by discovering the ten wildest creation myths in history!
1.The Primal Cosmic Egg in Earliest Hindu Myths
The theme of the Cosmic Egg is found in many ancient civilizations. From the Polynesians, Finnish, to the Greek and Phoenicians, the theme was present in one way or the other. But perhaps the best-known version of this creation myth comes from Hinduism, and the old Vedic myths.
There, it is known as the Hiraṇyagarbha, or the Golden Womb, and is described as a primordial golden egg from which the whole of the universe came to be. The Hiraṇyagarbha floated in the pitch-black emptiness of the non-existence for a single year, before it broke into two halves, each one becoming a realm – the Svarga and the Prithvi. The cosmic egg is thus the source of all life and creation. Many modern scholars point out the clear connection between the cosmic egg and the big bang theory, where both indicate that the universe was created from a single point.
Odin, Vili and Ve killed the giant Ymir and the world was created from his body. (Sokol_92 / CC BY SA 3.0 )
2.The Brutal World Creation from Ymir’s Remains
The ancient Vikings were well known for their incredibly intricate and imaginative creation myths. And one of the central figures in them was the primordial giant – Ymir. He was one of the first ever beings in the universe, a primeval creature that was formed from the yeasty venom Eitr, which dropped from the primal icy rivers of Elivagar. Ymir was thus born into the barren plane of Ginnungagap, and was fed for three days by the celestial cow Auðumbla. And it was Ymir who created a man and a woman, both of which emerged from his armpits.
Later on, the chiefs of the Norse Gods, Odin, Vili, and Ve, killed the Giant Ymir, and created the whole of the Earth from his remains. His blood caused an immense flood, and later became the world’s oceans. His hair was turned into the trees, his great skull became the heavenly abode, and his bones the great mountains. His brains formed the clouds, and his eyebrows became the middle realm of the universe, Midgard, where humans dwelt ever after.
Hopi painting. Hopi beliefs talk about the end of the fourth world and humanity entering the fifth world (current times). ( elstudiogranados.com)
3.The Emergence of the Hopi Indians
Hopi are one of North America’s oldest and most enigmatic Native tribes. Living in the arid and remote desert environments of Arizona, the Hopi were a true mystery for the Spanish conquistador explorers. But over time, the world only got to know their vibrant culture, and their rich and unique creation mythology. The central theme of Hopi origin stories is their “Emergence” into this world. One story tells us that the Hopi used to live underground, below the earth. But at one point they emerged to the surface, where they met with Maasaw, the Creator of the World. He allowed them to stay above, in exchange for them becoming caretakers of the Earth.
Another emergence story tells us that the previous world in which Hopi dwelt became destroyed in a great flood. One of their major deities, the Spider Grandmother, instructed them to make reed boats, with which they sailed the flood-waters in search of new lands to settle. Eventually, they came to the shores of the “ Fourth World ”, the same world they inhabit to this very day.
4.Life Created from a Decapitated Head’s Spit
The deities and the myths of the Ancient Maya are famed for their incredible vibrancy, the intricacy of their pantheon, and the imaginative stories of their peoples’ origins. In the famous Popol Vuh , the text that preserved many Maya myths, we are familiarized with the intricate creation myth of these peoples.
One day, the story goes, two brothers were invited to a ballgame in the underworld, the Xibalba. These brothers were Hun-Hunahpu and Vucub-Hunahpu. Alas, the gods of the underworld won the match, and the brothers were ritually sacrificed and killed. The decapitated head of Hun-Huanhpu was then placed in a calabash tree, where the passing virgin girl, Blood Moon, spotted it. The head spoke to her, and then spat into her palm, thus impregnating her. The girl then faces a series of hardships through which she has to prove the story of her pregnancy. In the end, she is believed, and gives birth to two twin sons – Hunahpu and Xbalanque .
The two boys become great heroes, eventually avenging the death of their father by defeating the underworld gods in a ballgame. In the end, the twins are transformed into the Sun and the Moon, becoming the progenitors of the first man and woman. This was the signal of the coming new age.
The Maya Hero Twins, known from the Sacred Book of the Maya, the Poopol Wuuj: Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who later became the sun and the moon. (CC BY-SA 4.0 )
5.The Great Serpent of the Native American Tribes
The Great Serpent is a symbol found amongst many Native American tribes. Most of the stories depict it as an evil primal being, but it is nonetheless involved in the myth of creation. Amongst the Chippewa Indians, the Great Serpent is indirectly involved in the creation of the world as we know it.
One day, the primal hero Nanabozho discovered that his cousin went missing. He spotted the Great Serpent’s tracks nearby, quickly realizing that the cousin was taken away and killed by the evil being. Intent on vengeance, Nanabozho prepared an ambush near the great lake where the serpent lived. He turned himself into a stump, dispelled the clouds, stilled the winds, and implored the sun on shining bright. Soon the lake became hot, and the serpent had no choice but to come out onto the shore. And thanks to his cunning, Nanabozho sprang from his ambush, shooting a well-placed arrow directly into the serpent’s heart. Madly the beast roared, and in its dying throes managed to plunge back into the lake, causing a great flood across the earth. Panicked, Nanabozho ran amongst his Indian children, urging them to seek refuge at the highest mountain tops. From there, he made reed boats and rafts, with which the surviving people could seek new lands to settle. And thus began the new world, the world after the flood.
6.Ancient Egyptian Book of the Heavenly Cow
The theme of the celestial, primordial cow is not only reserved to the Norse myths. It can actually be found in Ancient Egypt as well! One of the more enigmatic myths from this civilization is detailed in the Book of the Heavenly Cow.
It tells us of a primordial time of peace and prosperity, when the humans decided to rebel against the chief god, Ra. Enraged and betrayed, Ra sends goddess Hathor, in the form of the Sun Disk (Eye of Ra), to punish the people. The goddess slays many humans, wading in their blood for three days and nights. Only a handful of people escaped the punishment, and Ra took pity on them. To prevent further slaughter, he tricks Hathor by making her drunk on red barley beer. Ra then ascends to the heavens on the back of a great celestial cow, from where he creates the underworld and the netherworld, where humans dwell. And, most importantly of all, after Ra’s departure, humans are made mortal and have to struggle to maintain order and balance on their own.
7.Finland’s Odd and Unique Creation Myth
In many ways, the myths and legends of the Ancient Finns are a great enigma, as not much is really known about them. However, from what can be pieced together, their creation myths are as unique as could be. One story tells us of Ilmatar, the goddess of the Air.
One day she decided to take a swim in the primal waters of the universe. And, oddly enough, she continued to swim and relax for the next…. 700 years! Well, not much happened during those seven centuries, except Ilmatar enigmatically becoming pregnant, being impregnated by the sea itself. Then, one day, a bird lands upon her knee, and lays down six eggs. Five were solid gold, and one was iron. As the eggs incubated, they became so hot as to burn Ilmatar. Jolted by the pain, she kicks and the eggs fall into the water, promptly cracking. From their fragments the earth was suddenly formed, and from the yolk and egg-white, the sun and the moon. Ilmatar was amazed, and continued to swim and stomp, shaping the earth in the process. All the while, the baby in her stomach became an old and wise man, called Väinämöinen. Bored of being trapped in the belly, he prays to the Great Bear until he is finally born into the world. Upon finding land, however, he finds it barren, and prays again – this time for help. The universe answers his prayers and sends a young boy down. After that, the earth is made fertile and populated by humans.
Goddess of the air Imatar. She gives birth to Väinämöinen, and old sage, whose prayers for a fertile populated earth are finally answered and the world is created. ( Public Domain )
8.The Yin and Yang and the Remains of Pangu
As we mentioned before, the theme of the great cosmic egg has been present in many diverse cultures across the globe. It has also been present in the Ancient Chinese myths, where it is the crucial part of the world emerging.
First, there was nothing – the universe was featureless and barren. After a long time, however, it coalesced into the primal cosmic egg, within which existed the two opposites, yin and yang . After a while, the opposites became perfectly balanced, creating the primordial giant Pangu, who was born into the world. Soon enough, Pangu got busy creating the outlines of the world: the two halves of yin and yang became the earth and the sky. The process took 18,000 years, however, and in the end Pangu died. And from his remains the rest of the world came into being:
“His breath became the wind, mist and clouds; his voice, thunder; his left eye, the Sun; his right eye, the Moon; his head, the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood, rivers; his muscles, fertile land; his facial hair, the stars and Milky Way; his fur, bushes and forests; his bones, valuable minerals; his bone marrow, precious jewels; his sweat, rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became animals.”
9.The Dreaming of the Primal World
The creation myths of the Australian Aborigines are amongst the most enigmatic in the world. Some of their concepts and beliefs are like something straight out of a Sci-Fi novel! The bulk of their mythology is known as The Dreaming, or Dreamtime , and the creation myths are central to them.
In the earliest times of the universe, the world was a barren and empty place, across which traveled many great primordial heroes. As they traveled, they created sacred sites and unique places, and some of them perished and became one with the environment, becoming rocks, trees, and the landscapes. The Dreaming is a highly conceptual myth, and is akin to formlessness, a dreamlike state that begins only after mortal life ends. One of the central figures in the Dreaming is the creator god Baiame. He is responsible for the creation of much of the forests, rivers, and mountains. He also gave to the people their traditions, the laws, rules of life, songs, and culture. The Australian Aboriginal creation myths are still a great enigma that needs a lot of studying in order to be finally deciphered.
Baiame Cave in New South Wales in Australia, depicting Biame the Sky Father. (Sardaka / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
10.The Helpful Spider Mother
Amongst many of the Native American tribes, there is a central figure of many legends and creation myths present, known simply as Spider Grandmother. In fact, the spider itself is often mentioned in tribal lore, as a creature of special importance. The Zuni Indians believed that a water spider emerged from the primal waters in order to find the center of the earth, leading the Zuni to the places where they could settle. The Navajo recount the tale of Spider Woman, who acts as a protector of humankind, and its leader. She is named Na’ashjé’íí Asdzáá and she solves many of the primal troubles that the people suffered: she introduced the spindle and the loom; rid the earth of primal monsters; taught people weaving; and helped them through the winters. In almost all of these myths, the Spider Grandmother plays the central figure, and with the help of the Sun, brings about the creation of the world and the people who dwell in it.
Top image: The creation myths understood by many cultures and civilizations through their beliefs and mythology. Source: QuietWord/Adobe
By Aleksa Vučković
Adams, D. 1994. A Dictionary of Creation Myths. Oxford University Press.
Leeming, D. A. 2010. Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia . ABC-CLIO.
North, C. 2010. In the Beginning: Creation Myths from Around the World. ICRL Press.
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