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We all want to know where we came from. The question of the creation of the universe, earth and the human race goes back to the most ancient civilisations and cultures, proving the difficulty of knowing our origin. Was it God? Was it a cosmic egg? Or did the world and humanity just emerge? Before the scientific explanation of the creation of the world, which is called the Big Bang, almost all cultures had a myth about it and we will dive into some of these theories.
Starting with European cultures, we have to talk about Greek mythology, which is probably the most well-known in the world. In one of the versions described by Hesiod, the creation of the world started with Chaos, Gaea, and Eros. Gaea gave birth to Uranus and Oceanus, whereas Chaos to Erebus and Night. Later on, Gaea and Uranus became the first Gods to rule the world and had many children. Among these children were Cronus and Rhea, who after the fall of their father became a couple and had their own offspring – Zeus. Their youngest son was brought to Crete and was raised by the Nymphs, to save him from his cruel father, who felt threatened by his children. As he entered manhood Zeus gained so much strength that he overthrew his father and became the ruler of the universe.
The creation of the human race occurred, because the immortal Gods thought it would be interesting to create beings similar to them, but mortal, to inhabit the earth. As soon as that happened, Zeus ordered the two sons of the Titan Lapetus; Prometheus and Epimetheus to give the mortals many gifts so they would become amusing to the Gods. In this creation story, it is crucial to observe how the characteristics of the Gods were an exact expression of human nature. They were not flawless; they were beings with their own limitations, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses, just like humans. Εach one was to rule a different element of nature, proving that nature itself doesn’t play an important role in world creation and can be controlled. This is unlike other myths, whose foundation lies in the relationship between humans and the environment. This mentality is very similar to the one that has caused severe environmental problems in the world today, because it is based on the belief that people are above nature and the latter just provides the resources for us to live, which is certainly not the case.
Moving to Asian cultures, we all know the yin and the yang, which in other words means opposite, yet complementary and interconnected forces. It proves the duality of all things in the world and originates from the Chinese story of creation. According to the myth, the universe was in the form of chaos inside a cosmic egg. From that egg emerged Pan Gu, who was considered to have two horns, two tusks and a hairy body. He was the one who separated and created a balance between the yin and the yang. He also created the sky and the earth by standing between them to keep them apart. When Pan Gu died, his corpse gave birth to the universe: the sun and moon came from his eyes, the rivers from his blood and sweat, trees and plants from his hair and the soil from his body. Humans and animals were created by parasites that infested his dead body. So, Pan Gu, a God-like creature, whose corpse gave birth to the universe, linked humans to nature in an interchangeable relationship, as both were made from his dead body. On the other hand, Pan Gu is believed to have been the creator of the world because he understood the duality of all things, which the yin yang represents. This plays a huge part in Chinese culture, as it connects humanity with spiritualism and the balance of the opposite. It proves that all contraries, like good and bad or love and hate coexist in our universe. This realisation would bring peace, and a more spiritual and well-rounded understanding of the world and people.
As for the people of Mesoamerica, an ethnolinguistic group of indigenous peoples, the Mayas, have described one the most famous stories about the creation of mankind. The base for all myths is the relationship between humankind and nature. The creation myth is found in the Popol Vuh, which is a text recounting the mythology and history of one of the Maya peoples. According to this text, the earth was created by a group of creator deities and a crocodile who caused a flood on earth. As for mankind, it was a sequence of four steps: first were the animals and then there were three attempts for the creation of humans. The first involved wet clay, but the creatures crumbled and disintegrated into the water and the second wood, but they were empty inside with no mind or heart. Finally, the creation of the first ancestors of mankind was from maize (corn) dough, which was an important crop to the Maya people. This is based on the principle that people are not only a member, but a product of nature. As such, it is understood that the Mayans find respect for the environment and not try to rule over it, as it is both their home and their roots; they acknowledge its power and importance to life itself. This principle is more important today than ever, considering the environmental crisis we are going through and how it results from ignorance of nature’s power. Adopting this mindset, would help contemporary civilisations to understand nature’s place in our lives and how crucial it is to preserve and protect it.
To conclude, while creation myths aren’t scientific explanations of the making of the universe, they have tackled one of the most important questions to humankind, to explain the unknown. They reflect the society that has inspired them, as they reveal a worldview of each culture and its influences, customs, and traditions, reaffirming and guiding people’s relation to the natural and spiritual world and to each other. Plus, they are always fun to read and learn about. If you ask me, I’d prefer humans were made from corn instead of the explosion of some atoms and particles million years ago, igniting the universe and everything in it…but that’s unfortunately less likely to have happened.
Written by Despina Zacharopoulou
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