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10 Creation Myths As Strange As The Bible
Who are we and where did we come from? It’s a question as old as humankind, and everyone seems to have an answer. What’s surprising is not how our creation stories differ, but how much they have in common, even when they originate in vastly different places.
10 China’s Cosmic Egg
The first living being was P’an Ku, who grew for 18,000 years inside a cosmic egg. When he hatched, the shell above him became the sky while the piece below became the earth. The opposites in nature were separated as well—male and female, wet and dry, light and dark, yin and yang, etc.
After all this effort, P’an Ku literally fell to pieces and his features became the natural world. His limbs turned into mountains, his blood to rivers, his breath the wind, his voice the thunder, his hair the grass, his sweat the rain, and so on. His left eye became the sun and his right became the moon. Some people say that the parasites on P’an Ku’s body became mankind.
Others say that, many centuries after P’an Ku’s death, a lonely goddess named Nü Wa saw her reflection in a pond and made some beings like herself out of mud. These became the aristocrats. Creating these beings was hard work, though, so Nü Wa swung a muddy vine through the air and its droplets became the commoners. Years later, the heavens collapsed, creating holes in the earth through which waters rose to form a great flood. Nü Wa patched the earth, but became exhausted by her labors and died. Her body became yet more features of the world.
9 The Blackfoot’s Colored Language Water
Old Man came from the south, making the terrain, plants, and animals as he headed north. The first people he created were a woman and her son from clay. Old Man showed them how to collect plants for food and told them which herbs were good for treating sickness. He taught them how to make weapons to kill animals and fire so they could cook them. Most importantly, he told them how to get spirit power by finding their spirit animal in their dreams.
Like many other origin stories, Blackfoot legends tell of a great flood. One possible explanation for this are the worldwide floods from melting icebergs that may have occurred around 5,000 BC, possibly the time of Noah. After the flood, Old Man gathered the people on top of a mountain and gave them water of different colors to drink. Each color represented a different language. The Blackfoot, Piegan, and Blood tribes all drank black water, which is why these tribes speak the same language.
8 Yanomamo Sanema’s Moonblood
The Sanema people are part of the Yanomamo group of tribes who live in the Amazon rain forest. Each tribe has its own collection of stories, passed orally from generation to generation. Because of this, their creation myths vary. Generally, however, the Sanema believe that all the living things are descended from “original ancestors,” whose spirits still inhabit the forest.
One story has Peribo, the Moon, eating the souls of children. This angered Suharina, who shot Peribo in the belly with an arrow. His blood spilled to the earth, forming puddles from which mortal men arose. The most belligerent human beings were created where large amounts of blood fell, and where only a few drops fell, less violent men were born.
In another myth, Naro (Opposum), who was ugly and smelly, was jealous of his brother, Yamonamariwa (Honey Bee), who was beautiful and had two wives. Naro shot charms made from his pubic hair at Yamonamariwa and killed him. A third brother, Reha (Lizard), discovered Naro’s treachery and denounced him. The Ancestors destroyed Naro and transformed themselves into spirits and animals by painting themselves with his blood. The sloth, however, was created with a small amount of Naro’s excrement.
7 India: Create, Preserve, Destroy, Repeat
Brahma began from nothingness. By thought alone, he created the waters, into which he deposited his semen. This grew into a golden egg, out of which he was born. By thought again, he split the egg in two, and the halves became heaven and earth. Brahma grew lonely, so he split himself in two to form male and female. In one variation of the story, Brahma repeatedly splits himself in two until all living things are created from his body. In another, the first man and woman mate in different animal forms until life forms are born.
Together, Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer) make up the Supreme One. Each universe Brahma creates is eventually destroyed by Shiva, after which there is nothing but a vast ocean on which Vishnu floats, resting on a great snake. In some versions of the myth, Brahma comes not from an egg, but from a lotus flower that springs from Vishnu’s navel. Eventually, our world, too, will be destroyed by Shiva and the cycle will begin anew.
6 The Navajo’s Four Worlds
The Navajo have one of the longest and most complex creation stories on the planet. It starts in the First World, called the Black World. The Black World contained four clouds, including a black one, which represented female substance, and a white one, which represented male. Together they created First Man, representing dawn and life, and First Woman, who represented darkness and death. Other beings in the Black world included Great Coyote (who was hatched from an egg), First Angry, and various insects.
The Black World became too crowded, however, so everyone climbed to the Blue World of birds. There, they lived in harmony for 23 days, until someone tried to sleep with the swallow chief’s wife. Banished to the Yellow World of mammals, they found six mountains, where holy people lived. The holy people were immortal and traveled by following rainbows. First Woman gave birth there to twin hermaphrodites. Four days later, she gave birth to another set of twins, one male and one female. By the end of 20 days, five pairs of twins had been born.
One day, Great Coyote took Water Monster’s baby. Water Monster got so angry that he made it rain and rain, until the flood waters rose higher than the mountains. In what must have been the slowest flood in all of time, First Man planted various trees and a male reed in sequence, none of which grew higher than the level of the waters. Finally, a female reed grew to the sky. Everyone climbed to the top of it, where they found the Fourth World—the White World—which is where we all live today.
5 Scandinavia’s Fire Demons And Frost Giants
Before time existed, there was a place of fog and ice called Niflheim. Across a great void was Muspelheim, where fire demons and fire giants dwelled. Fire from Muspelheim eventually melted Niflheim’s ice, which dripped and formed a giant cow named Audhumla and a frost giant named Ymir. More giants grew from Ymir’s armpit sweat and were breastfed by Audhumla, who created more giants by licking blocks of salty ice.
These giants mated and gave birth to the god Odin and his brothers. Odin and his brothers killed Ymir and the earth was made from his flesh, the heavens from his skull, the sea from his blood, the clouds from his brains, mountains from his bones, and trees from his hair. Odin built Asgard as a dwelling place for the gods and linked it to Midgard (Earth) by a rainbow bridge called Bifrost. The maggots in Ymir’s corpse become dwarfs and remained beneath the surface of the earth in what was left of Ymir’s body. The Gods found two tree trunks on Midgard and breathed life into them, creating Ask and Embla, the first man and woman.
4 Japan: Chaos And A Very Painful Birth
Japan’s creation myth may be the longest and most complicated of all. It begins with chaos, out of which came matter, separating over eons into heaven and earth. Various deities came into being, including Izanagi and Izanami, the first male and female. Izanami mated with Izanagi and gave birth to the islands of Japan, as well as a variety of deities. The last of these was a fire deity, whose birth burned Izanami’s genitals so badly that she died.
A distraught Izanagi beheaded the fire deity and went to Yomi, the land of the dead, to look for Izanami, but Izanami couldn’t return with him because she had eaten in Yomi. Izanami told Izanagi that she would ask for permission to leave, but made him promise not to follow her. After waiting a long time, Izanagi broke his promise and went to look for Izanami, but only found a decaying corpse with maggots (the eight deities of thunder) eating her body. (If this sounds familiar, check out the Greek myths of Hades and Persephone and Orpheus and Eurydice.)
Izanagi freaked and sealed Izanami in Yomi. She swore that, in revenge, she would strangle one thousand people a day, to which Izanagi replied that he would cause fifteen hundred more to be born. This is why each day in Japan, fifteen hundred children are born and one thousand people die.
Eventually, Earth’s first emperor descended the Floating Bridge from Heaven and married Princess Brilliant Blossoms, but he grew suspicious when she got pregnant right away. To prove the children were his, the princess sealed herself in the palace and set fire to it, since only the Emperor’s descendants could survive flames. As the palace burned, she gave birth to beings who became the ancestors of the imperial family of Japan.
3 The Aborigines’ Rainbow Serpent
Aboriginal creation stories begin with the Dreaming, when the world was bare and cold. The Rainbow Serpent slept underground with all the animal tribes in her belly. When the time was right, she emerged and spewed forth the animals, along with the features of the natural world.
The Rainbow Serpent was the maker of laws, which all creatures must obey. In some variations of the myth, she swallowed wrongdoers and spat out their bones to form rocks and hills. In others, she rewarded those who obeyed the law by giving them human form and turned the lawbreakers into stone.
The Rainbow Serpent is sometimes called the Old Woman, and it was she who taught humans how to get food. In tribes who believe they are descended from animals, the Rainbow Serpent was said to have given each a totem and ruled that no man could eat the animal it represented. This way, she ensured there would be enough food for all.
2 Egypt’s Divine Semen
Before the beginning of time, there was Nu (or Nun), the primeval ocean of chaos. From an egg on Nu’s surface emerged a deity referred to variously as Atum, Amen, Re, Ra, or Amen-Ra. Ra created a divine son and daughter via masturbation, who bred to produce a race of gods. Ra’s tears became mankind. Ra’s grandson, the god Osiris, married his sister Isis. Isis learned Ra’s secret name, which allowed Osiris to take Ra’s place as king of Earth. Osiris showed humans how to get food and wine, while Isis taught them weaving and medicine.
Osiris’ brother Set, who represents evil, was jealous of Osiris. He tricked Osiris into a chest, which was sealed with molten lead and cast into the Nile, drowning him. After a long search, Isis found the chest, but Set managed to get his hands on it and tore his brother’s body into 14 pieces before hurling them back into the Nile. Isis recovered all the pieces of Osiris except his penis, which had been eaten by a fish. She fashioned a penis out of clay and blew life back into Osiris through it. He was revived just long enough to impregnate Isis with their son, Horus, after which he died for good and became king of the netherworld. To keep baby Horus safe from Set, Isis put him in a basket to float down the Nile, inspiring the story of Moses. When Horus grew up, he and Set had a contest to see who should rule the earth and Horus won.
1 The Dogon’s Alien Egg
The Dogon are an indigenous tribe of Mali, believed to be of Egyptian descent. Dogon origin stories begin with Amma, the god who existed before time. Amma was lonely, so he created the Earth, which is sometimes called the “egg of the world” or the “original placenta.” Earth is said to exist in infinite space and contain a model of all creation. Amma married the Earth, but her clitoris was opposed to Amma’s penis, so Amma circumcised her. She later gave birth to Ogo and a pair of androgynous twins in the form of fish called the Nommo.
Since Ogo had no partner or twin, he committed incest with the Earth. From this union came the first menstrual blood, along with the spirits of the underworld. Amma undid the disorder this act caused by transforming Ogo into a jackal. The blood that flowed from Earth became various heavenly bodies, plants, and animals. Amma then created the stars by throwing pellets of earth into space. Using two white earthenware bowls—one encircled with red copper, the other with white—he created the sun and moon. Black people are supposedly born under the sun and white people under the moon.
In the 1930s, the Dogon told a pair of French anthropologists that the germ of all things was originally contained in an invisible twin to Sirius, the Dogstar. This twin star, now known as Sirius B, wasn’t discovered by astronomers until 1970. According to the Dogon, astronomical knowledge was given to them by one of the Nommo, who is referred to in this account as “the son of God.” Some people have taken this to mean that the Nommo was Jesus, but maybe the Dogon were just having a cosmic laugh at Western expense.
Jackie Fuchs is a writer and attorney with a BA in linguistics from UCLA and a JD from Harvard. She played bass as Jackie Fox for the ‘70s all-girl rock band The Runaways with Joan Jett and Lita Ford.
Jackie is a former journalist and Huffington Post blogger with an interest in word origins and medieval history. Her blog Nothing Too Trivial (Interesting Things for Interested People) can be found at jackiefox1976.wordpress.com.