The following is abridged version of the book In the Beginning: An Examination of Worldwide Creation Mythology, by Ian Driscoll and Matthew Kurtz. The full version is available to purchase for Kindle here.
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
In the beginning, there was only water. This is a universal reality. Water existed prior to everything else. The creator rests upon the water, or is contained within the water – the water is a reflection of the deity. This theme is a familiar one to students of myth and religion. In dealing with this aspect of world mythology, we will try not to belabor the point, but will stick to the myths which best exemplify the similarities of which we speak. If we were to attempt to include all of the myths which speak of a watery beginning, for instance, we would far exceed the scope of this work.
One of the most well-known creation sagas is of course the one recorded in Genesis, and it is quoted above. However, although the canonical creation myth is the best known of the Jewish versions of creation, it is not the only one. Robert Graves records this alternate version in his Hebrew Myths: “While performing the work of creation, God would ride across the Deep upon clouds, or cherubs, or the wings of the storm; or catch at passing winds and make them His messengers. He set Earth on immovable foundations: by carefully weighing the mountains, sinking some as pillars in the waters of the Deep, arching the Earth over them and locking the arch with a keystone of other mountains.”
Not so far away in India, the Hindu mythologies speak of a number of versions of creation, all of which also begin in water: “At the end of the last Eon when the three worlds were in darkness there was nothing but a solitary sea, no gods and so forth, no seers. In that undisturbed desolation slept the god Narayana, supreme person, lying on the bed that was the serpent Sesa.” In another version, all creation stems from an egg which contains all creatures, but this too is formed upon the vast and limitless ocean that precedes creation: “By the direction of Purusa and through the favor of the unmanifest Prakrti, the principles from Mahat through the distinct elements produced an egg, gradually swelling out of those elements like a water-bubble. Swollen with beings, O sage, this huge egg was lying in water…The womb-water of this great-souled egg was the ocean.” And again: “Long ago when all things animate and inanimate were lost in one dreadful ocean there appeared a large egg, source of the seed of all creatures. Lying in this egg, Brahma went to sleep. At the end of a thousand Ages he awoke.” The Rig Veda speaks of sublime creation in the following manner:
“There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?
There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.
Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water.”
The religious system of the Jains also speaks of the created earth as being situated upon a great ocean of water, out of which creation unfolded. They state that we reside in what could be described as the waist line of a human-shaped cosmos. This middle area contains several concentric rings of islands which represent the inhabited universe, each island ring being separated by a ring of primordial water.
The Sumerian creation epic, the Enuma Elish, records a similar state of primeval affairs to that of the Hindu Vedas:
“The holy house, the house of the gods, in a holy place had not yet been made;
No reed had sprung up, no tree had been created;
No brick had been laid, no building had been erected;
No house had been constructed, no city had been built;
No city had been made, no creature had been brought into being…
Of the holy house, the house of the gods, the habitation had not been made;
All lands were sea.”
Not far away, in Egypt, there existed a nearly identical set of myths, each explaining creation as an emergence from the waters. A well-respected authority on the mythology of the Egyptians, R.T. Rundle-Clark writes:
“The basic principle of Egyptian cosmology is the Primeval Waters. It is common to all the accounts of the origin of the universe, however much they may differ in detail. Every creation myth assumes that before the beginning of things the Primordial Abyss of waters was everywhere, stretching endlessly in all directions. It was not like a sea, for that has a surface, whereas the original waters extended above as well as below. There was no region of air or visibility; all was dark and formless. The present cosmos is a vast cavity, rather like an air-bubble, amid the limitless expanse. Hence the waters are still to be met everywhere at the limits of the known – below the earth, above the sky, and at the ends of the world.”
The conception of a liquid origin is spread throughout the indigenous peoples of the African continent, as well. The Yoruba tribe of West Africa claims that in its first state, the world was a vast, watery marshland – “a waste place”. There existed only “a watery, formless chaos that was neither sea nor land, but a marshy waste.” The gods descended thence on spider’s webs in order to play in the marsh. The Fon of Abomey in Benin hold the earth to be floating like an island in a vast gourd of water, with water covering it as well, bringing to mind the words of R.T. Rundle-Clark already quoted that our existence is comparable to “an air-bubble” in some vast ocean.
Greek creation mythology shares a comparable outlook to that of the Egyptians. The Pelasgian creation myth, recorded by Robert Graves, is as follows:
In the beginning Eurynome, the goddess of all things, rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial for her feet to rest upon, and therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves. She danced towards the south, and the wind set in motion behind her seemed something new and apart with which to begin a new work of creation. Wheeling about, she caught hold of this north wind, rubbed it between her hands, and behold! the great serpent Ophion. Eurynome danced to warm herself, wildly and more wildly, until Ophion, grown lustful, coiled about those divine limbs and was moved to couple with her.
The above setting is described by one author as “a great vast sea in which all elements were mixed together without form.” The Iliad records an alternate belief, but one closely related. It states that men and women and, yes, all of creation derived from Oceanus, the great ocean which was believed to bound the world. Another Greek myth states that in the beginning only “Geia (the Earth) and a great sea of Chaos” existed. 
Norse mythology speaks of the creation of the world through the sacrifice of the giant Ymir, who sprang from a world of “bottomless deep”.
The Finnish epic of creation likewise tells the story of Luonnatar, the daughter of the goddess of the air, who lives in the stars at the beginning of the narrative. She descends to the “great primordial sea” and finds no place to rest, so she floats above it prior to the events of creation unfolding.
Japanese mythology shares the same outlook as the rest of the tales of creation. Described by a recent author, the initial setting of all creation looked unfit to receive what was to come. It is described as a vast “chaos, like an ocean of oil”. Two primeval gods, Izanagi and Izanami (male and female, respectively), descend upon the oily waters with the intention of creating land. The Kojiki records these events in this way:
Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto stood on the floating bridge of Heaven, and held counsel together, saying: ‘Is there not a country beneath?’
Thereupon they thrust down the jewel-spear of Heaven, and, groping about therewith found the ocean. The brine which dripped from the point of the spear coagulated and became an island which received the name of Ono-goro-jima.
Moving to the islands of the South Pacific, we find in the Marquesas the tradition of a primordial void – a nothingness which is indescribable. This is quickly replaced, however, by “a swelling, a seething, a dark surging, a whirling, a bubbling, and a swallowing…” Again, it is said that “In the beginning there was only the sea, on which Tiki, a deity existing from the first, floated in a canoe, and afterward fished up the land from the bottom of the ocean.”
Similarly, in New Zealand we are told of the time before time, in which
Io [the Creator] dwelt within the breathing space of immensity.
The Universe was in darkness, with water everywhere,
There was no glimmer of dawn, no clearness, no light…
Io then looked to the waters, which compassed him about,
And spake a fourth time, saying:
‘Ye waters of Tai-kama be separate
Heaven, be formed’ Then the sky became suspended.
One Hawaiian myth which is nearly identical to one found in New Zealand records that a divine bird laid an egg atop the dark ocean, and after a time all creation burst forth from it. The Hawaiian creation myth proper, commented on by several authors, is interesting in its description of the origin of life. Rather than the initial creation out of absolutely nothing, Hawaiian mythology states quite clearly that our world was created out of the ruins of an older one. One author writes that “although we have the source of all things from chaos, it is a chaos which is simply the wreck and ruin of an earlier world.”
This brings us to an important point in the study of the stories of creation from around the globe. In the minds of the ancients, as in nature herself, the concept of creation is intimately connected with that of destruction. Life and death are only polarities when viewed in a linear fashion with “Life” at one end of an immensely long string, and “Death” at the opposite end. The reality, however, is that the string of existence must be viewed in a circular fashion, with life and death acting as not only cooperating forces, but being nearly indistinguishable. This is evident in natural phenomena – a seed (whether mineral, vegetable or animal) must die before it can successfully germinate in its matrix. And so it is in the myths. The Flood waters of Biblical fame (and other legends identical to it around the globe), which bring about the end of one era, are often identified as the primeval waters which give birth to the next. An example of this is the creation myth in the Temple of Horus at Edfu in Lower Egypt. It is there stated that creation (mentioned previously) followed a vast destruction and a time of great darkness, with the new society being founded atop the ruins of the old. And so it must be remembered that both creation and destruction seem to proceed from one source.
To return to the subject at hand, the Hawaiian myth of creation states that in the first stage, there was only darkness and the great abyss. This stage was followed by the emergence of life, beginning with the smallest visible organisms and moving into the larger. Thus first came the coral and zoophytes, then the shellfish and worms, and so forth. Each successive animal type was said to have conquered the last, and finally from an accumulation of their decaying remains, land emerged above the water, and in this land swam the octopus, said to be “the lone survivor from an earlier world.” There is an interesting and inexplicable parallel here between the primordial hill which houses the eight-tentacled octopus in Hawaii and the primordial mound which is home to the eight deities of the Ogdoad in the Egyptian myth of creation described above. Similarly, the creation myth from Palenque, Mexico, speaks of the time of chaos when the eight Lords of Night ruled over all creation. Might this also have some relevance to the survival of Noah and his seven companions following the flood myth recorded in Genesis?
In Samoa is also found the now familiar theme of the primordial ocean of potential life. The Samoan myth of creation begins with Tangaloa, the creator god, reposing on high:
“From the high heavens Tangaloa saw a stone floating in the boundless sea beneath, and this he brought up to the skies, where he shaped it into human form, inspired it with life, and took it to wife. She bore him a bird, which he sent down from the sky-world, casting into the sea a great rock to serve it for a home.”
In Tonga, Tangaloa is recast as the Divine Messenger, and is sent down from the heavenly world to discover whether or not there is habitable land below. Having only found a small beach-head, he reports back to his superiors that he has failed to discover the good earth. Upon returning to the watery realm seven days later, however, he was surprised to discover that indeed the land had risen above the water, and that there now existed a place of respite from the surging waters of the primal sea.
The examples of watery creation which come out of the South Pacific are endless, but the picture is clear enough.
Coming to the New World, we find that neither the mythology nor much else is, in fact, new. The similarity of the myths, religion and architecture found in the “New” world to that found in the “Old” is often times commented on by authors who, like us, are endeavoring to point out that something vital to our understanding of the world and our place in it has been inexcusably overlooked. The Americas present the best case against Independent Invention, because this continent was supposed to be almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world for nearly its entire history (this isolation, of course, comes to an abrupt halt in the sixteenth century). The suggestion – which has of late gained widespread acceptance – that not only the Vikings, but also the Chinese and the Pacific Islanders could have had intermittent contact with the people of America is tantalizing, but the specific correspondences present in the mythologies and the religions of the Old and New Worlds indicate more than occasional and random exchanges between the various societies mentioned. They seem to indicate a period of prolonged exposure of the New World civilizations to the same influences which shaped the mythologies of the peoples of the Old world. What these influences may be, for reasons stated in our introductory chapter, we refuse to comment on. We wish only to present the myths as they are, demonstrating the interconnectedness of all mythologies and everything which that implies.
Turning first to the peoples of Mesoamerica, the caiman (a crocodile-like creature) was always viewed as a personification of both the earth and the chaotic waters of primordial creation. The body of the caiman was observed floating upon the surface of the inland waters just as the earth itself was said to float upon the surface of the primordial sea, out of which it emerged. This conception of the earth was common to both the Aztec and the Maya, as it seemed to originate with the Olmec, the enigmatic mother culture of the ancient people of Mexico. One modern author writes that “Cipactli [the caiman] was the personification of chaos or the unstructured matter out of which the cosmos was created. As we have already noted, this being was thought of as a leviathan, a monstrous alligator, a shark, or a sawfish, inhabiting the ocean as the first of all things. Cipactli in fact was the earth before it had been molded, bisexual and alone. When formed into a primitive version of the earth, this dragon was generally conceived as female and was known as…Earth Lady.”
Despite the incredible destruction of the original Maya texts wrought by the Christian invaders, a handful of invaluable spiritual and historical works escaped the fanaticism of the period. The best known and perhaps the most authoritative is the Popol Vuh, the sacred record of the Quiche Maya, which records for us the creation of the world in the following manner:
These, then, are the first words, the first speech…The face of the earth has not yet appeared. Alone lies the expanse of the sea, along with the womb of all the sky. There is not yet anything gathered together. All is at rest. Nothing stirs. All is languid, at rest in the sky. There is not yet anything standing erect. Only the expanse of the water, only the tranquil sea lies alone…All lies placid and silent in the darkness, in the night.
In this primeval water swims the feathered serpent deity (identified as Kukulcan or Gucumatz by the Maya and as Quetzalcoatl by the Aztecs) who will create and order all things.
The Maya also state that underneath the world there is a vast sea, and underneath this sea there lies the underworld, the inversion of our world. This underworld was called Xibalba, and some say that it was conceived of chiefly as a vast reservoir of primordial water.
The Aztecs had an alternate myth of creation as well, one which may or may not have referred to the first creation, as opposed to simply the most recent one. It is said that in that time before time, the two demiurges Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca took the form of serpents and split the body of Chaos, or Tlalteuctli, who is identified with the caiman which we spoke of previously, into two parts. From these two parts they created the heavens and the entire earth. It must be mentioned here that the scriptures of the Hindus record a similar beginning in which the “cosmic giant”, Purusha, is torn asunder and his body is used to create what will become the earth. This theme is repeated in Norse mythology, as mentioned previously.
Once again the above speaks of the survivors of a global flood, invested with the mission of re-establishing and repopulating the earth. The waters of destruction become the waters of life which bear the survivors along in their rafts, until new land emerges.
The Algonquin tribe records a similar great flood, in which the waters of a vast lake overflow their bounds and destroy the entire earth. Following this the culture hero Michabo sends a number of animals to retrieve the earth which is submerged at the bottom of this world-lake.
The Brule Sioux tell the tale of the earth’s destruction by water as well. In this version, there is only one survivor – a young girl. She is saved from the onrushing waves by clinging to the talon of a low-flying bird, who takes her to his nest in the tallest tree in the world, the only thing not submerged in the water. She there becomes his wife and bears him twins who repopulate the globe.
Various tribes of the Californian coast relate that “in the beginning there was only the primeval waste of waters, upon which Kodoyanpe and Coyote dropped in a canoe. Coyote willed that the surf beneath them should become sand.” And thus was the earth produced.
The Pima say that only a great watery expanse existed in the beginning. It was from the congealing of these waters that the creator was given physical existence. The creator then wandered all over with only his walking stick. Resin collected on the tip of the stick, and rounding this resin into a ball, he created earth. Compare this story of collected resin on a staff to the Japanese creation tale presented above which states that the world was created by the coagulated brine on the tip of a spear.
The Mushkogean Indians believe that before anything else was created “the primaeval waste of waters alone was visible.” Two pigeons, flying above the liquid chaos, spot a blade of grass poking out above the waters. It is on this spot that earth is said to finally emerge. The emergence is described in this way: “A great hill, Nunne Chaha, rose in the midst, and in the center of this was the house of the deity…”
Once again, the examples could continue ad infinitum, but the point is made. Having established firmly that the theme of liquid creation is found strewn throughout nearly all world mythologies, the conception of the earth as an island floating amidst the seas should come as no surprise. The island earth is another ubiquitous element in world mythology, and some time must be devoted to its traditional characteristics and inhabitants.
The first island which must be mentioned is the primeval mound of the Egyptians, which emerged out of Nun, the cosmic water, at the beginning of time. The island is often identified by the religious texts with a number of specific cities in Egypt, most prominent among them being Heliopolis, the city of the sun, which was considered to be the navel of the world – the place which existed prior to all else and from which all else was created – a theme often repeated throughout numerous mythologies. This island is seen as not only the first home of the gods, but in one sense, the first manifestation of the gods themselves. The Pyramid Texts, the earliest complete religious texts still preserved for us, state that the creator, Atum, manifests his physical existence as the benben stone, synonymous with the High Hill of the first time:
Hail to you, Atum!
Hail to you, O Becoming One the Self-created!
May you be high in this your name of ‘Height’,
May you come into being in this your name of ‘Becoming One’…
O Atum-Khoprer, you became high on the height,
you rose up as the bnbn-stone in the Mansion of the Bennu in Heliopolis…
This stone called benben shares its root with the word Bennu (a mythological creature comparable to the phoenix), mentioned in the passage quoted above.
However when we turn to the texts inscribed upon the walls of the Temple of Horus at Edfu, we are provided with a much more complete and satisfying account of the events which transpired. An in-depth evaluation of the texts would far exceed the scope of this book, and so a summary must suffice. It appears that this first mound, which is identified as the home of the gods, comes under attack from a great serpent-like creature called “the Great Leaping One”. A long battle ensues between the hawk-like god of the island and the serpent aggressor, during the course of which (perhaps due to which – the texts are not clear) the island civilization is flooded and all of the inhabitants’ homes and former lands are swept under the waves. This former island then becomes identified with the land of the dead – otherwise known as the Field of Reeds. Following the destruction, and after a vast period of time, two divine beings appear suddenly and, using certain items which force the waters to recede, undertake the recreation of the former civilization. They accomplish this chiefly by means of erecting a pillar of reeds, which serves as a kind of perch for the hawk deity which presides over the whole affair. In one version, this pillar is replaced by a willow tree which grows verdant, symbolizing the revitalization of the old world. The pillar/tree plays an essential role in the mythology of Edfu and Egypt as a whole, as it does in myths from around the globe. Following the revitalization of the central landmass, the two beings continue their mission by raising smaller islands called “pay-lands” out of the flood waters which surround the primeval mound.
The pillar/tree of Edfu tradition is comparable in essence to the god Shu, properly belonging to the mythological system of Heliopolis in Lower Egypt. Shu and his twin Tefenut are the first-born of many gods, their function being to separate heaven and earth. Indeed, Shu is often depicted upholding the sky goddess Nut, keeping her separate from her husband Geb, the god of the earth. Shu, as the central pillar, is assisted in his task by four lesser posts which are associated with the cardinal points. These posts are shaped similarly to a capital letter “Y”, and each upholds one quadrant of the sky. The separation of sky from ground is one of the initial steps which results in the creation of habitable land. Prior to this, as mentioned previously, there was only the primeval water. As an interesting side note, the god Shu is generally acknowledged as being the deity presiding over air, as the natural function of the air is to separate the sky from the ground. Thus it is air which acts as a pillar, raising the land out of the chaotic waters of the abyss. Remembering that the waters of the abyss and the waters of the flood are frequently synonymous, it seems probable that this should have some connection to the famous passage of Genesis, which states that “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually.”
The Jains, as stated previously, conceive of the universe as a vast ocean of primeval water, separated by rings of islands. At the center of this universe is the island of Jambu, upon which we all dwell. A short quote from a Jain sacred text: “There are islands and oceans that bear propitious names such as Jambu Island, Lavana Ocean, and so on. The islands and oceans are concentric rings, the succeeding ring being double the preceding one in breadth. At the centre of these islands and oceans is the round island of Jambu with a diameter of 100,000 yojanas and Mount Meru at its navel.” The commentary reads: “Jambu is an island, as perfectly round as a potter’s wheel, at the centre of the middle region of the cosmos. The diameter of the island is 100,000 yojanas (909,000 miles). Mount Meru, in the middle of the island, is 100,000 yojanas high with 1000 of these yojanas below the surface of the earth. From its position in the dead centre of the cosmos, the base of Mount Meru touches the top of the first infernal land and its peak touches the bottom of the celestial region above.” It is said that Mount Meru rises in the very center of the landmass, “shaped like the calyx of the lotus flower which is this earth.” Jambu is composed of seven continents, the southernmost one of which is called Bharata, the original name given to India. Mt. Meru is the central mountain (comparable to the primordial mound in this tradition), and is spoken of in both Jain and Hindu belief systems. Meru is the home of the gods, and atop this great mountain is located the divine city called Swarga which houses Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the trinity of Hindu tradition. According to Hindu doctrine, the mountain is supported by four lesser mountains, each of which supports its own kind of fruit tree. This is mirrored in Aztec mythology, as will be shown shortly. The four mountains act as lesser supports which prop up the central connection between heaven and earth, and they are often understood to be significant of the cardinal points. The very name “Jambu” actually means “rose-apple”, and the reason for this name is explained in one Hindu text: “This, O great seers, is the reason for the name Jambu (rose apple) of Jambudvipa (Rose-Apple Land). Fruits of the Jambu tree, big as elephants, fall crushed on all sides of the mountain top. From the juice of these fruits is formed the celebrated Jambu river. And as the river flows by it is drunk by the inhabitants of this land. Here, due to the drinking of this river, there arises among men whose minds are at peace neither sweat nor foul smell, neither old age nor deterioration of the senses.” Thus there exists on the tops of the mountains of Jambu, trees which bear fruit that bestows a kind of immortality upon whoever consumes it. This cannot help but remind us of the well-known garden of Eden, the Greek myth of the garden of the Hesperides, the myth of Gilgamesh and his search for the plant of immortality, and a myriad of other mythologies too numerous to name here.
Turning our attention briefly to the mythology of the Nordic races, we find that the universe can be generally divided into three parts: Niflheim (the underworld), Midgard (the world of man), and Asgard (the world of the gods). From the flesh of the giant Ymir, as mentioned earlier, the world was created. Specifically, Midgard was placed in the very center of all space, the navel of the universe, and hedged around with the eyebrows of the god for protection. Midgard itself means “middle garden”, which evokes all of those mythologies just mentioned in relation to the fruit of the Jambu tree, along with a few others. In this context it must be remembered that the island Jambu was also situated in the very middle of an hourglass-shaped universe. The name “Midgard” could equally well be applied to the island of Jambu. Through these three levels of existence, the world-tree, called Yggdrasil, is said to have penetrated, much like Mount Meru of the Jain and Hindu traditions. One author describes it in this way: “Allfather [or Odin, the head of the Nordic pantheon of deities] next created a huge ash called Yggdrasil, the tree of the universe, of time, or of life, which filled all the world, taking root not only in the remotest depths of Nifl-heim, where bubbled the spring Hvergelmir, but also in Midgard… and in Asgard….” The top branches of the tree were located in Asgard, where dwelt the gods called the Aesir, which name signifies both “pillars and supporters of the world”, as well as “breath” or “wind”. These two definitions may just as well be defining Shu, the pillar-god of the Egyptians, as stated previously. Atop the tree perched a great eagle, upon whose beak sat a falcon, keeping watch on all creation. At the base of the tree, coiled around its roots, was the dragon Nidhug who tirelessly gnawed at the bottom of the ash, in an effort to bring about its downfall, which would necessarily cause the death of the gods. The enmity between serpent and bird is also found throughout most world myths, but will be dealt with in a later chapter.
The Aesir gods were the sworn enemies of the frost-giants called Jotuns who constantly menaced existence itself, and many of the myths and legends of the Nordic people centered around the contest of these two titanic powers. Ragnarok, or the “doom of the gods” was the name given to the supreme battle between the giants and their followers and the gods and their faithful. The human race was and shall forever be preserved through this incredible battle, however, through the agency of two humans who are kept shut up within the world-tree itself. After all else perishes, these two shall emerge and begin again.
This theme of the world tree is common to all of the Mesoamerican peoples, with the central tree usually depicted as being supported or complemented by four lesser trees, each of which is associated with a particular color, and bears its own unique fruit. The central tree, called Yaxche, has its roots in the underworld, its midsection in the earth, and its branches in the heavens. This obviously evokes both Yggdrasil and Mt. Meru. Each world tree, including the central one, is also adorned with a bird.
This is mimicked in Peru as well, among the Inca. The son of the sun, Manco Caapac, descends with his wife to civilize the barbarous Peruvians. He is given a “golden wedge” which, he is told, will instantly sink into the ground at the point at which he is to commence his mission of civilization. This point is reached at what will become Cuzco, the great city of the Inca which name literally means “navel”. The meaning of “golden wedge” is still unclear, though it may be right to draw a comparison between this instrument and the world-pillar, considering the context.
But we must depart from the people of Mesoamerica, or risk belaboring the issue. We’ll move on to survey the creation myths of the native peoples of North America, beginning with the Iroquois, who tell of the creation of a primal island on a vast sheet of water. This island – upon which stood a single tree – was meant to house the daughter of the sky-people, who eventually became the mother of all living things. Additionally, Iroqouis myth speaks of the primeval battle between two gods – twins – one of whom is called “the White One” and the other is called “the Dark One”. The White One is victorious, and he becomes the father of all mankind.
The Sioux have a myth which states that the creator, in the form of a large bird, designed man and woman as two trees. The creator, however, found himself under constant attack by an aggressive serpent, and unable to tend to his trees. The snake, taking advantage of the creators dire situation, gnawed at the roots of the two trees, eventually separating the trunk from the earth. The trees became the men and women which we recognize today, and they wandered off. This cannot help but bring to mind the myth recorded at the Temple of Horus at Edfu in Egypt, in which the creator-hawk, perching upon the pillar or willow tree, is attacked by the enemy serpent. The serpent gnawing at the roots of the trees also calls to mind once more the Nordic myth of Yggdrasil.
In relation to the benben stone of the Egyptians, mentioned above, it seems appropriate to discuss the creation myth of the Omaha tribe of North America. In the beginning, all creatures were spirits who floated hopelessly about, trying to find an adequate place to make their home. Finding the sun and the moon inappropriate for their needs, they went on to Earth, where they found all things enveloped by water. A modern author picks up the tale: “Suddenly from the midst of the water uprose a great rock. It burst into flames and the waters floated into the air in clouds. Dry land appeared, the grasses and the trees grew.”
Algonquin myth states that in the beginning existed a giant woman, similar in mythological nature to the Cipactli caiman of Aztec and Mayan tradition. She gave birth to a pair of twins, called Glooskap and Malsum, the former “good” and the latter “evil”. The giantess having perished in childbirth, the twins tear up her body and make from it a habitable earth. This is reminiscent of the Hindu, Norse, Aztec and Chinese creation mythologies. Following this, Glooskap slays his less noble brother and becomes the sole lord of creation. He selects two birds to be his eyes, which brings to mind the ravens of Odin and the eagles of Zeus, which also served as watchmen for the supreme divinity.
It may be necessary to pause momentarily and reflect upon the number of instances that the mythological “giant” is invoked in traditional cosmologies. These giants include Pan Ku of the Chinese, Purusha of the Hindus, Ymir and the Jotans of the Norse which were mentioned above, Cipactli of the Aztecs, and so forth. The giant is yet another ever-present citizen of the original island, and is often encountered in a menacing fashion. Giants were said to have terrorized the Toltecs in their paradisical homeland of Tollan. They terrorized the residents of the world just prior to the flood, according to Judaeo-Christian sources. They fought against the divine civilizers of Ireland at the beginning of time. Once again, it is not our intention to explain away their presence, we simply wish to point out that all over the world, strewn throughout every major mythology, these creatures exist and are often portrayed in a negative fashion. This must be borne in mind.
We must now pass over the Pacific to the Orient, and coming first to Japan, we find that their creation mythology shares many of the features common to the cultures which we’ve already investigated. The Nihongi, their book of sacred history, records that
after the two deities (male and female) descend on the floating bridge of heaven, they probe the space beneath them, searching for the primeval waters.
“Thereupon they thrust down the jewel-spear of Heaven, and groping about therewith found the ocean. The brine which dripped from the point of the spear coagulated and became an island which received the name of Ono-goro-jima.
The two Deities thereupon descended and dwelt in this island. Accordingly they wished to become husband and wife together, and to produce countries.
So they made Ono-goro-jima the pillar of the centre of the land.”
Now the male deity turning by the left and the female deity by the right, they went round the pillar of the land separately.”
Thus a marriage ceremony was conducted wherein the two deities circled the pillar which had been erected in the middle of the island. In the Kojiki, the most ancient record of Japanese history, this pillar is said to have been made from the spear which originally formed the island itself. It is also said to have been capable of radiating a light of some kind. Interestingly, the two countries of China and Japan are both known as the “Land of the Reed Plains”. The whole of the Japanese archipelago is also known by the title “Middle Lands where Reeds Grow Luxuriously”. This connects the original Japanese island with the tradition of the navels or centers of the world which we’ve encountered previously. Following the marriage ceremony, the couple creates smaller islands to ring the central one, much like the pay-lands of Edfu fame which were encountered previously.
A popular Chinese myth of mankind’s brush with catastrophe states once again that the sky is upheld by four pillars, and that these are intimately connected to the destruction of the original land. The myth of Nu Kwa relates that three rebels had conspired to destroy the entire earth in a great conflagration of fire and water. However, Nu Kwa, who was the sister to the Chinese equivalent of the biblical Adam, fended off these rebels and drove back the flood waters through the use of a piece of charred reed. She then re-erected one of the cardinal pillars which had been knocked over by one of the rebel giants. The menacing giants at the beginning of time, the threatening flood waters, and the reed’s connection to preservation and survival in the face of an oncoming destruction are all inexplicably ubiquitous elements of world mythology.
China is home to a pillar-god as well – a deity known as Pan Ku. Much like the Shu of the Egyptians, through the growth of Pan Ku, the world became habitable, and sky was slowly separated from earth. Pan Ku’s task was said to have taken 18,000 years, his height increasing at the rate of six feet per day. At the end of this time, Pan Ku died and, much like his Nordic and Hindu counterparts, his body was used to fashion the elements of creation.
The oriental conceptions of the islands of the blessed dead, the islands of paradise should be mentioned here, as they bear such a strong relation to the island of creation as described in various other world mythological systems. As stated previously, the islands of the dead and the islands of the gods are often identical in description to the island of primordial creation, and this is all the more true when the original island of creation is believed to be home to an earlier civilization which was destroyed in some catastrophe. The islands of the dead which are found in oriental mythology are generally situated in the eastern portion of the sea, at the place where the sun rises. The islands are often thought to contain a tree or many trees of life, health and immortality. They are home to the fortunate dead who merited a blessed afterlife. The three Chinese islands of the dead are said to be home to white men and women who fed off of the “Herb of Life” and the “Fountain of Life”. Often, the islands of the dead are magnificent sources of jade stone, which is a holy and revered stone in many cultures the world over (see chapter on Stones). We’ll review just a few of the Chinese and Japanese mythical lands of paradise.
There are a number of tales relating the trials of Emperors who attempted to physically locate these isles of the blessed. One such relates that an Emperor attempted to coerce the dragon gods of the sea to show him the location of the island of paradise and its precious fruit of immortality. The dragon god refuses and does battle with the Emperor in his dreams. The Emperor is defeated and dies shortly thereafter. Once again, it seems, the fruit of immortality is guarded by the serpent.
Passing on to the mythology of Northern Europe and Central Asia, we find a number of themes repeated which we’ve met with in the myths of other world cultures. Once again, the world is universally thought of as having existed underneath the primal waters, and having emerged rather than having been created out of nothing. Thus the earth is conceived once again as an island, in the middle of which is placed the world pillar or tree. Turning first to the Lapps, an aboriginal people of Northern Europe and Russia, we find that they, like so many others, conceive of the sky as being supported by a large pillar. In the earliest times, they sacrificed to their high god, the Ruler of the World, that he might create a pillar which would prevent the sky from caving in upon their heads. The Lapp themselves fashioned the pillars and presented them to their lord upon their sacrificial altars. These pillars were made from “a tree either split in two or forked naturally”, though sometimes a single, whole pillar was provided, known as “the pillar of the world”. This is reminiscent of the cleft tree in the Aztec paradise of Tamoanchan, as well as the forked, “Y”-shaped supporting pillars of the Egyptians.
The pillar is a central feature of the primal condition of existence as well. One tale from Eastern Finland relates that before the beginning of the world, God sat alone in the center of the sea, atop a great golden pillar, contemplating his reflection in the water.
The Yakuts, a people of Eastern Russia, refer to the world-pillar as an “iron-tree”. In one tale, a personified pillar states that “When the heavens and the earth commenced to grow, I grew with them.” The phrase could just as easily have been uttered by any of the pillar-gods which we’ve met along the way. This tree of life, among the Yakuts, is described as inhabiting the navel of the earth. It emits a yellowish liquid which, when consumed, alleviates fatigue and hunger. This tree was said to be the centerpiece of the dwelling-place of the first man, the Yakut Adam. Having been created, he inquired of the tree as to his purpose, and the reason for his existence. The tree opened slightly at the base, and a lovely woman was visible inside. She explained to him that he had been sent to become the father of all humanity. A variant of this same story states that the tree was placed atop a hill to the east of the navel of the world, and that its branches reached into high heaven, while its roots reached equally as far into the underworld. It is written of this tree that “Its roots stretch through Hades and its crown pierces the nine heavens…From its roots foams ‘the eternal water’.” This story bears obvious similarities to the mythologies of other cultures that we’ve encountered. Additionally, it is interesting to note that this Yakut tree of life was situated “to the east” of the navel of the world. This is reminiscent of the passage from Genesis, which records that “the Lord planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man who he had formed.”
The Ostiaks of Western Siberia seem to retain this same belief in a central pillar which supports the sky. Ostiak towns each have their own town pillar which is referred to as “the iron pillar man”. These pillars are generally used as a place of meeting and a sacrificial site. However, their significance goes far beyond the mundane, as is evidenced by the name given to them in one tale, “the tree planted by God”. These pillars are often topped by a wooden representation of a bird, usually with two heads. The bird atop the world tree should by now be thoroughly familiar to the reader, and the two-headed bird in particular seems to parallel the Norse conception of Yggdrasil, which was topped by a great eagle upon whose beak perched a hawk.
Turning our attention briefly to the ancient Greeks, we find a universe conceived of in a similar fashion. We specify “briefly” because we feel that the mythology of the Greeks has been retold ad nauseum by many authors, and we don’t feel the need to rehash the old tales here. There exist a number of Greek creation myths, all of which begin with the primeval abyss of water, but they each unfold in a relatively different fashion. The most widely-known of these myths is that which states that before all things existed, there was only Chaos. Following this, Gaia (the earth mother), Tartarus (the underworld), and Eros (love or attraction) came into being. Already we are faced with an interesting parallel to the rest of the world’s mythology, as the name Tartarus actually means “tortoise”. Thus the earth is founded on top of a world which may originally have been conceived of as reptilian in form, though this is only a logical inference, and is not explicitly stated. The first children of Gaia were monstrous creatures with a multitude of arms, heads or limbs, referred to as Titans. These correspond to the menacing giants present in most of the original islands of creation. Following the establishment of the rule of Zeus atop Mount Olympus, these Titans rebelled against him, only to be defeated and quickly imprisoned. Mount Olympus itself was sometimes considered to be the navel of the world’s landmass, surrounded by the world ocean. As one author records: “The Greeks fancied that their country occupied a central position, and that Mount Olympus, a very high mountain, the mythological abode of their gods, was placed in the exact centre…and all around it flowed the great river Oceanus.”
One story which certainly seems to replicate a number of themes found in worldwide creation myths is the tale of the eleventh labor of Heracles. Here, Heracles was assigned the task of retrieving from the mythical garden of the Hesperides the golden apples of immortality. The garden was located either in the far West upon Mount Atlas or upon two islands beyond the limits of the known world. The tree from which the apples grew was guarded by a hundred-headed dragon called Ladon, who was ever-watchful. Needless to say, Heracles succeeded in his quest to retrieve the fruit, but most storytellers state that he eventually returned the apples to Athena, who delivered them back to the garden. However, at least one modern author feels differently: “There is a story that the apples themselves went back to the garden, by the hand of Athena, since they were too holy to stay in the world. This and other such tales are but embroideries of the original legend, which no doubt signified to begin with that Herakles won immortality – the fruit of the Tree of Life – by his exploit.” So, based upon mythological context, it would seem very likely that at one point this story may well have been rooted in an episode of creation.
Another piece of mythology which does not seem, at first glance, to have much to do with the story of creation, is the mythology surrounding the twin deities Castor and Pollux, identified with the constellation of Gemini. According to the usual tradition, these two are born of the union of Zeus and the mortal woman Leda. They are called the “sons of Zeus” or the Dioscuri. Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan, and consequently the twins were born from an egg. A number of entertaining adventures are related concerning the twin gods, but that is not our concern at this time. What interests us is the lesser-known portion of their mythology which connects them directly with the original twin gods who reigned during the time immediately following creation. This is found in the Mystery rites of the Samothracians, during which the initiates were made to fully understand the esoteric import of the otherwise unremarkable myth of Castor and Pollux. A recent author comments that “Varro says: ‘In the initiation into the Mysteries at Samothrace, heaven and earth are regarded as the first two divinities.’ These twin gods (Castor and Pollux) were born from the same egg, and when they had issued forth used the halves of the shell for caps. Ibykos, an initiated poet, wrote thus of the twin gods: ‘Like aged and equal headed and one body, both born in a silver egg.’” Thus Castor and Pollux were viewed as the original twin children of the high god, each comprising one half of the created world – sky and earth, respectively. As the above quote from Ibykos indicates, they were also viewed as being of one body, which may connect them with the caiman of Aztec tradition that was ripped in half, with one portion of her body going to make up the sky and the other completing the earth below. Regardless, it is clear that the Dioscuri of Greek tradition played a similar role to the twin deities present in other creation myths.
Before coming to the end of our tour of world creation mythologies, we must examine the Judaeo-Christian conceptions of the beginning of the earth. Nearly everyone who has grown up in western civilization is relatively familiar with the biblical description of creation, recorded in Genesis. Following the original period during which all that existed was the vast ocean of primordial water, God is said to have taken a period of seven days to create the known universe. This included separating the sky and earth, creating the sea, vegetation, animal life, and finally creating man. This episode is recorded in the first chapter of Genesis:
“Then God said ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
The first man formed was known as Adam, which word is translated to mean “man”. He was created within the garden of Eden, the garden “to the east”, which immediately conjures up the oriental conception of the islands of paradise. Here, Adam’s joy at the creation of Eve, the mother of mankind, from his own rib bone is recorded: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Within this eastern paradise were many trees bearing good fruit, but also two trees which seemed to dominate the rest and from which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat. These two were known as the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, respectively. The Tree of Knowledge, in particular, was said to be “taller than a cedar”. Of course, we all know the conclusion to the story. Eve is tempted by the serpent who resides in the Tree of Knowledge, and she eats of the fruit along with her husband, thus condemning all of mankind to lives of sin and suffering.
We are already faced with immediate parallels between this story and the others which we’ve examined throughout the globe. An eastern paradise reigned over by a male and female who are intimately connected on a basic, physical level, with the country also containing two sacred trees, one of which houses a malicious serpent. But the similarities may well extend beyond this. The second chapter of Genesis specifies that “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” The author of Genesis goes on to specify these four rivers as being the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. There has been much modern speculation as to the identity of the first two rivers, and repeated efforts have been made to nail down an accurate geographical location of the original garden based upon these educated guesses. However, sidestepping the assumption that the garden was actually a physical location, it appears to us logical to believe that perhaps the effort on the part of the author of Genesis to assign to paradise a particular locale was motivated by the same desire which spurs on his modern counterparts. This desire is, simply put, to see the creation tale of Genesis as unique and historical, rather than simply another myth in a long line of creation tales which share similar themes. That said, the four rivers which divide and water the garden may well have originally been meant to quarter the original land and emphasize once again the four cardinal directions of the world, the center of which was the paradise of Eden. This is admittedly speculative, but in light of the world’s mythologies it seems a valid suggestion.
As we have seen, the creation stories of the globe often include mention of the navel of the world as the site of creation. A story which combines a number of themes common to creation can be extracted from non-canonical literature, and though it does not deal with the first moments of creation specifically, it contains enough similarities to make it worthy of mention here. The story centers on the ladder of Jacob, which is already familiar to many of us in the west. This ladder was shown to Jacob (later to become Israel, the father of the Jewish nation) in a dream by God. The ladder had its base on the ground and its top in heaven itself, and upon this ladder a multitude of angels were both ascending and descending. Upon awaking, Jacob erected a stone pillar which marked the spot of the ladder, and after anointing it with oil, declared that he would follow no other god but the God of Judaeo-Christian tradition. This stone pillar, according to non-canonical sources, was trodden so heavily into the ground by God himself that it compressed into the form of a large stone. This stone was to become the Foundation Stone of Solomon’s Temple (itself located upon a large mound – the Temple Mount), and was viewed as the very navel of the entire created world. Thus we have a stone pillar identified with a ladder reaching into heaven which is erected upon the holy mound or hill of God and considered the navel of the world. The similarities to the world’s creation myths are quite clear and unmistakable.
Our tour of the world’s creation myths is at an end. Clearly, the same themes predominate throughout, despite the vast distances in time and space that separate the various civilizations. The traditional explanation of these similarities – that we all come up with the same basic stories because we’re all basically the same – seems an incredible over-simplification at best, and at worst an exercise in willful ignorance. It doesn’t take much insight or imagination to realize that the specifics mentioned (the water, the island, the navel, the tree, the bird, the serpent, the lost world, the twins, the giants, etc…) do not materialize everywhere in the world without some external influence. Whether it was diffusion from a common source, an ancient world-wide science, an extra-terrestrial intervention, or an act of God himself, what is clear is that there is a question posed by the commonalities in these myths which is begging for an answer. The academic world, the gate-keeper of world history, has consistently refused to evaluate honestly the unbelievable parallels present throughout world creation myths, only a handful of which we’ve examined here. The myths speak for themselves, and our “explanations” (read: “dismissal”) of them can only hinder our accurate understanding of the world and our place in it, an understanding which is all the more imperative at this time in our history.
 Graves, Robert, and Raphael Patai. 1964. Hebrew myths; the book of Genesis. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. p.29
 Dimmitt, Cornelia, and J. A. B. van Buitenen. 1978. Classical Hindu mythology: a reader in the Sanskrit Purāṇas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p.30
 Ibid. p.31
 Ibid. p.32
 Doniger, Wendy. 1981. The Rig Veda: an anthology : one hundred and eight hymns, selected, translated and annotated. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books. p.25
 Umāsvāti, Devanandī, Siddhasenagaṇi, and Nathmal Tatia. 1994. That which is = Tattvārtha Sūtra. San Francisco: HarperCollinsPublishers. pp.75-77
 As cited in Graves, Hebrew Myths, p.22
 Clark, Robert Thomas Rundle. 1978. Myth and symbol in ancient Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson. p.35
 Bierlein, J. F. 1994. Parallel myths. New York: Ballantine Books. p.48
 Parrinder, Edward Geoffrey. 1968. African mythology. London: Hamlyn. pp.21-22
 Ibid. pp.23-27
 Graves, Robert. 1992. The Greek myths. London: Penguin Books. p.27
 Bierlein, Parallel myths, p.46
 Graves, The Greek myths, p.30
 Bierlein, Parallel myths, p.47
 Ibid. pp.44-45
 Ibid. p.53
 Gray, Louis Herbert, G.F. Moore, John C. Ferguson, and Anesaki. 1928. The mythology of all races Vol. VIII, Chinese / by John C. Ferguson. Japanese / by Masaharu Anesaki. The Mythology of All Races. Boston: Archaeological Institute of America. p.222
 Dixon, Roland B. 1916. The mythology of all races 9, Oceanic / by Roland B. Dixon. Boston: Jones. p.10
 Ibid. p.20
 Ibid. p.13
 Ibid. p.20
 Ibid. p.15
 Florescano, Enrique. 1999. The myth of Quetzalcoatl. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p.112
 Dixon, The mythology of all races, p.18
 Ibid. p.19
 Bassie-Sweet, Karen. 1996. At the edge of the world caves and late classic Maya world view. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p.21; Florescano, Quetzalcoatl, p.8; Miller, Mary Ellen, and Karl A. Taube. 1997. An illustrated dictionary of the gods and symbols of ancient Mexico and the Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson. p.48
 Brundage, Burr Cartwright. 1979. The fifth sun: Aztec gods, Aztec world. Austin: University of Texas Press. p.31
 Christenson, Allen J. 2003. Popol Vuh. Winchester, U.K.: O Books. pp.67-68
 Florescano, Quetzalcoatl, p.67
 Brundage, The fifth sun, p.31
 Doniger, Rig Veda, p.30
 Spence, Lewis. 1994. Myths of the North American Indians. New York: Gramercy Books. p.91
 Erdoes, Richard, and Alfonso Ortiz. 1984. American Indian myths and legends. New York: Pantheon Books. pp.93-95
 Spence, North American Indians, pp.104-105
 Bierlein, Parallel myths, p.60
 Bierlein, Parallel myths, pp.66-67
Spence, North American Indians, pp.91-92
 Ibid. pp.103-104
 Faulkner, Raymond O. 1969. The ancient Egyptian pyramid texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press. See Utterance 507.
 Ibid. See Utterance 600.
 Genesis 8:1-3
 Umasvati, That Which Is, p.75
 Dimmitt, Classical Hindu Mythology, pp.27-28
 Ibid. pp.52-53
 Guerber, H. A. 1992. Myths of the Norsemen: from the Eddas and the sagas. New York: Dover Publications. pp.12-13
 Ibid. p.5; MacCulloch, John Arnott. 1964. The mythology of all races. Vol. 2, Eddic. New York: Cooper Square. pp.19-20
 Guerber, Myths of the Norsemen, pp.12-13
 MacCulloch, The mythology of all races, p.346
 Miller, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, p.186
 Spence, Mexico and Peru, pp.255-256
 Bierlein, Parallel myths, pp.62-63
 Spence, North American Indians, p.102
 Alexander, Hartley Burr. 1916. The mythology of all races 10, North American / by Hartley Burr Alexander. Boston: Jones. p.98
 Spence, North American Indians, pp.119-124
 Spence, Magic and mysteries, p.121
 See Genesis 6; Charles, R. H. 2011. The book of enoch. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
 Young, Ella. 1923. Celtic wonder tales. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. pp.15-16
 Aston, William George, and Terence Barrow. 1998. Nihongi: chronicles of Japan from the earliest times to A. D. 697 ; two volumes in one. Rutland, Vt. [u.a.]: Tuttle. pp.11-12
 Ibid. p.12, n.2
 Ibid. p.24
 Mackenzie, Donald A. 1994. Myths of China and Japan. New York: Gramercy Books. p.360
 Ferguson, Mythology of all races, pp.210-211
 Mackenzie, Myths of China and Japan, pp.267-268
 Ibid. pp.76-77
 Holmberg, Uno. 1964. The mythology of all races 4. Finno-Ugric, Siberian. Boston: Marshall Jones. p.222
 Ibid. p.321
 Ibid. p.351
 Ibid. p.353
 See Genesis 2:8
 Holmberg, Mythology of all races, pp.334-335
 Fox, William Sherwood. 1916. The mythology of all races 1, Greek and Roman / by William Sherwood Fox. Boston: Jones. p.5
 Hamilton, Edith. 1999. Mythology: timeless tales of gods and heroes. New York, NY: Warner Books. pp.69-70
 Guerber, H. A. 1993. The myths of Greece & Rome. New York: Dover Publications. p.4
 Graves, Greek myths, p.507
 Rose, H. J. 1991. A handbook of Greek mythology. Routledge. p.216
 Manly P. Hall. 1979. Man: grand symbol of the mysteries. [S.l.]: Philosophical Research So. p.71
 See Genesis 1:26-27
 See Genesis 2:23
 Graves, Hebrew Myths, p.77
 See Genesis 2:10
 See Genesis 28:10-22
 Graves, Hebrew myths, p.207