Myths are a vital key to understanding not only a culture’s history, and also its future. A society’s ethics and mores are portrayed through a myth’s oral and written tradition that is passed down from generation to generation and is most often used as a teaching tool. Since creation myths are such a good set of tools every culture has some form of them. Creation myths are an important aspect of teaching a culture’s children about how the world around them came to be and why things are the way they are whether good or bad.
Although each culture and people has their own specific story that explains their beginnings, there are commonalities that are consistent from story to story. Every creation story has a deity or deities, reinforces the androcentric nature of the ancient world, emphasizes order over chaos, and explains the cycle of life and death. If humans have two genders and their deities are supposed to be a reflection of themselves and at least some aspect of human nature, then it stands to reason that there would be a male aspect and a female aspect to the divine in a creation myth.
In some myths the world is literally birthed into existence after the god and the goddess copulate as in the case of the Shinto creation story out of “The Kojiki”. The two main deities Izanami-no-mikoto and her husband Izanagi-no-mikoto, “were united and bore as a child [the island] Apadino-po-no-sa-wake-no-sima”, and it was this act of procreation that the islands of Japan originated from. Not every story has a divine act of copulation that literally gives birth to the land, but many simply feature a god (or gods) and a goddess (or goddesses) like in the Huarochiri Manuscript.
These deities do not give birth to the world but simply interact with each other quite similarly to how the people of the South America interacted with each other when it was written. Others, like the Mesopotamian creation epic, have the female aspect of divinity (Tiamat) at war with the male aspect (Marduck) which shows how androcentric some myths and that gives clues as to what the culture that produced such a creation story is like. Out of the four creation stories featured in the text, there isn’t a single one that does not vilify the female role in some way.
In the first story a beautiful and pure goddess called Caui Llaca is a victim of the virgin whore trope that appears in many ancient belief systems. Part of a woman’s duty is to procreate and by rejecting her suitors and remaining a virgin she is also rejecting her natural purpose and so she is tricked by a god who, “Put his semen into a fruit that had ripened there and dropped it next to the woman” and becomes pregnant. It can be argued that by the standards of the ancient world she deserved to be tricked and the offending god had done no wrong.
In genesis, Eve is the one who is tricked by the serpent into eating the fruit and also the one who is punished the most severely for man’s disobedience of God. It is the Mesopotamian creation epic that has the worst portrayal of females due to Tiamat, who is the “mother of all [the gods]”, being portrayed as the enemy of order and life and a being of chaos and it is only after her death at the hands of Marduck (a male deity) that order can be given to chaotic universe and human life can begin.
A common theme among creation myths is the idea that the universe was a chaotic mess devoid of human life before a god or group of gods brought in order. This chaos vs. order motif is one seen in both the Mesopotamian Creation Epic and the Judeo-Christian book of Genesis. In the Mesopotamian story is the story of an epic battle between the goddess Tiamat and the warrior god Marduck. The battle between these two deities is the embodiment of chaos vs. rder and only when Tiamat (chaos) is destroyed can Marduck (order) give earth shape and life. While in the Mesopotamian story the battle between chaos and order is very clear and defined it is a little vaguer – but no less real – in the Judeo-Christian story. After the story establishes that God created Heaven and Earth it goes on to say, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep”.
If chaos is defined as a non-ordered state then while the void is not directly referred to as chaos then it is synonymous. God then gives the world order by speaking creation into existence and soon thereafter the struggle between life and death – an important aspect of creation stories – begins and the world is truly complete and whole as we know it. Life and death has an important part of everyday life before humans could even think about why people live and why they eventually die.
Different cultures have come up with different stories that explain where the never ending cycle started from and they all serve the same purpose of explaination. In the Judeo-Christian story it was only after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Life that god cursed man with the words, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”. God’s punishment not only explains death, but also decomposition, which is nearly as disturbing as death.
In the Shinto story not even the gods can escape death as is proven when Izanami dies in childbirth. But her death seems to serve a purpose that is only understood after her husband Izanagi tries and fails to bring her back from the dead and in a fit of rage Izanami states that she would “. . . strangle to death one thousand of the populace of [his] country”. Unlike a god or goddess, death is an inescapable and permanent inevitability and those stories help ease the minds of people who had yet to understand the true mechanics of death.
The various stories that explain the origins of man and the universe are invaluable due to the fact that although they may not contribute to any scientific theory they do contribute to the understanding of man’s intellect and spirit. The stories were necessary for people to understand the world around them and their place in it. The nature of the divine, why men are dominant and why people die are all questions that are answered by the myths available in the readings and it is interesting to note what each myth says about the culture that created it.
The Indian and Japanese myths shows the mentality behind a woman’s duty as a child bearer and how important children were, while both the Mesopotamian myth and the Judeo-Christian one tells a bold tale about the politics of the region they were written in. The political environment was one of near constant strife and the earthly battle between chaos and order is clearly portrayed in both mythologies. Each story is meant to teach a lesson just as it is meant to tell a story; the lesson may not be obvious, rather it is hidden within the subtext of the creative story lines and the characters within.