Creation stories have long been used around the world to explain life patterns. The study of mythology helps to compare creation stories from Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Judeo-Christian, Native-American, and Middle Eastern existence. These stories were used by communities to help explain the unexplainable by using beliefs instead of facts or scientific discovery. Leeming writes, “Throughout recorded history, the stories and patterns that we call myths have dominated human experience” (4). Four main similarities that are found in each of these societies include cosmic (creation, flood, and apocalypse), theistic (gods), hero (Jesus, Egyptian Gods, Achilles, King Author, Olympians), and place and object (King Author’s Round Table, Atlantis, Book of the Dead) myths. Some of the unexplainable experiences included how the sun and moon rose and set, weather patterns like floods, creation (human and land formation), and unexplainable occurrences that humanity questioned. Leeming goes on to say, “ In the fact that cosmos is born out of chaos or nothing-ness, or the fact a hero is born of a virgin, we find a metaphor for the awakening of consciousness from the unconscious” (16). Analyzing creation stories will show that various groups around the world used myths to explain creation, the people, and the beliefs and customs of each group to promote their existence in the world to establish and maintain order.
The various stories about Greek, Roman, and Egyptian Gods in Ancient civilizations all used creation stories to explain the rise of humanity and the subsequent expansion of societies where people and lands were different than their own. These stories were used for thousands of years, and they dominated religious, political, and cultural ideologies. With the rise of Christianity in 500AD, creation stories became less influential to the new rise of Western dominance, and these stories became more about myth than culture. Up until 1492, the world did not know any other lands existed past Africa, so most existing societies had converted to one of the four main religions (Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, and Buddhism). So, it is with the idea of conversion to Christianity that Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492.
By this time, most world societies recognized one God, but new World inhabitants had been untouched from invasions and were still practicing old world practices found in Ancient Greek or Egyptian societies to answer the phenomena that occurred around them. In comparison, Christians believed that God created the earth, its people, and its animals. Therefore, all answers were found with the singular belief in God as the creator of all to promote that any occurrence was God’s will. Native groups like the Hopi, Pima, Cherokee, and the Iroquois believed in gods for creation, gods for water, gods for animals, and humanity.
Most of the Native American tribes believed in Spider Woman (Earth Goddess) and Tawa (the Sun God and Divine Spirit). It is through the Sun God and Spider Woman that the world was created. Tawa controlled the Above, and Spider Woman controlled the Below. The Underworld was where they divided themselves and created other Gods like Muiyinwuh (God of Life Germs) and Huzruiwuhti (Woman of Hard Substances/coral, silver, etc.), Huzruiwuhti became Tawa’s bride, and they gave birth to twins (Puukonhoya (Youth) and Palunhoya (Echo). Other children became The Great Plumed Serpent, Man-Eagle, Ancient of the Six, and Hicanavaiya. After the making of other gods, Two decided to create Earth to sit between Above and Below. After such creations, it is believed that the Death God formed from their magic after creation appeared on Earth. Through their beliefs, they formed a beautiful earth with land and water, creatures like beasts, birds, fish, and man and woman to watch over the creatures. Based on Leeming’s studies, Tawa says, “So now this is finished, there shall be no new things made by us. Those things we have made shall multiply, each one after his own kind” (38). Mother Nature then divided them into various groups where Leeming writes that Kokyanwuhti says, “Thus and thus you be, and thus shall you remain, each one in his one tribe forever” (38). From this final belief, each Native American group was responsible for the continued creation of all things. But, they were also responsible for their own tribe’s continued existence. The belief seems to explain the importance that Native tribes have of caring for lands, waters, animals, and each other. As the keepers of all creation, they would have understood their importance from the creation story. Up until 1492, the creation story held true until Western religion collided with creation myths which brought about the destruction of millions of Native Americans who refused to convert. Today, there are various version creation versions exist, but they have many common beliefs. Powell writes, “… a traditional story is not conveyed by the content, but by the structural relationships that one can discover behind the content” (Powell, B., 2002). Both of the groups have structured and ordered creation stories that defined their group as important. By studying both, you can find contrasts and comparisons that tell society much about each group.
From both Christianity and Native American creation stories, both believed that a single male God created the Earth. Both believe in an occurrence where different groups of people were created. Both believe in extensions of God. Both groups believe in three parts in the universe (Heaven or Above, Earth or Underworld, and Hell or Below). Both believe that their God had children to further their causes on Earth. In contrast, Christians believed in God’s will, but the native tribes looked to various gods for answers. Native teachings (much like ancient teachings), supported a mother for the creation of life on the earth. Christians believed in prophets to encourage the teaching of God (Jesus, Moses, etc.), but tribal beliefs thought they were all responsible for promoting and protecting the Earth. White Westerners believed that their religion promoted their own group as Superior to all others. Those native to the Americas never saw others with shades of skin different than their own until the late 1400s. Christopher Columbus noted them as savage, while tribes saw themselves as equal. This final contrast would lead to two centuries of wars between the two groups.
In studying creation, a person must understand the basic principles of each group to understand how these ideologies promoted their existence. For thousands of years, people have thought about how the world and humanity came to be. Society is still no closer today to answering that question. The belief in a group’s creation story still is the main ideology each group uses to define their place in society. In some ways, it is the similarities that bind people, but in others, it is the single reason people continue to fight for dominance. The study of mythology is the single most important way to find out how various groups from ancient civilizations to today continue to be. It also provides a chance of questioning what the purpose of societies are (like caring for the Earth as Tawa prophesized). Or, as the belief in God teaches, will the events that occur be the divine will of God? As more people question mythology, more creation stories emerge (such as The Big Bang Theory and Atheism). In that, it shows that mythology continues to be a viable source for learning about the world and people around us.
Baym, N. (Ed.). (2011). Norton anthology of American literature (8th ed.). New York: Norton
Leeming, D. A. (1990). The world of myth. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Powell, B. B. (2002). A short introduction to classical myth. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.