Creation Myths in Ancient Cultures

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A myth is a representative story of how our universe was created and how people first became to occupy the world. Depending on which societal or cultural group tells their individual myth, all stories are told to have symbolic, metaphorical, and literal truths behind them. A commonality amongst each group is that, typically, a myth involves historical events and supernatural beings. Creation myths can be seen through a variety of ancient cultures and beliefs throughout time. These stories may have a ‘game of telephone’ similarity due to the fact that they have been passed down from generation to generation, family to family. Although the creation myths are believed by most not to be entirely accurate (this is due to there being no set story), the underlying messages they tell us have survived time. While studying and comparing many of these myths, “we have found that certain motifs continuously repeat throughout cultures, and establish the cultural values of the respective storytellers”. These motifs can range anywhere from the roles of certain deities, to the creation of humans. They are essential elements to a myth and are usually the focal points of the myth. While closely reading a few mythological creation stories, there was one motif that was very apparent and vital in many of the tales. This recurring motif is of the catastrophe that destroys worlds and how the aftermath of the event betters society as a whole.

Humans are very curious beings, they want the answers to many of life’s most difficult questions. This can include questions such as do gods exist, and how the human race began. But perhaps one of the greatest questions is how did our world come to be, and what major events happened that shaped history. While analyzing the Norse creation myth and Maori creation myths, there are many similarities that the respective cultures use to answer these great questions.

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In Norse mythology, one aspect of how their world was “re-created” is the story of Ragnarok. Ragnarok is the destruction of the universe and all it consists of. “Next, for three winters bloody wars will be wedged throughout the world. Brother will strike brother with sword and axe, and both will die. Incest and adultery will become common. No mortal will show another mercy. Evil will run wild upon the earth, destroying relationships among family, friends, and clans. Finally, the world will lie in ruins” (465). However, the story tells us that after these events, the world will reconfigure itself, and a new and improved earth will be the outcome. There will be two people who live and therefore repopulate the enhanced species. But there is a deeper meaning behind this. One may ask what is the purpose of including ragnarok in the Norse myth? Upon doing further research, I have learned that there are two terms that describe “ragnarok”. One defines it as the fate of mankind, and the other quite literally means the end of an era. As the story states, “They will escape Surt’s flames, and when the earth has revived they will become the parents of the next race of human beings” (466). Ragnarok wasn’t the end of the universe, but the end of an era. And for this reason, it was included in the Norse tale. The purpose of having it was to give hope to the people that no matter how bad someone messes up, it will become better. There is always another outcome. Even though one may face challenges and struggle through life, they stand as an opportunity to grow and learn. All people are subjected to emotions, even the gods. The true test is how you fight through the emotions and find a way to improve yourself from within.

While comparing this to the Maori myth, one may see similarities. However, instead of a word ending the war, the Maori story tells of a catastrophic flood. This theme of a flood , also known as a flood myth, is a narrative in which a great flood destroys civilizations. The floodwaters are described as a measure for wiping out humanity in preparation for the recreation of the human species. The story tells of profits praying for a giant flood to convince the people on earth of the power of Tane. Two men named Tiu and Reti boarded the raft along with a few others. It rained hard for four or five days, until one man prayed for the rain to stop. In the eighth month, the waters began to thin,and the earth had been much changed by the flood, and the people on the raft were the only survivors.

Much like the Norse myth, one can see the similarities with a catastrophic event in order to prove a point, the annihilation of most life on earth, and the rebirth of humans at the hands of sole survivors.

But why was the flood included in the Maori myth? Once again, the gods wanted to prove a point. They were not happy with the human race as it was, so they used the flood as a way to express their feelings to their creations. Once again, only the worthy survived and were able to repopulate the world. It is almost as if the gods are warning their followers in each story. This message was: test my will and this will occur. But the gods end up having mercy and allow the population to proceed and become better for it.

But why use destruction and catastrophic events to convey these messages? Why is this so common in so many myths? Perhaps it is a warning for the population: if you indulge in your destructive habits, this will occur, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Is there even a point to the catastrophes? Perhaps the creators of the story just wanted to entertain the audience. In a sense, it can be seen as a children’s story, like Noah’s Ark. There are so many interpretations of these events and stories, that one may never know the true meaning behind them. We can only guess and assume.

To conclude, many different mythological creation stories utilize the “catastrophe” in order to serve a greater function. This function is that of a new beginning or re-creation. Whether it is to purge the population due to a misdeed, or just to start fresh, this motif is very apparent. It is used to show people that even when times are tough, you will fight through it. And in the end you can be better at it. People use these myths to turn to when times are tough, and to influence their lives culturally, historically, and socially. But it is not just these two individual texts that use this plot in their myth. Almost every mythological story shares the same general elements and key points despite discrepancies coming from the environment and the social development and history of each respective group. Much like the stories of a volcano erupting destroying all of the dinosaurs, nobody truly knows what happened or if it is true. But the essence and figurative language of the story is what carries on and provides meaning for the followers of that culture. Just like any culture, people are looking for guidance and advice. But one may never know the true meaning of these myths. The creator is not here to explain it to us, so we are left to interpret it in our own ways. The beauty of these stories is that it may have a different message for each person… and that is ok. These myths are meant to help people, just like the survivors of the catastrophes. They are there to serve as a beacon for hope and prosperity. And who knows, with the water levels rising due to global warming, maybe we are in the middle of a myth right now. Maybe some higher power is trying to teach us a lesson. Maybe we will be the story that people analyze and learn from in the future.

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Creation Myths in Ancient Cultures. (2021, Nov 29). Retrieved from

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