creation myths address questions deeply meaningful H u m a n i t i e s
A creation myth (or cosmogonic myth) is a symbolic narrative of how the world began and how people first came to inhabit it. While in popular usage the term myth often refers to false or fanciful stories, members of cultures often ascribe varying degrees of truth to their creation myths. In the society in which it is told, a creation myth is usually regarded as conveying profound truths, metaphorically, symbolically and sometimes in a historical or literal sense. They are commonly, although not always, considered cosmogonical myths—that is, they describe the ordering of the cosmos from a state of chaos or amorphousness.
Creation myths often share a number of features. They often are considered sacred accounts and can be found in nearly all known religious traditions. They are all stories with a plot and characters who are either deities, human-like figures, or animals, who often speak and transform easily. They are often set in a dim and nonspecific past that historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, termed in illo tempore (‘at that time’). Creation myths address questions deeply meaningful to the society that shares them, revealing their central worldview and the framework for the self-identity of the culture and individual in a universal context.
Plato, in his dialogue Timaeous, has a character named Critias who says the following:
There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals; at such times those who live upon the mountains and in dry and lofty places are more liable to destruction than those who dwell by rivers or on the seashore. And from this calamity the Nile, who is our never-failing saviour, delivers and preserves us. When, on the other hand, the gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors in your country are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the mountains, but those who, like you, live in cities are carried by the rivers into the sea. Whereas in this land, neither then nor at any other time, does the water come down from above on the fields, having always a tendency to come up from below; for which reason the traditions preserved here are the most ancient.
Even though Plato was writing at a time long after the Greek myths were originally created, the myths about widespread destruction (by fire or flood) were important enough for him to discuss in his dialogues.
In this discussion, we will consider the various creation and flood myths that we have read, think about why cultures so commonly create them, and look at their similarities as well as the unique qualities of each. Your response to prompts 1-3 is your initial response, for which you are expected to write a total of 200-300 words.
Please do not include any of the prompt’s text (below) in your response:
- After viewing the video resources and reading sample myths, what seemed to be the most common characteristics among the various creation myths this week? Were there any particular deity types, symbols, sequences, or other features that stood out to you? Is there a creation myth or mythic tradition which we did not cover that might be relevant?…..
- After reviewing this week’s resources, consider stories of destruction and recreation of human civilization in flood stories. Why do you think flood stories are so commonplace? Are there major differences in these myths? What insights can be gained from considering these resources on destruction/flood myths from different traditions?…..
- Ask one original, objective question (not one requiring a personal or speculative response) of your classmates focused upon the readings. You could ask a question about the various substances from which humans are said to be created, or about a particular flood myth, or about a source online that perhaps gives new insight about creation or flood myths and ask a question about that (or anything else that is relevant to the topic of our discussion). Remember that your goal is to ask an objective, complex question that will require your classmates to enhance their thinking about this week’s topic.