When examining creation stories and creation myths across cultures, there are several obvious similarities and differences that exist. While these creation myths are important to observe and offer ideas about, it seems that the most vital task is not in analyzing the smaller differences or common elements, but to look at the ways in which the larger concepts such as gender, role of human beings, and more concrete ideas about the final outcome of the creation function and are explored. Using the creation myth of the Pima people as a backdrop to this discussion, instead of relying on the less important differences and similarities in the basic plots of these tales, the emphasis will be more in tune with the larger-scope issues previously mentioned. Through such a process we can better understand the role and function of creation myths in all societies and cultures.
In observing the basic ideas behind the Pima creation myth, the modern reader notices several basic aspects. The creator, much as in Judeo-Christian tradition, is male and his first offspring is also a male. From one man comes the earth, the flora, the fauna, and of course, man and woman. After a series of multiple attempts to “get it right” the human beings and other creatures are gradually corrected until they have achieved an acceptable way of living. While there is no explicit mention of direct innate sin, the idea is that human beings are naturally imperfect, even if the creator is perfect. This is easily recognizable in Western religions and creation stories, and is surprisingly present in those of other cultures as well. Consider that much like the God of Western tradition, the Gods of other creation stories were prone to “judging” their creations for their behavior. At one point, Juhwertamahaki, frustrated with the smoking habits of his creation, “let the sky fall again and created everything new again in the same way, and this time he created the earth as it is now”(1).
The creation story of the Australian Aboriginal people begins at a time “when everything was still”(2) and there is nothing on Earth, as if all were asleep. The Great Father of Earth is awake and soon awakens his sleeping wife, Great Mother Earth, and when she opens her eyes the light that shines from illuminates the earth. Her mate instructs her to go down to the Earth to awaken the sleeping spirits with her light and this does, bringing life to once-dark landscape. She then told these creatures to live in the wealth of the earth and rocketed to the sky to become the sun. When she disappeared over the horizon on the first night, her children (all the creatures of the earth) were afraid and thought the end had come, but when she appeared again the next morning they rejoiced and learn to trust her. Eventually, after many days, envy and arguments became a problem and the Sun-woman was called down to settle the disputes. After seeing this, she decided she should create new creatures and thus the first two human beings were born to her and became the first ancestors.
There are several interesting differences in the Australian Aboriginal myth when contrasted with that of the Pima Indians. One of the most notable elements of the Aboriginal tale is that the emphasis is not on the activities of the male, but of the female. She is the giver of life in several different respects since she not only breathes life into her “children” (the creatures) but also acts as the sun, allowing crops to grow and providing light and the opportunity for new life. This creation myth does not discuss the way in which her two children were conceived, but given the presence of the male figure, it is assumed it is not through any divine impregnation or magic, but rater through conventional means. Unlike the Pima creation myth, the earth had already existed, albeit in a state of sleep, which does not effectively explain how the Earth came to be in the first place. One must wonder if it is implied, by the beginning, which states “all the spirits of the earth were asleep – or almost all. The great Father of All Spirits was the only one awake”(1) that perhaps the Father was the one who had created it. While this is pure conjecture, it seems reasonable, especially given other creation myths, that the male is responsible for the larger acts of creation (the earth and seas, for example) while the female is responsible for the act of giving life.
Aside from these differences, there are a few important similarities that exist between the Australian Aboriginal creation story and that of the Pima Indians. For example, there is the common idea that once creation has occurred and freethinking creatures exist in the world, there is always some sort of tension. Envy, malice, and the darker side of existence are not excluded and each of the creators must attempt to remedy the situation. The Sun Mother does this by producing human beings in the hope that they will be good residents of the creation and in the Pima story, Juhwertamahaki let the sky on the people, killing them and allowing for a fresh start. While the methods used to put an end to the violence were different, it is useful to observe that in order the correct the flaws of creation, something new must be created (as opposed to simply trying to reform that which already exists) and this new creation must be somehow better than the original. It is impossible not to make the immediate connection to the Western tradition of Noah’s Flood (which wiped out the human race before trying to get it right on another attempt) and is worth mentioning that even in a culture outside of such a tradition, the same notion exists.
The creation myth of the Japanese is quite removed from the other two discussed previously since there are three main deities (instead of the male/female pair or the lone creator) each with separate roles. One of the main similarities is that all on Earth is complete chaos and even its form is not defined. “In the meantime what was heavy and opaque in the void gradually precipitated and became the earth, but it had taken an immeasurably long time before it condensed sufficiently to form solid ground. In its earliest stages, for millions and millions of years, the earth may be said to have resembled oil floating, medusa-like, upon the face of the waters”(3). The three deities work together, each performing a separate function to bring the chaos to order but oddly, none of them have any direct role in bringing humans into existence, they simply appear; arise from the primordial ooze as fully-grown human beings. Presumably, due to this spontaneous generation into existence, these humans are deities themselves and this continued until there were many Gods, which only made the chaos more complete. Eventually, the two main deities, “summoned two divine beings, Izanagi and Izanami, and bade them descend to the nebulous place, and by helping each other, to consolidate it into terra firma”(3) and the world took shape and began. This was a male and female couple of new deities and as they were consigned to find other like humans on the newly created earth, jealousy of the male happened over the female. He goes to the underworld seeking ways to retain her love, but in the end meets a tragic fate when he is attacked by demons because of his jealousy.
Despite the smaller thematic and plot-based differences in the Japanese creation story, the larger ones are the most important for this discussion. Unlike the other two creation myths discussed, that of the Japanese is more egalitarian in terms of gender and in fact, there is no creation process assigned to the female, rather the humans spontaneously emerge from the earth, independent from any outside influence or breeding. There seems to be no direct sense of authority or power designated to the male and both sexes of the initial deities enjoy what appears to be a fairly equal relationship. It is also vital to realize that although there is not the act of “getting it right” by eliminating the creation, in order to progress in a healthy way, this new generation of beings can only be correct when the jealousy (or, sin) is eliminated (in the form of the male). This is meaningful for two reasons; first of all, it addresses the idea of “original sin” (to use the Christian term) and secondly, because it is made clear that there is a trial-by-error process that occurs before the human race can progress naturally. These are two themes that are prominent in both stories and despite the differences between the Japanese and the other two mentioned, the fact remains that at their very cores, these two tales have just as much in common as what remains essentially different.
In sum, when looking at creation myths across cultures, one of the important cultural ideas that underpin many of these tales is concerned not only with gender and the power to create, but the idea that even the most perfect conditions for creation inevitably lead to a final creation that is somehow flawed. Even if there are measures taken to remedy this, the final idea is that all of creation is imperfect, under any conditions.
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1) Pima Creation Story
2) Brians, Paul, Mary Gallwey, and Douglass Hughes. Reading About the World. 1st ed. Washing State University Press: Harcourt Brace Custom, 1998. 197.
3) “Australian Aborigine Creation Myth.” Creation Myths. Williams University. 7 Jan. 2006 <http://www.cs.williams.edu/~lindsey/myths/myths_13.html>.