Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ophion and Eurynome of The Greeks

Just as every other civilizations, the classical Greek mythology contains several accounts of the creation explaining how the universe was shaped. These creation myths give the background to the gods and goddesses that dominate Mount Olympus.

In the beginning there was nothing but a vast, dark void called Chaos. Out of the emptiness creative force emerged called Eurynome (or some consider her to be Gaia, Mother Earth), who coupled with a primal serpent called Ophion to begin the process. It is said the Eurynome took the form of a dove and laid a great egg, around which Ophion coiled to hatch Gaia the Earth, Uranus the sky, Ourea the mountains, Pontus the sea, and all other stars. After creation Eurynome and Ophion traveled to Mount Olympus and made their home there. But Ophion declared himself the sole creator of the cosmos, and Eurynome punished by banishing him to the underworld.

Mutilation of Uranus by Cronus, Giorgio Vasari
Other creation story says that Gaia was the primal creator. She and Uranus, the sky, made love and created the earliest races of creatures like the hundred headed giants, cyclopes (one eyed giants) who were skilled metal workers, titans who become powerful gods. Uranus threatened by the power and skill of titans, banished them to Tartarus, deep within earth, which caused pains to Gaia. Gaia made a great sickle and gave it to the powerful of her sons, Cronus to help her. Cronus castrated Uranus and when his blood spilled on to earth Aphrodite was born. Overthrown Uranus prophesied that Cronus would meet similar fate, so to avoid Cronus devours all his offspring. To save her sixth child from being swallowed by his father, Rhea handed Cronus Omphalos stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, hiding Zeus with his grand mother Gaia in a cave on Mount Ida, Crete.
Cronus eating his children

Greek creation myth is very similar to the Hurrian (Hittite people of Anatolia) creation myth. The sky god Anu wa castrated by his son Kumarbis, later he was deposed by his son Teshub. 

Uranus and Varuna

It is possible that Uranus was originally an indo-european god, to be identified with the vedic varuna, the supreme keeper of order who later became the god of oceans and rivers, as suggested by Georges Dumézil,[17] following hints in,The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). His daughter Lakshmi is said to have arisen from an ocean of milk, a myth similar to the myth of Aphrodite. Both Lakshmi and Aphrodite are associated with the planet Venus.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pangu and The Primal Egg

There are several creation myths in China, but Pan Gu /P’an Ku (盘古) is most widely known as the Creator, a very philosophical account of the creation was written by Lao Tzu.
There are two most popular and influential of the Chinese Creation Myths.

The most influential of these two creation myths is included in Tao Te Ching written by Lao Tzu, who says of the universe;

“There was something undefined and complete, existing before Heaven and Earth. How still it was, how formless, standing alone and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere with no danger of being exhausted. It may be regarded as the mother of all things. Truthfully it has no name, but I call it Tao. (or The Way).”
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 25.

Tao is often compared to water: clear, colourless, unremarkable, yet all beings depend on it for life, and even the hardest stone cannot stand in its way forever. This way of thought has spawned Taoism, Chinese Buddhism as well as philosophical schools of thought.
The creation though for most is described in the tale of Pan Gu and the creation not only of heaven and earth, but of the separation of Yin and Yang.

The P'an Ku Creation story though there are many many translations and versions, goes something like this:

"In the beginning the heavens and earth were still one and all was chaos.

The universe was like a big black egg with Pan Gu asleep inside.
After 18 thousand years Pan Gu woke from his long sleep. He took a
broad axe and swung it with all his might to crack open the egg. The light part of it floated up and formed the heavens and the other, colder matter stayed below to form the earth. Pan Gu stood in the middle, his head touching the sky, his feet planted on the earth.

The heavens and the earth began to grow and Pan Gu grew with them. After another 18 thousand years the sky was higher and Pan Gu stood between the heavens and earth so they would never join again.

When he died, he filled in the rest of the world. His breath created the wind and clouds. His flesh became soil, his bones rock, and his blood filled the rivers and seas. His limbs and body became the five major mountains in China. His hair became the stars in the sky. From his sweat came the rain to nourish the land. His eyes became the sun and the moon. And finally, from the small creatures on his body, which has been equated to parasites in some translations, came man.

Others say that the half-dragon goddess Nuwa was born after Pan-gu died, from part of the mixture of yin and yang that he had separated. She decided to create humans to have some other beings to talk to and share ideas with, but mostly just to love.

Nuwa went down to the edge of the Yellow River where there were vast, soft mud banks. She began forming figures out of clay. She decided that it would be much more practical for her creations to have legs instead of a dragon tail, thus her humans were not made in her image.

No sooner did she set the first little mud man on the ground did he start to jump, and dance and sing. He began to speak. “Look at me!”

Nuwa was delighted and began making more and more humans. She made hundreds and hundreds of mud humans, but soon realized that it would take centuries for her to make enough people to fill the vast earth completely. Nuwa grabbed hold of a muddy stick and flung drops of mud across the land.

As the sun dried each drop, it became a new man or woman. Some say that these humans were the less intelligent ones. Those formed by Nuwa’s own hands became great leaders.

She told them to go and populate the earth. As they grew she loved them and protected them, and was revered as the mother of all humans."

The Pan Gu or P’an Ku myth is similar to that of Lao Tzu’s theory, as the egg or planet was still, and undisturbed, prior to Pan Gu awakening. Both of which could be seen to have existed prior to what we know now as Heaven and Earth. This creation story is one of many told across China, because of its dis-separate tribal history.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Brahmic Creation of Hinduism

Earliest of the India's creation myths are products of Aryan beliefs who migrated around 2nf millennium BC. Prajapati is a very important deity in Indian mythology, who presides over procreation and protection of life, he is identified with Brahma.

In the beginning, the god Brahma, the lord of creation spread his light around the universe and became the essence of all things. He also embodied time, presiding over a cycle of existence on a truly cosmic timescale.  One day and night of his life was said to last 4320 million human years and when this period was over, the cycle of creation would come to end as well. It is intresting to observe that Greek mythology talks about a god equivalent of Brahma the prajapathi (etymologically progeny - potentate), called Phanes (Protogonos) who has four heads as well.

Brahma meditated, contemplating what the universe would be like, and created an image based on this vision. But he realized that since he was ignorant of what the universe would actually become once it came in to existence., what he had created was merely an image of this ignorance. He discarded it, and it became Night. Soon Night began to produce dark children of its own, who  became the first demons, and they began to multiply. Brahma concentrated and started the creation all over again.

As he meditated, he gave shape to a succession of beings, such as the sun and the stars, which began to emit light to balance the darkness of Night. According to some accounts Brahma created several thousand gods of the Hindu pantheon to balance many demons. Brahma being called the Vishwakarma, also created 10 prajapatis to help him with creation. They are Marichi, Atri, Angirasa, Pulaha, Pulasthya, Krathu, Vasistha, Prachethasa, Bhrigu and Narada.

One of the beings created by Brahma to bring light in to the world was a beautiful creature called Vak (word - identified with Saraswathi). According to some version of this creation story, Brahma and Vak coupled, and while doing so, they changed form continuously and as a result they produced every kind of animal species that populate the earth. While other accounts say that Vak, considered to be the creator's daughter, was unwilling to procreate with him. When he persisted, she turned herself in to a deer and fled. Although Brahma pursued and caught upw ith her, he was unable to impregnate her with his seed, which fell to the ground and became the first man and woman.

Legends say that Vak (Saraswathi) sprung from the forehead of her father, Brahma, as did the Greek virgin goddess Athena who was born from her father, Zeus’s head. As soon as Brahma looked at this beautiful woman, he desired her, even though she was his daughter. Saraswati disliked the amorous attentions of this old god and kept dodging him, but whichever way she moved, Brahma grew a head in that direction to see her the better. As a result he grew four faces on four sides of his neck.

Creation in Qur'an and The Big Bang

The descriptions of creation in the Qur'an seem to be scientifically much ahead of their time, they engage the reader in contemplating the lessons to be learned from it. Qur'an talks about creation with an intent to draw readers attention to the order in all things, and the All-Knowing Creator Who is behind it all.

"To Him is due  
The Primal origin
of the heavens and the earth.
How can He have a son
When He hath no consort?
He created all things,
And He hath full knowledge
of all things"
(The Qur'an, Al An'am 6:101)

The Old Testament narrative is almost like a storybook; hence it starts off with the story of Creation as the beginning of the story of the mankind. The Qur’an gives a different presentation to its idea and message with regard to the story of Creation. The story of Creation is located in various places within the Qur’an, such as in Sura’ Al-Baqarah, Sura’ As-Sajdah, Sura’ Yassin and so on.The Old Testament relates the story about God creating the earth and man in six days (Genesis, 1) and that God took a rest on the seventh day (Genesis, 1-3). The Qur’an also mentions that the Creation takes place within “six days” but never says that God had to take a rest on the seventh day. (Al-Sajdah: 4, Al-A’raf: 54).

Abu Huraira reported that Allah's Messenger (mpbuh) took hold of my hands and said: Allah the Exalted and Glorious, created the clay on Saturday and He created the mountains on Sunday and He created the trees on Monday and He created the things entailing labour on Tuesday and created light on Wednesday and He caused animals to spread on Thursday and created Adam (pbuh) after 'Asr on Friday; the last creation at the last hour of the hours of Friday, ie. Between afternoon and night.

Qur'an does not discount the theory of a Big Bang to explain the nature of how things started out at first. Here it is explained that everything was one, before it was cleaved asunder to separate heaven and earth.

Gabriel and Mohammad
"Do not the Unbelievers see 
that the heavens and the earth 
were joined together (as one unit of creation), before 
We clove them asunder, and 
We made from water every living thing. 
Will they not then believe?" 
(The Qur'an, Al Anbiya 21:30) 

"It is He Who created  
the night and the day, 
and the sun and the moon. 
They swim along, each in an orbit. "  
(The Qur'an, Al Anbiya 21:33)

"And the sun runs to its resting place. 
That is the decree of the Almighty, 
the All-Knowing. " (The Qur'an, Ya Sin 36:38) 

"By the sky full of paths and orbits."  
(The Qur'an, Al Dhariyat 51:7)

"He has created the Heavens and the Earth for Truth.  
He wraps the night up in the day, and wraps the day up in the night."  
(The Qur'an, Al Zumar 39:5) 

"It is He Who created for you  
All things that are on earth  
and then directed His attention up to heaven 
and arranged it into seven firmaments.
He has knowledge of all things."
(The Qur'an, Al Baqarah 2:29)

The Qur’an and the Old Testament are similar in the case of God appointing Adam(P) as His representative on the earth. But the Qur’an has made clearer this statement than the Old Testament, more so when God said to His angels that He wants to create a vicegerent (khalifah) on the earth (Al-Baqarah: 30, Genesis, 1:26). This status did not change even when Adam(P) committed a misdeed, repented and was forgiven for it. (Qur’an, 2:37). Man is not “fallen” from the Qur’anic perspective and hence there is no need to “save” or ransom him. In the Christian view however, Adam’s(P) misdeed is the basis for the doctrine of Original Sin, the beginning of mankind’s fall into a state of sin, a flowing from faith in a salvic drama that happened in the past.

The Qur'an states that the Creation of Adam was preceded by the creation of the angels and the jinn (such non-natural unseen world), as it stated that the creation of the angles was done from light and that of the jinn was done from fire. Accepting that the creation of the human being started from mud, we should accept these statements too. The Qur'an also states that Satan (Shaitan) was a Jinn who worshipped God sincerely. So, God gave him a close rank to God’s angles. However, Satan is converted to be an evil after he disobeyed one of the God’s commands. God ordered all the angles, and Satan was close to them, to bow in respect to Adam who was gifted a spiritual breath from God. All of them obeyed God’s command but the Satan did not. He refused doing that because of his arrogance and short sight, thinking that his origin from fire is better than Adam’s origin from mud. So, the Satan was expelled from the angle’s companion in the Paradise. He and his tribe bore hatred to Adam and his offspring. So, the Satan became an enemy for the whole of mankind. He tries to convert any man to commit the same arrogance which he committed. It is done through his abilities to the invisible temptation of man in every moment.

Nasadiya creation Hymn from Rigveda

There was neither non-existence nor existence then.
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
What stirred?
In whose protection?
Was there water, bottlemlessly deep?

There was neither death nor immortality then.

There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse.
Other than that there was nothing beyond.

Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning,

with no distinguishing sign, all this was water.
The life force that was covered with emptiness,
that One arose through the power of heat.

Desire came upon that One in the beginning,
that was the first seed of mind.
Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom
found the bond of existence and non-existence.

Their cord was extended across.

Was there below?
Was there above?
There were seed-placers, there were powers.
There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.
Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced?
Whence is this creation?
  The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whence this creation has arisen 
 - perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not -
 the One who looks down on it, 
 in the highest heaven, only He knows 
or perhaps even He does not know.

The honesty in Vedic rendition of creation amazes me, as it comprehends the theory of creation asserting the limitation of human mind. The negative assertion "Who then knows whence it has arisen?" is an attempt by the seers to penetrate the barrier of being and enter into non-being and God without his creation. I consider it the most mature and objective stance on the nature of existence.  I was also surprised by the strong resemblances of biblical creation theories with Nasadiya hymns, only strengthening my belief of common ancestry.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Story of Creation from The Torah

Mount Sinai from Sarajevo Haggadah

                                 The Torah is the  first of the three books that make up Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, famously known as the "Five Books of Moses". It is also called as Pentateuch by the greeks meaning "five scrolls" and Chumash by the Hebrew meaning "five fold entity". It is believed that Moses wrote these five books on Mount Sinai as God was dictating to him in the form of a burning bush. The Torah is neither a book of science nor a history, it is first and foremost the sacred epic of a covenanted community in the making, one that yet has not fulfilled its destiny.

The Torah says in Genesis that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Earth was all dark and void and the spirit of God was hovering over the water, hence God created light and called it day, and darkness the night. On second day he created the sky and the oceans, dry land and plants the third day. On the fourth day God created stars, the sun, the moon and the seasons. Fish and the birds were created on the fifth day. On the sixth day god created land animals and the man, He made man in his image and made him have the dominion over the rest of the animals. The He created female from the rib cages of man to give him company.

Creation from Souvigny Bible (12th-century)
Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, one of the greatest religious orators of the 17th century, wrote in his 'Discours sur l'histoire universelle' for the dauphin of France, "God must  have said to himself that he had to made happy those beings that he had just created in his image and likeliness." And thus Adam and Eve found themselves given a paradise (paira-daeca in Persian meaning park and garden) to live in. And Genesis tells us God adorned this paradise of Eden with every sort of plant and tree with edible fruits, and two of these were particularly very important, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge which the couple were forbidden to eat the fruit from.

The location of Eden is a widely argued subject. It is described that the paradise of Eden was bathed by a river from which flowed four others, the Tigris, Euphrates, Pison and Gihon. We know the location of the first two, but identification of the others have caused quarrels among commentators since antiquity as it was impossible to recognize in them either the Nile or Indus. It is said that the more probable are the Kura and the Aras which join before flowing in to the caspian sea. This hypothesis is believed to be geographically much more modest but less wildly imaginative. In any case the location of Eden the earthly paradise was somewhere close to the mount Ararat in the Armenian plains.

The Original Sin

Sistine Chapel Fresco - Original Sin and banishment.
 Another much debated question in past centuries was that of the language our two ancestors spoke during their short stay. Jews naturally believed it to be Hebrew, but the Persians believed that the serpent spoke Arabic, while Adam and Eve spoke in Persian, and that the archangel Gabriel chased them out in Turkish, but according to the Bible, Basque is the oldest language on earth. Whatever the language maybe but the serpent in which Satan concealed himself, poisons the minds of the ancestors resulting in eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. Their disobedience had disastrous consequences, as they were banished from Eden and chased away. The God curses the snake to crawl on its belly and to loose its speech, and the woman to have pains in labor and the man to toil the earth to make his bread. The first couple soon give birth to Cain and Abel, and so begins the humanity.

Creation Stories

The cosmogonical myths of creation are divided in to five types depending on the nature of creation.  Eliade and his student, Charles H. Long, developed a classification based on some common motifs that reappear in stories the world over. The classification identifies five basic types:
  • Creation ex nihilo in which the creation is through the thought, word, dream or bodily secretions of a divine being
  • Earth diver creation in which a diver, usually a bird or amphibian sent by a creator, plunges to the seabed through a primordial ocean to bring up sand or mud which develops into a terrestrial world
  • Emergence myths in which progenitors pass through a series of worlds and metamorphoses until reaching the present world
  • Creation by the dismemberment of a primordial being
  • Creation by the splitting or ordering of a primordial unity such as the cracking of a cosmic egg or a bringing into form from chao 
We will visit the myths of creation from culture to culture, starting form Genesis of the Jewish,  Nasadiya of Rigveda (India), Sura Al-Baqara of Quran, creation by Pan-Gu of chinese, Creation by Nun of the Egyptians, Creation from Niflheim of the Norse, Theogony (Hesoid Poem) of the Greeks and the creation stories of the native americans (Hopi, Cherokee, Patawatomi).
It is a very humbling experience to read what our ancients believed of our birth, so it always amazed me to know of our humble beginning or not so humble depending on which story you are reading.
Pillars of Creation

Men create the Gods in their own image

The Gods, alien or not have been part of human evolution since time immemorial. Weather they are human creation or not, Gods have been so intricately interwoven in to our daily lives that it is very hard to separate our believes from our myths. Civilizations have have always looked up to Gods as their protectors, benefactors and providers. Many of these Gods have survived the test of time through rich written cultures like the European's or through rich oral traditions as Norse or rig-vedic to pick a few.

In these seemingly endless variety of believes and myths are common themes. Mostly every mythology starts out with the same question .."How did it begin?". In one variation of the Chinese creation myth, Pan Gu had to break the primordial egg to create land and sky, or sometimes the world is the offspring of male and a female creator or the creator had to fetch the land from depths of a primal ocean like in Native American believes. Usually people come later, either molded from clay or carved from wood.

Here in this blog we will try to visit creation stories, the Gods and spirits from different cultures. I was always inclined to believe that our beliefs, Gods, myths and legends have all come from common ancestors, so if not anything this blog will just be an attempt to find our common roots. Please comment and share your opinions.