Long before scientists tried to unravel the origin of human life, ancient societies talked about it in their myths and legends.
Creation myths are symbolic narratives that explain the origin of the world and the human being. They are found in almost every culture, and although today we think of these myths as fanciful stories, each community considered them sacred, stories that conveyed the absolute truth.
These creation myths have many references in common, such as creative deities, battles, metamorphoses, or separation between two worlds.
As they were generally transmitted orally, each of these stories had many versions, which could change according to the territory or the interest of the authorities.
In this article, you will find out how 7 different mythologies explained the origin of life.
Japanese mythology: the story of Izanagi and Izanami
In the beginning, there was only one god, who, feeling lonely, decided to create the brother-and-sister gods Izanagi and Izanami. These gods lived on top of a floating bridge.
Curious about what was beneath them, the gods plunged a jeweled spear into the primordial ocean. When the spear was withdrawn, salt crystallized into drops at its tip and fell back into the ocean, becoming an island. That island was Japan.
The two then descended to this island and began to explore it in different directions, creating different types of plants in their path. When they met again, they decided to get married and have children to populate the land.
Their first daughter was so beautiful that the gods decided she couldn’t live in Japan. So, they placed her in heaven.
This goddess, called Amaterasu, became the Sun. Izanagi and Izanami’s second daughter became the Moon, and the third became the sea.
According to the myth, Japan’s first emperor was Amaterasu’s son, and all subsequent emperors claimed to be his descendant.
Norse mythology: the death of Ymir and the creation of Midgard
Before the Earth (Midgard) came into existence, there was only the primordial void: Ginnungagap. In its northern part there was a land covered with ice and fog, called Niflheim, and to the south was Muspelheim, the realm of fire.
When the ice and lava of these two worlds met at Ginnungagap, the first giant appeared: Ymir. Along with him, a cow named Auðumbla was born.
One day, while the cow was licking a block of ice, a man appeared from within it. This was Buri, the first of the gods. His wife Bestla was also born out of the ice, and the two had a son named Borr, who later spawned the gods Odin, Vili, and Ve.
Odin and his brothers started to worry about the fact that there were more giants than gods, and decided to kill Ymir. When they did, his flesh became the land, his blood created rivers and oceans, his bones became the mountains and his hair became trees.
His brain was thrown into the air, creating clouds, and his empty skull became the starry sky. And that was how the world of humans was created, Midgard.
When Odin and his brothers went to walk these lands and enjoy their creation, they saw that something was missing. Then, when they stumbled upon two fallen tree trunks, Odin transformed them into the first man and woman, called Askr and Embla, and gave them the gift of life.
Odin’s brother Vili gave them the ability to feel and reason, and Ve offered them the gift of speech, hearing, and sight.
Greek mythology: Prometheus and the punishment of Zeus
In the beginning, there was only emptiness and Chaos, and Nyx lived there, a bird with black wings. This bird laid a golden egg, from which came Eros, the god of love.
One part of the shell went up and became the sky and the other part became the Earth. Eros then named the sky Uranus and the Earth, Gaia. Then he made them fall in love.
Uranus and Gaia had many children, both gods and monsters. One of them, named Cronos, killed his father and took his position as ruler, and to ensure that he was not betrayed too, he always swallowed his children when they were born.
When his sixth child was born, his mother hid him so that he would not have the same fate. That son was Zeus. After Zeus grew up, he managed to deceive his father and save his brothers. Thus, Zeus became leader of the Gods.
But there were still no humans and animals on Earth. So, Zeus asked his sons Prometheus and Epimetheus to go to Earth, create these beings, and give each one a gift.
Prometheus created humans in the image of the gods, while Epimetheus created the animals. Epimetheus finished his work first, giving each animal a gift, and when Prometheus finished his creation, there were no more gifts to give to humans.
Prometheus decided to steal the fire from the gods and give it to humans. Zeus was furious when he found out, and in addition to punishing his son with eternal suffering, he also decided to punish humans.
For this, he created a very beautiful woman named Pandora and made her Epimetheus’ wife. Zeus gave Pandora a box that should never be opened, but out of curiosity, she did.
When Pandora opened the box, all the evils that plague humanity today, such as pain, illness, and greed, came out of it.
Hindu mythology: Brahma and his creation
Hindu mythology contains many creation myths. One of the most important is about the trinity of gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, the gods of creation, preservation, and destruction.
Brahma created the universe and the world, and decided to populate it with creatures that were generated from his own essence.
His firstborn son, Brahmin – the priest, was born from Brahma’s face, Kshatriya, the warrior, from his shoulders, Vaishya from his thighs and Shudra from his feet. Thus, humanity (and India’s caste system) was born.
Egyptian mythology: Atum’s tears
The ancient Egyptians had several creation myths, which changed according to the territory.
One of these myths says that it all started in the waters of the Nun Ocean, from where Atum emerged, a genderless being who had an all-seeing eye. He then created Shu, god of air, and Tefnut, goddess of moisture.
These two gods were charged with creating order out of chaos. They then spawned Geb, the earth, and Nut, the sky. When the sky was raised above the earth, the order of the world was formed, but Shu and Tefnut were lost in the darkness.
Atum then removed his eye and sent it in search of his children. When they were found, Atum cried tears of joy, and where tears hit the ground, humans were born.
Australian Aboriginal mythology
In the beginning of time, all the spirits on Earth were asleep. Even the Sun, the light, and the stars. But one day, the Father of All Spirits woke Sun Mother, and when she opened her eyes, a ray of light spread towards Earth.
Then, the Sun Mother was sent to Earth to spread the seed of life, called guruwari. She walked in all directions, growing plants wherever she went.
Sun Mother also entered dark caves on mountain slopes, awakening spirits and insects. Her light melted the ice, creating rivers and streams.
Then she created fish, snakes, lizards, birds, and other animals. After creating all creatures, she brought them together and instructed them to live peacefully.
After that, the Sun Mother returned to heaven. At first, her children lived in peace, but soon they began to envy one another.
To solve this problem, the Sun Mother gave each creature the power to change shape to whatever they wanted. But she was not satisfied with the result, as the animals began to merge their forms.
For this reason, the Mother decided that she should create new forms herself, so she gave birth to two children: a god, who was the Morning Star, and a goddess, who was the Moon. They had two children, who were sent to Earth, becoming our ancestors.
San people’s creation myth
In the beginning, people and animals lived under the Earth, along with Kaang, the Lord of All Life. Everyone lived peacefully, until Kaang began to plan the wonders he would place on the Earth’s surface.
He then created a gigantic tree, with branches that extended all over the world, and at its base, Kaang dug a hole that led to the world where he lived with people and animals. When he put everything he wanted on Earth, he led people through that hole.
People gathered at the foot of the tree, impressed by this new world. Kaang started helping the animals to get out too, so that everyone was going to the new Earth.
Kanng brought everyone together and instructed them to live in peace. He also warned them that they could not build any fires, or an evil would afflict them.
But during the first night, when the Sun went down and the world went dark, people were scared. They were cold and could not see.
In a desperate act, humans built a fire, disregarding Kaang’s warning. The fire frightened the animals, who fled to the mountains, and after that, humans were never able to communicate with animals again.