The omnipresence of mythology in human culture, inclusive there within mythologies concerning the creation of existence itself, speaks to a certain common trait in the human consciousness: the desire to account for the world we live in and to understand our place in this world. In this sense, science does not differentiate from what is now historically called mythology: both seem to provide accounts of the world. Yet, as Campbell notes, there does appear to be appear a fundamental difference: Myths, as opposed to science, “are telling us in picture language of powers of the psyche to be recognized and integrated in our lives….thus they have not been, and can never be, displaced by the findings of the science.” (14) I think it is appropriate to interpret Campbell’s remark as follows: creation mythologies have an existential dimension, talking about our lives directly and its potential purpose, as opposed to science, which has a mechanistic non-human approach. But in this sense, creation mythologies are richer than science: because they attempt to account for natural phenomena alongside our roles as humans and therefore as part of these natural phenomena. This, however, is not to say that all creation mythologies from cultures are the same: but this seems to be a fundamental point of similarity, namely, the combination of an account of existence that also includes an existential dimension for the human being. Therefore, according to this thesis, while creation mythologies are the same in terms of this existential aspect welded to a greater cosmological narrative, they differ in terms of how they portray and depict this aspect and narrative.
In order to develop this argumentation, it obviously becomes necessary to examine creation mythologies themselves so as to show their similarities and differences. As Leeming writes, “typically, though not always, cosmogonies include the creation of the world, the creation of humankind, and the fall of humankind from a state of perfection, or the struggle in heaven between various groups of immortals.” Therefore, there seems to not only be within creation mythologies an existential human aspect combined to a greater cosmological narrative, but also a remarkable similarity in the idea of a “fall of humankind.” Here, not only is the existential aspect present, but it also takes an exact form: the human being is undergoing a degeneration over time. This is immediately different from science. As Julius Evola writes, “although modern mad…has viewed and celebrated the meaning of the history known to him as epitomizing progress and evolution…(i)n all the ancient
testimonies of traditional humanity it is possible to find, in various forms, the
idea of a regression or a fall.” (177)
Accordingly, the existential aspect of traditional societies’ creation myths is quite precise, if we accept this interpretation: our existence is troubled because of our devolution as opposed to our evolution. For example, in the Greco-Roman tradition, epitomized by the work of Hesiod there is the myth of the Four Ages. (Evola, 177) According to this myth, the creation of the world is associated with the metal of gold, representing the perfection of the creation. In other words, when the absolute being creates the world, it is in a perfect state. It is only because of our existential decisions as humans that it is destroyed. This is a same motif in the Hindu creation mythologies, as they take the shape of the “Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, and Kali Yuga (Dark Age).” (Evola, 177) Once again, the creation myths start from a point of perfection and end in chaos: this tells us not only about the creation itself, but also the human being’s place in the creation.
The fact that the human being has a type of existential crisis that leads to his degeneration from a lofty status also follows in line with the notion that man is a part of nature, and that, therefore, nature is a divine creation. As Mircea Elidae writes, “the sacred reveals absolute reality….hence it founds the world in the sense that it fixes the limits and establishes the order of the world.” (30) The world possesses a natural order in the creation myths, and this reflects its divine origins: why would the gods create a disordered world? We see this in the Egyptian myths, where the disordered world can be said to be a synonym for evil: “I am the Eternal Spirit…Evil is my abomination, I see it not. I am the creator of the Order wherein I live.” (Leeming, 17) This type of order is also common to the Ancient Chinese tradition, as detailed in the Lieh-tzu, where the primary stage of creation is order: it is only with that “man was in a state of rebellion against Haven and the universe fell victim to chaos.” (Evola, 189) Creation, like man, therefore originates in a somewhat perfect state: creation myths therefore try to show us our highly evolved beginnings, and, against the opinions modern science, how we have lost these lofty beginnings over time. The existential story of ourselves as well as our universe, because of our decisions, is a story of decline.
Certainly, we can identify differences between the creation myths. For example, in the Semitic traditions, the human begins when ‘”the children of gods’…mated with the “daughters of men”, (Evola, 179) while in Greek myth, the human “inhabitants of Atlantis” (Evola, 179) are “conceived as the descendants and disciples of the gods.” (Evola, 179) Namely, in one creation myth the human being breeds with the divine gods, while in the other, the human was in a certain sense always divine. But the point in both stories is the same, as both creation narratives ultimately speak of a fall. (Evola, 179)
Accordingly, the similarities of creation myths are more striking than their differences. This is because they communicate an existential aspect as well as a cosmogony. In this regard, the more striking difference of creation myths is not internal, but, as demonstrated in the quote from Campbell above: the difference between how science and mythology conceives of our existence.
- Campbell, Joseph. Myths to Live By. New York: Penguin, 1972.
- Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. New York: Harcourt, 1987.
- Evola, Julius. Revolt Against the Modern World. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1969.
- Leeming, David Adams. The World of Myth: An Anthology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1990.