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What's in a creation story

Posted: Tue May 15, 2018 3:19 pm
by lpetrich
Scott Leonard's book Myths and Religion (pdf) has some classification of creation-story motifs, like Marta Weigel's detailed one. She in turn worked from the work of Mircea Eliade, Charles Long, Marie-Louise von Franz, and Anna Birgitta Rooth, finding:
  1. Primordial elements meet or mingle or otherwise get disturbed.
  2. A god creates by secreting something, like sweat or blood or semen or a parthenogenetic child or a spun web or excretions.
  3. A god either sacrifices him/herself or gets sacrificed to form the raw materials for creation.
  4. The hatching of a cosmic egg or dividing a closely-embraced earth and sky.
  5. Someone dives into the primordial ocean to get some sand or mud to create land with.
  6. The first people emerge from a small, cramped world into our larger world.
  7. There are two creators who either cooperate or compete.
  8. Deus faber is the "divine maker"; where a god forms something out of some material.
  9. Ex nihilo is "out of nothing", often creation by a god's command. Poof! and it exists.
It is easy to recognize these motifs in familiar creation stories.
  • The first Genesis story has #9, of course, though it also has a vestige of #3 in the form of God doing three separations.
  • The second Genesis story has #8, with God forming Adam out of dust and Eve from Adam's side or rib. It also has a bit of #2 in God breathing the dust Adam into life.
  • Hesiod's Theogony starts off with #1 and continues with #4 (Kronos separating Ouranos and Gaia) and lots of #2 (gods having children). It also has some #8 in Epimetheus and Prometheus creating humanity and animals.
  • The Norse one in the Elder Edda starts off with #1, and contains #3 (the dismemberment of Ymir to create our Universe) and #8 (creation of the first people, Ask and Embla, from wood).
The Universe according to modern science fits these motifs surprisingly well.
  • Biological evolution is #2, where the kind of secretion is ordinary reproduction.
  • The origin of the Solar System is #1, where an interstellar cloud collapses under its own weight. Likewise for the origin of galaxies, which originated in that fashion about a billion years after the Big Bang.
  • The origin of the Universe remains a mystery, but the common speculation of origin from a quantum fluctuation is essentially #1. The Big Bang itself is vaguely like #4 (the hatching of a cosmic egg).
How do other creation stories fit in?