Article 316: The Story of Creation among Cultural Myths and Religions

Hasan A. Yahya, Ph.Ds, a writer from the Unholy Land

A creation myth or creation story is a symbolic narrative of a culture, tradition or people that describes their earliest beginnings, how the world they know began and how they first came into it. (1,2,3) Creation myths develop in oral traditions, (2) and are the most common form of myth found throughout human culture.(4, 5) In the society in which it is told, a creation myth is usually regarded as conveying profound truths, although not necessarily in a historical or literal sense. (4) They are commonly, although not always, considered  cosmogonical myths—that is they describe the ordering of the cosmos from a state of chaos or amorphousness. (6) They often are considered sacred accounts and can be found in nearly all known  religious traditions. (7,8)

Several features are found in all creation myths. They are all stories with a plot and characters who are either deities, human like figures or animals who often speak and transform easily. (9) They are often set in a dim and nonspecific past, what historian of religion Mircea Eliade termed in illo tempore (8, 10) And all creation myths speak to deeply meaningful questions held by the society that shares them, revealing of their central worldview and the framework for the self-identity of the culture and individual in a universal context. (11)

Mythologists have applied various schemes to classify creation myths found throughout human cultures. 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: (12)

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 chaos

Marta Weigle further developed and refined this typology to highlight nine themes, adding elements such as deus faber, a creation crafted by a deity, creation from the work of two creators working together or against each other, creation from sacrifice and creation from division/conjugation, accretion/conjunction, or secretion.

An alternative system based on six recurring narrative themes was designed by Raymond Van Over (12)

a primeval abyss, an infinite expanse of waters or space
an originator deity which is awakened or an eternal entity within the abyss
an originator deity poised above the abyss
a cosmic egg or embryo
an originator deity creating life through sound or word
life generating from the corpse or dismembered parts of an originator deity  (600 words)


Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009
Womack 2005, p. 81
Leeming 2005
Kimball 2008
Braziller 1963
See: Leeming 2010, Weigle 1987, Leonard & McClure 2004, Honko 1984, p. 50
Encyclopædia Britannica 2009
Johnston 2009
See: Johnston 2009, Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009, Leeming 2005, Braziller 1963
 Eliade 1963, p. 429
See: Johnston 2009, Braziller 1963, Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009, Leeming 2010
 Leonard & McClure 2004, p. 32-33