From Around the World 6
How Stories of the Beginning Might Have Begun
The essay starts here: Introduction
stated above, the primary perspective in the studies of creation
myths has been one of religion. The myths have been seen as
ingredients in religious practice and not as phenomena of any
meaning outside of it. I have mentioned a number of reasons for why
this is not very fruitful, and several other reasons can be added.
My main objection is this: It cannot be taken for granted that
creation myths have emerged within a context that we would call
return again to the triangle of functions: those of explanation,
norm, and art. None of them equals religion, although the norm
corner shares many traits with it. But this similarity is one of
function, and not one of substance. In other words, religion partly
resembles creation myths because it shares some of its functions.
But they remain separate entities, even in cultures where they are
closely linked or even intermingled.
is not the most relevant perspective in order to understand creation
myths. It can be used on cultures where a religious apparatus is
likely to have transformed the creation myth for its purposes, in
order to discover what alterations of the myth this has led to,
thereby to extract them and find a version closer to what might have
been its original form. But the emergence of creation myths has
creation myths are to be analyzed by tools developed within history
of religion, the above needs to be remembered. Still, this
discipline is well equipped to find and interpret the ingredients of
norms and morality in the myths.
Prometheus creates man. Italian marble relief from the 3rd century CE.
approach that is at least as relevant is that of the history of
science. Much is learned about creation myths when they are seen as
early forms of cosmology, anthropology, biology, psychology, and so
on. This is the explanatory corner of the triangle of functions, so
there is no conflict with the material when using this kind of
approach – as long as it is not used exclusively.
history of science is able to bring light to several aspects of a
creation myth, but not all of them. Although the explanatory
ambition was much more instrumental in the emergence of creation
myths than any religious intention, this perspective alone can be
just as misleading.
history, the history of literature in particular, is a third
possible perspective by which to examine creation myths. They are
stories, often evidently poetic, and in many cultures they are among
the oldest examples of what we call literature. Also, they follow
the patterns and forms of narrations and drama that we see in the
history of literature. Dramaturgy is easily applied to them.
oldest myths are also rich with the characteristics of stories
handed down by oral transmission. Even though it's likely that
creation myths were regarded as plausible representations of the
world’s beginning, when they were invented, their forms were
molded into what agrees with any traditional work of fiction, and
they can be read as such.
myths that were widely spread and kept in people’s minds,
remaining for centuries and even millennia, succeeded in this
primarily because of their attraction as stories, whether believable
Aristotle in his Poetics claimed
that a drama is better off being impossible but probable than
possible but improbable, he referred to the inner logics of the
story. By its premises, plot and events, a story can make what is
otherwise impossible seem probable. But when the plot turns into
something improbable, it doesn't help if it's quite possible in the
the believability of a creation myth obeys the laws of fiction more
than those of science or faith.
the above follows that proper study of creation myths should be done
in more than one perspective, where none of them is allowed to set
the agenda. Only if all three corners of the triangle of functions
are considered, preferably through the means of their separate
academic disciplines, there is a chance of reaching an adequate
understanding of the myth.
a creation myth is examined at depth, with methods such as those
presented above, there is a great chance of revealing quite a lot
about the myth as well as its source. For example, it can add
significantly to our knowledge of the culture where it emerged and
what the minds of its population were able, as well as what they
sought for and aspired to accomplish. What made them tick, as we
would express it.
myth itself can be cleaned from later influences and alterations, so
that it is reconstructed into the proximity of its original form.
Then it can be used as a key to how its inventors and upholders
perceived the world. This also gives substantial clues as to how
they lived their lives and what beliefs and dreams they fostered.
reconstructed myth demonstrates the ability of its inventor’s
mind. What deductive ability this mind had will be just as evident
as its sense of beauty – its power of reason and of
more creation myths are examined at the same depth, considering all
their complexity, the more will be revealed about the patterns of
human thought and the workings of the human mind. Creation myths are
examples of human creativity when it excels. So, comparing them will
show just what is the height of human mental ability – in very
distant times, but also to some extent what is latent in the mind of
present man, perhaps not used in the same way, or maybe not at all,
but nonetheless a possibility.
dare say that we have to go very far back in time to find a mind
radically different from ours. What we learn about Homo rudis, his
forefathers and his offspring, will tell us much about ourselves,
otherwise hidden behind countless veils of knowledge and other kinds
patterns of thought that the creation myths can expose, when
investigated properly, are not that different from those of our own
minds. Therefore Homo rudis can teach us a lot about ourselves, if
we stop assuming that his mind was vastly inferior just because he
did not have as many resources at his disposal as we do.
- Man, Too
- Human Thought Revealed
- Trusting Creation Myths
- Time and Place
- Inner Story Logics
- Triangle of Functions
- The Relief of Tragedy
- Homo Rudis
- Present Day Tribes
- The Evolution of Creation Myths
- Subconscious Creation
- Simplicity and Urgency
- The All Was Born in the Past
- Religion, Science, or Art
- What Can Be Reached
This text was written as an introduction of sorts to my ongoing dissertation on creation myths, at the Lund University History of Ideas and Learning.
© Stefan Stenudd 2011
How stories of the beginning began.
Theories through history about myth and fable.
The mythological symbols and what they stand for.
Patterns of creation.
The paradox of origin, according to an Indian myth.
The first creation story of the bible scrutinized.
Babylonian creation myth.
The insoluble solitude of gods and humans.
ON MY OTHER WEBSITES
What Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung thought about myths, their origins and meanings.
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What the Greek philosophers believed about the cosmos, their religion and their gods.
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Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosophy of life explained. Also, the complete Tao Te Ching online.
The Greek philosophers and what they thought about cosmology, myth, and the gods. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.
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I'm a Swedish author and historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in creation myths. I've also written books about Taoism, the Tarot, and life force concepts around the world. Click the image to get to my personal website.