Cultural anthropology specializes in many aspects of explaining who, what, where, why, and how people live the ways they do. Cultural anthropologists identify unique traits of a certain culture, or way of life. We as a public usually draw the lines between the similarities and differences to our own cultures and the ones introduced to us by the cultural anthropologists.
One example of such work came out in 1964, by Hajime Nakamura, who wrote the book, “Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples.” This text is full of comparative works showing the similarities and contrasts between Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, and Japanese cultures and modes of thought. It still remains a classic. Dr. Nakamura toned his book on comparing and contrasting creation myths; stories of explaining how the world came to be from each respective culture’s points of view.
And that’s what I want to introduce to you in this post: creation myths. What is not unique to just one culture is that every culture that comes to my mind has a creation myth. While each story may be completely original and unique in its own right when compared to one another, the fact that it is a creation myth remains a connecting force across cultures, times, and places.
For example, the Maya have the Popol Vuh, or story where the creation of humans is attributed to the three water-dwelling feathered serpents who first made emotionless wooden humans and then destroyed them and casted them down to humans.
Sounds like a pretty crazy story at first.
But take a moment and ask yourself, “What similarities do I see in this story to say the Judeo-Christian creation story — the one where God made humans out of clay”
You’ll begin to see that even some creation myths, as outlandish as they may seem, have some similarities here and there. Many creation myths from the Middle East and adjacent areas have these types similarities as well. The most notable is the role of a virgin mother figure, who beared a son by not having sexual intercourse with a divine being and remaining a virgin. Biologically, this is impossible to humans — but it seemed prevalent enough that this certain substory shows its face in both the Judeo-Christian story, i.e. the origins of Jesus Christ and also in Buddha’s origins.
And with that, I realize I’m digressing. What I really wanted to share with you, is something I stumbled up on Digg , LiveScience’s collection of the ‘top 10’ creation myths. I really don’t get how they determined the top ranking but it is a nice little quick introductory comparison of ten different creation myths. My personal favorite is number three on the list, the Hindu Cosmology’s Rendezvous with Brahma,
“The Hindu cosmology contains many myths of creation, and the principal players have risen and fallen in importance over the centuries. The earliest Vedic text, the Rig Veda, tells of a gigantic being, Purusha, possessing a thousand heads, eyes, and feet. He enveloped the earth, extending beyond it by the space of ten fingers. When the gods sacrificed Purusha, his body produced clarified butter, which engendered the birds and animals. His body parts transformed into the world’s elements, and the gods Agni, Vayu, and Indra. Also, the four castes of Hindu society were created from his body: the priests, warriors, general populace, and the servants. Historically later, the trinity of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer) gained prominence. Brahma appears in a lotus sprouting from the navel of the sleeping Vishnu. Brahma creates the universe, which lasts for one of his days, or 4.32 billion years. Then Shiva destroys the universe and the cycle restarts. Relax everybody, the current cycle has a couple billion years left.”
You may also be interested in Ahura Mazda in Persian creation mythology — Ahura Mazda is believed to be the earliest monotheistic god to surface in religion and a influential figure in Judeo-Christian religions.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of documented creation myths out there. I hope I have sparked your interests in carrying out a cross cultural comparison of creation myths. The internet is an excellent resource to begin your studies, people have documented nearly every imaginable culture’s creation myth online — from Western African ones of the Mande, Yoruba, and Cameroon to the Inuit creation story.