Definitions and Origins

Types of Myths: Creation, Gods, and Heroes

What is the nature of creation myths?

Creation myths tell cultures where they came from and how they and their world came into being. Such myths are as important to particular cultures as knowledge of our origins is to us as individuals. For early cultures, creation myths provided essential identity and a sense of and reason for existence in an otherwise chaotic universe. There are several subtypes under the creation myth category. Creation can be ex nihilo—from nothing—in which a supreme deity who is alone in a preexisting void consciously creates a world. The creation in the biblical book of Genesis is such a creation. A related form is Creation from Chaos, in which the potential for creation exists in a chaotic state just waiting for something to be done with it. Often the chaos takes the form of primeval waters, as in the Sumerian creation, or primeval air, as in a Chinese creation, or a cosmic egg as in the Dogon creation. In the Creation subtype called the Emergence Creation, people emerge from the earth itself, as in many Native American Pueblo myths. Another popular Native American subtype is the Earth-Diver Creation, in which an animal dives into the primeval waters and brings back a piece of material out of which the world is made.

Often flood myths are attached to creation myths. These floods—as in Genesis or the Gilgamesh epic—usually serve as second creations, which give humans a second chance to behave according to a creator’s plans.


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