Here’s a thought I had:
It seems that there are many reasons for the development of creation myths. As a rule, older societies are not trying to explain the physical “scientifically provable” explanation of the worlds creation. This is because this has no value to older societies. It seems, to me, that older societies are looking for more deeper human qualities from creation myths. In short, they are looking for meaning not explanation. I always thought it was funny how Western society, and scientists in general, tend to look at creation myths like its an “explanation of the world”. When it doesn’t work, of course, then they are quick to condemn it and ridicule it. That shows, in my opinion, a very prevalent naiveness and shallowness in science.
Some of the meaning that creation myths offer include:
- To establish identity of ones tribe.
- To establish a relationship with the world.
- To explain awareness of life.
In general, these all describe a tendency where creation myths describe an association with the world. It establishes how one, personally or socially, associates with the world. In this way, they are not explanatory and are definitely not scientific.
CREATION MYTHS AND SOCIETY
It seems, to me, that as the society grows many creation myths lose their meaning and become ‘abstract explanations’. In short, they are often remembered and recited but its original meaning and value become lost. This suggests that creation myths are a product of a specific way of life. I think this way of life is a more ‘primitive lifestyle’ having qualities such as:
- Its made up of a small group of people.
- These people are predominately alone in the world and must fend for themselves.
- They are most likely hunter/gatherer type of people who must “look out into the world” for their sustenance (meaning they don’t grow their food).
- They are not “settled” or remain in one area but move about.
In these conditions, there is a great need to feel a “deep association with the world”, to establish oneself in the general scheme of existence. This is because they live actively in the world and, accordingly, actively participate in it. As a result of this, they are more needing of an association with the world.
As societies grow, and become settled, the need for a “deep association with the world” becomes less and less. This is because the world tends to “fade” in the face of a growing and settled society, becoming less and less an issue in peoples minds. What eventually happens is that society replaces the world and people start needing meaning in the social association. When this happens social structure, for example, becomes more and more critical and will often replace the world in peoples minds. In some cases, the world literally disappears (as in modern society).
So we see these stages:
- World- oriented association
- Social-oriented association
Its not uncommon that the world-oriented associations, and the myths they create, persist in the social phase but they tend to lose their meaning. They generally tend to become “traditional”. When this happens they tend to lose the meaning and it becomes nothing but a “story”, something they don’t really understand or see meaning in. Because of this, they tend to be neglected and, oftentimes, forgotten over time. In many socially oriented societies creation myths can literally disappear. Many have survived only because they were written down.
THE “AWARENESS CREATION MYTHS”
I often feel that another factor that effects creation myths is how influenced they are by shamans and shamanistic belief. When this happens, it seems, creation myths can take on a more deeper human experiential quality. This, of course, is a result of the shamans and their more deeper human experiential quality. Because of this, their explanations take on a more personal quality.
The shamanistic orientation also tends to emphasize a stronger association with the world. In other words, the shamanistic orientation tends to reflect a more world-oriented association. Generally, as the society grows and becomes more settled the world orientation fades and so does the shaman orientation. As a result, the creation myths tend to lack a deep human experiential quality. Oftentimes, it becomes primarily social and generalized, such as that “our tribe originated from a specific tree”.
So we can see that creation myths can have these orientations:
- Personal – generally reflective of shamans, world-oriented, deeper, experiential
- Social – not reflective of shamans, not world-oriented, generalized, abstract
The more personal shamanistic based thinking often makes for a more complicated, and deeper, creation myth (the social based ones seeming more “simpler”). In fact, a complicated creation myth may be a sign of the influence of shamans.
Another aspect of the shaman quality is that it can reflect what I often call an ‘intermediary god’ (see “Thoughts on the ‘intermediary god’ and the gradations of god“). This is really a god that originates from a person, usually with a religious purpose, such as a shaman or King. Generally, it is not a specific person that it originates from but, rather, an “office “or occupation they perform. In an ‘intermediary god’, the “office” or occupation becomes the god, so to speak, and the myths revolve around what they do and create. Because of this, the myths around the ‘intermediary god’ often becomes a repository of many generations of people which build on and add to the myths. In this way, the myths are reflective a something these people do and, accordingly, reflect a more involved personal experience. I tend to think that there are a number of gods that may reflect this tendency: the Hindu god Siva, the Norse god Odin, and possibly Lao Tzu, for example.
One of the things that it seems the ‘intermediary god’ creates is a quality of myth reflecting their awareness of the world. We could speak of these as the “awareness creation myths”. This is not surprising as much of shamanism, and religion in general, is nothing but a form of awareness. In fact, I consider god as an awareness (see my article “Thoughts on my saying: “god is awareness” – the ‘dilemma of god-awareness’“). Its probably for this reason that awareness tends to figure in the myths created by shamans, ‘intermediary gods’, and such.
We must remember that the “awareness creation myths” are not intending to describe the actual physical “scientifically provable” act of creation but, rather, the creation of a awareness of the world. In this way, “awareness creation myths” often reveal the “coming into being of awareness” in their story. This “awareness”, oftentimes, becomes the basis of a world view which may end up underlying much of the religion, belief systems, and how the culture interpret the world. This is a good example of how influential shamans, ‘intermediary gods’, etc. can be on a society, where there whole world view has a basis in what these people do and how they perceive things.
It seems, to me, that the “awareness creation myths” tend to reflect a specific type of society which has qualities such as:
- Its a more organized society.
- There is an “office” or occupation that is well-defined (a shaman, for example).
- A tradition of learning that is passed from generation to generation, particularly in that “office”.
- Its a society that is still somewhat world-oriented but not overly social-oriented.
So we see that the existence of shamans doesn’t automatically create it but more is required. In fact, the “awareness creation myths” seems to reflect a society in transition, from a world-oriented shaman society to a more social-oriented settled society. Once the society becomes social-oriented the “awareness creation myths” tend to disappear.
THE LOSS OF CREATION MYTHS AND WHAT THEY MEAN
The loss of creation myths, and the meaning and association with the world they give us, tend to have great impact on us as a people, I think. In many ways, it seems that what a lot of people are trying to do in modern civilized society, especially, is to regain what creation myths created, namely meaning and an association with the world. The preoccupation with science, technology, knowledge, etc. all seem reflective of this “abortive effort” as none of them seem to be succeeding. All it does is give an illusion of what creation myths offer. Despite all the modern civilized world does, despite all the knowledge we create or discover, despite all the theories, despite all the science, despite all the technology, we will never regain what creation myths offered.
Why is this?
Because, as I said above, creation myths reflect a way of life. What is needed is not knowledge, science, technology, etc. but a way of life, a way of life where the world figures strongly in life. Modern civilized life, sadly, is like living in a shell protected from the world and what it is. In this way, it as if “null and voids” any development of a way of life that is world-oriented. The “modern shell” will always keep us away from the world and a way of life that actively associates with the world and which makes creation myths, with its meaning and association, come alive and have value. In this way, we will never know the value of these myths.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen