Exploring Types of Creation Myths: the Earth-Diver type

This one sounds strange, and the name doesn’t quite fit. It’s not the earth that’s being dived into. It’s what is being dived for. The Earth-diver myth type is creation-by-way-of-diving. As David A. Leeming outlines in “Creation Myths of the World,” this myth-type focuses on the creation of Earth rather than the larger cosmos. It’s still a creation myth, but it’s much more specific than general. According to Leeming, “It is a myth type that stresses the creation of Earth as opposed to the larger cosmos. Animals often play an important role in the creation, as do the primeval waters and often an evil force that balances the good in a dualistic tension.”(24)  So water and animals are important. As is, often, a being that charges the diver (usually an animal) with bringing back the substance that becomes the earth. Whether this being is the creator deity of the pantheon varies. Often it isn’t. The evil force is rarer, but does appear enough to be worth mentioning.

Table of Contents

The Divers

In the fully developed Earth-Diver myth type, “the divers are generally ordinary. They possess no supernatural powers; they are us.”(28) This doesn’t mean they’re human, but that they’re mortal. Usually animals with human-like qualities. Birds seem to be common. Leeming underscores the human-like qualities of the divers, highlighting their relatability and suggesting a metaphorical interpretation of the descent into the watery depths. As he notes, the dive can be seen as “a metaphor for a necessary descent into the unconscious world in search of consciousness, as a symbol of our purpose in the world to make creation conscious of itself, or as an essential religious truth.”(28)


Charles Long further elaborates on the symbolism of water within the Earth-Diver myth, stating that “water is the unformed, unstable and pregnant reality out of which the universe comes.” (188). Water represents both chaos and potentiality, serving as the backdrop for creation and renewal. Moreover, the descent into water is likened to “a descent into the underworld or a return to the womb,”(190) symbolizing purification and the emergence of new creation. However, we have to note that this isn’t considered a dangerous place. Chaos is just the the lack of order, the mass of raw potential. While the water represents chaos of a sort, it’s also “not inhabited by monstrous and demonic beings. A certain passivity is present in this symbolism of water.” (188)

The Makers

In the Earth-Diver myth, “those who attempt to make a new world are lesser beings, lacking the grandeur and power of a supreme deity.”(Long, 191) Long emphasizes the humility and imperfection inherent in the creators of the Earth, contrasting them with the omnipotent figures of monotheistic traditions. Part of this may have to do with the inherent prejudice in which creation myths that are not similar to the Christian one are regarded. Because they aren’t from ‘nothing’, they are sometimes considered less elegant or more ‘primitive’. Both are stupid labels. Anyway, despite their ‘limitations’, these beings embark on a trial-and-error process of creation, symbolizing the perpetual struggle to bring order out of chaos.


Leeming, David A, (2009) Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia, vol. 1,  ABC-CLIO

Long, Charles (1963). Alpha: The Myths of Creation. George Braziller

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