Mythology

Exploring Types of Creation Myths: Patterns and Symbolism in Origin Stories

Creation myths are fun! (I can’t be the only one who thinks that, right…?) but the concept doesn’t exist as a monolith. There are various types of creation myths ‘Creation myth’ is just the umbrella term. It’s helpful shorthand. Scholars have attempted to categorize this range of creation narratives into types, uncovering patterns, recurring themes, and underlying symbolic representations. Mircea Eliade, a prominent scholar of religion and mythology, proposed four general types of creation stories: creation ex nihilo, earth-diver, division of primordial unity, and dismemberment of a primordial being. While Eliade’s categorization provides a useful framework, further exploration by scholars like Weigle has created a new system for categorizing creation story types, encompassing nine (well, 10, really) distinct categories.

  • Accretion or conjunction – “stories of this first type depict the birth of order as resulting from the mingling or layering of primal elements”( McClure, 34)
  • Secretion – these are the stories where creation was essentially expelled into being, whether spat, vomited, etc. “ secretion myths usually account for the creation of human or divine beings rather than for the propagation of the material cosmos. ”(McClure, 35), that is, this type tends to create beings as opposed to things, which come later.
  • Sacrifice – the divine sacrifice-style stories, where a deity, whether the creator itself, or someone else is sacrificed to keep the creation alive
  • Division or consummation – Really, this one is two categories in itself
    • Division – The cosmic egg story, where something comes into being and then splits, with the pieces becomes various parts of existence.
    • Consummation – This is the classic sky-father/earth-mother style story. A good example is Greek mythology with Gaia and all her children.
  • Earth-diver – a being dives to primordial depths and returns with something, dirt or sand usually, that eventually becomes creation
  • Emergence – rather than creation, this one is more akin to arrival. These myths show a journey through words until the beings arrive at the present one
  • Two creators – very similar to consummation-style, these are stories in which two deities create the world either through competion or cooperation. “Frequently cosmogogies employing the dual-creator motif depict one god as more active or more human than the other.”( McClure . 41) “ Frequently cosmogonies featuring two creators account for a perceived hierarchy or distinction among the planets creatures”( McClure , 41), i.e. the better one makes the useful animals and the lesser makes the dangerous ones.
  • Deus faber – This subtype depicts creation as a craft, where a skilled deity fashions humans, sometimes in successive versions, like a master craftsman.
  • Ex nihilo – For us this might be the de facto creation myth, where a supreme being speaks or breathes creation into being.

None of these categories are mutually exclusive, and a myth can incorporate elements from one or multiple types. It’s crucial to keep in mind that this classification scheme isn’t definitive or set in stone. Scholarship evolves over time, and our understanding of mythology continues to expand. While these categorizations provide a helpful framework for analysis and comparison, they may be subject to revision and refinement as new research and interpretations emerge.

References

Leonard, Scott & McClure, Michael. Myth and Knowing: An Introduction to World Mythology, McGraw-Hill. 2004

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