In the Beginning: a Comparative Look at Creation Myths

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The prevailing unanswered questions of humanity are, why are we here and how did we get here? Throughout the existence of humanity, mankind has tried to solve these time old questions. In many ancient societies the way these questions were attempted to be answered was through creation myths. Over centuries, countless creation myths have surfaced from all over the world from different religions and cultures. All of these myths come with the same purpose, to explain the creation of earth and mankind. Some of the oldest creation myths in existence are those from Southern Asia. When looking to these myths, two stand out to me. The first being the story of man (purua) splitting himself in two from the Bhadrayaka Upaniad and secondly that of Prajpati and his children from the Aitareya Brhaa. Hundreds of years later, from another part of the world comes the story of Adam and Eve from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Each of these stories of creation come their own complications, unavoidable subjects that may conflict with cultural values. Many of the complications spark from the inevitable subject of sex. It is nearly impossible to discuss mythology and more specifically creation myths without tackling the topic. This brings up one of the largest complications with creation myths, incest. How is it to be avoided when you have to populate an entire planet with only one or two people? Throughout this discussion I will summarize the three creation myths at hand, while comparing their differences and similarities in working through the topic sex.

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Charles Darwin came to the conclusion in his 1859 book, On The Origin of Species, that humans had evolved by means of natural selection from other primates. Darwin shocked the world with his theory of evolution. His theory states that humans have come to be through survival of the fittest and natural selection. However, eventually Darwin came to the realization that merely surviving was not enough, a species must also be fertile and able to pass on favorable genes. Through this Darwin came to the conclusion that sex was a key component in the “origin of a species” (Potts & Short 1999, 5-15). This conclusion of sex being responsible for humanities origin and survival is in reality the same conclusion reached by ancient societies in their creation myths. Sex and love are something which humans have been curious about for millenia. This is why it has largely become the main theme in creation myths. Although the way it is approached always differs.

From an academic standpoint mythology is very difficult to grasp. Varying beliefs and cultural holdings have lead mythology to become a heavily debated subject. Beyond the fact that myths themselves can already be unbelievably complex, the texts they come from oftentimes have been misunderstood through centuries after being rewritten time and time again. There are really no true original manuscripts that most myths come from, so there are multiple different versions of each myth. Additionally, many of the ancient myths that we have today have came from decrepit documents. This means that the documents were often times missing pages and characters, making it vastly more difficult to comprehend them. Overall, this only adds to the controversy.

The idea of how humanity was created is today something which is far from being widely accepted. For many religions the myths discussed throughout this paper are far from fiction. The stories of Adam and Eve, Prajpati and purua are believed within Christianity and Hinduism to be true in the creation of humanity. Myths throughout their existence have proven to be an integral part of society, serving as a vital realites which dominate cultures (Elwin 1949, xiv). Overall myths encompass a broad multi-dimensional scope of cultural identity. However, for the purpose of this discussion they must be equally considered just as myths or ancient stories. Within their present form, there is still infinite amounts to be learned from myths. Each myth lending ear to the thoughts and perspectives from times long ago. A significant aspect of the Hindu creation stories is that there is not just one. There are multiple tellings of the creation of earth as it is thought to be something which is cyclic. It is not something which only happens once, but many times throughout history. This is why we have both the story of man (purua) from the Bhadrayaka Upaniad and that of Prajpati from the Aitareya Brhaa. Both are considered to be true stories of creation.

Each creation myth brings us a new and interesting perspective on a religion and creation. The first myth we will examine is the story of the first man (purua). This myth comes from the Bhadrayaka Upaniad (1.4.1-3), it is the oldest of the Upaniads and thought to have been produced within sixth-seventh century BC (kof 2015, 34-36). The myth begins with nothingness, just the “single body (atman) shaped like a man” (Olivelle 1998, 45-49). This man (purua) found no pleasure for himself, as he was completely alone. In this loneliness he also found fear, although he questions this because what is there to be afraid of with nothing around you. In this realization he decides he wants a companion, which leads him to split himself in two (man and woman). ‘The two of us are like two halves of a block,’ he states and has sex with the woman (Olivelle 1998, 47). From this, humans are created. The women doesn’t feel comfortable with the fact that she merged her body with the man, since she came from him. This lead her to hide herself from the man in the form of a cow, so the man turned himself into a bull and they again mated which created cattle. The women then turned herself into a mare, so the man turned himself into a stallion and from there horses were created. This pattern carried on until every creature on earth was created. Leading purua to realize he was the creator he states, ‘I alone am the creation, for I created all this'(Olivelle 1998, 47). It becomes that anyone who realizes that he was the creator of this all shall prosper from the creations.

The next myth is from the Aitareya Brhaa, one of two Brhmaas, the other being the Kautaki Bhmaais. Together these tell of the creation myth involving Prajpati. Prajpati is known to be one of the Vedic deities of Hinduism (Dalal 2010, 311). In the Aitareya Brhaa it is told that Prajpati approaches his daughter in the form of a stag since she is a doe. The gods are watching and they say, “Prajpati is now doing what must not be done” (O’Flaherty 1975, 29-30). The gods form together to create the deity Rudra, who then pierces Prajpati with an arrow sending him upwards. As this happens his “seed is spilt”, creating a lake. The gods don’t want Prajpati’s seed to spoil, and in saying so they connect this with man. Man becomes that which has not been spoilt (O’Flaherty 1975, 29-30). The punishment leads Prajpati to find a new means for reproduction. In the Kautaki Brhmaais Prajpati instead turns to practising extreme asceticism, extreme abstinence and meditation. Thus, meaning that in this section Prajpati’s reproduction is asexual. It is explained that as Prajpati became heated from the practised asceticism, “five were born from him: Fire, Wind, Sun, Moon, and the fifth, a female, Dawn” (O’Flaherty 1975, 31). Prajpati then tells his children to practice asceticism as well.

Within both of the myths summarized above, there is a clear denunciation to any insinuation of incest. In the story from the Bhadrayaka Upaniad, the women is clearly uncomfortable that the she has “copulated” with the man she came from. This is clearly seen where she states, ‘After begetting me from his own body (atman), how could he copulate with me? I know—I’ll hide myself.’ The women unmistakably takes issue with their incestous relation and goes to the effort to hide herself in the form of another being to stop it from happening again. Although the myth carries on to have them “copulate” hundreds of times the underlying controversy of their incetous encounter prevails. In the creation myth with Prajpati he is outrightly punished for his incentous actions towards his daughter. The gods state that Prajpati has done, “what must not be done” (O’Flaherty 1975, 29-30). In the next part of the story Prajpati finds a way to reproduce without having to copulate, asceticism. This is how the myth is able to deal with the incest compilation within creation while still explaining that incest is wrong.

The final creation myth we will look at is that of Adam and Eve from the first book in the Bible, Genesis. This story begin in the garden of Eden. God created Adam out of dust and tells him he can roam and eat from any tree except from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the forbidden fruit. Adam wants a companion so Eve is created from a piece of his rib. The two live blissfully, unembarrassed by their nakedness, until one day a serpent convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. She gives some to Adam and they are cast out of the Garden for sinning by disobeying God. With their new knowledge of shame and evil the two become the first humans on earth and populate the planet (Leeming 2010, 303).

Overall, the story of Adam and Eve is a lot less explicit in drawing the line against incest. Although the Bible does prohibit incest, it is not very clearly stated in the story of Adam and Eve how the act was avoided. Even though Eve came from Adam she does not seem to take issue with reproducing with him, unlike the women from the Bhadrayaka Upaniad creation myth.

Darwin understood that sexual attraction and reproduction is an important part to evolution and creation. This concept was also understood by religions and cultures as shown through their creation myths. Although the first two myths discussed here were from a different religion/culture than the last of Adam and Eve, they all have to work through the topic of sex. Comparatively the issue of incest is approached differently in each story, however it is a shared complication each creation myth equally has to work around.

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In the Beginning: A Comparative Look at Creation Myths. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved August 8, 2022 , from
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