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Cosmogony, or cosmogeny, is any theory concerning the coming into existence or origin of the universe, or about how reality came to be. The word comes from the Greek κοσμογονία (or κοσμογενία), from κόσμος "cosmos, the world", and the root of γί(γ)νομαι / γέγονα "to be born, come about". In the specialized context of space science and astronomy, the term refers to theories of creation of (and study of) the Solar System.

Cosmogony can be distinguished from cosmology, which studies the universe at large and throughout its existence, and which technically does not inquire directly into the source of its origins. There is some ambiguity between the two terms; for example, the cosmological argument from theology regarding the existence of God is technically an appeal to cosmogonical rather than cosmological ideas. In practice, there is a scientific distinction between cosmological and cosmogonical ideas. Physical cosmology is the science that attempts to explain all observations relevant to the development and characteristics of the universe as a whole. Questions regarding why the universe behaves in such a way have been described by physicists and cosmologists as being extra-scientific, though speculations are made from a variety of perspectives that include extrapolation of scientific theories to untested regimes and philosophical or religious ideas.

Attempts to create a naturalistic cosmogony are subject to two separate limitations. One is based in the philosophy of science and the epistemological constraints of science itself, especially with regards to whether scientific inquiry can ask questions of "why" the universe exists. Another more pragmatic problem is that there is no physical model that can explain the earliest moments of the universe's existence (Planck time) because of a lack of a consistent theory of quantum gravity.


Mythical cosmogonies

Greek mythology embodied the desire to articulate reality as a whole and this universalizing impulse was fundanendal for the first projects of speculative theorizing.It appears that the order of 'being' was first imaginatively visualized before it was abstractly thought.In the Theogony of Hesiod (7th-6th century BC) the origin (arche) of the universe is Chaos,a yawning Abyss considered as a divine primordial condition,from which everything else appeared.In the Orphic cosmogony the unageing Chronos produced Aither and Chaos,and made in divine Aither a silvery egg from which everything else appeared.These ideas are influenced by the Near-Eastern cosmological theories and by the Vedic cosmogony.

Epistemological limitations to cosmogony

The assumptions of naturalism that underlie the scientific method have led some scientists, especially observationalists, to question whether the ultimate reason or source for the universe to exist can be answered in a scientific fashion. In particular, the principle of sufficient reason seems to indicate that there should be such an explanation, but whether a satisfactory explanation can be obtained through scientific inquiry is debatable. A scientific examination of cosmogony using existing physical models would face many challenges. For example, equations used to develop models of the origin do not in themselves explain how the conditions of the universe that the equations model came to be in the first place.

Theistic explanations for origins indicate one or more supernatural beings as the explanation, though atheist commentators often point to this as an argument from ignorance or a God of the gaps fallacy, and that such an assumption provides no explanation for existence of the deity. Nondual explanations by contrast state that the very question is misleading, since it contains erroneous assumptions of beginnings, endings and the nature of existence itself, and consider the visible universe as phenomenology.

As a result of this, scientific cosmogonies are sometimes supplemented by reference to metaphysical and theistic belief systems. The problem can be summarized as three classical paradoxes. These paradoxes (discussed by both Kierkegaard and Leibniz) are:

  1. reconciling a doctrine of causation (similar to the 13th century proof of God posed by Thomas Aquinas);
  2. reconciling the conservation law ("something from nothing");
  3. reconciling issues of temporal (as in Zeno's paradoxes) and logical regression.

However, some of the metaphysical principles used to formulate these classical paradoxes no longer enjoy an unchallenged status as laws of thought. For instance, quantum mechanics gives an independent motivation to challenge the principle of sufficient reason.

Planck time limitations to cosmogony

Planck time (10-43s) is the time it would take a photon traveling at the speed of light to cross a distance equal to the Planck length (1.616252×10-35 meters). It has been proposed that this may be the hypothetical "quantum of time", the smallest measurement of time that has any meaning, although in current physics theory time is not quantized.

Although the laws of physics lose experimental support at the Planck time, modern science has sought to clarify the nature of these paradoxes, so far with only limited success. For example, one can apply the current understanding of grand unified theories (GUTs) – both quasi-classical (such as general relativity) and modern (such as quantum gravity, superstring, and M-theories) – to these three primary cosmogonic paradoxes in thought experiments. While these result in some contradictions and lack completeness in a mathematical sense (being based on axioms that are 'merely' self-evident, but not robust under the stresses of radical scepticism) these paradoxes can nonetheless be analyzed rationally using the subatomic applications of quantum cosmology, particularly through the employment of the Schrödinger wave equations.

In each case, where general relativity fails as the curvature of space-time invokes singularities from its equations at t=0, the statistically "grey" nature of quantum cosmology tends to allow a scientific rationale to account for each paradox, and in so doing allows for a scientific perspective on previously theistic terrain. For example, application of quantum "fuzziness" (per the Wheeler-DeWitt application of subatomic position and momentum equations to universal radius and expansion) avoids boundary issues, as developed in the Hartle-Hawking Wave Function.

All such equations are based on differentials, which assume a continuum, where in our universe, affected by the Planck length and other minimum scales, this continuum has only limited meaning, about which philosophy remains in a state of semantic flux.


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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

COSMOGONY (from Gr. KOo-pos, world and yiyvEaOac, to be born), a theory, however incomplete, of the origin of heaven and earth, such as is produced by primitive races in the myth-making age, and is afterwards expanded and systematized by priests, poets or philosophers. Such a theory must be mythical in form, and, after gods have arisen, is likely to be a theogony (0E6s, god) as well as a cosmogony (Babylonia, Egypt, Phoenicia, Polynesia).

1. To many the interest of such stories will depend on their parallelism to the Biblical account in Genesis i.; the anthropologist, however, will be attracted by them in proportion as they illustrate the more primitive phases of human culture. In spite of the frequent overgrowth of a luxuriant imagination, the leading ideas of really primitive cosmogonies are extremely simple. Creation out of nothing is nowhere thought of, for this is not at all a simple idea. The pre-existence of world-matter is assumed; sometimes too that of heaven, as the seat of the earth-maker, and that of preternatural animals, his coadjutors. The earthmaking process may, among the less advanced races, be begun by a bird, or some other animal (whence the term " theriomorphism "), for the high idea of a god is impossible, till man has fully realized his own humanity. Of course, the earthforming animal is a preternaturally gifted one, and is on the line of development towards that magnified man who, in a later stage, becomes the demiurge.' Between the two comes the animal - man, i.e. a being who has not yet shed the slough of an animal shape, but combines the powers - natural and preternatural - of some animal with those of a man. Let us now collect specimens of the evidence for different varieties of cosmogony, ranging from those of the Red Indian tribes to that of the people of Israel.

2. North American Stories. - Theriomorphic creators are most fully attested for the Red Indian tribes, whose very backwardness renders them so valuable to an anthropologist. There is a painted image from Alaska, now in the museum of the university of Pennsylvania, which represents such an one. We see a black crow tightly holding a human mask which he is in the act of incubating. Let us pass on to the Thlinkit Indians of the N.W. coast. A cycle of tales is devoted to a strange humorous being called Yehl or Yelch, i.e. the Raven, miraculously born, not to be wounded, and at once a semi-developed creator and a culture hero. 2 His bitter foe is his uncle; the germs of dualism appear early. Like some other culture-heroes, he steals sun, moon and stars out of a box, so enlightening the dark earth. These people are at any rate above the Greenlanders, but are surpassed by the Algonkins described by Nicholas Perrot in 1700, and by the Iroquois, whom the heroic Father Brebeuf (1J93-1649) learned to know so we11.3 The earth-maker of the former was called Michabo, i.e. the Great Hare. 4 He is the leader of some animals on a raft on a shoreless sea. Three of these in succession are sent to dive for a little earth. A grain of sand is brought; out of it he makes an island (America?). Of the carcases of the dead animals he makes the present men (N. Americans?). There is also a Flood-story, an episode in which has a bearing on the 1 Cf. Miss Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, chaps. vi., vii., " The Making of a Goddess and of a God." See Ratzel, Hist. of Mankind, ii. 147-148; Breysig, Die Entstehung des Gottesgedankens (1905), pp. 10-12.

See Chamberlain, Journ. of American Folklore, iv. 208-209 (analysis of Perrot's account); Brinton, Myths of the New World, pp. 176-179; Breysig, op. cit., pp. 15-20.

4 On Michabo see Brinton, op. cit. (1876), pp. 176 ff., Essays of an Americanist (1890), p. 132. This scholar holds that " Michabo " has properly nothing to do with " Great Hare," but should be translated " the Great White One," i.e. the light of the dawn. The Algonkins, however, thought otherwise, and the myth itself suggests a theriomorphic earth-maker.

great dragon-myth' (see Deluge). The Iroquois are in advance of the Algonkins; their creator-hero has no touch of the animal in him. Above the waters there existed a heaven, or a heavenly earth (cf. Mexico, Babylonia, Egypt), through a hole in which Aataentsic fell to the water. The broad back of a tortoise (cf. § 6) on which a diving animal had placed some mud, received her. Here, being already pregnant, she gave birth to a daughter, who in turn bore the twins Joskeha and Tawiscara (myth of hostile brothers). By his violence (cf. Gen. xxv. 22) the latter killed his mother, out of whose corpse grew plants. Tawiscara fled to the west, where he rules over the dead. Joskeha made the beasts and also men. After acting as culture-giver he disappeared to the east, where he is said to dwell with his grandmother as her husbands 3. Mexican. - The most interesting feature in the Mexican cosmology is the theory of the ages of the world. Greece, Persia and probably Babylon, knew of four such ages. ? The Priestly Writer in the Pentateuch also a p pears to be acquainted with this doctrine; it is the first of four ages which begins with the Creation and ends with the Deluge. The Mexicans, however, are said to have assumed five ages called " suns." The first was the sun of earth; the second, of fire; the third, of air; the fourth, of water; the fifth (which is the present) was unnamed. Each of these closed with a physical catastrophe. 8 The speculations which underlie the Mexican theory have not come down to us. For the Iranian parallel, see § 8, and on the Hebrew Priestly Writer, Gunkel, Genesis 2, pp. 2 33 ff.

4. Peruvian.--In Peru, as in Egypt, the sun-god obtained universal homage. But there were creator-gods in the background. A theoretical supremacy was accorded by the Incas to Pachacamac, whose worship, like that of Vira cocha, they appear to have already found when they conquered the land. Pachacamac means, in Quichua, " world-animator." 9 The " philosophers " of Peru declared that he desired no temples or sacrifices, no worship but that of the heart. This is conceivable; Maui, too, in New Zealand had no temple or priests. But most probably this deity had another less abstract name, and the horrible worship offered in the one temple which he really had under the Incas, accorded with his true cosmic significance as the god of the subterranean fire. Viracocha too had a cosmic position; an old Peruvian hymn calls him " world-former, world-animator." 10 He was connected with water. A third creator was Manco Capac (" the mighty man "), whose sister and wife is called Mama Oello, " the mother-egg." Afterwards, the creator and the mother-egg became respectively the sun and the moon, represented by the Inca priest-king and his wife, the supposed descendants of Manco Capac. 11 Dualistic tendencies were also developed. Las Casas 12 reports a story that before creation the creator-god had a bad son who sought, after creation, to undo all that his father had done. Angered at this, his father hurled him into the sea. We need not suspect Christian influences, but the parallelism of Rev. xx. 3, Isa.. xiv. 12, 15, Ezek. xxviii. 16 is obvious.

5. Polynesian

Polynesia, that classic land of mythology, is specially rich in myths of creation. The Maori story, told by Grey and others, of the rending apart of Rangi (= Langi, heaven) 5 See Schoolcraft, Myth of Hiawatha (1856), pp. 35-39; and cf. the myth of Manabush, analysed in Journ. of Amer. Folklore, iv. 210-213.

6 The latest explanation of Joskeha is " dear little sprout," and of Tawiscara, " the ice-one," while Aataentsic becomes " she of the swarthy body." Hewitt, Journ. of Amer. Folklore, x. 68. Brebeuf (1635) says that Iouskeha gives growth and fair weather (Tylor, Prim. Cult. i. 294).

See Jeremias, Das Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten Orients, p. 121, I; Winckler, Die Keilinschriften and das Alte Testament', p. 333 s Reville, Religions of Mexico and Peru, p. 129.

9 Garcilasso el Inca, Comment. de los Incas, lib. ii. c. 2; cf. Lang, The Making of Religion, pp. 262-270.

to Reville, p. 187.

11 Reville, p. 158. Garcilasso (lib. i. c. 18) says that Manco Capac " taught the subject nations to be men," and also founded the imperial city of Cuzco (= navel).

12 De las antiquas gentes del Peru (ed. 1892), pp. 55, 56.

and Papa (earth) can be paralleled in China, India and Greece, and more remotely in Egypt and Babylonia. The son of Rangi and Papa was Tangaloa (also called Tangaroa and Taaroa), the sea-god and the father of fishes and reptiles.' In other parts of Polynesia he is the Heaven God, to whom there is no like, no second. In Samoa he is even called Tangaloa-Langi (Tangaloa = heaven). And if he is the sea-god, we must remember that there is a heavenly as well as an earthly ocean; hence the clouds are sometimes called Tangaloa's ships. It is true, the popular imagery is unworthy of such a god. Sometimes he is said to live in a shell, by throwing off which from time to time he increases the world; or in an egg, which at last he breaks in pieces; the pieces are the islands. We also hear that long ago he hovered as an enormous bird over the waters, and there deposited an egg. The egg may be either the earth with the overarching vault of heaven or (as in Egypt - but this is a later view) the sun. The latter received mythical representation in that most interesting god (but originally rather culture-hero) Maui, who, in NewZealand practically supplants Tangaloa, and becomes the god of the air and of the heaven, the creator and the causer of the flood.2 Speculation opened the usual deep problem; whence came the gods? It was answered that Po, i.e. darkness, was the begetter of all things, even of Tangaloa.

6. Indian. - India, however, is the natural home of a mythology recast by speculation. The classical specimen of an advanced cosmogony is to be found in the Rig Veda (x. 129); it is the hymn which begins, " There then was neither Aught nor Naught ! " 3 Another such cosmogony is given in Manu. It is " the selfexistent Lord," who, " with a thought, created the waters, and deposited in them a seed which became a golden egg, in which egg he himself is born as Brahma -, the progenitor of the worlds."4 The doctrine of creation by a thought is characteristically Indian. In the satapatha Brahmana (cf. Deluge), we meet again with the primeval waters and the world-egg, and with the famous mythological tortoise-theory, 5 also found among the Algonkins (§ 2) - antique beliefs gathered up by the framers of philosophic systems, who felt the importance of maintaining such links with the distant past.

7. Egyptian

In Egypt too the systematizers were busily engaged in the co-ordination of myths. They retained the belief that the germs of all things slept for ages within the dark flood, personified as Min or NU. How they were drawn forth was variously told.' In some districts the demiurge was called Khnumu; it was he who modelled the egg (of the world?) and also man.' Elsewhere he was the artizan-god Ptah, who with his hammer broke the egg; sometimes Thoth, the moon-god and principle of intelligence, who spoke the world into existence.' A strange episode in the legend of the destruction of man by the gods tells how Ra (or Re), the first king of the world, finding in his old age that mankind ceased to respect him, first tried the remedy of massacre, and then ascended the heavenly cow, and organized a new world - that of heaven.9 8. Iranian. - The Iranian account of creation 10 is specially interesting because its religious spirit is akin to that of Genesis i. From a literary point of view, indeed, it cannot compare with the dignified Hebrew narrative, but considering the misfortunes which have befallen the collection of Zoroastrian traditions now represented by the Bundahish (the Parsee Genesis) we cannot reasonably be surprised. The work referred to begins by 1 See especially Waitz-Gerland, Anthropologie der Naturvolker, vi. 229-302; Gill, Myths and Songs of the South Pacific; Schirren, Wandersagen der Neuseelander; also an older work (Sir George) Grey's Polynesian Mythology. 2 See Schirren, op. cit., pp. 64-89.

J. Muir, Metrical Translations, pp. 188-189.

4 J. Muir, Sanscrit Texts, iv. 26.

5 See Tylor, Early History of Mankind, p. 340; Primitive Culture, i. 329; Oldenberg, Religion des Veda, pp. 85 f.

s See Maspero, Dawn of Civilization, p. 127; also Brugoch, Religion and Mythologie der alten Agypter. ' See illustration in Maspero, p. 157.

8 See Maspero, pp. 146-147.

9 Maspero, pp. 160-169.

to See Zoroaster, and cf. Ency. Bib., " Creation," § 9; " Zoroastrianism," §§ 20, 21.

describing the state of things in the beginning; the good spirit in endless light and omniscient, and the evil spirit in endless darkness and with limited knowledge. Both produced their own creatures, which remained apart, in a spiritual or ideal state, for 3000 years, after which the evil spirit began his opposition to the good creation under an agreement that his power was not to last more than 9000 years, of which only the middle 3000 were to see him successful. By uttering a sacred formula the good spirit throws the evil one into a state of confusion for a second 3000 years, while he produces the archangels and the material creation, including the sun, moon and stars. At the end of that period the evil spirit, encouraged by the demons he had produced, once more rushes upon the good creation to destroy it. The demons carry on conflicts with each of the six classes of creation, namely, the sky, water, earth, plants, animals represented by the primeval ox, and mankind represented by Gayomard or Kayumarth (the "first man "of the Avesta). 1 ' Four points to be noticed here: (r) the belief in the four periods of the world, each of 3000 years (cf. § 3); (2) the comparative success for a time of Angra Mainyu (the evil principle personified); (3) the absence of any recognition of pre-existent matter; (4) the mention of six classes of good creatures. Each of these deserves a comment. which we cannot, however, here give, and the third may seem to suggest direct influence of the Iranian upon the Jewish cosmogony. But though there are in Gen. i. six days of creative activity, and the creative works are not six, but eight, if not ten in number, and indirect Babylonian influence is more strongly indicated. Jewish thinkers would have been attracted by the emphatic assertion of the creatorship of the One God in the royal Persian inscriptions more than by the traditional cosmogony. See further Ency. Bib., " Creation," § 9.

9. Phoenician and Greek. - Phoenician cosmogonies would appear, from the notices which have come down to us, 12 to have been composite. The traditions are pale and obscure. It is clear, however, that the primeval flood and the world-egg (out of which came heaven and earth) are referred to. See Ency. Bib., " Creation " § 7; " Phoenicia " § 15; Lagrange, Religions sdmitiques, pp. 351 ff. Greek cosmogonies (the orientalism of which is clear) will be found in Hesiod, Theog. 116 ff.; Aristophanes, Birds, 692 ff.; cf. Clem. Rom., Homil. vi. 4. See Miss Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, chap. xii. " Orphic Cosmogony." io. Babylonian and Israelitish. - Of the Babylonian and Israelitish cosmogonies we have several more or less complete records. For details as to the former, see Babylonian And Assyrian Religion. With regard to thelatter, wemay notice that in Gen. ii. 4b-25 we have an account of creation which, though in its present form very incomplete, is highly attractive, because it is pervaded by a breath from primitive times. It has, however, been interwoven with an account of the Garden of Eden from some other source (see Eden; Paradise), and perhaps in order to concentrate the attention of the reader, the description of the origin of " earth and heaven " as well as of the plants and of the rain, appears to have been omitted. In fact, both the creationstories at the opening of Genesis must have undergone much editorial manipulation. Originally, for instance, Gen. i. 26 must have said that man was made out of earth; this point of contact between the two cosmogonic traditions has, however, been effaced.

The other narrative, Gen. i. I - ii. 4a, is a much more complete cosmogony, and since the theory of P. A. Lagarde (1887), which ascribes it to Iranian influence (see § 8), has no very solid ground, whereas the theory which explains it as largely Babylonian is in a high degree plausible, we must now consider the relations between the Israelitish and Babylonian cosmogonies. The short account of creation first translated in 1890 by T. G. Pinches is distinguished by its non-mythical character; in particular, the 11 West, Pahlavi Texts (S.B.E.), vol. i., introd. p. xxiii. We need not deny that, late as the Bundahish may be as a whole, the traditions which it contains are often old.

Fragments of older works are cited by Philo of Byblus (in Eusebius, Praep. Evang. i. 10) and Mochus and Endemus (in Damascius, De primis principiis, c. 125).

dragon of chaos and darkness is conspicuous by her absence. This may illustrate the fact that the dragon is also unmentioned in the Hebrew cosmogony; to some writers the dragon-element may have seemed grotesque and inappropriate. We must, however, study this element in the most important Babylonian tradition, even if only for its relation to non-Semitic myths and especially to some striking passages in the Bible (Isa. xxvii. 1, li. 9b; Ps. lxxiv. 14, lxxxix. Io, 11; Job iii. 8, ix. 13, xxvi. 12, 13; Rev. xii. 3, 4, xx. 1-3). One may also be permitted to hold that the mythic figure of the dragon, if used poetically, is a highly serviceable one, and consider that " in the beginning God fought with the dragon, and slew him " would have formed an admirable illustration of the passages just now referred to, especially to those in the Apocalypse.

The student should, however, notice that the dragon-element is not entirely unrepresented even in the priestly Hebrew cosmogony. It is said in Gen. i. 9, 10, 14, 15, that God divided the primeval waters into two parts by an intervening " firmament " or " platform," on which the sun, moon and stars (planets) were placed to mark times and to give light. This division (cp. Ps. lxxiv. 13) is really a pale version of the old mythic statement respecting the cleaving of the carcase of Tiamat (the Dragon) into two parts, one of which kept the upper waters from coming down.' And we must affirm that the technical term re' horn (rendered in the English Bible " the deep "), which evidently signifies the enveloping primeval flood, and which closely resembles Tiamat, the name given to the dragon or serpent in the epic (cf. tiamtu and tamtu, Babylonian words for " the ocean "), can only be due to the influence - probably the very early influence - of Babylonia.

But we are far from having exhausted the evidence of Babylonian influence on the Hebrew cosmogony. The description of chaos in v. 2 not only mentions the great water (tehom), but the earth, i.e. the earth-matter, out of which the earth and (potentially) its varied products (vv. 9-11), and (as we know from the Babylonian epic) the " firmament " or " platform " of the heaven were to appear. This earth-matter is called " tohu and bohu "; there is nothing like this phrase in the epic, but we may infer from Jer. iv. 23, where the same phrase occurs, that it means " devoid of living things." For a commentary on this see the opening of the Babylonian account referred to above, which refers to the period of chaos as one in which there were neither reeds nor trees, and where " the lands altogether were sea." As to the creative acts, we may admit that the creation of light does not form one of them in the epic (cf. Gen. i. 3), but the existence of light apart from the sun is presupposed; Marduk the creator is in fact a god of light. Nor ought we to find a discrepancy between the Babylonian and the Hebrew, accounts in the creation of the heavenly bodies after the plants, related in Gen. i. 14-18. For the position of this creative act is due to the necessity of bringing all the divine acts into the framework of six working days. On the whole, the Hebrew statement of the successive stages of creation corresponds so nearly to that in the Babylonian epic that we are bound to assume that one has been influenced by the other. And if we are asked, " Which is the more original ? " we answer by appealing to the well-established fact of the profound influence of Babylonian culture upon Canaan in remote times (see Canaan). An important element in this culture would be mythic representations of the origin of things, such as the Babylonian Creation and Deluge-stories in various forms. Indeed, not only Canaan but all the neighbouring regions must have been pervaded by Babylonian views of the universe and its origin. Myths of origins there must indeed have been in those countries before Babylonian influence became so overpowering, but, if so, these myths must have become recast when the great Teacher of the Nations half-attracted and halfcompelled attention. More than this we need not assert. Zimmern's somewhat different treatment of the subject in Ency. Biblica, " Creation," § 4, may be compared.

Popular writers are in some danger of misrepresenting this important result. It is tempting, but incorrect, to suppose that ' See Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p. 428.

a docile Israelitish writer accepted one of the chief forms of the Babylonian cosmogony, merely omitting its polytheism and substituting " Yahweh " for " Marduk." As we have seen, various myths of Creation may have been current both in N. Arabia (whence the Israelites may have come) and in Canaan prior to the great extension of Babylonian influence. These myths doubtless had peculiarities of their own. From one of them may have come that remarkable statement in Gen. i. 2b, " and the spirit of God (Elohim) was hovering over the face of the waters," which, until we find some similar myth nearer home, is best illustrated and explained by a Polynesian myth (see Cheyne, Traditions and Beliefs of Ancient Israel, ad loc.). It is also probably to a non-Babylonian source that we owe the prescription of vegetarian or herb diet in Gen. i. 29, 30, which has a Zoroastrian parallel 2 and is evidently based on a myth of the Golden Age, independent of the Babylonian cosmogony. Gen. i., therefore, has not, as it stands, been directly borrowed from Babylonia, and yet the infused Babylonian element is so considerable that the story is, in a purely formal aspect, much more Babylonian than either Israelitish or Canaanitish or N. Arabian. We say " in a purely formal aspect," because the strictness with which Babylonian mythic elements have been adapted in Gen. i. to the wants of a virtually monotheistic community is in the highest degree remarkable.

On the literary scheme of the Creation-story in Gen. i. see the commentaries (e.g. Dillinan's and Driver's). On the other Old Testament references to creation, and on the prophetic doctrine of creation, see Ency. Bib., " Creation," §§ 27-29. On the traces of dragon and serpent myths in the Old Testament and their significance, see Gunkel, Schopfung and Chaos (1895) - a pioneering work of the highest merit - and Ency. Bib., " Behemoth," " Dragon," " Rahab," " Serpent." On the connexion of the Creation and the Deluge-stories, see DELUGE. Cf. also the article on BABYLONIAN AND ASSYRIAN RELIGION; and Cheyne, Traditions and Beliefs of Ancient Israel (1907). (T. K. C.)

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By this term is understood an account of how the universe (cosmos) came into being (gonia — gegona = I have become). It differs from cosmology, or the science of the universe, in this: that the latter aims at understanding the actual composition and governing laws of the universe as it now exists; while the former answers the question as to how it first came to be. The Christian Faith accounts for the origin of the universe by creation ex nihilo of the matter out of which the universe arose, and the preservatio, or maintenance, of Providence according to which it developed into what it now is. Modern science has propounded many theories as to how the primieval gaseous substance evolved into the present harmony of the universe. These theories may be called scientific cosmogonies; and the account of the origin of the world given in Genesis, i and ii, is styled Mosaic cosmogony. The word cosmogony is, however, usually applied to mythic accounts of the world's origin current among the peoples of antiquity and the more modern races which have not been touched by recent scientific methods. In this article the word is understood only in this latter sense. In treating the strange admixture of psuedo-scientific speculations and religious ideas which the human mind, unassisted by revelation, elaborated to account for the existence and harmony of the universe, we are forced at first to follow only the chronological order. The different accounts given of the origin of the heavens and the earth are at first sight so irreconcilable, so fanciful that no other order of treatment seems possible; but an attempt will be made in the conclusion to sum up and systematize the various ideas enumerated, to trace the various lines along which past thought and fancy developed to some great central principles, and thus to show the unity which underlies even this confusing diversity. As modern scholarship seems to suggest the Euphrates valley as the cradle of all civilization, the cosmogonies there in vogue shall be treated first; although Egyptian ideas on this subject can be traced to an antiquity at least as remote as that of the earliest Babylonian cosmogonies known to us.


Two different Assyro-Babylonian cosmogonies have come down to us. The longer one is known under the name of Creation Epos or "Enuma elish", the words with which it begins. The shorter one is commonly known as the Bilingual Account of creation because, on the fragmentary tablet on which it is written, the Semitic Babylonian is accompanied by a Sumerian version.

The Creation Epos

A good summary of this cosmogony had been known since the sixth century of the Christian era, through Damascus (the Athenian neo-Platonist who emigrated to Persia when Justinian suppressed the schools of Athens), as follows: "The Babylonians, passing over in silence the one-principle of the universe, constitute two, Tauthe and Apason, making Apason the husband of Tauthe and calling her the mother of the gods. And from these proceeds an only-begotten son, Moumis, who, I consider, is nought else but the intelligible world proceeding from the two principles. From them another progeny is likewise produced, Dache and Dachos, and also a third, Kisaré and Assoros, from which last three other proceed, Anos, and Illinos, and Aos. And to Aos and Dauke a son is born called Belos of whom they say that he is the creator of the world [demiurgus]."The Assyrian original upon which this summary is based was first discovered and published by G. Smith, in 1875, from seven fragmentary tablets in the British Museum. It has been translated by a number of scholars, and recently (London, 1903), with the addition of numerous fragments, by L. W. King of the same museum. it opens as follows:—

When on high the heavens were not uttered, Below the earth bore not yet a name; The ocean primeval was their begetter, Mummu Tiamtu the parent of all of them. Their waters were mixed together in one and Fields not yet marked, marshes not yet seen [?] When of the gods there existed still none None bore any name, the fates [not yet settled] Then came into being the gods [in order?] Lamu and Lahamu went forth [as the first?] Great were the ages . . . . Ansar and Kisar were produced, and over them Long grew the days, there appeared The god Anu, their son . . .

The Greek copyist had evidently mistaken LACHOS for DACHOS, but otherwise the two accounts tally exactly; Apason is Apsu the Ocean; Tauthe is Tiamtu, as Assyrian labializes the nasal; Lache and Lachos are likewise Lamu and Lahamu; Kissare, Assoras, Anos, Illinos, and Aos correspond to Kisar and Ansar, Anu, Enlil, and Ea or Ae. Damascius considered Moumis the son of Tiamtu. But in the Babylonian text Mummu seems to have Tiamat in apposition, and the particle muallidati is in the feminine, yet on a later fragment Mummu does figure as the son of Tiamat, and Damascius' statement seems correct. In any case, they began with a double, purely material, principle Apsu and Tiamet, male and female, probably personifying the mass of salt and sweet water "mixed together in one". Out of all these things even the gods arise, their birth is in reality the gradual differentiation of the as yet undifferentiated, undetermined, undivided watery ALL. The meaning of Ansar and Kisar is plain; they are personified ideals: Above and Below. The meaning of Lahmu and Lahamu is not so clear. Popular mythology speaks of the Lahmu as monsters and demons, spirits of evil, and their progeny sides with Tiamat as the mother of chaos; yet on the other hand, they cannot be evil in themselves, for the good gods, Anu, Bel, and Ea, are their children. It has been suggested with great probability that Lahmu and Lahamu are the personifications of Dawn and Twilight. — In the watery chaos, first the light breaks; an above and a below begin to be, and the result is Anu, Bel, and Ea — Sky, Earth, and Water. But this process of development is not to proceed unopposed, nor are the powers (gods) of order peacefully to conquer the power of Chaos. This war is mythologically described in the great Epos. Tiamat creates a brood of monsters to fight on her side, puts Kingu, her husband, at the head, gives him the tablets of fate in his bosom, thereby giving him supreme power. Ea hears of this plot, tells Ansar, his father, who asks Anu to interfere, but in vain. Ea is likewise applied to, but without result. At last Ea's son Marduk, at the request of the gods, becomes their champion and conquers the Dragon of Chaos. Cutting the lifeless body of the dragon in two he makes of the one half the expanse of the heavens, thereby preventing the waters above from coming down; out of the other the earth. He then firmly fixes the stars, arranging the constellations of the zodiac, creates the moon, "sets him as a creature of night, to make known the days monthly without failing". After this Marduk's "heart urged him, and he made cunning plans, and he opened his mouth and said to Ae: "Let me gather my blood and let me [take my] bone, let me set up a man, and let the man . . . let me make then men dwelling . . ." The gods praise Marduk's work and they applaud him with fifty names; each god transferring to Marduk his own function and dignity. Marduk, then, is the real Demiurgus or world-creator, a dignity, however, which was not originally his. The political success of Marduk's city, Babylon, necessitated this god's rise in rank in the Pantheon; this was ingeniously contrived by inventing the legend of all the gods voluntarily ceding their place to him because he had conquered the Dragon of Chaos, Tiamat. This part of the cosmogony, therefore, probably does not date back before 2000 B.C. It is quite likely, however, that some story of a struggle with a monster of evil and disorder is of much greater antiquity. In any case this cosmogony is sharply characterized because in it the cosmos arises out of a struggle between Chaos and Order, good and evil. It must, however, not be forgotten that both good and bad gods alike are the progeny of Apsu and Tiamat.

The Bilingual Creation Story

The Bilingual Creation Story was found on a tablet in Sippar by Rassam in 1882. It consists of three columns, the central column being Semitic, the first and third being Sumerian, every line and sentence being cut in two by the intervening Semitic version. It is really an incantation, for purification; unfortunately this tablet is mutilated, and the connection of this temple ritual with an account of the origin of the world is not quite clear. At the end of the tablet, a second incantation beings, of which only the words, "The star . . . long chariot of heaven" are left — sufficient to show that these tablets belonged to an astronomical or scientific series. The cosmogony begins, as is usual with cosmogonies, by thinking away all things in the world. It is remarkable that the empty void is expressed by first thinking away civilization, temples, gardens, houses, cities; the ancient cities are even given by name: "Nippur had not been built, E-Kura [its temple] had not been constructed. Erech had not been built, E-ana had not been constructed." The Abyss had not been made; Eridu [the oldest of all cities, once in the Persian Gulf], with its foundation in the deep [the abyss], had not been constructed, the foundation of the house of the gods was not laid — the whole of the lands was sea. When within the sea there was a stream, on that day Eridu was made, Esagila [its temple] constructed — Esagila, which the god Lugalduazaga founded within the abyss — Babylon he built, Esagila [a counterpart of the Esagila of Eridu] was completed. He created the gods; the Anunnaki [tutelary spirits of the earth] created the glorious city together with him. The seat of their heart's journey he proclaimed on high. Marduk bound together a foundation [amu] upon the waters. He made dust and cast it over the foundation, that the gods might sit in a pleasant place. He made mankind. Aruru [the goddess of Sippar] made the seed of mankind with him."Marduk then creates the animals, the plants, the city, the state, Nippur, Erech, and their temples. Lugalduazaga is considered to be another name for Marduk. In the text it is doubtful whether the Anunnaki were created by Marduk or whether they were assistant-creators with Marduk. The latter seems preferable. The meaning of "he bound together a foundation" because of the uncertainty about the word amu. The ancients thought the earth to be like a section of a hollow ball floating on the great waters, convex side upwards. Marduk is here forming his rough skeleton of the earth as a raft on the waters, and he fills it up with soil or clay dust according to the text. This cosmogony is probably not so ancient as that of the Creation Epos, because it makes Marduk sole creator without reference even to Anu or Ea. It is remarkable that man is created before animals and plants, and scholars have not failed to draw attention to a similar statement in Genesis ii, 7-9. Furthermore, the Tigris and the Euphrates are named in this cosmogony: "He made them and set them in their place — well proclaimed he their name.", which also reminds one of the mention of the rivers in the same chapter of Genesis. Some remote connection is of course possible.


The fundamental ideas of Egyptian cosmogonies can be gathered from the Book of the Dead, chapter xvii, which goes back to the eleventh dynasty (c. 2560 B.C.). Cosmogonic speculations in greater detail can be found in the funeral inscriptions of Seti I, in the Valley of the Dead near Thebes (ca. 1400 B.C.), nor are they wanting in texts on monuments and papyri down to late in the Ptolemaic period. But according to Brugsch, Egyptian thought was but little subject to change even during the scores of centuries and more during which it is known to us. In the beginning there was neither heaven nor earth. Shoreless waters, covered with thick darkness, filled the world-space. These primeval waters are called Nun, and they were said to contain the male and female germs and the beginning of the future world. From the very first there dwelt in this watery proto-matter a divine source or proto-soul which pervaded and penetrated its as yet not differentiated parts. This penetration was so absolute that this soul became almost identical with the matter it pervaded. The divine proto-soul then felt a desire for creative activity and this will, personified as the god Thot, brought the universe into being; whereas the image of the universe had previously formed itself in the eyes of Thot. The word of Thot brought movement into the still watery substance of Nun — movement both conscious and purposeful. Nun now began to differentiate itself — i.e., its qualities became manifest in a cosmogonic ogdoad of deities (four pairs, male and female); Nun and Nunet, Heh and Hehet, Keke and Keket, Nenu and Nenut. Nun and Nunet represent the begetting and bearing Proto-Matter-Soul; Heh and Hehet are rather difficult ideas to grasp, perhaps active and passive infinity would be a good expression. This infinity is mostly conceived in relation to time, and is consequently equivalent to, and often described by the Greek Aion; as infinity of form it resembles Eros. Keke and Keket are the abysmal darkness, the Erebos of the Egyptians. Nenu and Nenut symbolize rest; the two other names or titles of Nenu, Gohr and Hems, embody the same idea — to settle or lie down, to cease from work. Contrary to the Babylonian idea of war with the Dragon of Chaos, tranquility is, in Egypt, a principle of progress. All united, these divinities of the ogdoad form the beginnings and are the fathers and mothers of all things. Pictorially, they are indicated by figures of four men and women; the men carry a frog; the women a serpent's head on their shoulders. The frog and serpent represent the first elements of animal creation; the unaccounted for appearance and disappearance of frogs in marshes seemed like a sort of spontaneous generation of animal life out of stagnant water; the serpent periodically shedding its skin was a symbol of the yearly renewal of nature. The male figures are colored blue, to signify water the begetter of all things; the female are flesh-colored to signify the life produced. These cosmognic gods then transform the invisible divine will of Thot into a visible universe, harmoniously welded together. The first act of a creation is the formation of an egg, which rises upon the hands of Heh and Hehet out of the proto-matter. Out of the egg arises the god of light, Râ, the immediate cause of life in this world. Now this universe was conceived as being both the house and the body of God, divinity not dwelling in, but being identical with, the cosmic All.

This universe, however, was formed by concurrence of nine divine things, i.e., the great Ennead of the Gods: (1) Shu, the dry air of the day; (2) Tafnut, the night air, pregnant with the rays of the waxing moon; (3) Keb, the god of the earth, or soil; (4) Nut, the goddess of the heavens above, (5) Osiris, the moist or fructifying element;(6) Isis, the maternal or conceiving force of the earth; (7) Set, the gods of evil and contradiction — the destructive force in nature, opposing the light, moisture and fertility of the earth — in popular mythology the brother-enemy of Osiris and Isis; (8) Horus, popularly conceived as the divine child of Isis and Osiris, living nature in the circle of perpetual rejuvenescence; (9) Nephthys, the boundary spirit or horizon, the world-limit or the strand of the endless sea.

Parallel with these quasi-scientific explanations of the universe, the popular mind attributed to its divinities a share in the cosmogony. In Upper Egypt, the egg-productive energy gave first rise to a divinity, Chnum, the potter who shapes the egg on his wheel; in lower Egypt, Ptah, the artificer, becomes the creator of the egg. Sometimes, however, a divine bird is required to lay it. Not unfrequently the cosmogonic functions of the egg are attributed to a lotus-bud. In one of the inscriptions of Denderah, Pharao hands a lotus flower to the solar deity, saying: "I hand thee the flower which arose in the beginning, the glorious lily on the great sea. Thou camest forth in the city of Chmun out of its leaves, and thou didst give light to the earth, till then wrapped in darkness."

On the one hand, Râ is not merely the enlightener, but the personal creator of the world, the Lord, infinite in his being, the Master Everlasting, who was before all things; none is like unto him. He suspended the heavens above that he might dwell therein; he laid the foundations of the earth that it might sustain his form; he created the deep, that he might be hidden in the lower spheres, he the noble youth, came forth out of Nun. This personification of the spirits of light in the sun-god Râ could evoke real sublimity of thought and expression, so much so that, for a little while, the idea reached a quasi-monotheism under Amenophis III and IV. On the other hand the amplitude of the divine titles of each local deity plays havoc with cosmogonic consistency, thus Ptah in Memphis is ruler of infinity (Heh) and Lord of Eternity (Tet), Mim Amum, Lord of Infinity, lasting for eternity; Hathor of Denderah, Mistress of Infinity and Creatrix of Eternity; Hathor and Horus are mother and father to Horsamuti, a phase of Râ the sun-god, and similar fancies.


In considering these cosmogonies we must distinguish a threefold phase of development: (a) The ancient Iranian phase as given in the Avesta, the Yasnas, and the Vendidads. Without entering into the much-disputed question of the date of the Avesta, it may be safely said that these oldest cosmogonies go back to about 1000 B.C.(b) The later Iranian or early Persian phase, as contained in orthodox Pahlavi literature, the Bundahis and the Mainochired. (c) Heterodox Iranian opinion among schismatic sects, as the Zervanites, Gayomarthiya, Rivayets, and others. We shall find the dualism, which is the great characteristic of Iranian thought, showing a gradual tendency toward monism, and its primeval simplicity transformed into fanciful intricacy without, however, losing the loftiness of its first ideas.

Although we possess no full systematic expositions of the views of the ancient Iranians on the origins of the universe, yet scattered passages in the Avesta leave no doubt that at the beginning of all things they postulated a twofold principle: good and evil. At the head indeed of all creation stands Ahura Mazda, a purely spiritual being, who is distinctly and expressly styled "Creator of the World" of spirit and matter. Yet in the older books the idea of the unity of origin of the universe is far from having come to maturity; so in the Gathas a distinct dualism is taught. At the end of Yasna xviii, Zarathrustra asks: "Do thou, Ahura Mazda, teach me from thyself, that I may declare it forth, through what the primeval world arose." And in Yasna xxx comes the answer: "Thus are the primeval spirits who, as a pair — yet each independent in his action — have been formed of old. They are [these two spiritual principles] a better thing and a worse thing as to thought, word, and deed. When the two spirits came together at the first to make life and non-life, and to determine how the world a last should be made, [then there was] for the wicked the worst life and for the holy the best state of mind. He who was the evil one chose the evil, but the bountiful spirit chose righteous ness." Ahura Mazda, or, as the name later became abbreviated, Ormuzd, the Wise Lord, is the good spirit, or Spento Mainyu; the Evil One is Anro Mainyu, the destroying spirit later known as Ahriman. The absolute dualism of the above passage is unmistakable; in the beginning was Good and Evil; the good became as it were incarnate in Ormuzd, the evil in Ahriman. The name Ahriman, however, does not actually occur in this Yasna. This dualism gradually softened as centuries went on, and Ormuzd was repeatedly and emphatically designated as the Creator. Thus Yasna i, 1 (which is of considerably later date than Yasna, xxx): "I confess and I proclaim Ahura Mazda, the creator, the radiant, the glorious, who sends his joy-creating grace afar, who made us and who fashioned us, who nourished us and protected us, who is the Spento Mainyu." But whenever Ormuzd, the source of all good, produces what is good, the evil produces its opposite, therewith to destroy Ormuzd's creation. Ahriman, therefore, became only a secondary, or counter-creator. This is thus expressed in Fargardi of the Vendidad: "The first of good lands which I, Ahura Mazda created was Iran-Veg, thereupon came Anro Mainyu, who is all death, and he counter-created the serpent in the river, and the winter, the work of demons. The second of good lands which I created was the plain of Sogdiana. Thereupon came Anro Mainyu, who is all death, and he counter-created the locust, bringing death unto cattle and plants." No less than sixteen such creations and counter-creations are thus enumerated: Ahriman counter-creates plunder, sin, ants and ant-hills, unbelief, tears and wailing, idolatry, pride, impurity, burial of the dead, the cooking of corpses, abnormal issues, excessive heat, and bitter cold. From this enumeration of Ahriman's work one gathers that he and his good adversary were originally personified principles, and this personification led to their being accounted real spiritual beings. Sometimes this personification was so materialized as to lead to the ascription of a body to Ormuzd, but this was of some aerial substance invisible even to the celestials. Besides these two world-creators we meet in the Avesta four elementary beings, or rather attributes of Ormuzd, called Thwasha, or Infinite Space, Zrvan Akarana or Endless Time, Anaghra raocao and Temao, or Beginningless Light and Darkness. These personified abstractions — Space, Time, Light and Darkness — are co-eternal with Ormuzd and Ahriman; they do not create, but the constitute the receptacle, the source, and the twofold material of creation.

Later Parthian speculations on the origins of the universe are found in the Bumdahis, a Pahlavi commentary on the Avesta, which may date from the Sassanids, but in its present form cannot be earlier than the seventh century of the Christian Era. Ormuzd is here described as in endless light and all-wise; but Ahriman in endless darkness and lacking in knowledge. Light and darkness seem to have been identified with Ormuzd and Ahriman in an earlier period, according to Porphyrius and Plutarch. Ormuzd and Ahriman both produced their own creatures, which remain apart in a spiritual or ideal state for 3000 years; for Ahriman is unaware of the existence of Ormuzd and his good creation. After this begins Ahriman's opposition to the work of Ormuzd, with the understanding, however, that the period of the evil influence would not exceed 9000 years, and only the middle 3000 years would see Ahriman successful. By pronouncing a mysterious spell, Ormuzd throws Ahriman into a state of confusion for second 3000 years. Meanwhile, Ormuzd creates the archangels and the material universe with sun, moon, and stars; Ahriman produces the devas, or evil spirits, and helped by them, he throws himself upon the good creation to destroy it. The six divisions of creation — the sky, water, earth, plants, and animals, and men — suffer the attacks of the devas. The primeval ox, symbolizing the later animal world, is slain, and so is Gayomard, representing humanity. Yet, though Gayomard dies, his offsp[ring lives. After many purifications by archangels, the Rivas plant, begotten of him, grows up. This plant contains both man and woman; when their bodies have sufficiently developed they receive "the breath spiritually into them, which is the soul": for Ahura Mazda said that "the soul isw created before, and the body after, for him who was created". And Ahura Mazda said to them, you are man, you are the ancestry of the world". A story is told of that first pair, whether Mashya and Mashyana, or, as elsewhere given, Yima and his wife, similar to that of Adam's sin in paradise; a similarity can also be found in Ahura Mazda creating the world in six stages, but there is nothing to show that the Bible is the borrower, in fact the contrary is most probable. In the Mainochired a further stage in Persian cosmogonies is reached. There the light is distinctly named as the matter out of which the universe is created, and zrvan, or endless time, is no longer considered an attribute of Ormuzd, but is an independent fundamental being, which pronounces its blessings and joy over the creation which Ormuzd produces. So chapter vii: "The creator Ahura produced these creatures and creation, the archangels and the spirit of wisdom from that which is his own splendour and with the blessings of endless time. For this reason unlimited time is undecaying and immortal, painless and hungerless, thirstless and undisturbed; for ever and ever no one will be able to overpower it or make it not all-over-ruling in his own affairs. And Ahriman, the wicked, counter-created the devas and drugs [demons and fiends] and the rest of the things of corruption." He made a treaty with Ormuzd for 9000 years, during which things must remain as they are. But after 9000 years Ahriman will be utterly impotent. Srosh, the angel of obedience, will smite Aeshun, the attacking demon. Mithra, the angel of sunlight, and Zrvan Akarana, Time-without-end, and the angel of justice and providence, will smite the creation of Ahriman, and Ahura Mazda will again become undisturbed as in the beginning. Cosmology perhaps, rather than cosmogony, is contained in chapter xliv: Sky, and earth, and water, and what are contained therein are like the egg of a bird. By Ahura Mazda, the creator, the sky is arranged above the earth like an egg, and the semblance of the earth in the midst of the sky is just like the yolk within the egg; the water within the earth and the sky is such as the white of the egg." This of course must not be understood as a sort of early evolutionary theory; it merely indicates the shape of the universe as conceived by the Persians.

Iranian dualism then was never quite consistent, not even in the Avesta. In the Mainochired it makes indeed an attempt at monism in personifying Zrvan, out of which creation comes, and by which creation is blessed, but the inconsistencies of the system finally brought forth a number of unorthodox sects. Each of these sects solved the problem of unity versus plurality in its own way. Some, as the Gayomarthiya, those indicated in Firdosi's book of kings, and the author of the Vajarkart, practically believed in an eternal almighty creator of heaven and earth, much in the same sense as Christians do. Ahriman, at first a primeval being coeval with Ormuzd, is transformed into the Parsee equivalent for Satan. Other reached a sort of monism by making either Thwasha (Space) or Zrvan (Time) the origin of all things, even of Ormuzd and Ahriman. That Thwasha was once the head of the Iranian pantheon is perhaps indicated by so early a witness as Herodotus (I, cxxxi), and much later by Damascius. Zrvan, as the source of all things amongst the Persians, is attested by many of the Fathers (Theod. Mops, Moses of Chorene), by Elznik and Elisius. At this point the origin of all things was conceived in various fantastical ways. According to some (Rivajets, Cod. XII), Time created Water and Fire, and when these came together, Ormuzd arose. According to others, Time for 1000 years yearned to bring forth a son, and offered sacrifice for that purpose, but then doubted; Ormuzd was conceived as fruit of the sacrifice, Ahriman as fruit of the doubt — and similar fancies which strongly suggest Indian influence. It is remarkable, however, that Ormuzd remains throughout the foremost and immediate creator of the cosmos or world as it now is, and as far as it is good. It is remarkable also that Iranian cosmogonies are not devoid of a noble ethical strain, however much they may have changed during the course of ages.


These cosmogonies are so manifold and so bewildering in their fantastic variety that only the oldest and most purely Indian can be referred to, and the main outlines indicated. As ethical dualism is the characteristic of Iranian thought, so is idealistic pantheism of the thought of India. In Indian cosmogonies more than elsewhere we have to distinguish between philosophic speculation and popular religion, which each in its way influenced their conception of the origin of the world. The oldest cosmogonies must naturally be sought in the Rig-Veda. The age of these sacred books is largely a matter of controversy, but their origin can be roughly assigned to a date earlier than 1000 B.C. Among the 1028 hymns of the Rig-Veda, none is so famous as cxxix of Book X, of which a translation was given by Max Müller forty years ago. This translation, though metrical, is remarkably literal, and contains the best exposition of ancient Indian thought on this subject. It runs as follows:

Nor Aught nor Naught existed; yon bright sky Was not, nor heaven's broad woof outstretched above. What covered all? what sheltered? what concealed? Was it the water's fathomless abyss? There was not death — yet there was naught immortal. There was no confine betwixt day and night; The Only One breathed breathless by itself, Other than it there nothing since has been. Darkness there was and all at first was veiled In gloom profound — an ocean without light — The Germ that still laid covered in the husk Burst forth, one nature, from the fervent heat. Then first came Love upon it, the new Spring Of mind — yea, poets in their hearts discerned, Pondering, this bond between created things And uncreated. Comes this spark from the earth Piercing and all pervading, or from heaven? Then seeds were sown and mighty powers arose — Nature below and power and Will above — Who knows the secret? Who proclaimed it here? Whence, whence this manifold creation sprang? The gods themselves came later into being — Who knows from whence this great creation sprang? He from whom all this great creation came, Whether his will created or was mute, The Most-High Seer that is in highest heaven He knows it — or perchance even he knows not."

If, however, we divest this and similar Indian effusions (Rig-V. X, cxc, lxxii) of their poetical garb and set aside the agnostic touch in the last line their cosmogony is philosophically conceived as follows: The first principle of all being is Tad (i.e., the absolutely indefinite That), this unites in itself all spiritual and material elements of the world. Tad is an idea obtained only by absolute abstraction, for it possesses only one quality, viz. that of vitality. From Tad the universe proceeds by evolution. This evolution is introduced by Tapas, i.e., the intensity of self-contemplation or introspection — self-love, one would almost translate. This is the spiritual progress by which Tad for the first time leaves his inaction. Then there arises in Tad, kama, or the desire, the will, the purpose to create. Tad has therefore evolved into a conscious act of the will, that is Manas has begun, thereby Tad has ceased to be unconscious and has completely left his state of inactivity. There further arises, in consequence of Tapas, Ritam, i.e., the highest law or causality. The production of the world through the intelligent will of a personal creator is, at least with regard to the first stages of evolution, unknown to these hymns. Yet a universe without any regular connection of phenomena seemed unthinkable, hence this principle of causality was postulated previous to all cosmic evolution, and in this sense Ritam was the first thing to arise out of Tad previous to the universe. But all Ritam must have its Satyam, or counterpart in actuality. In theistic phraseology this would mean that all creation must have its archetype in the Divine Mind, and that to create is nothing but the realization of this archetype as distinct from God. According to Indian thought the force of their ground principle, will or kama, was not blind activity, but bound by Ritam, or Supreme Law. The world therefore was not the result of chance and thus their philosophers culd establish connection between their spoeculation and popular religion. Now there arose out of Tad the lements of the material world: the moist primeval matter, the space to surround it, and darkness to fill the space. Time was not reckoned among the elements, as in some Iranian cosmogonies; it was but the measure of changing phenomena. material evolutions having so far proceeded, the first cosmic cycle of gods makes its appearance: Aditi and his Adityas. From Aditi, or Infinity, united to Daksha, or Spirit Force, the Adityas take their origin. The highest among them is Varuna (ouranos), the world-creator in popular religion. These work together to bring about the present cosmos. The first things produced by separating the primeval waters is light, then follow darkness, day and night; and thus time begins. By differentiation of the primeval matter, sun, moon, and earth arise; by differentiation of space, the realms of heaven, earth, and ether. Thus:—

  • Tad (intellectual process) = Protoplasm (material process)
  • Tapas = Darkness
  • Kama = Place
  • Manas = Alternation of Time
  • Ritam = Division of Space
  • Satyam = Great World Bodies

Another development, or rather another nomenclature for the same cosmological principles, makes Brahma the source of all things. Brahma is Tad, or the impersonal, unconscious All-Soul. This word Brahma, from meaning originally sacred sacrificial food, came to be used for the Supreme being out of which the universe comes and unto which it returns. In later days Atman, or Highest Self, becomes the starting point of Indian cosmogonies.

A curious feature, especially in later cosmogonic ideas, is the power of sacrifice, to which even the evolution of the universe is due; in fact sacrificial food is the very material out of which the world is made. This is brought out in one of the latest hymns of the Rig-Veda (Book X, xc, the so-called Song of Purusha) and often in the Upanishads. Purusha is one more designation of the Supreme Being. On his spiritual side he is often identified with Brahma and Atman, on his material side he is the proto-matter out of which the world is made. Out of Parusha's mouth proceed Indra and Agni. Indra in popular religion becomes the world-creator, as also Varuna the king. Some references to King Varuna are of singular sublimity (Artharva-Veda, IV, xvi): "If two persons sit together and scheme, King Varuna is there as a third, and knows it. Both this earth here belong to King Varuna and also yonder broad sky, whose boundaries are far away. The oceans are the loins of Varuna, yet he is hidden in a small drop of water. He that should flee beyond the heavens would not be free from King Varuna. King Varuna sees through all that is between heaven and earth and all that is beyond. He has counted the winkings of man's eyes; the world is in his hands as the dice in the hands of a player." In the mind of the people, the impersonal abstractions of pantheism became individual and conceived as an intensely personal creator. On the other hand, the most grotesque, and often coarse conceptions arose as to the physical process of the world's production. As intermediary being, or stages, were mentioned seed, or an egg, or a tree, or the lotus-bud; different animals such as a boar, a fish, a turtle; or sexual intercourse. The most common theory is that of the egg (Chand, br., V, xix): "This all was in the beginning non-existent, only Tad existed, Tad became transformed, it became an egg, this lay there for a year; then it divided itself in two, the two halves of the shell were silver and gold. The Gold is the Heaven, the Silver, the Earth, and what was born is the Sun. "Not infrequent are the incarnations of the deity in animals. Brahmanspati, the personification of the creative power of Brahma, or Prajapati, or Vishnu, became incarnate in a boar or a turtle; and similar fancies. In the Artharva-Veda, especially XIX, 53, 54, another fundamental cosmogonic being or personification enters, which is unknown to the earliest Indian speculations, viz.: Time; it occurs here and there in the Rig-Veda, but in Ath.-Veda, xix, Kala has risen to the first place of all, and even Brahma and Tapas proceed from it. The rise in Kala's dignity was prepared already in the Upanishads (Maitri-Up., VI, xiv), where Kala and Akala, time and not-time, are two forms of Brahma, after he had produced the world or rather the sun as the first thing in the universe.


Almost all we know of Phoenician cosmogonies is derived from a late source, Philo Byblios (born A.D. 42), transmitted to us by Eusebius in his "Praeparatio Evangelica". Philo, however, only claimed to have translated a late copy of an ancient Phoenician author called Sanchoniathon. This statement, though believed by Eusebius and by Porphyrius before him (De abst., II, 56) is rejected as a literary fraud by many modern, especially German, scholars. Philo is supposed to have pretended to use an extremely ancient source merely to bolster up his theory that all mythology was deified ancient history. The great controversy that has raged round the name of Sanchoniathon cannot be gone into, but in reading this cosmogony it must throughout be borne in mind that, instead of being the exposition of very early Canaanitish ideas, it may possibly be a manipulated account of that cosmopolitan mixture of ideas which was current in Syria about A.D. 100. The beginning of all things, according to this account, was air moved by a breath of wind and dark chaos black as Erebus. This windy chaos was eternal, infinite. But when this breath yearned over its own elements, and confusion arose, this was called Desire. This Desire was the origin of all creation, and though it knew not its own creation, out of its self-embrace arose Mot, a slimy or watery substance out of which all created germs were produced. Animal life without sensation came first; out of this came being endowed with intelligence which were called Zophesamin, "overseers of heaven". Mot had a shape like that of an egg, out of which came forth sun, moon, and stars. The air being thus illumined, owing to the glow of the sea and land, winds were formed, and clouds and an vast downpour of the heavenly waters took place. By the heat of the sun, things were made to split off from one another and, being projected on high, clashed with one another, caused thunder and lightning, and thus awoke the above-mentioned intelligent beings, who took fright and began to stir on the earth, and in the sea as males and females. Not unlike this is the cosmogony given by Damscius on the authority of Eudemos. Before all things was Time, then Desire, then Darkness. Out of the union of Desire and Darkness was born Air (masc.) and Breath (fem.), Air representing pure thought, and Breath the prototype of life proceeding therefrom by motion. Out of Air and Breath came forth the cosmic egg. According to the cosmogony given by the same writer on the authority of Mochos, Ether and Air generated Oulomos (world-time, sæculum), Chousoros (artificer, creative energy), and the cosmic egg; and Damscius expressly states that, according to the Phoenicians, world-time is the first principle containing all in itself. The origin of mankind is described as the birth of Æon and Protogonos from the wind Colpias and the woman Baau, (said to mean "night").


The cosmogonies are far too numerous and divergent to allow one simple description embracing all. Only some prominent cosmogonies can be indicated, and some of the points common to all. Homer seems to have taken the universe as he found it without inquiring further, but from Iliad XIV, verse 201, one gathers that Oceanus is origin, and Thetys mother of all; from verse 244 that Nyx (Night) has power even over Oceanus; hence Darkness, Water, and Motherhood seem the three stages of his cosmogony. The fragments of Orphic cosmogonies given by Eudemos, and Plato, and Lydus do not quite agree, but at least Night, Oceanus, and Thetys are elementary beings, and the first of them in order of existence was probably Night. A more detailed cosmogony of great antiquity is to be found in Hesiod's "Theogony" (about 800 B.C.) in verses 160 sqq., which C. A. Elton translated as follows:—

"First Chaos was, then ample-bosomed Earth, The sea immovable for evermore Of those immortals who the snow-topped heights Inhabit of Olympus, or the gloom Of Tartarus, in the broad-tracked ground's abyss. Love then arose, most beautiful amongst The deathless deities; restless, he Of every god and every mortal man Unnerves the limbs; dissolves the wiser breast By reason steeled and quells the very soul. From Chaos, Erebos, and ebon Night; From Night the Day sprang forth and shining air Whom to the love of Erebos she gave. Earth first produced the heaven and all the stars, She brought the lofty mountains forth, And next the sea. . . Then, with Heaven Consorting, Ocean from her bosom burst With its deep eddying waters."

Chaos, then, is the starting-point of Hesiod's cosmogony. Chaos, however, must probably not be understood as "primeval matter" without harmony and order, but rather as the "empty void" or "place in the abstract". To Hesiod chaos cannot have lost its original meaning (from cha in chasko; chasma "chasm", etc). Hesiod, then, starts at infinite space; other Greeks take time, or chronos as a starting point. The cosmogony of Pherecydes (544 B.C.) claims a high place among Greek theories as to the origin of the world, because of the prominence given to Zeus, a personal spiritual being, as the origin of all things. Zeus and Chronos and Chthonia have always been and are the three first beginnings; but the One I would consider before the Two, and the Two after the One. Then Chronos produced himself out of fire, air, and water, these I take to be the Three Logical Elements and out of them arose a numerous progeny of gods divided into five parts or a pentecosmos. Pherecydes' cosmogony has come down to us in some other slightly modified forms but Zeus is ever at the head. He seems also to have known of a primeval battle between Chronos and Ophioneus, but how it fills in with his cosmogony we know not. Chthonia seems to be the moist Proto-matter, neither dry earth nor sea, out of which Ge, or the earth, is created. The stages of his cosmogony are therefore God, Time, Matter — all three first principles, yet God is in some sense first; God, when feeling a desire to create, changes himself into love so that he can bring forth a Cosmos, i. e, a well-ordered world, out of contraries, bringing its elements into agreement and friendship. A noble idea, truly, only falling short of the Christian idea in conceiving time and matter as eternal, Zeus thus being maker or fashioner, not creator, of heaven and earth.

A cosmogony of almost the same date is that of Epimenides, which seems in flat contradiction to that of Pherecydes, for it postulates two first principles not originating from Unity: Air and Night. Out of these arise Tartarus etc. Later Orphic chronologies begin some with Chronos, others with Water and Earth, some with Apeiros Hyle. In the last stage of the Greek cosmogony the egg plays an important part, either as evolutionary stage, as embryonic state of the earth, or merely to indicate the shape of the Cosmos.

We possess no ancient Etruscan or Latin cosmogonies, but it is certain that the god Janus was a cosmogonic deity; though Jupiter was summus, the highest god, Janus was primus, the first of the gods, and as such he received sacrifice before even Jupiter. This ancient reminiscence of Janus as creator is made use of in Ovid's "Metamorphoses", but in how far so late a writer represents early speculations we know not. Janus is perhaps the Latin equivalent of the Greek Chaos as the origin of all things. Janus is said to be not only initium mundi, but mundus itself, the all-embracing.


Common to all is the effort to explain the origin of the world by as few elementary beings as possible. In order to arrive at the origin of all things, man began by abstraction from the actual differentiation of being which he saw around him to obtain some simple element underlying all. Mere abstractions, however, or reduction from the compound to the simple, did not suffice, but some intelligent causality was demanded by the intellect of man. Hence personification plays a great rôle in every cosmogony, and the actual function of creating, or rather forming and arranging the world as it now is, is ascribed to one intelligent personality; every people worshipped some deity, be he then Marduk or Varuna, or Bel or Ahura-Mazda, or Zeus or Janus. No ancient cosmogony, however, rose to the pure concept of creation out of nothing by an infinite spirit; for none succeeded in eliminating matter or its phenomena all together, and conceiving a subsistent Intelligence which could create both matter and spirit. The first steps in this process of abstraction are simple enough and common to most cosmogonies; once upon a time there were no men or beasts, nor plants; no stars nor sky, no mountains or valleys, and neither dry land nor sea. Then only proto-matter remained. Some cosmogonies stopped here and were frankly materialistic; it probably depended on climate surroundings what they conceived the proto-matter to be, whether clay or water, or air, or fire, or light (conceived as substances). Other cosmogonies carried the process of abstraction farther. The variations between light and darkness, day and night, season and season cannot always have been, hence these also were abstracted from; naught therefore remained except Darkness, Night, and Eternity. By thinking away all special localities in the universe, only Place remained in the abstract, or the Void. By thinking away all differences in the mental and spiritual sphere naught remained but force in general. Force, Place, Time, and Darkness became personified cosmogonic elements. Some were able to abstract even from Force; to them, only Place, Time, and Darkness remained. Some rightly argued that Time was but the measure of phenomena, and that by abstracting from phenomena, Time ceased to be. To them only Space and Darkness remained; but then Darkness was conceived as the fluid filling the vessel of Space, and therefore could be extracted from, and only the Void remained. All these ideas actually occur in different cosmogonies. Chaos is empty space; Chronos, Zrvan, Heh, abstract time; Nux, the unchangeable quintessence of time; Zeus, Tad, Ahura Mazda, Thot are spirit forces. Those cosmogonies which do not go so far as to personify space or time or darkness, but stopped short at the idea of some proto-substance, were faced by the problem whether this primeval substance was spirit, or matter, or both. Some answered, both, as the Egyptians (Nun) and later Indians (Purusha); some answered that spirit was first, as some Babylonian thinkers (Anu) most Indian thinkers (Tad, Brahma, Atman), and the Iranians (Ahura, Ahriman); some answered that matter was first, as Babylonians (Apsu Tiamat), Persians, and Egyptians (Light, Râ), Phoenicians (Air), Etruscans (Æther). Thus ancient thought wandered through the whole range of possible theories, not, however, guided by mere caprice, but forced to some conclusion which seemed to them inevitable. With regard to the immediate process according to which this world was produced, freer scope was given to unbridled fancy. Yet even here the analogy with the production of life in nature was the guiding principle, the world was produced as life comes from life by animal generation, or as the tree comes out of the seed, or as the egg is laid by the bird. These imaginations are often combined in a grotesque ensemble, against the complexity of which appear in greater relief the majesty and simplicity of the words: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


Amongst more modern myths of the world's origin the Norse and the American cosmogonies call for comment.

The Norse Cosmogonies

The Norse Cosmogonies are the only remnant of ancient German ideas on this subject, for the so-called "Prayer of Wessobrunn", a fragment ascribed to the eighth or ninth century, is too short to give us any information beyond the belief in the existence of one almighty god, and with him a multitude of divine spirits, before the world was. It is, moreover, uncertain whether the Wessobrunner fragment represents pure Germanic thought uninfluenced by Christianity. The Norse cosmogonies are contained in the Edda; the more ancient one in the Volupsa of the Poetic Edda, the younger one in the Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda. It is sometimes said that these cosmogonies so clearly betray the influence of arctic climate that they can in no sense belong to the Southern Germans. This, however, is unconvincing, as it is unknown where precisely the Germans lived previous to their immigration into Europe, and what was the climate of Northern Europe and Asia when these sagas first grew up. In the third verse of "The Sybil's Song", of Volupsa, the cosmogony begins:—

There was a time when only Ymir was, Nor sand, nor sea, nor briny waves, Nay earth existed not, nor heavens above. A yawning space without a spot of green Until the vaults were raised of all By Buri's sons creating noble Midgard. Then shone the Southern Sun on stony mountains, And from the very soil the herbs were sprouting. And yet the Southern Sun, the helpmate of the Moon, Bridled heaven's steeds with her right hand, For it was unknown as yet where she should dwell, Nor knew the moon the power he possessed, The Stars were ignorant of their abode. Then went the Powers all to sit in Judgment The all-holy gods held thereupon their council, To Night and to the waning moon gave names. They gave to Morn and Noon their calling To Afternoon and Eve, whereby to reckon years.

The Sybil further chants how Aesir met on Ida's plane, built altars and temples, lit the blazing furnace, and forged their tools. The creation of dwarves is then related in detail, and finally the creation of man. Three Aesir, great and kind, went to the world and found in utter weakness Ask and Embla, the first human pair. Spirits they possessed, but sense had none; No blood, nor strength to move, not goodly colour.Life gave Oden, Sense gave Hoenir, Blood gave Lodur and goodly colour. This cosmogony is explained, enlarged, and slightly modified in the Gylfaginning, of Gylfa's deception. The lengthy account can be summed up as follows:

There are three stages of development: (a) the rise of the three fundamental beings in times primeval, Muspelheim or the southern realm of Light; Niflheim or the northern realm of Darkness, and between them the Ginnunga Gap, or yawning cleft. Muspelheim existed first, and Niflheim is secondary in the order of being, but how either arose the cosmogony does not explain. In the northern realm there existed a well, called Hwergelmir, from which proceeded twelve torments, called together Elivagar, or ice stream. This stream, flowing into the Ginnunga Gap formed the cosmogonic being Ymir. At first this was a lifeless mass, but this mass develops under the influence of Adhumla, represented as a cow licking the ice, being a figure for the Thawing Warmth.(b) Out of Ymir, the Frost Giants, or Hrimturses, arise, and the fundamental gods; out of Adhumka arose Odin, Vili, and Ve; or Odin, Vili, and Ve were the sons of Bör, who married Bestla, daughter of the Frost Giant Bölthorn. (c) Odin, Vili, and Ve slay the monster Ymir, throw his body into the Ginnunga Gap, and out of his limbs form the visible universe, or the Midgard, out of his skull the vault of heaven, out of his brains, the clouds, out of his blood, the seas, and so on. Then they build the Burgh of the gods, Asgard; they order the course of the stars and create the Dwarfs. Lastly, the first man and woman are created, Ask and Embla, whom Odin found as weak and miserable being on the seashore.

These Norse cosmogonies differ from the more ancient cosmogonies in this: that they do not really go back to the first beginning of all things, but presuppose the existence of a twofold world — one South the other North — and only account for the formation of this present world in the space between both. They agree with most other cosmogonies in ascribing the actual formation of this cosmos to one (Odin) or more (Odin, with Vili and Ve as destroyers of Chaos) intelligent personal beings or gods.

American Cosmogonies

American Cosmogonies have been preserved in fair number. The early missionaries to America, especially those to Mexico, Central America, and South America were strongly impressed by the monotheistic character of Indian speculations, ascribing this world and its phenomena to one omnipresent spiritual being, called in one place the "Great Spirit", in another place Viracocha, in another Hunabku, elsewhere Quetzacoatl, etc. Yet, concurrently with these true religions and philosophic ideas, there existed a number of apparently puerile traditions concerning the beginning of things. But again these childish fancies were but the clothing of general cosmogonic ideas. According to the Ottawas and other northern Algonquins, a raft was floating on the shoreless waters. Upon this raft were a number of animals with Michabo, the Giant Rabbit, as their chief. As they were without land to live on, Michabo, the Giant Rabbit, made first the beaver, and then the otter, that they should dive and bring up a piece of mud. As they failed, Wajashk, the female muskrat, at her own request is allowed to dive. When she had remained below for a day and a night, she floated to the surface as dead, but they found in one of her claws a little clod of mud. Michabo, endowed with creative power, kneads this little bit of soil until he makes it grow into an island, a mountain, a country, nay this world in which we live. He shoots his arrows in the ground and transfixes them with other arrows, thus creating trees with stems and branches. Some say he created man from the dead bodies of certain animals, others that he married the muskrat and thus begat the ancestors of the human race. It has been suggested that in the name "Michabo", there lies concealed another word, viz. "Michi Waban", the great Dawn, or the great East. The word, Wajashk, likewise, probably contains the word "Ajishki", or mud. The story would then mean: When the great light in the east shone upon the primeval waters, dry land in ever-increasing extent appeared above the surface, and the rays of the sun, piercing the soil, brought forth the trees, and the action of the light on the slime brought forth man.

Closely similar to this cosmogony is that of the Iroquois. In the beginning the heavens above were peopled with celestial beings, and the wide ocean below with monsters of the deep. Then Ataensic, a divine being, fell through a rift ion the sky into the primeval waters. The turtle offered her his back as a resting place. Then some animal brought her a little clay, out of which she produced dry land. Ataensic gave birth to a daughter who, though a virgin, gave birth to twins, Tawiscara and Joskeha. This daughter having died in childbirth, the daughter, being buried, imparts fertility to the soil. A mortal battle is raged between the two brothers, Joskeha, the good, and Tawiscara, the evil one. The latter is overcome, flies to the West, and becomes the god of the dead. Joskeha creates first the animals and then man. Ataensic is said to mean "She-who-is-in-the-water", i.e., the dry land in the midst of the ocean; Joskeha is the growing light or dawn, Tawiscara, the growing twilight, or darkness. The Quiche of Guatemala have left us in their sacred book, "Popol Vuh" the most detailed cosmogony of central America. The universe consisted of the endless ocean and the twilight brooding over it. Then the creator took counsel with his helpmate to produce the world. Though described as pair of gods, male and female, this pair is conceived of as a unity of being, male and female being but different aspects of the Deity. This creator is called by every conceivable name, even with names proper to other deities. Thus he is called Heart of the Universe, which is a special title of the god Hurakan, or of Gukumatz, the feathered serpent. He is evidently conceived of as the All-in-one, as Hunabku, from whom men and gods descend. This Creator uttered the word Earth, and the land began to rise out of the waters. As often as God called a thing so often it entered into reality. Then God takes counsel with the lesser gods who, apparently, he has meanwhile created, how to fashion man. They first created him out of clay, then of wood, and finally out of maize. The first two attempts failed, the third succeeded. The monkeys are the surviving remnants of the second unsuccessful endeavor.

Very weird are the cosmogonies of the ancient Mexicans. They are characterized by the strong influence of dualism, the universe being in the throes of a perpetual contest of good and evil. The infinite deity has four sons, the black and the red Tezcatlipoca, and Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilopochtli. These four brothers consulted together about the creation of things. The actual work fell to the lot of Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli. They made fire, then half the sun, the heavens, and the waters, and a certain great fish therein with the name Cipactli. From its flesh was formed the solid earth and the first man and woman, Cipactonal and Oxomuco. The half-sun created by Quetzalcoatl lighted the world but poorly, and the four gods consulted once more to add another half to it. Tezcatlipoca did not wait for their decision, but transformed himself into the sun. But after thirteen times fifty-two years, Quetzalcoatl seized a great stick, and with a blow knocked Tezcatlipoca from the sky into the waters, and became the sun himself. Four times the earth was destroyed in this struggle. Quetzalcoatl is at present triumphant, but Tezcatlipoca is only biding his time. This cosmogonic episode of war between brothers runs through other North American accounts as, e.g., Tawiscara and Joskeha amongst the Iroquois, and is prominent in the Egyptian cosmogony.

The noblest account of the world's origin was found amongst the Maya of Yucatan, who ascribed all to an immaterial, invisible god, Hunabku, father of Itzamna, the personification of the heavenly fire. Similarly, the ancient Aymara ascribed all to Viracocha (Foam-of-the-sea — the colour white, the Spaniards, as white-skins, being called viracochas). This Viracocha, or white one, was the creator and possessor of all things. All things were his, and he was everywhere, the Incas built him no temples. Ere son or moon was made, he rose from the bosom of the lake Titicaca and presided over the building of the ancient cities. He created the luminaries and placed them in the sky, and peopled the earth with inhabitants. But, journeying from the lake westward, he was attacked by the creatures he had made. Scorning the contest with the work of his own hands, he only hurled lightning over hillside and forest, and when his creatures repented he became reconciled and taught them all things. Viracocha was the divine light, symbolized by, but not identical with, the sun. One can hardly refrain from a comparison with Khu-n-Aten, the solar disk of Amenhotep's foreign worship introduced into Egypt some three thousand years before the religious revival of the Incas of Peru.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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