In the beginning, a salty ocean lay still and quiet, the forces of creation lying patiently silent for eons. In the beginning, a woman fell from the sky, bringing with her seeds and animals and dirt and plants. In the beginning, Aruru drew mud into her hands and molded it into seven women and seven men, thus creating the races of the earth.
Stories of the beginning are of endless variety, reflecting the diversity of human thought and experience and imagination. In some of these, the Goddess is only the primal ocean of the womb, in others only a spirit, in others a corporeal being with creative hands and creative speech. In some of these tales, the God has already appeared: He is the lightning which impregnates the salty sea, the Sky Father who mates with Mother Earth, the serpent who carries the Goddess upon His back. Even in the Hebrew Testament, adopted by Christians and Muslims, the female principle is still present, though hidden: She is Shekinah, the Wisdom of Yahweh, the Spirit which moves upon the waters, swirling it into a tempest of creativity and regeneration.
Gathered here are a few stories of Creation. Some recount the creation of the universe; some, the creation of people, some the seasonal recreation of life as waters flood and plants green. As always, any criticism or suggestion is welcome, so please mail me.
VENUS OF WILLENDORF ©JBL
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To Descent of the Gods
|Aataentsic, Sky Woman||Aditi, Infinite Infinity|
|Armaiti, Lady of Green||Benzozia, Mother Dragon|
|Citlalicue, Lady Star Skirt||Empung Luminuut, Sweat of a Stone|
|Gaea, Mother Earth||Honored High Mistress|
|Ilmater, Ocean Woman||Izanami, Dancing Creatrix|
|Ocllo, Fierce Mother||Shekinah, Wind Upon the Waters|
|Sothis, Mistress Flood||Woyengi, Great Mother|
Aataentsic, Sky Woman
Several variations of this story of creation are told by the Iroquois, who make their home in the north-eastern Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. Stories of celestial beings bringing civilization to the earth are common throughout world mythology, particularly among Native American peoples.
Then, there was only infinite blue: sea merged into sky, one continuous dome of blue, above and below. There were clouds, too, wispy white and dark gray, which rained water into the limitless sea. Birds flew in and among the clouds, hovering in the wind, flapping madly and squawking as it gusted and threatened to toss them into the rolling waves. When they were not soaring in the blue of the sky, they were floating in the blue of the sea, squawking and peddling their flippered feet and diving beak-first to catch fish. The fish were many and varied, solid gray and stripped white and red and brilliant yellow with purple plummage.
Upon the waves there lived then four other animals. Great Turtle was ancient and huge, his dark green and brown and black shell glistening wet; the other animals and the birds would rest upon it now and then when they were tired of floating or swimming or flying or wanted to rest their fish-filled bellies. Otter was there, too, and Muskrat, and old, ugly Grandmother Toad. Life was gentle and without adventure....
Until the woman fell from the sky.
They did not realize at first that she was falling. Otter saw the reflection first, as he lay on his belly upon Great Turtle's back. He frowned when he saw the figure in the water, distant and tiny. He had never seen anything like it. He called over Muskrat and asked him, curiously, What did he think it was?
Muskrat scratched his whiskered nose. Some sort of fish, he opined. Rising from the Bottom.
Otter quivered with curiousity. The Bottom? He had never heard of this thing, the Bottom.
Oh, yes, Muskrat assured him, quite pleased that he knew something Otter did not. It is quite far down, very far down.
Otter peered into the water, at the thing rising from the Bottom. Have you ever seen it?
Muskrat scowled, whiskers twitching. He reluctantly admitted that he had not. But I have heard some of the fish speak of it, he explained. I talk to them sometimes before I eat them.
It's getting closer, said Otter. It will be at the top soon.
Grandmother Toad swished around in the water before them. The water rippled, quivering the image of the creature rising from the Bottom. What is getting closer, she asked. Her voice was very deep. It reminded Otter of the deep silence of the sea, very far down where the blue turned to black.
That thing coming out of the water, said Muskrat.
Grandmother Toad dove suddenly. Otter and Muskrat watched her; they could see her green body, odd-shaped green legs kicking. She surfaced again, large eyes blinking. There is nothing down there.
Muskrat's whiskers quivered with agitation. He insisted that of course there is, and dove into the water himself. He swam around frantically, tail swishing, going in circles deeper and deeper. Then, he surfaced, head gleeming dully. There's nothing there, he reported, sulking, as he was wont to do when a particularly delicious fish managed to get away.
Otter frowned and thought very hard. He remembered the reflections of birds he had seen, swooping and diving. Well, if it's not coming up, he reasoned, perhaps its coming down! He rolled onto his back, turning his eyes to the great dome of blue that covered the whole universe, only clouds and birds in between. And there it was, an odd-shaped creature. It had no wings. It was falling quickly.
It's falling, it's falling! exclaimed Muskrat.
Birds began to squawk and cry, more loudly then usual. ....Falling, falling, falling....they cried. ....No wings, no wings....
What will happen to it when it reaches the water? wondered Otter aloud.
It will die, said Grandmother Toad. The water is hard when one falls that fast.
....Falling, falling, falling....
It needs something else to fall on, said Otter.
They could hear the terrible sound now. It was a cry, not of a bird angry with the wind or at another fellow for plucking his tail feathers. It was a cry of fear and of terror, the first heard in the world.
Otter rose up on his hind legs, tail flapping agitatedly. Great Turtle's shell is too hard. It would hurt itself when it landed.
The Bottom, then, said Muskrat. The fish tell me its soft. Some of them, when they go down that deep, they hit it with their tails sometimes and great clouds of the stuff spread through the water. Perhaps we could put some of it on Great Turtle's back, like putting a cloud there!
Yes, yes! That's it! exclaimed Otter. We need some Bottom!
Muskrat dove into the blue water. He dove deep, tail swishing rapidly, legs kicking. Deep he dove and deeper still, down to where the blue changed to purple. Down he dove, till his lungs hurt and his legs began to cramp. He could go no further. He turned, kicked as his legs began to hurt even more. The water changed back from purple to blue. His lungs hurt and his head hurt, and finally he was at the surface again, sucking in air. He had not reached the Bottom.
Otter dove next, from the shell of Great Turtle. Down deep he dove, through the blue sea, through the purple sea, to where the water began to blacken and the swishing of fish tails was seldom heard. But he could go no further: his legs hurt and his lungs hurt and even his great tail. He turned and returned to the surface, sucking in air. He had not reached the Bottom.
Lastly, Grandmother Toad dove through the waters. She dove through the blue waters and the purple waters and into the black waters, where the noise of fish tails was little heard. She dove deeper, into the black silence of the sea. It was cold. Her legs began to hurt, front legs and back. The water was heavy all around her.
She did not see the Bottom, for there was no light. She swam right into it, mouth and nostrils filling with its grainy coldness. She scooped it up into her mouth, almost choking. She filled her mouth with grains of the Bottom.
Up she began to swim, kicking her tired legs, paddling and pushing. The Bottom was heavy in her mouth, and cold. The water stayed black for a very long time. Grandmother Toad feared she would never see the infinite blue again. Then, slowly, the water began to lighten, from black to dark purple to lighter purple, to dark blue and finally to the lighter blue of the surface. Her head topped the waves and air touched her warty skin. She spat the Bottom out of her mouth, vomited it onto Great Turtle's back. She choked and coughed. Her tired legs stopped kicking, her tired legs stopped paddling, and she fell, back through the blue and purple and black waters, fell and fell and never returned.
The Bottom sat on Great Turtle's back. It was a lump of wet brown and black, very unattractive and lumpy. Otter and Muskrat stared at it, standing on their hind legs. The Bottom just sat there, drying in the wind.
They could still hear the sound, the scream which grew louder and louder. The birds were screaming too, flapping about in agitation. Something terrible was going to happen.
We need more Bottom, announced Muskrat.
Then something wonderful happened. The Bottom moved. It was not a very great move, not at first, just a sort of quiver. Then it plopped over, fell with a squish. And it began to grow. It rolled out over Great Turtle's back, spreading across the great hard shell. It grew and grew and grew, grew thicker and darker and wider, thicker in some places, thinner in others. It sent Otter and Muskrat scrambling over the side of Great Turtle's shell and into the blue water. They watched as it continued to grow.
Look, look, look! Muskrat pointed excitedly.
Up in the sky, they could see the falling creature. It was much closer. It had great tangles of black fur growing out of its head and its belly was round, and it had four legs. It was much closer and the terrible sound was louder.
The birds screamed and called to one another. They flapped their wings and dove through the wind and among the clouds. They caught the creature's legs with their flippered feet, caught its black fur in their beaks, slipped beneath its falling body and supported it with theirs. The creature slowed in its fall, slowed, but was still falling.
And the terrible sound was getting louder....
The Bottom continued to grow. It was thick and black in some places, dried and brown in others, even reddish. And then it stopped growing.
The crash of the thing onto the Bottom on Great Turtle's back was terrible. The Bottom rippled and squished. Great Turtle moaned. Great Turtle sank into the infinite blue and water spilled over the Bottom which covered his back. The creature choked and coughed as the water washed over it. Then Great Turtle rose again and the water fell away. Great waves washed through the infinite blue of the sea, swift-moving circles, pushing at Muskrat and Otter and the many fish which swam about. Then the water stilled, and it was very quiet.
Otter and Muskrat began to creep forward.
There was a great clatter and rain fell, across the back of Great Turtle. They were hard little balls of many colors and sizes. Brown clumps like Bottom fell, too, and green tangles of plant like that which floated in the infinite sea. They splooshed and plopped, the hard balls and clumps and tangles, and buried themselves in the Bottom.
Muskrat and Otter raised their heads from beneath the waves. They crept out of the blue water. The Bottom squished beneath their paws and between their toes. They crept over to the creature. The creature was sleeping. Then it began to cry.
I am Aataentsic, the creature said. I am of the Ongwe, the People of the Sky. We live high above, beyond the blue dome. I am the mate of Earth-Holding Chief. I went to him at the counsel of my father's spirit. I passed many tests to prove my worthiness. But, after we mated, he sent me away. I returned to my people. When my body began to swell, they became angry. They threw me from the Land of the Ongwe. I fell. I fell. I fell. I screamed, at my father for sending me to Earth-Holding Chief, at Earth-Holding Chief for his cruelty, at the people for their shame. I screamed in anger, I screamed in fear. Then the birds grabbed me with their flippered feet and their beaks. Then I awakened here.
Her body tightened then and pain spiked her belly. Her blood mixed with the dark brown and black grains of the Bottom and Her daughter slid forth. She placed Her daughter on Her belly and wiped Her clean. Her daughter cried and the wind blew, and so Aataentsic named her daughter Gusts of Wind.
Upon the back of Great Turtle They lived, Mother and Daughter. Gusts of Wind grew and Her belly rounded, though She had no mate. Twins came forth, while pain spiked Her belly and legs, golden and silver. They rose into the sky, glowing with light, the sun and the moon. And so measureable Time came to the world, day and night. The dome was no longer blue, but black also. Sparks of light shone in the blackness, holes which the Ongwe had poked through the dome with their planting sticks as they planted their corn and squash.
The seeds which had fallen with Aataentsic, clawed free of celestial soil, took root in the mud of the Bottom. They rose in the warm light of the sun, oaks and elms and willow, berry bushes and herbs. They spread across the Bottom which covered the round shell of Great Turtle, covering the thick places and the thin, covering mountains and valleys, growing round the low places which had filled with water when Great Turtle moaned.
Upon the back of Great Turtle they lived, Mother and Daughter, as we still live. Their bellies rounded and children came forth, sons and daughters, though they had no mates. The planting of corn and squash Aataentsic taught them, the gathering of bark and herbs. Respect for women's ways and women's wisdom, Aataentsic taught them. Sons mated with daughters and bronze-skinned children were born. In the forests they lived, and beside the lakes and rivers, upon the back of Great Turtle who lives in the sea.
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Aditi, Infinite Infinity
Aditi is an ancient Goddess of pre-Aryan India. Her name means, literally, "Infinity" or "Unbounded One." Like other primal Goddesses, She is often presented in cow form. She largely disappears from later Vedic writings.
There is only Infinity. There is no when, no then, no verbs of time or nouns of place. Infinity cannot be comprehended.
Aditi is Infinity. She is All that is beyond comprehension, All that is beyond measurement: She is Time, She is Thought, She is Imagination, She is Energy, She is Creativity.
Out of Her Infinite Creativity, Her Infinite Self, Aditi created the Adityas. They are twelve in number, the first numbers, the first division of Aditi's Infinite Oneness.
They are the Adityas, twelve in number, dividing Time, dividing it into twelve units, dividing it into years and months and days and hours and minutes, dividing it into seasons and cycles.
And so words like now came into being, and then and when and there and here and verbs of time and nouns of place.
And so Time began....
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Armaiti, Lady of Green
Originally a ditheistic faith, the Zoroastrian religion of ancient Persia eventually incorporated many Goddesses and secondary Gods. These Goddesses, originally autonomous Deities, became the daughters or servants of Ahura Mazda, the God of Light, or Ahriman, the God of Dark The most well-known of these Goddesses adopted into the Zoroastrian faith is Anahita (profiled in the Goddesses chapter). Armaiti is another.
Dawn rises. Frost glitters, melts to beads of dew. Dew warms and mist forms, cool and clinging. Through the mist of spring moves Armaiti, steps quiet and bright. Her smile is warmer than the sun, golden and life-loving. The land warms as the sun rises higher. Shadows creep away, sinking into hollows. Mountain slopes brighten, warm brown and reddish.
From the horizon of the rising sun steps Armaiti. She is the Daughter of Truth and Light, Ahura Mazda. She is Devotion, Lady of Rebirth and Spring. From the dead places She calls forth life, coaxing it from the cold winter soil with gentle words and warm hands..
She is Devotion. Slumbering trees waken and bud, and Her smile brightens. Fragile shoots push through reluctant soil, and Her steps grow light. Stems bud and flower blooms open, petals fragrant and colorful. Hills green as She treads their slopes. Her breath is perfume, deep red and yellow. The wind catches it and carries it away, mixes it with the perfume of the rose and the lotus, the lilac and the lily. Round the hills the perfume blows, to old trees and stumps. Bees waken and buzz from their hives, and Armaiti laughs.
She is Devotion. She calls the world to life. She calls the seedlings to rise from the ground, to spread their leaves in the loving light of the sun. She calls the world to praise Ahura Mazda, Father of Light and Truth. Birds sing in glory. Bees buzz, streaks of gold and black. Flowers bob heavy heads, and leaves unfurl, spreading in His light. Snow melts and streams run clear and rapid, glittering in His light.
She is Armaiti. She calls the world to life.
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The Basque people of northern Spain are an enigma, genetically and linguistically different than the cultures around them. This story recounts the creation of the world and of the Basque themselves. At present, a violent liberation (or terrorist) movement is battling the Spanish government for Basque independence.
The world was a cold, flat place then. There were no mountains or valleys or sea. There was no warmth, only cold wind blowing across an endless plain.
Beneath the earth lived Benzozia, Mother Dragon. She was a great serpent, with seven great jaws and fourteen great fangs. Beneath the earth, Benzozia slept. But Her sleep was restless. She turned in Her sleep and Her great scales rasped against the earth above. Her heavy coils, all shades of red and blue and purple, arched against the earth above, and the earth groaned.
Again and again, Benzozia turned in Her sleep. Her heavy coils pushed against the earth above, arched and shoved. The earth groaned and moved. The earth split wide and rose high. Into the cold air the earth rose in peaks, and the Pyrenees were created, the world's first mountains.
In Her sleep, Benzozia rolled and from Her seven great jaws fire poured forth. It rose up, poured through the cracks in the earth and erupted from mountains and valleys. It rolled across the surface of the earth, luminous gas and burning liquid. It burned the soil and the air. It burned hot and clouds rose, mixtures of dust and moisture. Water fell from the clouds created of Benzozia's fire. The fire and water fought and hissed and more clouds were born, and the fire began to retreat, back down into the earth. Water filled the low places and mixed with earth burned dark black by fire. Trees and bushes pushed tiny shoots through the dark soil and lifted their heads into the air. Taller and taller they grew, no longer driven to hide beneath the ground by the cold above.
Into the earth the fire retreated. But from its sparks, its warm embers and hot gas and hot liquid, came the first people. There were the Basque, born of Benzozia's fire.
She lives still, the Great Mother Dragon, beneath the earth. Her sleep is still restless and the earth groans when She pushes with Her heavy coils. From time to time, She opens Her great jaws in Her sleep and fire erupts forth. It sweeps up through cracks and crevices in the earth; but now it erupts only from the heights of mountains, far from the low places filled with water..
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Citlalicue, whose name means "Star Skirt," is considered the embodiment of the Milky Way. This Aztec tale of pre-Columbian Mexico harkens from a time when the male role in reproduction was just beginning to be understood. It also recounts the creation of the Aztec Deities by a most unusual means.
Some say the Milky Way is a river, a river of light which the Gods sail in Their nightly voyage. Others say it is a road, the Highway of the Gods. Still other peoples say it is a sash or a cloak or the milk of a Goddess. But the Aztecs know that the flowing stream is Citlalicue, Mother of the Gods.
It is said that Citlalicue birthed a knife of flint. In a gush of red blood, the knife of fire-stone came forth, gray-black. By this flint knife, Citlalicue became the Mother of all the Gods and Goddesses. She became the Mother of Them All, one thousand six hundred in all.
To the depths of the earth descended Citlalicue, flint knife in Her hand, into the caverns of the earth. There, She smeared the knife of fire-stone with the blood of Her womb. Into a bowl of cool blue light Citlalicue dipped the knife, into a bowl of light like the ocean. From the bowl stepped forth beings noble and upright. The first humans arose from the bowl of blue light, the parents of the noble Aztecs. From the bowl arose two Deities. These two Deities, noble children of Citlalicue, set themselves aflame. The elder burned with a fire golden-red and hot. He rose into the sky and became the Sun; He shines for us yet today. The younger burned with a cooler fire, white-blue and gray. He rose into the sky and became the Moon; He shines for us yet today.
And so the order of the universe was set in motion. Sun shines at day, warming crops and land. Moon shines at night, guiding the traveler. And through the dark sky arches the stream of stars which is fair Citlalicue, Mother of the Gods.
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This creation myth is told by the Minahasa people of the Celebes Islands. Variations of this story are told throughout Indonesia. Such tales come from a transitionary time, when it was still believed there were multiple means of conception: wind, water, sexual intercourse, or ingestion of various fruits or flowers.
In the beginning, the Earth already was, and the Earth was beautiful. The Earth was a fair land of great mountains and hot beaches. The Ocean covered the Earth, and where mountains rose out of the Ocean, jungles grew. The jungles were deep green and hot, filled with vines and animals and squawking birds.
The Sky was already there, too, covering Earth and Ocean. The Sky was a deep, deep blue. The Wind was there, too. It blew out of the west, pushing fat clouds and ruffling trees. Birds flew in the wind. When the Wind blew, the land was not so hot.
There was no day then, for there was no sun. There was only night, constant darkness. But the animals did not call it night, for they knew nothing else. It simply was.
One day, the Wind was not blowing. The land was hot. Moisture clung to the sides of mountains. Animals panted in the heat. Sweat beaded on their furry sides, and they took refuge in pools of cool water. Even the trees sweat beads of salty water. Even the stone slopes of mountains and the rocks which tumbled about sweat water in the heat.
And from the sweat of one of these stones, shed in the heat when the Wind did not blow, was born Empung Luminuut. She was born a woman, body rounded at the hips and breast. Her skin was golden-brown, Her eyes large and dark, Her hair black.
Into the heat of that eternal night was born Empung Luminuut. Onto the beach She strode with determined steps. The grains were sharp and hard, and creatures scuttled out of Her path. At the edge of the Ocean She stood, waves cooling Her toes. She called to the Wind and there was a sudden gust from the West. Her dark hair was pulled and twisted. The Wind wrapped around Her breasts and arms and slipped between Her thighs.
Her belly swelled with life. Water and blood spewed forth and the Sun was born. Light came to the universe. Animals fled in fear of the brightness and birds screeched. Tall trees leaned near and shrubs rustled.
Empung Luminuut mated with Her Son, and by Her all the Goddesses amd Gods were born, and all the people. Into the Sky rose the Sun, lighting the universe, drawing the heat to itself. By day the people lived, beneath the light of the Sun. Through the jungles they walked, gathering fruits and leaves, hunting boar and rodent. Across the Ocean they sailed, catching fish and shark. In the light of the Sun they lived, the light of the Son of Empung Luminuut.
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Gaea (or Gaia or Ge) is a well-known ancient Greek Deity, the most ancient Whose name has survived. In recent years, Her name has been adopted by scientists and environmentalists under the Gaea Hypothesis, which postulates that the Earth and its entire biosphere is a living, self-regulating organism.
Before time, there is only Chaos. Formless, heavy mixes with light, darkness with bright, earth and air and fire and water, undifferentiated.
Then Gaea creates Herself. She pulls Her being from primal Chaos by the force of Her will. She wills Herself into existance. Gaea separates the heavy and the light, the dark and the bright, the elements of earth and air and fire and water. The lighter She sets above, the heavier below. From fire She forms the sun and stars. From the heavier She forms the planets. From the heavier She creates a form for Herself and calls it Earth. Air settles around Her in a warm, blue blanket. Water fills Her low places, salty and fresh. Clouds form, and rain falls. Earth grows moist and from Her depths Gaea brings forth trees and shrubs, vines and herbs. Animals of all variety are born, called forth by Gaea: deer and bear, bird and mouse, horse and pig. She populates Her seas and lakes and rivers with fish of all kinds, and crabs and urchins and dolphins and jellyfish.
Gaea looks upon Her creation, and is glad.
For uncounted time, Gaea is joyful in Her creation. She watches mountain slopes green in spring. She watches mountain peaks glisten with winter's snow. She listens to the mating song of birds and the undersea song of the whale. She feels the unsteady tread of sleepy bear steps as winter melts into spring. She smells the tangy scent of berries carried by autumn winds.
Gaea is joyous with Her creation. She desires to share it with another like Herself. And so She calls forth another, molding Him of fire and of air. Uranus She calls Him, son and lover. And Gaea discovers new joys with Her creation.
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In Siberia, the Sakha or Yakut people tell their children this tale. It contains many elements found in the Book of Genesis, but the interpretation of these elements is radically different.
At the center of the world, at the navel of the universe, there grows a great Eight-Branched Tree. Its trunk is gnarled and knotted and golden-brown. Its roots grow deep into the earth of the cosmos. Its branches, thick and leaved, grow high into the heavens. Within the branches of the great Eight-Branched Tree lives White Youth. He is the First Man. He eats of the leaves of the Tree, and the fruit which hangs from its boughs.
But White Youth grows restless. He knows there is more--he knows there is something he must do. White Youth sits in the branches of the Tree and considers. He considers for a long time. Then he stands and climbs the branches of the Tree; he climbs higher and higher to the very topmost branch, and looks out upon the cosmos. White Youth sees broad plains of grass through which rivers curve. He sees far distant moutains and dense green forests. He sees animals, too, furred and scaly and feathered. From the topmost branch of the Tree, White Youth looks upon the cosmos--and feels the first stirrings of curiousity.
I must see those mountains, he says. I must climb those trees, which are so much smaller. I must feel the grass beneath my feet and swim in the great rivers. I must meet these animals and feel their fur and feathers and scales with my hands.
And White Youth climbs back, back down the great Eight-Branched Tree at the navel of the universe. Down and down he climbs. He slides down the trunk and touches his feet to the earth, the First Man to feel earth beneath his feet.
The wind blows then. The leaves of the great Tree rustle and shake. The Tree quakes and the whole cosmos shakes. The earth at the base of the Tree swells and cracks and a woman emerges. Her hair is long and black and fell the ground. Her skin is golden-warm. Her eyes are solemn.
Drink, she says, and offers Her breasts to White Youth. He drinks of Her milk until he is full. Then the woman steps back and disappears once more into the earth at the roots of the great Tree. And White Youth set off across the plains, First Man.
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Ilmater, literally "Water Mother," is the creation Deity in this myth from Finland. She is also known as Ilma and Luonnotar. This is another variation on the "Celestial Origins" creation.
In the beginning, there were Three: Sky, Ocean and Ilmater. Ilmater floated in the Sky, virginal and quiet. All was infinite, serene blue. For many centuries, Ilmater floated, one in Herself, content. Gradually, self-awareness entered Her mind. Ilmater looked about Her, studying the universe. She looked at the infinite blue of the Sky. She looked down at the Ocean.
Ilmater arced Her graceful body and dove into the Ocean. Perhaps it was boredom which drove Her to do so; perhaps it was curiousity. For seven centuries, Ilmater enjoyed the new sensations of the Ocean. It was cool and salty. Waves lapped over Her breasts and thighs and the wind tugged at Her wet hair.
Then, after seven centuries of floating in the waves, a duck paddled over to Ilmater. Ilmater had never seen such a creature. Curious, She raised Her knee. The duck clambered onto Her knee, feathers wet, webbed feet cold against Her skin. The duck shook itself and water sprayed. Ilmater laughed, the first laughter heard in the universe. The duck sat down then on Her knee.
For many centuries they floated alone, together, in the Ocean. Then the duck laid three eggs. The duck dove back into the waves, and disappeared. The eggs lay on Ilmater's knee, held above the waves, protected from their roughness and surging.
Ilmater watched the eggs constantly. After three days, Her leg began to hurt. The muscle cramped and tightened. Ilmater had never felt pain before. It was the first pain in the world. She shifted Her leg, stretched to relieve the cramp, and the eggs spilled off Her knee.
Into the Ocean the eggs fell. They shattered amid the pounding and roughness of the waves. Ilmater was sad at the destruction of the eggs. It was the first sadness felt in the universe.
The eggs broke open and the yellow yolks and bright whites spilled out. They sank through the ocean, cooling, congealing. One yellow yolk began to glow, it brightened with heat. Up it rose through the Ocean. Ilmater watched, fascinated, as it rose above the waves and into the Sky. There it shone, golden and warm.
The whites of the eggs congealed and began to glow. They formed a ball and rose into the air, shining silver and cool.
The lower halves of the egg shells grew and hardened and darkened. They fell and fell, and curved beneath the Ocean, forming a dome. The upper halves rose into the Sky, beyond the burning yolk and cool white. The upper halves came together and arced above the Sky, a great dome. Bits of left-over shell poked up through the waters of the Ocean, forming land.
For many more centuries, Ilmater floated, admiring creation. Then curiousity tingled in Her mind, and the urge to create grew hot.
Ilmater raised Her arms and began to create. She created with hands and speech. She named the golden sphere Sun, and the silver sphere Moon. She named Earth the hard shell which lay beneath and the bits which poked above the waves. She carved the Earth into mountains and inlets, steep-sided cliffs and dark forests. Where She walked on the Earth, Her footprints became pools for fish. The graceful slide of Her arms over earth created beaches. She pointed and waterfalls formed. She pointed and reindeer herds wandered the northern hills. She spoke and flowers bloomed, fragrant and bright.
And so the world came to be.
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This story comes from Japan. As the story illustrates, the male role in creation was beginning to be understood; it also comes from a time when the matriarchal culture of Japan was being replaced (probably violently), by a patriarchal culture. Notice the similarities with Citlalicue (above).
The Two stood on the Rainbow Bridge of Heaven. She was Izanami-no-kami. He was Izanagi-no-mikoto. They stood upon the Bridge of Heaven and contemplated the sea which lay beneath Them.
Izanagi-no-mikoto took into His hands a great, jeweled spear. He dipped it into the great ocean and stirred the waters. Faster and faster He stirred the waters. Salt rose from the bottom and collected on the spear's point. Izanagi-no-mikoto lifted the spear from the swirling waves. The waters calmed. Salt slipped and dripped from the tip of the spear. It collected on the waves, hardened, and Onogoro-jima, the Spontaneously Conceived Island, was born.
From the Rainbow Bridge of Heaven stepped Izanami-no-kami and Izanagi-no-mikoto. They stepped onto Onogoro-jima. At its center rose a great pillar, high into Heaven.
Let Us dance about this pillar, suggested Izanami-no-kami. Let Us meet on the far side, and mate, and create.
Izanagi-no-mikoto agreed. And so They danced about the pillar, one on either side. And when They met on the far side, Izanami-no-kami spoke, inviting Him to mate with Her.
Izanagi-no-mikoto was angered. As the male, He Who Had Wielded the Spear of Creation, it was He who should have spoken first. And so They danced about the pillar again, back the way They had come. When They met on the far side, He spoke, inviting Her to mate with Him. And so They mated, the emptiness in Izanami-no-kami joining the superfluous flesh of Izanagi-no-mikoto.
And so They created. Within the emptiness of Izanami-no-kami grew life and She birthed many lands. These lands would come to be the Islands of Japan. Next were born The Deities of Water and Earth and Food. Some say Izanami-no-kami also birthed Ama-terasu-o-mi-kami. She was so radiant, Her parents placed Her in the sky to rule as Queen. Some say Izanami-no-kami also birthed the God of the Moon, to serve as Ama-terasu-o-mi-kami's consort. Others say this is not so.
Lastly Izanami-no-kami birthed Hi-No-Kagu-Tsuchi, The God of Fire. The God was hot and impetuous and eager to be born. He burned His Mother to death and sprang from Her corpse.
Down to the gloomy world of Yomi descended Izanami-no-kami. Down She descended to the Land of the Dead. Desperate, lost without His wife, Izanagi-no-mikoto followed Her to Yomi. He found a tunnel in a mountain and began to descend. Deeper and deeper He went into the earth, and finally reached Yomi.
Yomi was dark. Thick fog floated about and there were strange sounds. Izanagi-no-mikoto called out and His wife answered. Come back with Me, He called. Come back to the world!
I cannot, She responded. It is too late.
Izanagi-no-mikoto lit a torch then, and looked upon His dead wife. She was terrible to look upon, Her flesh rotting and burned. At the flare of the torch, Izanami-no-kami screamed in horror and outrage. Her eyes rolled wildly.
You have dishonored Me! She screamed. You have shamed Me by looking upon My rotting body! You have shamed Me!
Izanagi-no-mikoto ran in terror. Izanami-no-kami pursued Him, screaming wildly. The spirits of death and the dead ran at Her side, chasing Izanagi-no-mikoto, screaming and howling. Faster and faster He ran, faster. The tunnel rose and rose. It brightened and Izanagi-no-mikoto was once again among pine trees and birds.
He took a great boulder in His hands and rolled it across the mouth of the cave. He drove the boulder into place, forever locking the enraged Izanami-no-kami in the underworld, the gloomy Land of Yomi.
It is said by some that it was at this time that Ama-terasu-o-mi-kami and Susanowo were born. They say that Izanagi-no-mikoto sought to wash the filth and stain of Yomi from His body. He washed Himself in a clear pool near the locked entrance to Yomi, and the waters darkened. From His left eye was born Ama-terasu-o-mi-kami, Lady of Brightness, and from His nose was born Susanowo, God of Wind and Storms.
Or so some say.
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This rather gruesome foundation story comes from the Inca of Andean South America. It reveals that the ancient Inca invaded the region they would come to call home, driving out or enslaving the natives, much as the ancient Hebrews overran Palestine. This is also another variation on the "Celestial Origins" myth.
In that ancient time, the Ayar came down from the heavens. They were four sisters--Cura, Huaco, Raua and Ocllo--mated to four brothers. They are the Ancient Mothers.
They traveled the land, searching for a place to live. Many mountains they crossed, mountains home to llama and vicuna, potato fields and gold mines. They crossed mountains great and rocky, cold and icy. Finally, they came to the land which would be theirs.
But this land which they claimed as their own was already home to another people. It was Mama Ocllo who drove the people from the land which the Ayar called their own. A man lived in a village in this land. In the early light of morning, he left his village and went out into the fields to gather potatoes. There Mama Ocllo set upon him and killed him. She cut his chest open with her knife and cut out his lungs. They were large and soft and dripped warm blood. Mama Ocllo stuffed the lungs into her mouth. She caught them between her teeth and let them hang down over her chin. Blood dripped down her chin and stained her chest and her dress and the hair which hung over her shoulders. Into the village of the dead man Mama Ocllo walked, growling and tossing her head. Blood splattered. The villagers fled in terror, fled from their village to another. Mama Ocllo followed, and all the peoples fled from her. Mama Ocllo followed, lungs hanging from her mouth, until all the people were gone from the land.
And so the land became home to the Ayar. The Mothers mated with their brothers, and the Inca were born, and they called this land home.
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This story of creation is difficult to find, though it is right at the beginning of the Book of Genesis. Centuries of accidental and deliberate mistranslation and ignorance of ancient Hebrew culture have obscured the feminine role in Judeo-Christian creation. At the height of the culture of Moorish Spain, Kabbalists (a sect of Judaism) returned to Shekinah Her important role in the creation of the universe, of children and of art.
POURING OUT THE STARS
I am Shekinah. I am the First Thought of YHWH. I am the Wisdom of YHWH. I am the Breath of YHWH. I am the Infinite Love of YHWH.
I am the First Thought of YHWH. I am the source of consciousness. I am She Who was there in the beginning, the very Thought of Creation which YHWH conceived.
I am the Wisdom of YHWH. I am that which inspires all creation. I am She Who was there in the beginning, the intelligence which guided the creation of biospheres, which designed the Laws of Nature, which determined the balance of living and dying.
I am the Breath of YHWH. I am that which enervates creation. I am She Who was there in the beginning, the wind which moved upon still waters, the energy which fueled the creation of suns and stars, lakes and mountains, forests and jungles.
I am the Infinite Love of YHWH. I am that which makes meaning of existence. I am She Who was there in the beginning, the love which made YHWH complete and which completes His Creation.
I am Shekinah. I am First Thought, the image of a painting which appears in an artist's mind, the image of a child which appears in a father's thoughts. I am Wisdom, which guides and inspires the paintbrush of the artist, the dancing steps of the dancer, the quill of the writer. I am Breath, which animates the babe in the womb, the pen upon paper, the sculptor's chisel upon hard marble. I am Infinite Love, which unites YHWH with His creation and His children with one another.
I am Shekinah. I am the face of the Unknowable which may be known. I walk among the people, teaching them laws, teaching them arts, reminding them of the Infinite Love which inspired their creation and which inspires creation still.
`I am Shekinah.
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In ancient Egypt, Sothis was the name for Sirius, the Dog Star. It rose over the horizon each August just as the Nile began its annual, revivifying flood. Sothis was considered by many to be an aspect of the great Goddess Isis (profiled in the Goddesses chapter).
The Heaven which is Nut's spangled body covers the earth. She arches over it, on fingertips and tiptoes. Her body is ink black. White and red and green stars wink and twinkle on Her black body. She is Mistress Night, Wife of the Earth, Mother of the Sun.
Many are the stars which wink and twinkle on Her body, of many colors and brightnesses. Many are the Divine figures which the stars form: Osiris, Lord of the Dead, and Tauret, Mistress of Childbirth. It is to the stars that astrologers look, to chart the destiny of newborn sons and daughters. It is to the stars that the sailor looks, to the fixed northern light which guides him home.
But it is one star especially which draws the eye of potter and prostitute and priestess and Pharaoh. That is the star which rises in the east, shining bright, heralding the Inundation of the Nile, the beginning of the New Year.
Through the long nights, the priests keep anxious vigil. Night after night they watch for the star Sothis. Many are Her titles: the Arrow Star, Queen of the Thirty-Six Constellations, Star of the Sea, the Star of Isis. Many are Her names: Sopdet, Sept, Septet, Sirius. She is the Star of the Inundation. Mistress of the Flood.
Far distant from Egypt, rain falls upon the highlands of Ethiopia. Down the mountains the water runs, into the Blue Nile and the White Nile. The two great rivers converge and flow together, north into the Great Green. The waters of the great Nile swell, filled with the rain of the highlands. Over its banks the Nile sweeps, across fields and boundaries. Beneath the silt-brown waters the fields lay for many weeks. Slowly, the waters recede, and the earth is rich and black again.
Back to their fields the farmers return, back to fields rejuvenated. To the Nile, the farmers offer their thanks. To Sothis, they offer their thanks, farmer and herdsman, potter and Pharaoh. To Sothis they offer praise, Lady of the Inundation, Who heralds the Rejuvenation of the Land.
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Woyengi, or "Great Mother," is the creation Deity of the Ijaw people of Nigeria. This tale reveals an interesting confluence of Free Will and Predetermination in Ijawan cosmology. It is interesting, too, that Ogbionba, a woman, is looked down upon in Ijawan society for her self-determination and pride, whereas the male hero of another tale with the same characteristics is celebrated.
In the beginning, the world was not as we know it. There were animals, yes, and trees and lizards and great seas of fish. But there were no people.
In the beginning, there was a great empty plain. A giant iroko tree grew in this empty plain. The sun darkened and a great shadow fell and a table descended from the sky. Birds silenced their songs. The table touched the ground and settled there; atop the table was a pile of blackish brown earth. Next came a chair, and then the Creation Stone. The Stone settled beneath the table. It was heavy and glowed with warmth.
Thunder split the sky. Lightning arched, golden and electric. And then Woyengi came, the Great Mother. She sat in the chair and rested Her feet on the warm Creation Stone. Into Her hands She took the earth and molded it. She fashioned the earth into people, but not people as we know them. Woyengi fashioned the people, neither male nor female. Woyengi breathed life into the people, filled their lungs with Her breath. The people stirred and lived.
Woyengi spoke to the people then. I have given you life, She said. Now choose the life you wish to live. Choose whether to be man or woman, rich or poor. Choose whether to be fisher or potter, warrior or dancer. Choose how you will live your life. Choose the manner in which you will die.
And so the people chose. Some wanted to be men, others women. Some chose to be fishers, some to work with animals. Some chose to be warriors. Some chose to die of old age, some by accident, some by disease. And so all the ways of life and death were decided upon that day, by all the people, all the people who have lived in the past, who live now, who will live in the future.
On that day, when Woyengi the Great Mother told the people to choose, were two people who chose to be women. One woman's name is unknown; she chose to birth many successful children. Another woman was Ogboinba; she chose to produce magic. As it happened, these two women were later born as sisters. They were devoted to one another and happy. When they had come of age, they each were married. The first woman produced many successful children. But Ogboinba produced only magic. Ogboinba healed the sick and saw the future; she spoke with animals and plants. But still she was unhappy. Ogboinba watched the other woman with jealousy as her children grew in fame and importance. Unhappy with her choices, Ogboinba returned to Woyengi the Great Mother.
Let me choose again, She demanded. Let me be reborn.
Arrogant one! Woyengi scolded, anger darkening Her face. You have made your choice! It is you who shall decide how you live your life. I, Great Mother Woyengi, could have chosen for you. But I did not. I let your own will determine your way in life. If you are unhappy, it is through no fault of mine. Your choice has been made!
Ogboinba, frightened at Woyengi's anger, fled. Ogboinba fled into the eyes of a pregnant woman. And in the eyes of pregnant women she can be seen to this day, looking out at the world.
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