People have long wondered how the world came into being. They have answered the question with stories that describe the origin of the universe or the world and usually of human life as well. Creation myths, known as cosmogonies, express people’s understanding of the world and their place in it.

The world’s mythologies and religions offer an immense variety of creation stories. Yet scholars have discovered that the cosmogonies of different cultures fall into broad categories and contain many shared themes.

Εpic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

Forms and Themes of Creation

Some creation stories, such as those of Africa and Polynesia, existed for years in spoken form but were not written down until recently. Other cultures preserved their cosmogonies in written texts, and some of these have survived from ancient times. The Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, written thousands of years ago, tells how people in Mesopotamia explained the beginning of the world. A Mayan text called the Popol Vuh describes the creation of the ancestors of the Maya.

Types of Creation. Some methods of creation appear again and again in cosmogonies from different parts of the world. One of the most common images is a description of the beginning of the world as a birth, a kind of creation familiar to everyone. The birth may result from the mating of a pair of cosmic parents. The Maori of New Zealand, for example, say that the union of Rangi and Papa (Father Sky and Mother Earth) produced all things.

The hatching of an egg is another familiar kind of birth. Some creation myths tell of a cosmic egg containing the seeds or possibilities of everything. The hatching of the egg lets the possibilities take form. The Hindu texts known as the Upanishads describe the creation of the world as the breaking of a cosmic egg.

Another type of cosmogony says that the actions, thoughts, or desires of a supreme being or creator god brought the world into existence. The book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible tells how God created the world and everything in it. Other accounts of creation by a supreme being can be found in many regions, from the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan to the island of Tierra del Fuego in southern South America.

Sometimes the created order simply emerges from a primal chaos—a state of disorder. In Norse * mythology, the scene of creation is an emptiness of wind and mist until clouds form and harden into the frost giant Ymir, from whose body the world is made. Many Native American myths tell how animals and people appeared on earth by climbing out of a chaotic or primitive underworld.

Greek & Roman Cosmogony