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Creation Myths

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The Universal Myths

According to the course description of this class, Western Man and the Cosmos is a historical examination of man's interaction with nature. In its most general sense, the term cosmos is defined as an orderly or harmonious system. It originates from a Greek term κόσμος, meaning "order or orderly arrangement." Throughout history, man's understanding of the cosmos has been expressed in a few different ways; through myth, religion and empirical evidence. In this essay I will be analyzing and interpreting the mythological understanding of the history of the cosmos.

What is mythology? It is a collection of stories telling our beliefs and our history. The stories are usually regarding major issues such as the origin of humanity and its traditions, and the way in which the natural and human worlds function. The Universal Myths: Heroes, Gods, Tricksters and Others, by Alexander Eliot is a collection of myths and stories of all nations, throughout the history of man. Many stories in this book are told about the origin of the cosmos, the creation of man, and the meaning of life. I found all the stories in this book to be very fascinating, but I narrowed it down to four that I found to be the most relevant to the mythological themes that our class has been learning about throughout the semester. The four stories I chose were "Unanswered Questions", "Separation of Earth and Sky", "Isis and Osiris" and "Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus." Each of these stories will be broken down and explained in relevance to the major themes of Western Man and the Cosmos.

The most famous Egyptian myth is the story of "Isis and Osiris" on page 202. It is part of a fascinating story of the how Egypt was created and shows the creativity and "want of knowledge" the ancient Egyptians had for the understanding of the world and why they were there. The ancient Egyptian creation myth states that everything started from a huge primal ocean of chaos that contained the seeds of everything to come, called the Nun. Then, out of the waters by an exertion of will, the sun god emerged from chaos as Ra and gave birth to Shu and Tefnut by himself. In turn Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture, gave birth to Geb and Nut, the earth god and sky goddess. Thus the physical universe was created. Geb and Nut had two daughters and two sons. Isis and Nephthys were their daughters, and Set and Osiris were their sons. When they grew up, Nephthys married Set and Isis married Osiris. Set was always jelous of Osiris and one day ended up killing his older brother and cut his body into fourteen pieces to spread around Egypt. Isis then searched the entire land and recovered all fourteen pieces of his body. Some versions of the myth say she planted him in the ground of Egypt for him to rule the land forever, and some say that she binded his body together in linens and he came back to life for a brief period of time and impregnated her. Thus, Horus was born and would eventually seek revenge and kill his fathers murderer, he then became the god of justice. In some interpretations of the myth "Isis and Osiris", the main figures of the myth symbolize the physical features of Egypt itself. Thus, Osiris represents the Nile with its annual flooding and withdrawal; Isis represents the fertile farm land of Egypt; Set represents the dry and hot desert that separates the Nile and the fertile land; while Nephthys stands for the marginal areas between the farm land and desert. This naturalistic approach may stem from the fact that the features of these gods symbolized forces of nature: earth, sky, air, moisture, the sun.

Throughout ancient history, many nations have come up with various creation theories and myths to try understand and explain why they were there, the universe, the heavens, and how everything works. "Unanswered Questions" on page 22 is a simple but very creative creation myth thought up by the Kabyle Berbers of the Djudjura Mountains of east Algiers. They simply believed that the first human beings were an ageless pair who fought over a waterhole deep underneath the earth. They had fifty daughters and fifty sons who climbed and climbed up of the whole until they reached the surface of the earth. According to the myth the fifty daughters got to the top first and as soon as they climbed out they showed instant curiousity and interest about the earth and everything they saw around them. They first asked the plants who made them, and the plants replied that the earth did. Now interested in the earth, they asked it "who made you?", and the earth told them it had been always there. As night came upon them, the fifty sisters noticed the stars and moon high above the trees and asked them the same exact question, but they would never get an answer because the stars and moon were too high and could not hear them. In this simple but fascinating myth, it shows how throughout the history of time how man has always been looking for answers from the heavens, which in this story are the stars and moon. It shows how the heavens never reply with a straight answer

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