Mythology has as two of its primary goals, the description of creation (the manifestation of order out of chaos), and the understanding of who’s in charge of such creation. Just as the Consciousness, the human mind, seeks to find stability in the midst of instability, the collective seeks to find the fundamental underlying reason for the state of affairs the universe finds itself in after countless eons of existence. There is also the related task of describing any creating deity worthy of the name, and whether or not there is a continuing interest by this diety in continuing the process.
A key to understanding ancient myths regarding creation and their version of ruling deities is dependent upon understanding the Paradigms by which the myth scriptwriters are using as a means of explaining the state of the universe. Accordingly, before leaping into a brief description of some of the ancient myths, it is essential that the Assumptions being used by the ancient mythwriters and modern man be understood. The implication, of course, is that judging the reality or fantasy of the creation and deity stories of ancient myths can not be done by modern man, who is using a different set of assumptions -- particularly if the latter guesses or no more valid or real than the ancient assumptions.
Modern man uses the mythology of science to explain the myriad observations that close and exhaustive investigation of the universe has uncovered. Science then does a strange thing, and begins making the ssumptions, the logical guesses which assume immediately that logic is even applicable to the universe, that causality (cause always preceding effect) is a fundamental reality, and that there really are physical “laws” which cannot be broken. [The fact that the Nature of Law implies that any law can always be broken -- but with consequences if one is the lawbreaker -- does not seem to deter many so-called scientists.]
There are possibly Fundamental Principles by which the universe operates, but man has a preference for those principles which allow for a measure of human control. Chaos and random acts (including kindness) do not appeal to the average individual, inasmuch as this also implies that man has no control over what happens next. If creation is at the whim of an uncaring god, if there is no purpose to anything, then there are no rules, no laws, and no way that man can make himself influential. Life simplifies to only observing, going with flow, and perhaps taking notes of the latest incredible happenings -- otherwise having no confidence in Justice, Free Will (vice Determination), or any significance for being.
A third fundamental assumption modern, scientific man makes in attempting to understand creation -- in addition to the idea the universe is fundmentally mechanical (i.e., causality) -- is that the universe is basically stable -- that what is happening now, as always happened, and -- extremely importantly -- always will happen. The sheer idocity and arrogance of this point of view is best illustrated by an observation of Mark Twain.
Twain noted that the modern science (of his day) had observed that the Mississippi River was increasing in length at a rate of roughly one inch every ten years of so. The width of the river, however, was not changing. Twain then did two extrapolations: One into the past and one into the future. According to Twain, at the current rate of the length of the river increasing, this implied that tens of millions of years ago, the river would have been one inch long, but with the same width. Alternatively, hundreds of millions of year into the future would find the same wide Mississippi River looping around the Earth five times.
Both of these results from unthinking extrapolations are, of course, ludicrious. But this is the sort of thing of which science is all too often guilty. There is the assumption, for example, that inasmuch as there has been no apparent change in the gravitational force in the last hundred years or so -- or that the current theory of gravitation does not allow for change -- then the Gravitational Constant must be... well, constant. A collorary is that the gravity of the Earth two hundred millions years ago was the same as the gravity of today, and would be the same into the far distant future.
And yet, studies of dinosaurs have suggested that many of them were so massive in terms of weight that they would not of had enough strength in their legs to actually stand erect. Unable to walk, run, or even stagger, the dinosaurs could not have been functional, and could never have been the stars in Jurassic Park. The lack of perceived strength in the legs of dinosaurs would not be a problem, however, if gravity during the Jurassic Period was lower than today. Unfortunately for the Age of Reptiles, the idea gravity might be changing over the eons is anathema to science. It’s very unscientific to assume a constant gravity, but it’s routinely done so anyway -- simply because man prefers not to think that things can change very profoundly, and thus unwittingly writes his laws as such.
Science has also chosen Gradualism as a religion, instead of Catastrophism. Evolution, for example, is always asssumed to be a slow steady progress. It presumably takes hundreds of generations to see even small, basic changes in a species. All theories are thus confined to slow, steady progress. When Weggener first proposed the idea the Earth’s continents were in motion, he was literally laughed off the stage. But when his theory was accepted, it was called “Continental Drift”. Not “Continental Motion”, but continents drifting. “Drift” afterall, implies a very slow, random process. Motion has no limiting implication.
The problem is that a theory of Continental Motion, might also include the possibility of the continents suddenly and abruptly moving very rapidly upon occasion. The history of the Earth demonstrates that this is much more likely the case. Mountain building is more likely a sudden event, where sedimentary rocks can be turned abruptly on their side, without always breaking them into pieces. This is Catastrophism, where the gradual change of evolution may be involved on a day-to-day basis, but every so often, something radical happens -- a major league, radical change of pace.
Again, the choice of modern science is to dismiss Catastrophism, because it such events occurred in the past, then it’s a lead pipe cinch they can happen in the future, or even -- perish the thought -- the present! Like tomorrow. Around 4:30 -- in time for rush hour.
The key to this discussion is that in selecting a myth of creation, modern man is going to go for the stable, mechanical, nonwhimsical scenario, and avoid at all costs The Fickle Finger of Fate approach. Early civilized man, however, had a very different perspective.
The participants in ancient history -- reality prior to say, 600 B.C.E. -- were believers in Gods and Goddesses. Significantly, these deities were not your consistent, benevolent, unconditionally loving beings with the best interests of mankind at heart -- or even distant prime movers, or perpetrators of a hands-off management style. These dysfunctional beings demonstrated the gamut of psychological Archetypes -- archetypes sufficiently influential and dominant that many of their subjects tended to mimic these characteristics in their own lives. Fundamentally, the ancients were living on an Earth where the whims of deities ruled, and where in some cases, it was truly the Fickle Finger of Fate in charge.
There was no understandable logic to a local deity telling the local king to go to war for god and... well, god. One just did it. Nor could one assume that the latest catastrophe -- from massive flooding to a personal tragedy -- was not the result of a god who was out to elicit a stronger base of unconditional worship. Or even just the result of divine whim.
Accordingly, the creation epics, the mythologies of ancient man, told it like they saw it. There was no “spin” or soft sell designed to create a sense of stability or comfort in man. There was, in fact, no stability or guaranteed comfort to be had. One never knew. It was either divine whim, anger, or humor which dictated much of one’s life, or it was events of the order of “why would anything in their right mind want to do something like that?” “It is not ours to reason why, but do and die.”
Science may feel very proud of its ability to “free mankind” from such whims, but when the next big comet makes a house call on earth, then the fact that it will have violated all laws of statistics will simply not be relevant. The Science Myth of Creation will then be seen to be lacking and based primarily upon “comfort assumptions.”
The earliest creation story of which we have record is the Sumerian Epic of Creation, known as the Enuma Elish. This fascinating account is in reality limited to the creation of Earth, and not the whole universe. It is much more related to our solar system, and the specific process of earth arriving on the scene, late as usual. It does not attribute creation to some god or deity doing its thing, but instead to the reality of a changing universe.
The Annals of Earth goes into considerable detail regarding the Sumerian version. It is well worth reading and will not be repeated here. One point to be made concerning the Sumerian epic, however, is that the descriptions of events and players (as in the planets) are well in accord within the physical laws as modern science understands them and the planets have precisely the characteristics that the Enuma Elish (written at least 3,000 years ago) described, and which are in accord with scientific discoveries of the last fifty years!
The Sumerian version was extant at the time of Babylonia (circa 1500 B.C.E.), when Marduk was in power (the Age of Aries). The Sumerian version survived in part, but the later Babylonian version survived even better. The distinction is that Babylonia had an arrogant Marduk in charge, and thus the creation story centered around Marduk as the avenging hero among cowardly gods and goddesses eager to accept his leadership.
The ancient Egyptian History is equally rich and colorful, but tends to think in terms of the line of descent from Ptah, the “creator god”, (aka Enki). The Egyptian version does not containt a creation saga as such, but instead begins with Enki establishing Egypt as an entity, and effectively assuming that the Sumerian creation stories should suffice for the earlier prequel to Egypt’s and Earth’s earliest history.
The Biblical version in the Book of Genesis is also in accord with scientific principles (as, for example, in the order of creation), but Genesis -- after the first dozen verses -- is in all respects a condensed version of the Babylonian Epic. This correlation between the two is due to Genesis and the Pentateuch being written circa 600 B.C.E., while the Hebrew people were being held captive in Babylonia (and where they thus had full access to the Sumerian literature being preserved by the Fertile Crescent’s latest empire).
It is noteworthy that had the Genesis writers spent more time with the Sumerian Epic of Creation, instead of the Babylonian version, there might have been less of the one-god-fits-all scenario. But the Hebrews were the descendants of Abraham, and carried on his dedication to Enlil as the supreme god, the “Lord of Earth”, and thus exalted him above all others. It is noteworthy, however, that Genesis does make a distinction between the creator “God” of the first chapter or so, and the “Lord God” of the rest of the book. This distinction is important in that God created the universe, but it was the Lord God (Enlil) doing all the stuff with Eden, the Flood, Abraham, and so forth.
Another version -- and which will predominate in the following discussion -- is due to the Greek civilization. The timing, of course, is roughly 1,000 B.C.E. to 600 B.C.E., a period which can best be described as a transitional time, when the Gods and Goddesses were disengaging from the day-to-day affairs of mankind, and human beings were finding them-selves being turned out of the nest and told to forage on their own. This was the initiation of the Age of Pisces, when Enki was setting the humans on an experimental romp through learning to live as independent beings -- complete with philosophical understandings.
Even so, the tales of the dysfunctional deities survived. Only in this case it was Zeus and the gang, their progenitors, and a description of their errant lives. The creation stories, meanwhile, included versions of the Sumerian epic, and others which said many of the same things, only with different casts of characters.
For example, “Out of the void was fashioned Eros, the spirit of love, Erebus, the personification of darkness, and Nyx, primordial night. From the union of Erebus and Nyx, were born Aether (Upper Air/Clear Sky) and Hemera (Day). It was Nyx that laid the cosmic egg out of which the world was born.” [The emphasis on Eros (love) being first is noteworthy -- especially onsidering what followed.]
Others credited the creation of the world to Gaia, the Great Mother Earth Goddess, who is said to have come out of the void alone. [Tough for the partriarchy to tolerate!] Gaia then gave birth, without consort, to three sons: Uranus (sky), Pontus and Urea. These latter deities and their progeny were from whence all others derived.
Still others sang that it was the sea goddess Tethys (known to the Babylonians as Tiamat and to the Sumerians as Nammu) who was the Mother of the World. [This is essentially the Sumerian Epic version.] Certainly it was the gods and goddesses that emerged from Tethys, Mistress of the Sea, and her consort, Oceanus, primal god of the ocean.
Perhaps all are correct -- perhaps Nyx, Gaia, and Tethys all represent three facets of the Goddess, all emerging from the primal Chaos and Darkness: Nyx, the aspect of Air and Darkness, Gaia, the aspect of Earth, and Tethys, the aspect of Water (the primordial sea). Thus they represent the Triple Goddess, corresponding to the unconscious, the conscious, and the interface between the two domains.
The Great Goddess is always triple, manifesting in three forms: virgin, mother, crone. Thus she is both gentle and caring, and at the same time can be harsh and ruthless. She is full of light and beauty, but can lead one into darkness. Medusa, for example, was considered to be one-third of the triple goddess, and thus enormously feared by patriachal types. For a masculine dominator mythology which could not integrate the polarities of dualism, the Triple Goddess was, quite literally, too much! So they chose one: Gaia.
Following their lead, we arrive at the continuation of the story. After the preface above, Gaia is said to have taken as her consort, Uranus. [Hey, there was just no good men around then either!] From Uranus, Gaia conceived of the twelve Titans -- the primeval, nature powers.
Uranus became resentful of Gaia’s ability to create life. [Big surprise!] He began to hide her offspring in her great body, causing her great pain and distress. She appealed to her children, the Titans, for relief, but only her youngest son, Cronus, was not in terror of Uranus, and he responded to his mother's pleas. [Youngest sons are always the best! This is why the eldest son inherits the title -- he will need all the help he can get!]
Armed with a sickle Gaia gave him and the plan she devised, Cronus laid in wait for his father. When Uranus came to mate with Gaia, Cronus took the sickle, cut off his father's genitals, and threw them into the sea. Aphrodite was said to have been conceived by this act and eventually emerged from the Sea. [Obviously some father-son issues here!]
[Meanwhile, the Gaia’s planning for her eventual redemption shows a characteristic of hers -- i.e. it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.]
Cronus then married his sister Rhea, a titan and an earth goddess like her mother Gaia. From their union were born six children: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus. But Cronus, fore-warned that he was destined to be overcome by his own son [and not anticipating with glee the fate of his father], tried to ensure that a similar string of events would not happen and swallowed each child immediately after birth. Cronus did not even bother to look to see if the newborn was a son or a daughter. [No chance of an inadvertent bonding here!]
After Cronus had consumed three daughters and two sons, Rhea appealed to Gaia and Uranus for help. [Gaia was demonstrably capable of planning appropriate actions, in extremis, while Uranus no longer had the balls do anything. Pardon the Pun.] Rhea’s parents told her to go to Crete for the birth, and then to trick Cronus by wrapping a stone in swaddling clothes. Cronus, in his hurry, swallowed the stone, thinking it was his child. [And thus the first major “gall” stone was experienced.]
The last, spared child was named Zeus, and raised in secret by a sea nymph.
Meanwhile, Cronus turned to Phylria, another sea nymph, and by changing himself into the form of a horse (some say a unicorn), Cronus mated with Phylria. Their illicit union produced Chiron, a centaur, half-animal and half-human, a being of the Earth and the sea. Subsequently, Chiron married a water goddess, and from their union, produced Thea whose name means “shining one of the moon”. Her birth brought forth the integration of the feminine in males, at least those with the courage to pursue the path of the adept. [Keep the name of Chiron in mind, as he turns out to be a major player.]
Coming of age and determined to overthrow Cronus, Zeus turned for help to the goddess Metis, a pre-Olympian Goddess of Wisdom. Metis had been born, in the ancient myths, from the union of Tethys and Oceanus. Tethys (known also as Nammu, the Sumerian Goddess of the Watery Deep) also mated with Anu, a sky god and the Sumerian Head Honcho, and their union produced Enki, God of Wisdom and God of the Waters. Thus Enki was the half-brother to Metis, the goddess “of the waters”.
Infinitely wise, Metis “knew more than all the gods.” [You might want to bookmark this!]
One might even think of the Triple Goddess (mentioned above) as the triad of the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth and Goddess of Love; Metis, Goddess of Wisdom and Goddess of the Waters; and Ereshkigal, Sumerian Goddess of the Underworld. This triple threat represented the Triple Goddess corresponding to the Age of Taurus, the mid point of which in about 2750 B.C.E., the earth’s axis pointed to the star Alpha Draconis (Thuban) in the constellation of Draco the Dragon (making it appear fixed in the sky). The dragon is a derivative of the old Mother Serpent and represents the mysteries of the Goddess.
Back at the ranch, Zeus turned to Metis, only to find she was uninterested in his quest. Being turned down, of course, only whetted his appetite. Zeus determined to pursue Metis and make her his consort. Metis, however, knew “the art of changing shape, which she put to use whenever Zeus approached, until finally, by device, he made her his own and she conceived.” [Exactly how he went about this is subject to some debate.]
Metis -- accepting Zeus as the father of her child -- then provided her consort with an enema with which he was able to make Cronus regurgitate Zeus’ siblings. [This part is pretty disgusting, and thus the myths fairly well leap pass it.] With his brothers and sisters as a working team, Zeus became the strategist and alliance maker. [There was also, likely a certain degree of vengeance in their little hearts!] At the same time, in gratitude for help in the past, the Cyclopes gave Zeus his lighting and thunderbolts, and the Hundred-handed Ones gave him the firing power of one hundred throwing arms. With this power, Zeus and the others were able to defeat Cronus after a ten year struggle. [Give me a “Z”! Give me an “E”! Give me a “U”! Give me an “S”! What does that spell? Zeus! Zeus! Zeus!] [For more thoughts on this subject, see Cronus and Zeus.]
After the victory the three sons threw lots to divide the universe between them. [The patriarchy is already in full flower.] Zeus won the Sky, Poseidon, the Sea, and Hades, the Underworld. Chiron, their half-brother, being illicit, had never been part of the alliance, and thus did not share in the “spoils” of titanic war.
About this time, Prometheus (another Titan) prophesied that Metis would have two very special children: “a daughter equal to Zeus in courage and wise counsel, and a son, a boy of all-conquering heart, who would become king of gods and men.” Zeus could already see the handwriting (crayon marks) on the wall, and, determined to prevent such a birth, induced the pregnant Metis to his couch and tricked her into becoming small. He then quickly swallowed her in one gulp, claiming her powers and wisdom, and attempting to prevent the birth of any child.
But the child came to term anyway. [Wouldn’t you just know it?] While walking by a lake, Zeus began to feel an increasing headache. When he howled in pain, Prometheus arrived with a double axe [a symbol of the goddess, no less!] and gave Zeus’ head a splitting blow [appropriate for a splitting headache]. Whereupon, Athena, fully grown, wearing flashing gold armor, carrying a spear in one hand, and emitting a mighty war cry, sprang from Zeus’ head. Athena was the prophesied daughter of Zeus and Metis, a daughter equal to Zeus in courage and wise counsel.
Metis was the first of seven “official” consorts of Zeus. These goddesses included:
2) The Titaness Themis, a goddess of justice and order who bore the Fates and Seasons, Hours),
3) Eurynome, who bore the Graces, the “joyful ones”, youthful companions and handmaidens of Aphrodite (Thalia, “she who brings flowers”, Aglaia, “brilliance and splendor”, and Euphrosyne, “joy and mirth”),
4) Demeter, who bore Persephone, the Maiden, the Kore, and ultimately Queen of the Underworld (not to mention, the unwilling consort of Hades),
5) Mnemosyne (Memory), who bore the nine Muses (after nine nights of laying together), goddesses of art and inspiration (“fame-giver”, “joy-giver”, comic and festive bringer, singer, lyric poet and dancer, love poet (“awakener of desire”), mime and storyteller, astrologer, and Lady of Eloquence,
6) The Titaness Leto, who bore Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt and Goddess of the Moon, and Apollo, God of the Sun, [Artemis and Apollo were twins, but Artemis helped out with his birth -- she was very precocious!], and
7) Hera, who bore Ares, God of War, and (possibly without Zeus?) Hephaestus, God of the Forge.
Zeus had at least twenty-three affairs (in addition to the seven “official” consorts), two of which resulted in two Olympian gods. One was with Maia, one of the Pleiades and daughter to Atlas (who carried the heavens on his shoulders). Maia bore Hermes, Messenger God and Guide of Souls. Another major affair was with a mortal, Semele, who bore Dionysus, God of Wine and Ecstasy.
These are the myths from ancient times. These Olympian goddesses and gods (or by other names from other cultures) are both archetypes of our own lives, mentors, and possibly mortal (albeit very long-lived) beings. All, meanwhile, existed and lived within a patriarchy or dominator society ruled by the likes of Zeus.
All the swallowing of children notwithstanding, there is a strange logic to the above. On the one hand, it explains all of the characteristics of life -- everything from metallurgy (the forge of Hephaestus) to music (one of the Muses) to Archetypes to fire (Prometheus) to wine and ecstasy (Dionysus). In some respects, this is equivalent to the story whereby Enki gave Inanna The Me -- the attributes of civilization from beer making to decision making. It also explains the rise of the patriarchy (Zeus, Enlil, Marduk), as well as the resistance to same by a wrath of Goddesses [pardon the pun].
There is, admittedly, a certain degree of artistic license in many of the stories, but father-son competitions do exist, men have stolen from women in the past, and the Sumerian civilization did quite literally spring up over night -- as if someone was providing a ready made civilization kit, from language to priests.
And it is the explanation that man has always sought. Why does this happen, and why not this other thing instead? Why must I pay attention to this or that? Where is the model for the way I direct my life? Why would “god” provide wonders for so and so, and leave me “swinging in the wind”? Where’s the Justice, or better yet, is there any justice? Is there any reason for me to do much of anything?
But if all can be attributed to Gods and Goddesses, doing precisely the kinds of things we see our fellow humans doing, then it all makes for a strange sense of rationality. Life is no longer totally out-of-control, but instead one can always attribute it to a deity with a sense of humor, or no sense at all. Life is not merely a crap shoot. Sigh.
There is also an original “Sequel”, A Once and Future Myth, to the tale of Olympian Gods and Goddesses. This is the fictional, but curiously inevitable, story, coming soon to a theater near you. Probably just in time for December 21, 2012 A.D.. Mark it on your calendars, and see the “trailer” now.
There are a host of other myths concerning the Olympian gods and goddesses (along with a supporting cast of hundreds of mortals), but one is advised to delve into mythology books on the subject. One entertaining exercise is to see the story has having a factual basis -- an underlying truth that will not be denied to anyone but the anal retentatives. The possibilities make life all the more interesting.
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]