Revisiting the "Creation" Myth

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Revisiting the "Creation" Myth

Unread postby David Talbott » Sun May 25, 2008 7:55 pm

[The summaries to be presented here presume the reader is familiar with the background notes in the thread The Origins of Myth.]

In the first two years of my research (1972-73), something extraordinary struck me. I realized that the myths of “creation” have been profoundly misunderstood. The reason for this misunderstanding is that the sky has changed entirely. The original subject of the creation myth is no longer present. In the intervening centuries, the myths were progressively reinterpreted to “explain” the origins of everything visible to the human eye, near and far. What emerged at the end of this process was a story about “the creation of heaven and earth.” Whatever you might naturally think of when hearing these words, that was not the subject of the archetypal creation myth.

This realization from 35 years ago was subsequently adopted by all who have worked with the Saturn hypothesis in any detail. But outside our limited audience, the message is virtually unknown. And when most people hear me say, “Creation meant events seen and heard by humankind,” they can only scratch their heads. “How could humans have witnessed something prior to their own existence?” How could the earth have been here before “creation" of the earth?

What they do not realize is that the original story did not concern our earth at all, but events in a celestial theater that vanished thousands of years ago. The true subject of creation mythology is the construction of a celestial dwelling--a cosmic city, temple, or kingdom--revered across the millennia as the prototype of sacred space. It was a revolving wheel-like enclosure. The enclosure rested visually atop a cosmic mountain, the axis of the turning heavens. Its ruler was the warrior-hero, regent of the primeval sun and the axle of the world wheel. And it was the far-famed mother goddess who gave the cosmic wheel its nave and spokes.

This place par excellence was divided by four luminous streams (spokes of the wheel), marking out the four quarters of sacred space and celebrated as four winds, or four rivers of life. These were the “four rivers of paradise” remembered around the world. And the “beings” or primeval “generation” created in these events did not occupy a place “down here.” They were the denizens of the celestial realm, arising as the explosive outflow from the creator god himself, or more specifically as the discharge of his own eye or heart-soul.

The subject of the story was not geography but cosmography--the layout of a divine habitation whose construction was told in dozens of different ways.

The secret to resolving the contradictions is to see through the competing mythical interpretations to the underlying forms, recognizing that different words and symbols actually describe the same thing. That is the value of the comparative approach. In this approach we can follow the evolution of a story through its transmutations as, century after century, storytellers progressively brought the gods down to earth. At the end of the process the common result was that divine and later semi-divine subjects of the myths looked very much like human beings, and the former cosmic powers emerged as “ancestors” of the nations telling the stories.

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Re: Revisiting the "Creation" Myth

Unread postby David Talbott » Fri May 30, 2008 7:26 am

[For the sake of a rough "index" I'm formulating, I've split the following from it's original placement in the post above.]

The Egyptian Creation Legend

It’s occurred to me that it might be useful to contrast popular interpretations of creation mythology with a much more concrete interpretation offered by our reconstruction. In another thread, Grey Cloud inserted a quote from E A Wallace Budge’s Legend of the Egyptian Gods. I’ll give the quote below and will use that to underscore the contrast between two different ways of seeing creation mythology. Our guide will be the comparative approach, because it's the archetypes, brought to light by comparative study, that illuminate the reliable substructure of human memory.

Here is the quote from Budge, summarizing one of the best known Egyptian “creation” traditions:

The story of the Creation is supposed to be told by the god Neb-er-tcher, This name means the "Lord to the uttermost limit," and the character of the god suggests that the word "limit" refers to time and space, and that he was, in fact, the Everlasting God of the Universe. This god's name occurs in Coptic texts, and then he appears as one who possesses all the attributes which are associated by modern nations with God Almighty. Where and how Neb-er-tcher existed is not said, but it seems as if he was believed to have been an almighty and invisible power which filled all space. It seems also that a desire arose in him to create the world, and in order to do this he took upon himself the form of the god Khepera, who from first to last was regarded as the Creator, par excellence, among all the gods known to the Egyptians.

When this transformation of Neb-er-tcher into Khepera took place the heavens and the earth had not been created, but there seems to have existed a vast mass of water, or world-ocean, called Nu, and it must have been in this that the transformation took place. In this celestial ocean were the germs of all the living things which afterwards took form in heaven and on earth, but they existed in a state of inertness and helplessness. Out of this ocean Khepera raised himself, and so passed from a state of passiveness and inertness into one of activity. When Khepera raised himself out of the ocean Nu, he found himself in vast empty space, wherein was nothing on which he could stand. The second version of the legend says that Khepera gave being to himself by uttering his own name, and the first version states that he made use of words in providing himself with a place on which to stand. In other words, when Khepera was still a portion of the being of Neb-er-tcher, he spake the word "Khepera," and Khepera came into being. Similarly, when he needed a place whereon to stand, he uttered the name of the thing, or place, on which he wanted to stand, and that thing, or place, came into being. This spell he seems to have addressed to his heart, or as we should say, will, so that Khepera willed this standing-place to appear, and it did so forthwith. The first version only mentions a heart, but the second also speaks of a heart-soul as assisting Khepera in his first creative acts; and we may assume that he thought out in his heart what manner of thing be wished to create, and then by uttering its name caused his thought to take concrete form. This process of thinking out the existence of things is expressed in Egyptian by words which mean "laying the foundation in the heart."

In arranging his thoughts and their visible forms Khepera was assisted by the goddess Maat, who is usually regarded as the goddess of law, order, and truth, and in late times was held to be the female counterpart of Thoth, "the heart of the god Ra." In this legend, however, she seems to play the part of Wisdom, as described in the Book of Proverbs, 1 for it was by Maat that he "laid the foundation."

Reconstructing "Creation"

What Budge translates as "Lord to the uttermost limit" (a modern sounding phrase), can be practically understood as Lord of a radiant enclosure, a citadel whose boundary separated the organized habitation from the clouds of chaos threatening the kingdom from without.

What Budge interprets as the "Everlasting God of the Universe," a power that "filled all space," was not a limitless being but an object in the sky undergoing dynamic evolution as humans on earth watched in awe and terror. Many of the object's attributes can be reliably enumerated by simply following the archaic and literal meanings of Egyptian words, and comparing them to core motifs from other lands.

To call the power "invisible" is to overlook all of the attributes of the god set forth in early religious texts.

The "waters" of heaven, or "celestial ocean," having counterparts in virtually all mythologies, can be understood as the way the ancient sky looked, not the way our sky looks today. It was filled with dusty plasma and cosmic debris, all electrically alive. And it indeed looked very much like a watery abyss.

Khepera having "no place to stand" must be interpreted in terms of his prior wandering (not mentioned in this particular summary, but implied by various sources and stated explicitly in the Coffin Texts. It is this nuance, plus the oft-stated creation of a resting place that gives the language its meaning.

When the texts speak of the god bringing himself into existence, the concrete reference is to visible, explosive outflow, subsequently organized into his own external "limbs" or "attributes."

The words uttered by the god as creative speech were fiery ejecta, called "words of power" [aakhut], constituting the "primeval matter" from which the celestial habitation was constructed. Construction of the god's dwelling and his acquisition of external attributes meant exactly the same thing.

The crucial event was the god's spitting out of two powers-- the first forms of the mother goddess and warrior hero.

The enclosure arose from the first activity of the mother goddess (alternately Ma'at or Tefnut). Prior to this activity the goddess was the creator's own feminine heart (Ma'at), or his central eye (Tefnut), both meaning exactly the same thing.

Mythically and symbolically, the enclosure brought forth in this event was the god's shining "name," constituted of the luminous words or thoughts ("wisdom") shouted into existence. The name of Khepera himself derives from a root meaning to form, to become, to turn, all suggestive of the events of creation.

The resting place or foundation was the world pillar or world mountain, also constituted from the primeval matter (sea of words).

It was the activity of the god Shu (the warrior god before he became a warrior), or alternately Thoth, that brought forth the foundation or resting place of the god. Shu and Thoth were simply competing mythic interpretations of the same figure within different localities of Egypt.

Prior to his birth the god Shu sat as the pupil of the creator's eye, while Thoth meant the innermost, masculine heart of the creator's feminine heart (goddess). Again, both interpretations meant the same thing.

Well, I trust the reader will realize that clarifying these things will take a little time. :) I'm going to be tied up for two days, but intend to give this subject a priority. (Of course anyone arriving here without an advanced orientation to our subject would do well to start with the overview.)
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Re: Revisiting the "Creation" Myth

Unread postby David Talbott » Fri May 30, 2008 9:19 am

[This will begin a summary of key principles for understanding the creation myth, using the Egyptian story as a starting point for comparative analysis.]

Primeval Chaos

In numerous creation accounts the earliest-remembered condition is one of pervasive cosmic waters. This condition can be called “chaos,” but the meaning of the term needs to be appreciated. We often think of chaos as implying “violence” or disorder of some sort, but neither violence nor disorder are implied in the first uses of the world (though once things become more active the situation is reversed). What is implied by descriptions of the first condition is a watery expanse, an undifferentiated state, timelessness, darkness, and inactivity preceding the activity of creation. In the global mythology of creation, that pattern is sufficiently established to call for an explanation.

In early languages the words used to describe primeval chaos will tend to be words implying a negative--not in the sense of “evil” or of calamity but in the sense of absence, the state of “not.” The story of the creator-king (father of kings, the one from whom kingship descended) means the transition from chaos to order, from undifferentiated unity to diversity, from formlessness to form, from inactivity to activity, from no-time to time, from a primordial “darkness” (a pre-dawn glow, not “dark” in today’s usual meaning of the word) to a clearly defined cycle of day and night. That is what the archetypal "creation" myth is about, and in the early astronomies the planet Saturn is named as this creator-king.

But the meanings of the ancient words need to be clarified. What does "formless" mean, for example? What does "chaos," or its "yawning" aspect, mean? (Our own word for "chaos" derives from a Greek root meaning "to yawn, to gape.") Present experience offers no basis for visualizing any of the words or symbols in the archaic story itself.

In its first appearance, the state of chaos must be interpreted by contrast to what followed. Indeed, our reconstruction will invite experts on the ancient languages to ask one question in particular. Do the roots of negatives within archaic languages reveal certain nuances that would be expected under this vision of the past, but not expected under the usual theories of language formation?

In the Egyptian creation accounts, for example, the negative condition is applied to both the creator and the primeval "waters" of chaos. The god emerges from the waters and from a state of inactivity. The waters from which he appears are his own essence, but they are also his own creative outflow. The creator (Atum, Ra, Khepera) recalls his original condition of “inactivity” and the “inert watery mass” of his “father” Nu (with which he himself was closely identified). He was "alone" in these cosmic waters. He "had no companion" to work with him and he had "no resting place." The relationship of Atum to this original state of "not" is emphasized by the fact that the hieroglyphs used for his name Tem mean (among other things) "not".

You see this relationship most prominently in the use of the n-sound in the hieroglyphic system. The essence of the formless god is "water", which appears in both a singular and a plural sense. The waters are the undifferentiated "plurality" of the original state, signified by a simple wavy line, the common Egyptian glyph for the n-sound. The same glyph signifies the condition of absence. The meanings are expressed quite explicitly through virtually all of the common n-roots in the hieroglyphic system-n, ni, an, nu, nun, na, enen, nini, nenu, and a large number of variants: primeval waters, undifferentiated plurality, state of formlessness and inactivity prior to "creation,” the original condition of “not.”

When we interpret this negative condition with the help of other themes within and outside of Egypt, we discover an underlying idea--of a primordial god acquiring a clarified presence in the first activity of “creation.” And if we think entirely in terms of things seen by observers on earth, the creation legend will come alive in its rich detail.

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Re: Revisiting the "Creation" Myth

Unread postby David Talbott » Sat May 31, 2008 2:54 pm

Primeval Unity and "Great Conjunction"

Here are two vitally connected mythic themes, or archetypes, concerning the nature of primeval “chaos”:

1) In the beginning, a unified power emerged from cosmic waters to become the ruler of the sky. His name was Heaven, the self-created, all-encompassing god “One” from whom the secondary powers of creation arose.

2) At the time of creation, the primal powers were gathered together in one place--a congregation of gods in an enduring conjunction (the condition we’ve called the “Great Conjunction of the Golden Age”) .

The two themes are really just two different ways of describing the same thing. To see that this is so, it’s only necessary to think visually, in terms of things witnessed by observers on earth. It can also be helpful to take note of deep patterns born in an ancient past but echoing across history into the present, thousands of years after the original events. The patterns pose an unanswered question: is it possible to comprehend them, either in terms of what we think we know about the past, or in terms of anything that would make sense today?

Consider the two words “Saturnian” and “saturnine.” For many centuries the word Saturnian meant “pertaining to the Golden Age,” though that meaning has almost disappeared from the contemporary lexicon. The word saturnine means dark, grave, morose, or glum. It may seem impossible to reconcile the two meanings, but in fact both meanings are reconciled in the ancient story of Saturn.

For a telling clue, consider the human response when several planets (particularly Jupiter and Saturn) move into a loose alignment within a 30 degree arc in the sky. In the popular lexicon this is called a Great Conjunction or Grand Conjunction. The two most common responses are: “The Golden Age returns!” and “Doomsday is at hand!” How curious that the paradoxical Saturnian and saturnine motifs arise simultaneously. No one has ever explained why a planetary conjunction should provoke such incompatible expectations.

The answer comes from the archetypal patterns of human memory. Ancient cultures were driven by two overriding motives: 1) the desire to recover the lost age of gods and wonders, particularly its opening chapter, the Golden Age; and the Doomsday anxiety, the fear that what happened once will happen again. This was no accident in the evolution of consciousness. The two motives were inseparably connected, because Doomsday, the “mother of all catastrophes,” was nothing else than the violent end of the Golden Age, a devastating interruption of the age of the gods.

And here is the punchline that gives meaning to the paradox. The condition that held the Golden Age in place was an alignment of planets; Doomsday was immediately preceded by an exemplary conjunction, one that had no counterpart in later movements of the planets. This alignment was not something simply dreamt up by later storytellers, then holding humanity in its grip for thousands of years.

In today’s language, a “Great Conjunction” requires planets to stand together within a 30 degree window in the sky, which means an arc 60 times the diameter of the Moon. In contrast, the “conjunction” described by the Saturn hypothesis, supported by thousands of pictures carved on stone and by countless myths and symbols of the gods, was a “perfect conjunction.” In its phases of “perfection,” the planets stood on a straight line or shared axis.

Nothing of this sort ever occurs with three or more remote planets in our own time, and even one planet occluding another is extraordinarily rare because the planets do not all move on the same plane around the Sun. Computer simulations say we will not see Jupiter actually occlude the sphere of Saturn for thousands of years. And three planets so aligned can be ruled out entirely.

So the contrast between the modern meaning of the "Great Conjunction" and the powerful, mythically-rooted theme is profound. The myth of the Great Conjunction could not have been inspired by observations of planets on their present orbits.

As readers familiarize themselves with the archetypal underpinnings of the reconstruction, it will become clear that the principle of conjunction was expressed through myriad symbols and mythic interpretations. Apart from the principle of planets in an enduring alignment, the themes are not even comprehensible. When we speak of Venus as the central eye or heart-soul of a celestial power astronomically identified as Saturn close to the Earth, we are speaking of a perfect conjunction unthinkable in our time, and made "all the more so" by the smaller sphere of Mars, stationed in front of Venus and on the same axis, as the mythic "pupil" of the eye.

Step into this reconstruction, and it should not surprise you that ancient stargazers continually looked to the heavens for some sign of a restoration of the Great Conjunction--or a sign that Doomsday, the culminating event of the Great Conjunction, was drawing near. In the third century BC, the Babylonian astronomer-priest Berossos described the condition that preceded the destruction of the world by fire, saying that a similar condition preceded the destruction of the world by flood. The Berossos account, given by Seneca in his Naturales Questiones, describes the planets “so arranged in the same path that a straight line can pass through all their orbs.” (I’ve placed the full quote below.*)

When seen through the lens of present experience, a perfect conjunction of this sort is patently absurd, raising the question as to how the idea could have registered so deeply. By what reasoning did ancient priests or astronomers conjure a connection either to a "golden age" or to the arrival of Doomsday?

The connected traditions are exactly what we should expect if the reconstructed events did indeed occur. I’ve spoken repeatedly of the primeval Unity, the state of the ancient “sun” god before the events remembered as “creation.” That first condition has nothing to do with the Sun we know today, but describes a great sphere hanging stationary in the polar sky and invoked as “heaven” when “heaven was close to the earth.” Of course, there are many variations in the language of these events, but the archetypal theme is of an ancient god conceived as ”the One, the All”-- whose very identity arises from the Great Conjunction. No abstractions are involved. The celestial bodies standing in conjunction--in the very terms described by Berossos--are the Unity. By their alignment or juxtaposition, they are visually united within the sphere of the all-containing god. Thus, the word conjunction, Latin conjunctus, from the root jungere, means "to unite", "to be joined or yoked as one." The language of myth and the "language of language" are completely coherent.

And need I add that this radical meaning of conjunction lends no credence whatsoever to the popular idea of a loose or fragmented alignment of remote bodies?

David Talbott

*Quote from Seneca, Naturales Questiones:
“Berossos, who interpreted the prophecies of Bel, attributes these disasters (the end of the world and its aftermath) to the movements of the planets. He is so certain of this that he can determine a date for the Conflagration and the Great Flood. He maintains that the earth will burn whenever all the planets, which now have different orbits, converge in Cancer and are so arranged in the same path that a straight line can pass through all their orbs, and that there will be a further great flood, when the same planets so converge in Capricorn.”
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Re: Revisiting the "Creation" Myth

Unread postby Tina » Wed Jul 16, 2008 4:33 pm

David Talbott wrote:
The Egyptian Creation Legend

Here is the quote from Budge, summarizing one of the best known Egyptian “creation” traditions:

.....The story of the Creation is supposed to be told by the god Neb-er-tcher, This name means the "Lord to the uttermost limit," and the character of the god suggests that the word "limit" refers to time and space, and that he was, in fact, the Everlasting God of the Universe.

Why do you begin with the Egyptian Creation Myth when there are earlier Sumarian writings pertaining to these matters which influenced the later Egyptian writings? ... re=related
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Re: Revisiting the "Creation" Myth

Unread postby Grey Cloud » Wed Jul 16, 2008 6:28 pm

I'm not speaking for DT but see my response to your other post where I said that the Sumerian stuff is fragmentary . It is also not as abundant as the Egyptian stuff. Beside which, the Vedic stuff is older than the Sumerian.
Try this:
And for the record, I take what this guy says with a large pinch of salt.

See aslo:
the Budge passage crops up there too.
If I have the least bit of knowledge
I will follow the great Way alone
and fear nothing but being sidetracked.
The great Way is simple
but people delight in complexity.
Tao Te Ching, 53.
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