The Proto-Indo-European Myth Of Creation

Table of Contents:

  1. The Indo-European Cosmogenic Myths
    1. The Vedic Creation Story
    2. The Aryan (Iranian) Myth of Creation
    3. The Slavic Cosmogenic Myth
    4. The Greek Legend of the Beginning of the Universe
    5. The Germanic, Scandinavian and Roman Origin Stories
  2. The Proto-Indo-European Creation Story

One of the most defining aspects of every society is the way it makes sense of the universe, their very own mythological cosmology. In the course of history our society has taken the path of relying on science to explain the phenomena around us, but this is a fairly new development. Although some Greek philosophers tried to explain the universe and everything in it using logic only and the very idea of atoms was first proposed in Ancient Greece, it wasn’t until the movement of Enlightenment that larger parts of the general population sought answers in science, built upon empiricism and logic, as an alternative to religion and myth. And thus it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Proto-Indo-Europeans had their own mythological explanations as to how the world and the universe came to be. The purpose of this article is to specifically reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European cosmogenic myth using some of the oldest legends found in Indo-European societies across Eurasia. Of these, the Vedic texts of northern India, dating to the 1st millennium BC and being transmitted orally for a few centuries beforehand, are the most ancient. The creation stories found in these texts will be compared to and supplemented by the closely related Iranian creation myth, the foundation myth of Ancient Rome and cosmogenic myths in Germanic, Slavic and Greek mythology. According to Bruce Lincoln, the Greek and the Slavic creation myths are descendant of the Indo-Aryan (Indic/Vedic and Iranian) cosmogenic myth, so some overlap is to be expected here (“The Indo-Europeans Myth of Creation”, Article in History of Religions · November 1975, Fig. 1., p. 125). Afterwards I will attempt to reconstruct a Proto-Indo-European cosmogenic myth from the Indo-European myths presented in this text. This work has been inspired by Bruce Lincoln from the University of Chicago. For a short introduction into the Proto-Indo-European Pantheon, click here. For an overview of Proto-Indo-European Mythology in general, click here.

The Indo-European Cosmogenic Myths

The Vedic Creation Story

Firstly, the relevant passages of the Rigveda concerning the earliest stages of the universe are presented below:

1 THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?

2 Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider. That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.

3 Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos. All that existed then was void and form less: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit.

Griffith, Ralph T.H.. Rig Veda (p. 631). Leeway Infotech. Kindle Edition.

Secondly, a passage concerning the first sacrifice in the universe and how life is born from it:

7 They balmed as victim on the grass Puruṣa born in earliest time. With him the Deities and all Sādhyas and Ṛṣis sacrificed. 8 From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up. He formed the creatures of the-air, and animals both wild and tame.

Griffith, Ralph T.H.. Rig Veda (p. 603). Leeway Infotech. Kindle Edition.

10 From it were horses born, from it all cattle with two rows of teeth: From it were generated kine, from it the goats and sheep were born.

Griffith, Ralph T.H.. Rig Veda (p. 603). Leeway Infotech. Kindle Edition.

Interestingly, the most important domesticated animals of the PIE-people are mentioned here, possibly in the order of their importance: Horse, cattle, goat and sheep. But the sacrifice did not only yield life, but also the moon, the sun, the gods Indra and Agni, the sky and the earth:

13 The Moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had birth; Indra and Agni from his mouth were born, and Vāyu from his breath.

14 Forth from his navel came mid-air the sky was fashioned from his head Earth from his feet, and from his car the regions. Thus they formed the worlds.

Griffith, Ralph T.H.. Rig Veda (p. 603). Leeway Infotech. Kindle Edition.
Indian Statue

The Aryan (Iranian) Myth of Creation

Now we’re going to compare the Vedic myth to passages of the closely related Aryan myth:

1. As it passed away, owing to the vegetable principle (chiharak) proceeding from every limb of the ox, fifty and five species of grain and twelve species of medicinal plants grew forth from the earth, and their splendour and strength were the seminal energy (tokhmih) of the ox.

2. Delivered to the moon station, that seed was thoroughly purified by the light of the moon, fully prepared in every way, and produced life in a body.

3. Thence arose two oxen, one male and one female; and, afterwards, two hundred and eighty-two species of each kind became manifest upon the earth.

4. The dwelling (manist) of the birds is in the air, and the fish are in the midst of the water.

http://www.avesta.org/mp/bundahis.html#chapter10, 25/09/2019, 21:11

The beginning of the verse refers to the sacrifice of an ox, from which different plant and animal species developed, thus bringing life to the universe, similar to the second (and to a degree third) passage above.

The Slavic Cosmogenic Myth

Before the birth of the white light The World was engulfed in darkness. Only Rod was in darkness – our Ancestor. Rod – the source of the Universe, and Father of Bogi. In the beginning Rod was confined within an egg,

Kushnir, Dmitriy. Songs of Bird Gamayun: The Slavic Creation Myth (The Slavic Way Book 3) (p. 6). Dmitry Kouchnir. Kindle Edition.

Interestingly, this passage of the Slavic Cosmogenic Myth contains the idea of an egg, which gave birth to the first divine being: Rod. In a common theme with the other myths the world started out in darkness.

The Light Crescent – from his chest – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the father of Bogi! The frequent stars – from his eyes – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the father of Bogi! The bright dawns – from his eye brows – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the father of Bogi! The dark nights – from his thoughts – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the father of Bogi! The strong winds – from his breath – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the father of Bogi!

Kushnir, Dmitriy. Songs of Bird Gamayun: The Slavic Creation Myth (The Slavic Way Book 3) (p. 7). Dmitry Kouchnir. Kindle Edition.

Although the similarities are not as striking as with the previous myths, the birth of the moon, the stars, arguably the sun and other natural phenomena from Rods body are themes found in the Indo-Aryan myths as well. This could also be interpreted as some sort of self-sacrifice, another common occurrence in Indo-European myth, such as Odin’s sacrifice to gain wisdom and knowledge of the runes.

The Greek Legend of the Beginning of the Universe

In the beginning there was Khaos, was either a god itself or a set of circumstances. Our word “chaos” comes from this word. But in the tale of early Greek mythology it has a very different meaning: a state of utter confusion or disorder;

History, Hourly. Greek Mythology: A Concise Guide to Ancient Gods, Heroes, Beliefs and Myths of Greek Mythology (Greek Mythology – Norse Mythology – Egyptian Mythology – Celtic Mythology Book 1) (p. 13). Kindle Edition.

Despite the fact that Greek mythology has been largely influence by non-Indo-European myths, elements of the original PIE cosmogeny can still be found, such as the beginning of the universe in chaos.

Uranus is unseated by his Titan son, Cronus, who cuts off his father’s genitals The blood of the genitals falls onto the earth, fertilizing Gaia, who produces more children, among whom are the Giants

History, Hourly. Greek Mythology: A Concise Guide to Ancient Gods, Heroes, Beliefs and Myths of Greek Mythology (Greek Mythology – Norse Mythology – Egyptian Mythology – Celtic Mythology Book 1) (p. 24). Kindle Edition.

The separation of Uranus genitals from his body could be interpreted as a sacrifice from which Gaia (the earth) produces life.

Akropolis Athens

The Germanic, Scandinavian and Roman Origin Stories

In their ancient songs, [15] which are their only records or annals, they celebrate the god Tuisto, [16] sprung from the earth, and his son Mannus, as the fathers and founders of their race. To Mannus they ascribe three sons, from whose names [17] the people bordering on the ocean are called Ingaevones; those inhabiting the central parts, Herminones; the rest, Istaevones.

Tacitus, Caius Cornelius. The Germany and the Agricola of Tacitus . Kindle Edition.

Tuisto is cognate with Norse Ymir, Indic Yemo, Old Latin Remus (Yemus) and modern English “Twin”. What the four mentioned mythological beings have in common, is that the where all involved with the foundation or the beginning of something: In the case of Tuisto, Ymir and Yemo, they were the initial source of life (or at least humanity) itself. And Yemus was one of the founding twins of Rome (interestingly the one that was killed (sacrificed?)).

3. Of old was the age | when Ymir lived;
Sea nor cool waves | nor sand there were;
Earth had not been, | nor heaven above,
But a yawning gap, | and grass nowhere.

https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe03.htm, last checked 28/09/2019, 20:34

This passage from the Edda gives some insight in regards to the empty and dark universe (“a yawning gap”), in which Ymir lived.

5. Said Ganglere: What took place before the races came into existence, and men increased and multiplied? Replied Har, explaining, that as soon as the streams, that are called the Elivogs, had come so far from their source that the venomous yeast which flowed with them hardened, as does dross that runs from the fire, then it turned into ice. And when this ice stopped and flowed no more, then gathered over it the drizzling rain that arose from the venom and froze into rime, and one layer of ice was laid upon the other clear into Ginungagap. Then said Jafnhar: All that part of Ginungagap that turns toward the north was filled with thick and heavy ice and rime, and everywhere within were drizzling rains and gusts. But the south part of Ginungagap was lighted up by the glowing sparks that flew out of Muspelheim. Added Thride: As cold and all things grim proceeded from Niflheim, so that which bordered on Muspelheim was hot and bright, and Ginungagap was as warm and mild as windless air. And when the heated blasts from Muspelheim met the rime, so that it melted into drops, then, by the might of him who sent the heat, the drops quickened into life and took the likeness of a man, who got the name Ymer.

6. Then said Ganglere: Where did Ymer dwell, and on what did he live? Answered Har: The next thing was that when the rime melted into drops, there was made thereof a cow, which hight Audhumbla. Four milk-streams ran from her teats, and she fed Ymer.

What was done then by the sons of Bor, since you believe that they were gods? Answered Har: About that there is not a little to be said. They took the body of Ymer, carried it into the midst of Ginungagap and made of him the earth. Of his blood they made the seas and lakes; of his flesh the earth was made, but of his bones the rocks; of his teath and jaws, and of the bones that were broken, they made stones and pebbles.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Prose_Edda/Gylfaginning

The complete story of Ymir. Just as in the the previously examined myths he was sacrificed and from his sacrifice the universe and everything in it was formed. Now we will examine the foundation of Rome a bit more closely to draw the lines in between those myths.

“This is the way the enemy will leap over your wall.” Hereupon Romulus seized a mattock from the hands of one of the laborers, and struck his brother down to the ground with it, saying, “And this is the way that we will kill them if they do.” Remus was killed by the blow.

Abbott, Jacob. Romulus Makers of History (p. 103). Kindle Edition.

The murder of Remus.

There was, however, a horrible report circulated that the senators had disposed of it by cutting it up into small pieces, and conveying it away, each taking a portion, under their robes.

Abbott, Jacob. Romulus Makers of History (p. 143). Kindle Edition.

The “cutting up” of Remus’ body into small pieces could resemble the sacrifice and subsequent birth of the universe from different body parts in the other Indo-European myths;.

Romulus, Remus and the wolf
By Johann Jaritz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30384089

The Proto-Indo-European Creation Story

Apart from similarities in tone and wording, when comparing these stories a few elements stand out: In the beginning of most of the myths some sort of nothingness or non-nothingness is present, clearly something that the human mind can’t comprehend.

The Rig-Veda:

THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.

The Edda:

3. Of old was the age | when Ymir lived;

Sea nor cool waves | nor sand there were;

Earth had not been, | nor heaven above,

But a yawning gap, | and grass nowhere.

Songs of Bird Gamayun:

Before the birth of the white light The World was engulfed in darkness.

The Greek cosmogonic myth:

In the beginning there was Khaos,(…).

After this, the first sentient being is born.

The Rig-Veda:

2 This Puruṣa is all that yet hath been and all that is to be;

Songs of Bird Gamayun:

Only Rod was in darkness – our Ancestor. Rod – the source of the Universe, and Father of Bogi. In the beginning Rod was confined within an egg,

Germania:

they celebrate the god Tuisto, [16] sprung from the earth,

The Edda:

And when the heated blasts from Muspelheim met the rime, so that it melted into drops, then, by the might of him who sent the heat, the drops quickened into life and took the likeness of a man, who got the name Ymer.

An animal also emerges after the birth of this first being, nurturing him/her.

The Edda:

The next thing was that when the rime melted into drops, there was made thereof a cow, which hight Audhumbla. Four milk-streams ran from her teats, and she fed Ymer.

The Foundation Of Rome:

The wolf caressed the helpless babes, imagining perhaps that they were her own offspring; and lying down by their side she cherished and fed them,

And finally, the original being bringing life to everything else in the universe, most of the time by being killed or mutilated:

The Rig-Veda:

7 They balmed as victim on the grass Puruṣa born in earliest time. With him the Deities and all Sādhyas and Ṛṣis sacrificed. 8 From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up. He formed the creatures

Avestas:

1. As it passed away, owing to the vegetable principle (chiharak) proceeding from every limb of the ox, fifty and five species of grain and twelve species of medicinal plants grew forth from the earth,

Songs of Bird Gamayun:

The Light Crescent – from his chest – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the father of Bogi! The frequent stars – from his eyes – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the father of Bogi! The bright dawns – from his eye brows – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the father of Bogi! The dark nights – from his thoughts – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the father of Bogi! The strong winds – from his breath – From the Heavenly Rod, the great Ancestor and the ` father of Bogi!

The Greek cosmogonic myth:

Uranus is unseated by his Titan son, Cronus, who cuts off his father’s genitals The blood of the genitals falls onto the earth, fertilizing Gaia, who produces more children, among whom are the Giants

The Edda:

They took the body of Ymer, carried it into the midst of Ginungagap and made of him the earth. Of his blood they made the seas and lakes; of his flesh the earth was made, but of his bones the rocks; of his teath and jaws, and of the bones that were broken, they made stones and pebbles.

And thus the world is created. Apart from these stories linguistics can help us to bring more detail into the story. Neither the Roman, nor the continental Germanic myth seemed to have featured heavily in the overall comparison but by taking a look at the respective protagonists, Romulus and Remus and Tuisto and Mannus, and comparing them to gods in other Indo-European mythologies shines so more light on the original story. Remus, or old Latin Yemos, Tuisto, Ymir, the Hinduistic Yama (not featured in the creation story), Tvastar (another name for Purusa) all mean twin. So it is quite likely, that this being originally was two beings, like Romulus and Remus or perhaps a hermaphrodite, two things at once. Mannus, on the other hand, is cognate with Vedic Manu, the father of mankind, a role which they had both retained in Vedic and Germanic mythology respectively (cf. Lincoln 1975).

Based on the previously introduced creation stories and the linguistic comparison we can now attempt to recreate a very basic Proto-Indo-European Cosmogenic Myth:

In the beginning, there was nothing.

The primordial being, two things at once, emerges from the meeting of the ancient forces in the nothingness.

Soon thereafter an animal appears which the primordial being feeds on.

The first god-like creatures emerge and kill the primordial being to create the universe out of his body.

This might not sound like much but it is the very core of the Proto-Indo-European myth of the creation of the universe. One could add some more details, but the more details are added, the more uncertain the myth becomes.

References:

  • Lincoln, Bruce: “The Indo-Europeans Myth of Creation”, Article in History of Religions · November 1975
  • Griffith, Ralph T.H.. Rig Veda (p. 631). Leeway Infotech. Kindle Edition.
  • http://www.avesta.org/mp/bundahis.html#chapter10, last checked 25/09/2019, 21:11
  • https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Prose_Edda/Gylfaginning, last checked 28/09/2019, 20:48
  • Kushnir, Dmitriy. Songs of Bird Gamayun: The Slavic Creation Myth (The Slavic Way Book 3) (p. 6). Dmitry Kouchnir. Kindle Edition.
  • History, Hourly. Greek Mythology: A Concise Guide to Ancient Gods, Heroes, Beliefs and Myths of Greek Mythology (Greek Mythology – Norse Mythology – Egyptian Mythology – Celtic Mythology Book 1) Kindle Edition.
  • Tacitus, Caius Cornelius. The Germany and the Agricola of Tacitus . Kindle Edition.
  • Simrock, Karl. Die Edda (German Edition) . Kindle Edition.
  • Abbott, Jacob. Romulus Makers of History. Kindle Edition.

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