Facts, theories and fiction! Facts are "evident truths" you can observe directly, like "the sun rises in the east", or "water flows downhill" or "living beings eventually die". Anything else we know is either theory, fiction or myth. There is really not much to say about facts, they are indisputable. This page presents the theories about the origins of the universe and of mankind that are presently accepted by the scientific community, and some of the various myths and dogmas that man has been coached to believe in by shamans, gurus, priests and other such "holders-of-the-truth" in the past. The perception of the material world used by the scientific community is admittedly imperfect but it is always evolving into improved versions. Religious dogmas, on the other hand, are said to be perfect and their immutable "Absolute Truths" lie beyond the realm of reason, in the world of ghosts, spirits and gods. Beyond observable facts, we therefore have the choice between an imperfect but evolving set of theories and a variety of myths that proceed from man's unrestrained imagination.
Theory: Big Bang and Evolution
What we know about our environment has come a long way since man first realised, thousands of years ago, that the earth was round and not flat! Another major advance came only 500 years ago with the acceptance that the earth was not the centre of the universe but only one of several planets orbiting around the sun. A further step away from wishful anthropocentric thinking was to recognise that the sun was only one of the myriad of stars that seem to occupy fixed positions in the background of the earth's motions. Then, we finally discovered that most twinkling spots in the sky were not stars but galaxies: distant clusters containing millions of "suns" moving away in all directions, at speeds that increased with their distance in an expanding universe. Most of what we know has been discovered in the last century consequently to the development of theories about special and general relativity and quantum mechanics.
Reversing the process of the expansion of the universe brings us back to the point source origin from which space, time, energy and matter appeared out of nothingness with a "big bang" some 15 billion years ago. This is only a theory but it is well accepted by the scientific community because it explains all observable facts much better than any other theory. The initial point source of intense radiation energy cooled as it expanded giving rise to a variety of fundamental particles which in turn coalesced into hydrogen and helium after a sudden inflation had further reduced the temperature of the plasma. These gasses formed nebulae under the influence of their mutual attraction and collapsed into stars where they were transformed by nuclear fusion into carbon, oxygen and other heavy elements. Stars then evolved differently depending on their mass. Some died when they ran out of nuclear fuel and others blew up, making still heavier elements in the process, and spewing the lot in clouds of dust that would in turn fall under the influence of gravity to give birth to interstellar matter and new stars.
Our solar system was formed this way. The various atoms of the earth and of our bodies were produced by the fusion of hydrogen in the cores of stars that were born, lived and died billions of years ago. The crater covered surface of the moon gives us a clue of how the planets were formed by the agglomeration of colliding interstellar matter orbiting the sun. The moon lost whatever gasses it might have had because of its small mass, but the much more massive earth retained its atmosphere which initially contained mostly methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), carbon dioxide (CO2), and water vapour. When intense meteoric activity subsided, about four and a half billion years ago, the water cycle from clouds to the oceans proceeded to obliterate the dramatic traces still seen on the moon. Chemicals leached from the land accumulated in the oceans.
We can safely speculate that all the chemical compounds that could possibly exist in a stable state under the then prevailing conditions, came to be formed with the passage of the next five hundred million years. The natural occurrence of nucleic acids was therefore not only probable, it was inevitable. Nucleic acids naturally tend to join up to form chains or polymers that grow from both ends. Eventually such chains would grow excessively long and break up in pieces that resume growth by scavenging their environment for the required nucleic acids. In this way, these molecules were reproducing the structure that characterised them. The first replicators were born, probably four billion years ago. All possible replicating molecules had plenty of time to occur but those that replicated more efficiently became more numerous and were more successful in attaching the available nucleic acids than less prolific competing molecules. The replicated copies were not always exact. Mutations that were less efficient tended to disappear but those that represented a better adaptation to the surrounding "chemical soup" thrived and their descendants multiplied to eventually dominate each of their respective environments.
These reproducing chemical structures grew more and more complex over the next 500 million years and they eventually formed membranes to enclose themselves in a favourable environment by controlling the passage of chemicals across their cell wall. These cellular entities, in which a large number of diverse complex molecules interacted co-operatively, can be called the first living organisms. They acquired a large measure of autonomy by isolating the inner environment of the cell from the outside world. Thus protected inside the cell, replicating molecules could continue developing complex structures that could not have existed in equilibrium with the outside environment. Mutations over millions of years brought about the diversity required to occupy all available ecological niches. The replicators that produced the most copies of their cell making instructions dominated each of their respective niches and the others disappeared. Fossil remains of large colonies of such unicellular living beings have been estimated to be about 3.5 billion years old.
These unicellular beings were the only form of life for another 1000 million years during which the double helix molecule of desoxyibonucleic acid (DNA) became the prevalent replicator of inherited structure. They gave rise to most of today's bacteria. About 2.5 billion years ago, a branch split off by integrating a symbiotic partner to develop new ways of processing energy. The new type of unicellular cells, called eukaryotes, contained structures called mitochondria, specialized in energy conversion, that had their own DNA. Over the next 1.5 billion years, eukaryotes had plenty of time to evolve into an innumerable variety of forms containing two or more sets of inherited structure. In the case of blue-green algae, a cooperating chloroplast (light collecting molecule like chlorophyl), uses the sun's energy to power the cell's processes, including the reproduction of the host replicator.
Perhaps as early as one billion years ago, mutations of the genetic instructions carried by DNA led to the production of multi-cellular entities composed of specialised cells co-operating together to ensure the replication of their common genes. After a long maturation period, this new multi cellular life model exploded into a infinite variety of forms about 600 million years ago, occupying every possible ecological niche with a multitude of plant, insect and animal life.
According to this scenario, the specific form of life that prevailed in each niche was the most efficient agent for the reproduction of genes in that niche at that time. Successful genes in each niche were those whose replication introduced genetic mutations leading to the natural selection of the most prolific mutants whose genes were then transmitted to future generations.. The action of these three factors over several million generations resulted in the emergence of new varieties and eventually of new species. After the appearance of multi-cellular life, this evolutionary process had another 600 million years to set the stage for the emergence of man's first ancestors.
It is thought that the first proto-hominids, which appeared about 8 million years ago, walked on all fours for 3 million years before Australopithecus Afarensis, whose brain occupied about 300 cubic centimetres, started to walk upright about 5 million years ago. Two million more years of gradual evolution passed before the hominid Australopithecus Africanensis left fossilised skulls showing an increased brain size of 400 cc. Another million years later, Homo Habilis came on the scene with a still larger brain case of 600 to 750 cc. We call him "Habilis" because he learned to use primitive tools about two million years ago. He was soon followed by Homo Erectus whose big brain (800 to 900 cc), brain started to develop frontal lobes around 1.7 million years ago. Homo Erectus gradually evolved into Homo Sapiens, with a huge 1200 cc brain, about 400 000 years ago. About 200 000 years ago, the Neanderthalis branch of Homo Sapiens started spreading out of Africa. He was followed, about 130 000 years ago, by Homo Sapiens-Sapiens, our ancestor. Mutations of the brain that brought evolutionary advantages enhancing the survival and reproduction of our distant ancestors increased the size of their brains to more than three times that of those of other large primates.
Consciousness and Memes
The spectacular increase in the human brain's size began 2.5 million years ago and reached the present volume, of 1350 cc, 100 000 years ago when Homo Sapiens-Sapiens was still quite primitive compared to modern man. Of all the various advantages of having a bigger brain that could have driven man's evolution, the ability to learn by imitating successful acts of other humans seems to have been the most decisive for it allowed the accumulation of discoveries and inventions. Valuable knowledge such as how to make stone tools, how to hunt various animals and how to use fire were transmitted by imitation long before man developed speech. The sharing of the accumulated collection of such "units of knowledge" between all the all members of a community (by their replication from one brain to another), determined the way of life (or culture), of each group.
The name "meme", was chosen for these replicating "units of culture" to reflect their process of reproduction by imitation (mimetism). Meme replication, like that of genes, is not perfect. The variations that get copied most frequently and that are best retained in memory gain predominance through natural selection in each community. The action of these three factors cause memes to evolve into new versions very much like genes evolve into new varieties through replication. The replication of memes horizontally between the brains of unrelated humans improved the probability of survival and reproduction of the human gene pool by spreading the advantages of culture. Similarly, the vertical transmission of that cultural advantage through generations of humans, by genes that increase the brain's ability to acquire and share memes, has contributed to the evolution towards a bigger brain size. Thus, genes and memes can be seen to interact symbiotically as we and our intestinal flora do.
Language is a good example of this symbiotic relationship. Two and a half million years of coupled genetic and memetic selection gradually produced big brains increasingly capable of conscious imitation and slowly modified the structure of the vocal tract in ways that allowed the transmission of memes to evolve from primitive grunts to grammaticaly complex languages. Genetic evolution in this respect has been imperceptible in the last 100 000 years but memetic evolution is quite evident for its cycles are much shorter. When variations of language are introduced, those that are the most efficient replicators gain the upper hand in each community and those that are are retained long enough to be passed on to children evolve into local dialects and eventually into new languages.
All the effects of memetic evolution on mankind are not yet fully understood and memetic theories have not yet been fully verified. They are not yet as widely recognised by the scientific community as the mechanisms of genetic evolution are. Memetics nonetheless open the way to several avenues of inquiry towards a better understanding of human development and behaviour ( see these Internet sites about memes ). I consider these theories as probably correct but still speculative so I rate them medium-blue in my toy village.
The gradual development of man's ability to create mental representations of his environment and to exchange them with his peers was essential to his capacity to function efficiently in groups. A man who had never seen an elephant could nevertheless participate in the planning of an elephant hunt if another man used language to describe such an animal to him. Once defined, the verbal meme for elephant introduced the image of an elephant in the simulation of the world stored in his brain. Similarly, that man's universe would contain unicorns if someone had told him what unicorns were like even though no such animals existed in reality. Man's increased ability to conceptualise brought about his capacity to construct virtual worlds in his brain irrespectively of any correspondence with the real world around him.
Man's huge brain, and more particularly his big frontal lobes, gave him the ability to associate concepts together and to deepen his self awareness well beyond the immediate moment in order to project himself ahead in time. His capacity to create a "virtual reality" in his mind was not as elaborate as today's flight simulators but the result was the same: a make-believe environment where he could safely test actions to be carried out later in the real outside world. This ability to project imaginary action scenarios into the future and communicate them to the other members of his group to co-ordinate their actions placed man far ahead of all other animals who only had their instinct or accidentally conditioned reactions to guide them. It was probably that decisive advantage that enabled the Sapiens-Sapiens humanoids to expand their geographical range by facilitating their adaptation to widely varying environments. That considerable superiority probably also explains why the Sapiens-Sapiens were able to completely replace or absorb the less gifted Neanderthals who disappeared about 50 000 years ago.
Cannibalism is quite common in all carnivorous animals. It survived in humans until recently so we have every reason to think that our distant ancestors did not let good flesh go to waste needlessly. We find however that Homo Sapiens-Sapiens started to bury his dead about 50 000 years ago instead of eating them or letting other carnivores get to them. We can speculate that the burial of the dead can be a sign that man thought that death did not have the same meaning for him than it did for other animals.
We can also speculate that the increased awareness of himself and of his superiority over other animals, made it intolerable for him to realise that his own death was as definitive as that of all other living beings around him. It is not unreasonable to think that man reacted to this trauma by using his extraordinary conceptual ability to negate this painful reality by imagining an afterlife "in a happy hunting ground". Burial of corpses could have been just a sign of the respect the survivors had for the departed but the inclusion of scarce tools and useful objects in the graves implies the hope that they would somehow be used by their previous owner despite all reasonable expectations based on the physical evidence of rotting flesh. The memes of these irrational beliefs about an idealised "supernatural" world replicated readily for they offered the hope of eternal life against little or no effort.
Man's ability to project himself into the future naturally opened the door to interrogations about his past. He must have wondered where he and everything else around him came from as soon as the "virtual reality" in his mind expanded his horizon beyond the immediate moment. He probably imagined all kinds of answers but the first that we know of were recorded only about 5000 years ago when he invented writing. That is a very short period in the time span since our first ancestors distinguished themselves from other primates by walking upright 5 million years ago. Compared to man's life span, that's less than a month! These numbers remind us that our first hypotheses about the origin of the universe are still very recent. We are still very new at the game of trying to understand the universe.
Man's self awareness and his proficiency in handling "virtual realities" covering long time periods gave him a tremendous edge over his primate cousins whose less sophisticated brains could model little more than the here and now. This awareness probably also left him terrified by the immensity of the universe that he could now discover. Understanding the behaviour of animals had been fairly simple for he could compare them to himself but he had no such reference when it came to understanding the forces of nature that impressed him most, the sun, the wind, rain and thunder, fertility that creates life and death that ends it.
It was therefore natural for man to invent anthropomorphic references to represent the most important forces of nature in his subjective model of the universe. Thus he invented the spirit of thunder that was like the image of a very powerful but invisible man and called him the God of thunder, Thor or Zeus, or Jupiter etc. Similarly, abstract forces like fertility, death, love, order, etc., gave rise to equivalent gods and goddesses. It did not matter that there were no such beings in the real world as long as their image in each man's subjective universe filled a void and made that universe operational.
In each primitive community, the individuals most gifted to invent appropriate gods and goddesses as references for nature's forces and the most credible stories about their interactions between themselves and with mankind, could build up considerable influence because the comforting explanations they provided reduced the level of anxiety and stress of the whole tribe. Sets of mutually supporting memes (memeplexes), describing supernatural beings and their behaviour in lavish detail were easily spread and maintained vivid by astute individuals claiming to have privileged access to the spiritual world. Such special abilities would often be passed down from father to son, creating lineages of "holders-of-knowledge" that we would now call shamans or priests. The exchange of such "special knowledge" between the shamans of different tribes, naturally led to the establishment of more or less uniform sets of beliefs common to groups of tribes sharing the same language and culture. The essential value of these beliefs was their effect on those who adopted them. Religions were born.
Religions seem to have been originally based mostly on man's need of a refuge from the hard realities of mortal life and, perhaps to a lesser extent, on his need of knowledge. However, they soon gave rise to social systems and power structures based on the "God-given truths" that the initiated few claimed to possess about the nature of the universe and, more importantly, about an afterlife where good conduct is rewarded and disobedience is punished.
I readily recognise that this explanation of man's tendency to reject the fact of his mortality is purely speculative and that I have no hard proof to support it. You will however agree that I am justified in saying that all the other explanations of the bases of the various religions are just as speculative and unsupported by hard proof unless you consider the statement "god told me so" to be hard proof. I have no claim on truth but I feel that this scenario of how man came to exist and how he invented religions is reasonable enough for me to use it as a building block in my toy village with a medium blue colour which indicates that it is speculative but probable.
We can recap this evolutionary timetable as follows.
Fiction: Myths & Dogmas about Creation
We tend to forget that man has believed in a great number of religions that have now disappeared. Religions have postulated a variety of timeless spiritual worlds as alternatives to the stark reality of the man's mortal nature that he is loath to accept. The immaterial beings, supposed to inhabit this spiritual domain, cover the full range of imaginable possibilities from a unique, remote and non intervening supreme being to a multitude of specialised gods, angels, bodhisattvas, nats, saints, spirits and ancestors, more or less involved with the lives of mortals. I don't deny the possibility that such non-material beings could exist for I have no evidence one way or the other. I do however consider their existence highly improbable and consequently rate them very pale-blue in my toy village.
The various scenarios that man has believed to be the Truth about the origin of the universe cover all the possibilities between an eternal, stable universe, generally implied by oriental religions, to the precarious, periodically destroyed and re-created universe that was common to the pre-Columbian religions of Central America.
Learning more about the myths that man has blindly accepted in the past puts today's religions into perspective when one considers that we have no more proof of today's dogmas than our forebears had of the myths we now find so amusing. There seems to be are no limit to what gullible minds can accept as you can see from the following overview of how the origin of the universe and the emergence of man have been described by "holders-of-the-truth" to the Aztecs , the Bambara , the Buddhists , the Bushmen , the Celts , the Chinese , the Christians , the Dogons , the Egyptians , the Greek , the Hebrews , the Hindus , the Incas , the Maoris , the Mayas , the Mesopotamians , the Muslims , the Nordics , the Slavs and to the Zoroastrians. (See also these Internet sites on creation myths.)
The political, military and economic history of the major nations is taught early in schools to help young minds understand how their community has evolved into what it is today. A minimum knowledge of world history is a precious asset to help anyone, anywhere, to adapt efficiently to the world they live in. It is also essential to the exercise of democracy that electors know something about the choices they are called to vote on.
The history of scientific discoveries is taught in secondary schools to explain how we have come to know what we do about the world we live in. It is essential to the acceptance that what we think we know today will most probably be replaced tomorrow by a more accurate understanding of the world we live in. It is obvious that all scientific progress would stop if we thought we knew everything perfectly!
Similarly, I think that all primary and secondary schools in the world should teach the history of how human belief systems have evolved through the centuries. Learning about the history of religions at an early age would bring lifelong benefits by helping any believer understand how his or her beliefs compare with those of other believers. It could go a long way to develop tolerance and reduce religious wars if it were done objectively. Things being as they are, it is likely that as much bias would creep into such courses as there is in the teaching of history, but presenting a more complete picture would certainly be an improvement over the manipulative practices of most schools in the world today.
The "holders-of-the-truth" of every faith would probably fiercely oppose the impartial teaching of the history of religions at the primary school level. They all seek to maintain their monopoly of access to the captive minds of the young in their respective communities during that critical period when children are particularly vulnerable to brainwashing. Consider for example the strenuous efforts of the creationists to prevent the teaching of the theory of evolution in the public schools of the United States
Such manipulators are, however, fighting a losing battle everywhere for the censorship they have generally been able to impose on their respective communities will be less and less possible now that the Internet gives everyone access to all the information, everywhere. Mind rape behind closed doors will soon no longer be an option except in the most backward and repressive countries. People everywhere will be better informed and in a better position to deal with their unavoidable anxieties about the meaning of life.
Today's churches and sects use the World Wide Web to promote their respective beliefs. That is an positive development for the risk of being hoodwinked is reduced when everything is on the table for everyone to see. Furthermore, a growing number of excellent web sites provide perspective by giving valuable information on past belief systems and myths , some of which are described below.
Aztec legends explain that man's ancestors were demigods born of the mother earth in caves around a place called Aztlan somewhere in northern Mexico. Their descendants became the Chichimec nomadic tribes, some of which joined with the remnants of the Teotihuacan civilisation (200-800AD) to give rise to the Toltec civilisation, based in Tula (900-1200AD) under the protection of the war god Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl , the plumed serpent wind god and of Tlaloc , the rain god.
Another Chichimec tribe from the north, the Aztecs, wandered over the central highlands for centuries guided by Huitzilopochtli their god of war. They adopted many other gods such as Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc as they went searching for their promised land. They eventually found it in 1345 , when they saw an eagle devouring a snake in the swamps of Lake Texcoco. There, the Aztecs stopped and founded their city Tenochtitlan that was to become Mexico.
The Aztec vision of creation is very similar to the cyclical cosmogony, common to all Central American peoples, whose origin goes back to the ancient Olmec civilisation that flourished around La Venta on the Caribbean coast 2 000 years BC. In the Aztec version, they were part of the fifth universe, the four previous ones having been destroyed. In the first one, the earth was inhabited by giants but they were all devoured by Jaguars when the sun stopped shining. A second sun then appeared but it was swept away by a fierce wind that transformed men into monkeys. During the third sun men were changed into turkeys. The fourth witnessed a 52 year deluge during which men were transformed into fish. The present universe, that of the sun of movement is also destined to be destroyed for all existence is unstable and precarious.
The Aztec adopted the Teotihuacan legend that in the beginning, the gods met to determine which of them would bring light to the earth that was still dark and lifeless. Two volunteers approached the sacrificial fire, handsome Tecciztecatl and ugly Nanauatl who jumped in without hesitation and was transformed into a bright sun while Tecciztecatl, who hesitated, was transformed into a pale moon. Nanauatl shone brightly in the sky but he did not move and when the gods asked him why he replied that he needed their blood sacrifice to move. At first the gods complied but then it was the Aztec's turn to feed the sun by frequent human sacrifices to keep him moving across the sky. Back to list
The Bambara people live in central WestAfrica around the upper reaches of the Niger and Senegal rivers. The Bambara state, flourished in the 17 and 18th centuries in Segou and well into the 19th century in Kaarta, both in today's Mali. Their language belongs to the Mande branch of the Niger-Congo linguistic family .
Their legend of creation tells how Glan , the "sound of the void" created his mirror image Dya and how their union produced Yo , "thought made real". Yo in turn created the heavy Pemba the earth and the light Faro the Sky. Faro fertilised Pemba with rain and Pemba produced Mouso Koroni , his twin sister and wife. Faro, on her side, produced twin daughters that gave birth to humans. When Pemba tried to increase his power by mating with human females, his wife Mouso Koroni became angry and revealed Pemba's secrets to mankind thus introducing disorder in the world. Pemba retaliated by making men mortal and Faro compensated his move by creating genies as guardians of order. The several versions of this mythical origin of the universe have in common the eternal struggle of the opposed earth and sky, the theme of twins seeking to regain unity and the theme of incest, allowed for gods and forbidden to men.
The practice of their religion involves six initiation societies (dyow) through which initiates progress as they are taught the concepts of the moral conduct of life, which contribute to the overall well-being of the individual and of the community. Through the six levels of education the initiate learns the importance of knowledge and secrecy, he is taught to challenge sorcery, and learns about the dual nature of mankind, the necessity for hard labour in the production of crops, and the realities of surviving from day to day. The final dyow, the kore, aims to allow man to regain that portion of his spirit that has been lost to the gods through the process of reincarnation. If a man is unable to regain his spirit for several lifetimes, he will be entirely absorbed by the god and will cease to exist on Earth. The goal of the initiate then is to usurp the power of the god and remain on Earth, undergoing endless reincarnation. Back to list
The Buddhist religion was founded in the 6th century before Christ by a Kshatrya prince, Siddharta Gautama, as a reaction to the Brahmin dominated Hindu religion of that time. The initial doctrine taught by Gautama had its source in Hinduism but it discarded completely the old vedic laws, the Brahmin controlled caste system and ritual and the multitude of Hindu gods. It denied any importance to whether the universe was infinite and eternal or not and was concerned only with how the abolition of desire could liberate individuals from the grief of the endless cycles of birth, death and rebirth. Early Buddhism sought disengagement from the material world by mental discipline and spiritual self-control to be achieved by the eightfold path of right belief, right aims, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right thought and right rapture. Gautama's teachings were transmitted orally for more than two centuries before being committed to writing during Asoka's reign in the Tripitaka scriptures which are the basis for Therevada Buddhism.
Buddhist doctrine evolved with time and became more and more complex as monks "embellished" and "completed" Gautama's teachings. This trend towards greater complexity led to the break away of the schismatic Mahayana school that had more mass appeal from the more ascetic original Therevada Buddhism in the late 2nd century AD.
The Mahayana school reintroduced pre-existing Hindu beliefs to generate a Buddhist
cosmology involving three realms
Therevada, or Hinayana Buddhism migrated to Sri Lanka and South East Asia as Mahayana Buddhism swept over India until the Laws of Manu and the Gupta dynasty brought about the revival of Hinduism and of the caste system in India in the 4th century AD. Later, Mahayana Buddhism spread to China, Tibet, Mongolia and Japan and practically disappeared from India. Back to list
The Bushmen, also called San, are hunters and gatherers that inhabited the southern part of the African continent as early as 10 000 years ago. They were forced south by the Bantu expansion around 1300 AD and then pushed north by European settlements in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their numbers fell dramatically from an estimated 200 000 when the first Europeans arrived, to only a few thousand now that small groups of them barely survive in and the Kalahari desert. Their dialects belong to the Khoisan languages also spoken by the Hottentots.
The San explain that Xangwa created all things, beginning by "earth-woman" and her husband "sky-man" and the stars which are god's eyes. Then, Xangwa created the "sun-man", the "moon-woman", all the animals and finally, the "lion-man", the ancestor of all mankind. They were traditionally intimately integrated with nature. For example, the successful hunter would give all the meat to his group, pray Xangwa to forgive the destruction of one of his creatures and wait for another hunter's kill to eat himself. Back to list
The Celts were an Indo-European people that migrated into Europe from the East sometime in the second millennium before our era. Their maximum expansion covered all of Europe from Spain to the Middle East but they retreated to their westernmost holdings of today's Brittany in France, England, Wales, Ireland and western Scotland around 200 BC.
We know the continental Celts through Roman historians who "interpreted" the Celtic gods in terms of their approximate roman equivalents loosing the Celtic flavour in the process. More reliable data can be obtained about the western Celts because Ireland was never romanised and was converted to Christianity only in the 5th century AD.
West Celtic myths tell of the multi purpose god Lug , of the priest-god Dagda , prototype of the Druid priests, of Ogma the royal leader and civil authority god, of Diancecht the god of medicine and of Brigit , the prototype woman, mother, sister, wife and mistress of gods. Legends tell of the battle of Mag Tureg where the Thuatha de Danann (godly tribes of the goddess Dana) vanquished the Fin Bolg (thunder men) who had preceded them in Ireland, opening the way for the Goidels who were the ancestors of the Irish people.
Here again, answers to the question of man's origin were transmitted by the priests, the renowned Druids who practised magic and held high status in the Celtic society. Stonehenge is thought to have been built for the Druid's Celtic cults around 1 500 BC. The Celtic "truths" described the European universe for centuries before Germanic and Roman invasions brought with them Nordic myths and the roman pantheon that opened the way for the Christian "truths" that were to sweep the land later. Back to list
The first being was Panku . He evolved inside a gigantic cosmic egg, which contained all the elements of the universe totally intermixed together. Panku grew by about 10 feet each day. As he grew he separated the earth and the sky within the egg. At the same time he gradually separated the many opposites in nature male and female, wet and dry, light and dark, wet and dry, Yin and Yang. These were all originally totally commingled in the egg. While he grew he also created the first humans. After 18,000 years the egg hatched and Panku died from the effort of creation. From his eyes the sun and moon appeared, from his sweat, rain and dew, from his voice, thunder, and from his body all the natural features of the earth arose. Back to list
The Christians believe in a three part god, " god the father " who is the same as the god Yahve who created the universe according to the Hebrew scenario , " god the son " who visited the planet earth as the man called Jesus and " god the holy ghost " whose function is not as clearly defined as that of the other two. Back to list
The Dogon people , numbering about 350 000 live in the cliffs of the Bandiagara escarpment in central Mali where they sought refuge from Islamization by the Mossi in the late 13th century. Their villages ruled by the chief of the village clan, the Gina Bana, along with the council of elders, under the distant supervision of a spiritual leader, the "Hogon", who lives in remote isolation. The majority are agriculturists and craftsmen are segregated in endogamous occupational castes of iron, wood or leather workers. Initiates called "olubaru" carry out the rituals of the Lebe agricultural cult, of the Binu totemic cult, of the Awa cult of the masks and, once every 60 years, those of the Sigi ceremony.
According to their beliefs, Amma 's word created an infinitesimal egg containing two yolks each feeding twins. From one half of the egg, Yurugu the rebel escaped prematurely for he was anxious to establish his rule over creation. Yurugu stole a part of the yolk in which he hoped to find his twin sister Yasigi but Amma had placed her in the care of the Nommo twins who had emerged from the other half of the egg and Yurugu found himself alone with the stolen yolk that became the earth. Yurugu then mated with the earth, his own maternal yolk, and thus committed the first incest that made the earth dry and sterile.
To correct this failure of his creation, Amma sacrificed one of the Nommo twins whose dismembered body parts, dispersed to the four cardinal points, regenerated the earth and restored its vegetation. Then the remaining Nommo twin created two human beings giving the two sexes to each, the man being fitted with a male member having a female foreskin and the woman being endowed with a female vagina and a male clitoris. Nommo then circumcised the man and excised the woman. From their union, eight children were born who were sent down to earth to become the mythical celestial ancestors of the Dogon. Back to list
The Egyptians imagined that a god variously called Amon , Re or Khepi emerged from chaos, called Noun , to create the air god Chou and his wife Tefnout (humidity), who produced Geb (the earth) and Nout (the heavens) who in turn gave birth to quadruplets, the male Osiris and Seth and the female Isis and Nephtys . What happened next reads like a novel with Seth becoming a force of evil and the good Osiris mating with his two sisters Isis and Nephtys to produce the gods Horus and Anubis . The novel goes on and on with new gods being introduced and the old ones modified as Egypt evolved through the various stages of its history. What is important is not so much the details of the story as the historical fact that the early Egyptians believed in their gods strongly enough to support a powerful priest class that played the role of king maker supporting the power of the pharaohs or occasionally challenging it when it served their purpose. Worthy of note is the monotheist cult of the sun god Aton imposed by the fouth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Akhenaton and his queen Nefertiti during a short period in the 14th century BC in spite of opposition of the priestly class. Finally, we should not forget that the Egyptian polytheist religion, which we now consider quaint, lasted 3000 years before it was replaced in that country, first by Christianity and later by Islam! Back to list
Eurynome , the goddess of all creation, arose from Chaos and separated the sea from the sky. Then, dancing naked upon the waves, she created the wind and rubbed it in her hands to create the serpent Ophion , who made love to her. Pregnant, Eurynome laid the World Egg, and Ophion coiled around it and hatched it. This egg brought forth the cosmos and everything in it. Eurynome and Ophion settled on Mount Olympus, and here, soon, Ophion was proclaiming himself creator. Eurynome, angry, banished him to the underworld. Then she established the seven planets, each with a Titan and Titaness to rule it. Finally, the first man, Pelasgus, appeared, he sprang from the earth and taught the others to eat acorns, build huts, and make clothes. Back to list
When God began to create the heaven and the earth (the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water --God said, "Let there be light"; God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.
God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water." God made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so. God called the expanse Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
God said, "Let the water below the sky be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering of waters He called Seas. And God saw that this was good. And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that this was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times --days and the years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth." And it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars. And God set them in the openness of the sky to shine upon the earth, to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that this was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and birds that fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." God created the great sea monsters, and all the living creatures of every kind that creep, which the waters brought forth in swarms; and all the winged birds of every kind. And God saw that this was good. God blessed them, saying, "Be fertile and increase, fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
God said, "Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts of every kind." And it was so. God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth." And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and God said to them, "Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth."
God said, "See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, (I give) all the green plants for food." And it was so. And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work which He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work which He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation which He had done. Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created. Back to list
Its oldest scripture, the Rigveda, tells of the migration of white Aryans from the North into India and their hegemony over the darker Dasyus people sometime around 1500 BC. After being transmitted verbally for centuries, the Rigveda was finally consigned to writing in Sanskrit around 600BC. By that time, the Aryan social organisation distinguished between the Brahmins, the Kshatryas, the Vaishiyas and the Sudras. The Brahmins carried out ritual sacrifices that assured the prosperity of the tribe and its victory in war. They acquired sacred power as the only intermediaries between man and the ancient gods ( Agni the god of fire, Indra the god of war, Varuna the god of weather and 30 minor gods such as Surya the sun god, Usha the goddess of dawn, Yama the god of death, Vayu the god of wind, the Maruts or storm gods etc.). The Kshatryas wielded civil power as kings, nobles and military leaders. The Vaishiyas enjoyed a lower status as controllers of the production and trade of food and goods while the generally dark skinned Sudras ranked lower still as servants and menial laborers.
Later Vedas (Yagurveda, Samaveda and Atharveda) and the Upanishads introduced the concept of the transmigration of the soul through an endless succession of rebirths and provided detailed instructions about the sacred hymns and rituals to be used by the Brahmin priests when offering sacrifices to the gods. These rituals grew in number and complexity increasing the importance of the Brahmins who controlled more and more aspects of the people's lives. Brahmins enjoyed high status but they could not marry non-Brahmins so as to preserve the purity of their lineage. Endogamy became the basis of the caste system. The Kshatryas enjoyed a similar high status and occasionally challenged the Brahmins while the Vaishiyas and Sudras fractionated in a multitude of lower castes and sub-castes.
As the Brahmin's influence increased, new gods were introduced without replacing the old Aryan gods nor those that the Hindu system had absorbed or borrowed from pre-existing animist societies that revered holy places and objects such as trees, rocks, mountain tops and rivers. The Hindu system is still dominated by the Brahmin caste that represents only 5% of the population but it is made up of many sects and cults and its pantheon is said to comprise 330 million deities (one for every three Hindus).
The principal deities of mainstream Hinduism as practised by the Brahmins are Brahma , Vishnu and Shiva . Brahma, the Creator in the Hindu Trinity, is a little too abstract for most Hindus who prefer the more accessible Vishnu, the Preserver, and Shiva, the Destroyer, both of which have multiple forms that can be represented by colourful images and about which there is a rich variety of elaborate myths and legends.
The Vaishnavite sect worship Vishnu through one of its 10 incarnations, Matsya (the Fish), Kurma (the Tortoise), Vagary (the Boar), Varia (the Dwarf), Narasimha (half man, half lion), Rama (the Prince of Ayodha), Pasasurama (Rama with an axe), Buddha , Kalki (on a horse) and Krishna (the Charioteer).
The other principal sect, the Shaivite worship Shiva under one or more of its numerous forms of which the more common are: Mahadeva represented by a linga combined with the yoni (phalus - vulva), Nataraja the Dancer, Chandrasekhara the Moon and the half male, half female Ardhanarisvara . Shaivites also worship Siva's wife Parvati (aka. Uma, Sati, Kali and Durga ) and her two sons, the elephant headed Ganesh and the six headed Karttikeya , as well as Siva's mount, Nandi the Bull (hence the sanctity of the cow). Back to list
The Inca Empire had a state religion structured by a powerful priesthood and based upon the worship Inti the Sun God considered to be the ancestor of the Inca ruling lineage and the patron of the Inca people. Also of prime importance was the supreme god Viracocha , borrowed from the earlier Huari and Tiahuanaco civilisation, who, after creating the sun and the moon over lake Titicaca, retired to become an inactive god leaving the action to lesser gods such as Pachamama , the primordial Earth-mother, Inti the Sun god and his wife Killa the moon or Illapu the rain and thunder god.
According to one version of the legend, after Inti mated Pachamama, the four brothers Manco, Kachi, Uchu and Ahuka along with their sister-wives emerged from the caverns of Pacaritampu south of Cuzco. As they wandered, looking for a place to settle, three of the brothers were petrified into huacas, leaving Manco alone with his sister-wife Mama Occlo. Manco later came upon a place where his golden staff penetrated the earth deeply, a sign that he had reached the navel of the earth, and there, he stopped to establish Cuzco and became Manco-Capac the first Inca. Back to list
At the creation, the Earth goddess, Papa , and her husband Rangi , the sky god, were so much in love that they hugged each other and would not let go. This meant that the earth and the sky were always joined solidly together, and no light could come into the world.
Papa gave birth to several children, but they were stuck between their parents and could not escape. Finally the children decided that they had to get out. One of them, Tane , suggested that they force their parents apart. All of the children agreed that this was a good idea. One by one they tried, without success to push their parents apart.
Finally Tane had a try. He folded himself up very small and slipped between his parents. With his feet against Rangi and his shoulders against Papa, he pushed. He pushed for hours, he pushed for days, he pushed for weeks, he pushed for years and years. And very, very slowly Tane managed to uncurl his body, straighten himself, and finally push his parents apart. Light came into the world, and for the first time since the world was created, plants started to grow.
But Rangi and Papa were so sad to be apart that they cried and cried. Rangi's tears ran into rivers. They became a sea. They even threatened to flood the whole world. Something had to be done. One of the children turned Papa over so that Rangi could not see her face. Now he doesn't cry so much. But you can still see his tears every morning; they are the dewdrops on the grass. And the mists that rise from the ground are Papa's sighs. Back to list
The classical Maya empire which flourished from about 200 to 900 AD, borrowed the concept of a cyclical universe from the Olmec (1200-400 BC) and the calendar from the Izapa (400BC-300AD)who themselves got it from the Olmec. In the late post classic phase they also borrowed their god Kukulkan (Plumed Serpent in Maya) from the Toltec (900- 1200AD,)who had adopted it from the Teotihuacan civilisation (200-800 AD) who called it Quetzalcoatl . The Maya learned from their neighbours but they surpassed them all in astronomy and time keeping mathematics.
The most important of the Mayan gods is Itzamná , who held the role of creator along with his wife Ixchel . He was also the god of fire and of the hearth. Hunab Ku who is also given the role of creator is thought to be a post conquest invention of a manifestation of Itzamna. Kinich Ahau the powerful Sun god may also have been a manifestation of Itzamná. Another uniquely Mayan deity is Bolon Tzacab , with a baroquely branching nose who is thought to have functioned as a god of royal descent. They called their raingod Chaac.
The Mayas believed that two previous attempts to create man had ended in destruction. In the first, the humans fashioned out of mud were eliminated for they had been unable to speak and move and therefore could not pray and offer sacrifice to the gods. In the second attempt, men made out of wood could speak and move but they had no respect for the gods who drowned most of them in a deluge and changed the few survivors into monkeys. In the current creation the gods made two couples out of corn meal but they were so perfect that the jealous gods blurred their intelligence. Thus degraded, the first ancestors were acceptable servants of the gods and they were allowed to reproduce. Back to list
The people who settled the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia imagined their set of gods about 1200 BC. Power passed from Sumer to Akkad to Assyria and to Babylon but the same mythology endured with Apsou and Tiamet emerging from chaos to give birth to Lakhmou , Anshar (superior elements) and Kishar (inferior elements). Then appeared Anou to rule the heavens, Enlil to rule the air and the earth and Ec who ruled the waters. Here again, the adventures and struggles of the gods read like a novel. Ultimately, Madoch , son of Ec decides to create mankind out of the blood of Kingou , the leader of Tiamet's army.
The epic of Gilamesh goes on to tell how Anon and Enlil tired of mankind and tried to exterminate all life by flooding the earth and how Ec saved it by telling the human Oum-Napishtim to build a seven tiered arc big enough for one couple of each of the then living species. Later, Gilamesh who was king of Uruk decides to become eternal like Oum-Napishtim who had been granted that privilege for having saved mankind from the flood. To make a long story short, Gilamesh tricks Oum-Napishtim into giving him the secret of the magic plant of eternal life, he does find it but looses it before it can take effect and he has to return to Uruk still a mortal. Other gods, Sin , the moon representing cyclical order, Shamesh the sun representing justice, Ishtar the planet Venus representing both war and love, Tanmouz god of vegetation and Negal god of the underworld all have parts to play in this fanciful script. What is important to note is that the peoples of Mesopotamia believed in these stories for two millennia before switching to the Zoroastrian religion around 1000 BC and to Islam around 700 AD. Back to list
Mohammed borrowed the Hebrew scenario for creation just like the Christians did but he recognised only " god the father " and rejected the concepts of "god the holy ghost" and of "god the son" and considered Jesus to be one more of the prophets of the Hebrew religion. Back to list
Around 300 BC, another Indo-European family of tribes (the Viking, Varengues, Normans, Goths, Burgonds, Teutons, Coimbres, Vandals, Franks, Sueves etc), started to migrate westward in successive waves into territories previously held by the Celts. Naturally they were influenced by their predecessors and later by the Romans who finally converted everybody to Christianity.
The most comprehensive and unadulterated source documentation pan Germanic mythology are probably the Icelandic Eddas, the earlier one composed of 30 poems which date back to the 7th century and the later prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson from the 15th century.
The Eddas tell of the emergence of the androgynous giant Ymir out of the primeval chaos (the Ginnungagup ), at the interface between the cold and wet Niflhein in the north and the hot and dry Muspelheim in the south. The giant Ymir gave rise to the giant Audhumbla who made the first god Buri who produced the god Bor who mated with the giant Bestia to give birth to the three young gods, Odin , Vili and Ve , who, with the help of the giants, killed their great great-grandfather the giant Ymir and dismembered him to produce the universe, Ymir's flesh becoming the earth, his bones the mountains, his hair the trees, his soul the sky and his blood, the sea.
This pantheon comprises two groups. The Ases , gods of power include: Odin, the god of crafty power, war god and god of magic, Frigg , Odin's wife, protectress of maternity and goddess of mother earth, Thor , god of thunder and brutal force, Tyr , god of just force and protector of assemblies, Balder , son of Odin and Frigg, god of plants and good forces, Lok , god of air, fire and evil forces, mated with the giant Angerboda who gave birth to Fenris the wolf, Hel the goddess of the underworld and Ioermun-Ganda , the cosmic serpent that causes earthquakes. The other group, the Vanes relating to reproduction include: Njörd the androgynous god of fertility who is also god of navigation, Freyr the male half of Njörd who is the mate of Gerd , daughter of the giant Gymis , Freya the female half of Njö , goddess of love and queen of the dead.
The universe is supported on a vertical axis, the tree Iqqdravil inhabited by the three destinies " Nornes ", the past ( Urd ), the present ( Verdanda ) and the future ( Skuld ). Back to list
A myth known to all Slavs tells how God ordered a handful of sand to be brought up from the bottom of the sea and created the land from it. Usually, it is the Devil who brings up the sand; in only one case, in Slovenia, is it God himself. This earth-diver myth is diffused throughout practically all of Eurasia and is found in ancient India as well. Back to list
Zarathustra or Zoroaster was a religious leader who reorganised and reconstituted ancient Persian beliefs. The Zend-Avesta, is said to be a collection of his writings. Various sources place Zoroaster anywhere from 8000 to 700 years before Christ.
Zurvan , the god of infinite time and space, was the primordial god in the ancient Persian religion. He is the father of the good god Spenta Mainyu also known as Ahura Mazda and as Ormazd and of the evil god Angra Mainyu also called Ahriman . Zurvan is regarded as a neutral god; one for whom there is no distinction between good or evil, he is the god of destiny, light and darkness. Back to list