Most ancient cultures share the idea of creation out of water. Be it a cosmic ocean, primordial waters or a more abstract idea of fluid, amorphous chaos. But why is that so? How come that so many creation myths that were formed long before any scientific knowledge about the role of water in biology or physics, agree on the central and fundamental role of water. This article by Morgan Smith gives an overview of the many traces of primordial waters and offers some explanation on the prominent role of water in ancient creation myths.
“Throughout Cascadia (southern Canadian and northern US-American west coast), earth shaking and/or tsunamilike effects are frequently described in stories about the acts and personalities of supernatural beings, often in the guise of animals. Many stories from western Vancouver Island and northern Washington tell of a struggle between Thunderbird and Whale, and throughout Cascadia stories about these ﬁgures frequently include explicit mention or visual imagery suggesting shaking and/or tsunamilike effects.
Thunderbird and Whale are beings of supernatural size and power. A story from Vancouver Island says that all creation rests on the back of a mammoth whale, and that Thunderbird causes thunder by moving even a feather and carries a large lake on his back from which water pours in thunderstorms.
Shaking and ocean surges can be inferred from the story of Thunderbird driving his talons deeply into Whale’s back, and Whale diving and dragging the struggling Thunderbird to the bottom of the ocean (other versions have Thunderbird conquering Whale). Shaking is implied by imagery: Thunderbird lifts the massive Whale into the air and drops him on the land surface.
The struggle between Thunderbird and Whale is unique to the Cascadia coast and appears in stories from Vancouver Island to northern Oregon. From central Oregon south, thunder or whale ﬁgures appear individually in stories describing earthquake or tsunami themes. The central ﬁgures are variously identiﬁed as Thunder, Thunderbird, or bird and Whale, ﬁsh, or sea monster. In northern California, one tribe has an “Earthquake” ﬁgure with “Thunder” as his companion. Stories from Puget Sound and eastern Washington also use these motifs in conjunction with descriptions of earthquake effects.
Thunderbird and Whale stories are part of a systematic oral tradition that used symbolism and mnemonic keys to condense and present information in a format that could be remembered and retold for generations.”
excerpt from Ruth S. Ludwin et al.: “Dating the 1700 Cascadia Earthquake: Great Coastal Earthquakes in Native Stories”
full text: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/252069651_Dating_the_1700_Cascadia_Earthquake_Great_Coastal_Earthquakes_in_Native_Stories
From an article by Patrick Harrigan in the Colombo Sunday Times in 1989:
“One example of a recurrent storytelling motif that appears and re-appears under various guises is that of characters or even whole kingdoms that are said to be ‘sunken‘ or gone ‘underground’ and which may periodically re-surface only to disappear again. Such stories are known the world over, or course, but in Lanka they have been developed into a fine art.
The ‘original’ Lanka is said to be mostly submerged, like an iceberg. In remote antiquity, we are told, Lanka or Lemuria as some call it was a continent that was home to brilliant civilization of exceptional spiritual vitality, but which later catastrophically sank beneath the waters except for the small portion that is Sri Lanka today.
Ptolemy of Alexandria, the 2nd Century AD ‘Father of Modern Geography’, and other ancient geographers consistently reckoned Lanka or Taprobane of their time as being many times greater than the island known to geographers today. Was it really so, or was Taprobane larger only in the imagination of those who saw it or heard of it?”
see full article here.
“At the beginning of time, the surface of the Earth was primeval ocean where this great serpent swam or lay. The daughter of the highest deity (who dwelt in the heavens and had birds as servants) came down from the upper realm and spread a handful of earth to form the world. The serpent, however, disliked the weight upon his head, and, turning over, caused this newly made world to be engulfed by the sea.”
A folktale from Indonesia.
from: Dixon, R. B. Oceanic Mythology, Cooper Square Publishers, New York. (1916)
It might be time for a clarification. Since flood myths play quite a big role in cristian creationist ideology and since there is a lot of material online on the subject hosted on creatonist propaganda websites, I feel I need to distance myself from the creationist idoelogy once and for all. I am arguing in this blog that mythology and folklore are aesthetic reflections of natural events like tsunamis, high tides or other extreme weather phenomena. In othe words, most myths are most likely creative renditions of lived experience. This does however not mean that myths are true or – for that matter – that the bible is right. In fact I am opposed to any creationist ideology, particularly of the US-American Christian ultra-right, and fundamentally opposed to the idea of founding ethical codes of conduct on religious authority.
Having said that much, here is an online source of a chapter from Sir James George Frazer‘s book “Folk-Lore in the Old Testament” from 1918. (On a creationist website…)
The Scotish scientist Frazer is one of the founding fathers of anthropology and his study “The Golden Bough” (1928) became one of the most influential and popular texts in anthropology.
This is the section from “Folk-Lore in the Old Testament” on the flood myth. In it he gives a very detailed account of several flood myths from all continents: