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  • Hi, I'm Mike Rugnetta, this is Crash Course Mythology, and today, we're going to talk about a small, easy topic:

  • The creation of the Universe.

  • This is the first of several episodes on creation stories,

  • and this one will center on myths that imagine a universe created out of nothing.

  • Or possibly something.

  • Sometimes out of water

  • Probably water, but it's magical water.

  • It's primordial water.

  • Hey Thot, do Egyptian gods drink water?

  • [Intro Music]

  • Myths that describe creation as coming out of nothing are some of the hardest to get our heads around.

  • In Latin, the phrase "ex nihilo" is used to describe this type of creation,

  • and it can cause a bit of existential dread for people who are uncomfortable

  • with the idea of absolute nothing.

  • No time, no space, just an infinite void.

  • Like when the Wi-Fi suddenly goes down.

  • But just, much, much worse.

  • Just ask Hephaestus, Greek god of technology.

  • That guy knows about unstable rooter architecture. And hammers.

  • The ex nihilo creation story that's probably the best known in the West comes from the Book of Genesis.

  • In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void;

  • and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

  • So, in this story, the main character is God.

  • And hey, let's take just a quick minute to remember that this is mythology not religious studies,

  • so we're gonna be refering to the judeo-christian God as a character.

  • So take a second, to just get confortable with that... And now let's move on.

  • So, this character exists before anything we would call "the world."

  • Where does God exist? It's unclear. There's a void, there's water,

  • which are handy if God needs storage space or is thirsty but... that's about it.

  • Ex nihilo creation stories are common in the ancient Near East,

  • the Mediterranean world where the Abrahamic religionsJudaism, Christianity, and Islamoriginated.

  • Egypt was part of an interconnected Mediterranean system, and one of its creation myths

  • also posits a universe coming from nothing, as we can see in this fragment.

  • "I am the eternal spirit, I am the sun that rose from the primeval waters.

  • My soul is God, I am the creator of the word. Evil is my abomination, I see it not.

  • I am the creator of the order wherein I live, I am the word, which will never be annihilated

  • in this my name of "soul."

  • Take away the first person pronoun and the bold claims, and you can see the similarities to the Genesis story.

  • There is an eternal God who creates the world, and then there are waters out of which rise...

  • well, in this case it's the sun, which is nice. Just ask Ra, Egyptian sun god.

  • Cause eventually humans would realize that some of us look better with a tan, me especially.

  • I don't know about you, but I have a hard time conceiving of nothingness.

  • I'm a lot more accustomed to... "thingness".

  • I mean isn't nothingness... a thing, in and of itself?

  • And hey even more importantly, can we really call it "nothingness" with all this water around?

  • Fortunately for people like me, there's a word to describe the condition before creation: Chaos.

  • Which mythologist David Leeming defines as "the primal void or state of uniform nondifferenciation

  • that precedes the creation of the world in most creation myths."

  • Chaos is something of a background in many of these myths.

  • As it is in the Greek version of creation found in The Theogony by Hesiod, a poet and sheep farmer,

  • who probably lived in the 8th century BCE.

  • According to this version, "Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth."

  • Not much to go on there, but as we can see,

  • Chaos is what we have before a deity or deities roll up, and provide order.

  • And also the Earth apparently has breasts. Mother Earth, I guess? Makes sense.

  • In many myths, an augural way to put things in order is to bring light out of darkness.

  • In one creation myths from the Kono people of Guinea,

  • the darkness before creation is inhabited by Death, his wife and his daughter.

  • In the beginning, there was darkness.

  • And in it lived Death called Sa with his wife and daughter.

  • The three of them were all that was.

  • There was nowhere for them to live comfortably, so Sa started it.

  • He used magic power and he made an endless mud sea.

  • In this mud place Sa built his house.

  • After that the god Alatangana came to visit Sa.

  • He found Sa's house dirty and dark. Alatangana thought Sa should do better than that and he said so.

  • "Nothing can live in such a place," the god told Sa.

  • "This house needs fixing up, everything is too dark."

  • So Alatangana thought he'd better take things in hand.

  • He made the mud solidwe now know it as Earth.

  • "The Earth feels sad," God said. "I will make plants and animals to live on it." So he did.

  • And that... is how we got Home Renovationjust kidding, I love this myth.

  • I love that God thinks that the earth is sad and so he gets the earth a puppy to cheer it up.

  • A puppy, and some plants. You know, spruce up the joint.

  • But notice that there are a lot of similarities between this myth and the Egyptian myth.

  • In that both describe a vast sea. One of mud, one of water,

  • and that there is a god who exist previous to, and outside of the void, and the darkness.

  • Though the Kono myth differs, and that implies that Death is the one constant in the universe.

  • Oh no! And now i'm worried about the puppy.

  • But, why all this talk about water?

  • Well, we don't know exactly, but if you're living in an ancient society,

  • and you try to think through something as big as the creation of the universe,

  • you probably turn your thoughts to the vastest thing you were aware of:

  • the sky, and the sea.

  • Even if you only experience the ocean from the relative safety of the shore,

  • there is something unknowable and eternal about it,

  • that makes it possible to imagine the sea existing for all time. And even before time itself.

  • And according to theories of evolution, the idea that all life came from the sea is fairly accurate.

  • But let's not get into evolution here, we'll leave that to Hank and the scientists over at Crash Course Biology.

  • Hey fun fact, though: the western hemisphere has water too.

  • And we have some ex nihilo creation stories of our own

  • One of the most difficult and fascinating comes from the Maya of Guatemala,

  • and is recorded in the Popul Vuh, or "the book of the community."

  • It's not as catchy in translation.

  • In this complex story, creation occurs four times.

  • But it begins, like the Gospel of John in the New Testament, with the Word.

  • And just because I think it's going to be fun to watch Thought Bubble animate nothingness,

  • let's see this myth there.

  • Hey, Thoth. Pass the popcorn.

  • The world began long ago in a place called Quiché, where the Quiché people lived.

  • There no one, at first. There was not one animal yet.

  • And no bird fish or tree. There was no rock, or forest, no canyon, no meadow.

  • There was Sky, separated from all things. The face of the Earth was invisible.

  • There was nothing that could make a sound. There was the sea, so calm and all alone.

  • There was dark, and night, and sea murmurings, ripplings.

  • Yet within the dark, and night, and sea, there was the maker, and there was the feathered serpent.

  • And they brought their words together.

  • Joined them with their thoughts. Planned creation.

  • Their words and thoughts were so clear, that whatever they said, came to be.

  • And the serpent and the maker thought about the nature of the world.

  • What would be light and dark, who would bring food, and what everything should look like.

  • And then by speaking their thoughts, they brought the world into existence.

  • Starting with Earth, and then moving on to its features like mountains, and trees.

  • Followed by wild animals.

  • But there was a problem:

  • the wild animals were unable to speak the names of the maker and a feathered serpent.

  • As well as the other gods who helped bring about creation. And they were unable to praise the gods.

  • Thus the first creation was a failure.

  • The maker had to start over again,

  • but not before explaining to all the wild animals their lot was to be brought low.

  • Which, considering the fact that the maker and the feathered serpent organized things this way,

  • seems at least a little unfair.

  • Youbird, deer, you will stay where you are,

  • where you sleep and eat, in the forest and canyons, among the tree and bush.

  • You will be eaten, you will kill and be killed.

  • You will stay low and serve, since you cannot talk and praise your god.

  • Thanks Thought Bubble.

  • This particular myth is fascinating for a number of reasons.

  • First of all, it reminds me of the story in Genesis, of Adam giving names to all the animals,

  • and establishing humanity's dominion over all non-speaking creatures,

  • providing a single reason why humans should be considered special among all animals:

  • we have the power of speech, and by extension, the power to invent and tell creation stories of our own.

  • Just ask Anansi, African spider god of storiesThot, don't eat him. This is not Australia.

  • Even though this myth doesn't focus on Chaos, or the void or nothingness,

  • it does have the idea that before creation, there was nothing. Except God, or the Word.

  • And like the creation myths we looked at earlier, it include an endless sea.

  • A physical manifestation of things unknown.

  • But also of the source of life, since nothing we can see exist without water.

  • Especially people, but especially fish.

  • We'll spend a little more time in the cosmic ocean in our next episode,

  • when we look at eggs, seeds, and Earth-divers.

  • But this creation story is elaborate.

  • Since creation 1.0 doesn't go so well, the maker and the feathered serpent get back to work,

  • and they have to get all the way to creation 4.0 before they resolve all of the major glitches.

  • And even then they're probably still some software updates like ancient, ancient software

  • like service packs but for existence.

  • Before we leave the realm of ex nihilo creation, I want to give one more example: the Big Bang.

  • And a lot of you are now staring at your screens in confusion and horror,

  • and saying that this isn't a myth at all.

  • But remember, we're talking about significant stories, with staying power which the Big Bang certainly is.

  • So, let's try it out.

  • Hank and Phil Plait have gone over this in detail, over at Crash Course Astronomy,

  • and we've talked about it on Big History.

  • Here, we're going to use the version related by Brian Swimme in his book The Universe is a Green Dragon

  • "Imagine that furnace out of which everything came forth. This was a fire that filled the Universe

  • that was the Universe. There was no place in the Universe free from it.

  • Every point of the cosmos was a point of this explosion of light.

  • And all the particles of the Universe churned in extremes of heat and pressure,

  • all that we see about us all that now exists was there at the beginning in that great burning explosion of light."

  • Hey, that sounds a lot like some of the most ancient myths doesn't it?

  • "Like all ex nihilo creation stories the Big Bang start in a time before time