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Creating The Past Essay, Research Paper
Creating the Past
Ancient Egyptians and Norsemen along with all other cultures believe that the world and all that lies there in was created by a Supreme Being or force. For most people faith alone is not enough to base their very existence on; people want to know why, how, and all of the details. It is only human nature for a person to be curious and want to know why something happened the way it did. Curiosity is the reason the Egyptians and Norsemen began to write or create myths and deities. Authors since the beginning of time have written based on the inspiration of their lives and surroundings, including the Egyptians and Norsemen. Ancient Egyptian and Norse creation mythologies and deities yield logical evidence of the cultures from which they came.
A few different creation stories occupied the Egyptian region, but most all of them began the same. According To Pierre Montet, the world was created from nothing in “a time when there was no sky, when neither the earth, nor men nor gods existed, and when even death did not exist” (154). In Egypt like in most other places, only a small percentage of boys and girls attended school, and they were from upper class families. The lack of education in the Egyptian culture harnessed the attempts to create an accurate creation myth (Warner 13). The main and most believed creation stories came from the three most important religious centers; Heliopolis, Memphis, and Hermopolis. Each city was devoted to a different deity, and they rivaled each other trying to show how their own god originated creation (Cavendish 97). It is only normal for a group of people to want the credit for a great event. The creation myth from Heliopolis acknowledges Atum as its sole creator, and the Egyptians said that he rose out of the primeval waters, that formed from the emptiness and nothing, along with a hill of land. Then to create offspring Atum masturbated to form Shu, God of air, and Tefnut, goddess of moisture. They in turn united to form the earth god, Geb, and the sky goddess, Nut (Cavendish 97). The Egyptians said that from the union of Geb and Nut the non-cosmic deities Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nepthys formed. So evidently the earth and sky were imagined as being in a close embrace and were committing an act of procreation. A very well thought theory considering what the Egyptians knew about biological generation, and their typical way of life (Budge 20). In the Memphis creation myth, the Egyptians claimed that Ptah, their supreme god, joined with Naunet and fathered Atum, who then created the world (Cavendish 97). In Hermopolis, Egyptians claimed that a group of eight deities consisting of Nun, Huh, Kuk, and Amun joined with their mates Naunet, Hauket, Kauket, and Amaunet to create the world (Cavendish 97).
Two different stories about the creation of night and day accompanied the three different stories of world creation. The Egyptians said in one story that Atum was sometimes identified with the sun god, Re, producing Atum-Re who would sail across the sky in his sektet in the morning to produce the light of day. Then at night Nut would swallow him creating the darkness, and then give birth to him again in the morning (Philip 16). In some areas of Egypt the Egyptians said that Atum-Re did not like the union of Geb and Nut. Therefore, in order to separate them he would rise during the day creating light, and as long as the sun shone Nut remained separated from Geb. Then as soon as the sun went down Nut would gradually descend until she embraced Geb creating night (Budge 20).
Many aspects of Egyptian culture including the environment and people reflect information that was vital to the creation of myths and deities. In the environment, the idea of the primeval water and land emerging reflects the conditions of the Nile Valley. Each year the Egyptians watched as the Nile flooded and covered everything. Then as the water subsided high points of land emerged from the water. Hence came the story of Atum and his emergence from primeval water (Warner 13). One of the first pieces of land to emerge from the flooded Nile was a giant hill. So the Egyptians placed Atum’s temple on top of that hill making it the most sacred place in Egypt due to the fact that the creation of the world began there (Warner 13). The Egyptians perceived that life was dependent upon the sun; since it aided in the fertility of the earth, production of abundant crops, and successful harvests. Since the Egyptians witnessed the sun and sky contributing so much to the fertility of the earth, they naturally would create myths where the procreation of many deities would take place in the sky (Budge 21). In ancient Egypt, women had a higher position with more advantages and recognition than other cultures. This is evident in the part of the creation myth in which the sky, Nut, is portrayed by a female goddess while the earth, Geb, is portrayed by a male god. This was a giant honor considering that the sky was the most significant aspect of Egyptian mythology (Warner 15).
In ancient Egypt, animals were used as symbols for the Gods and their temples. In many cases, people worshipped the animal symbol of the gods, or actually, the gods in animal form. In mythology, the worship of animals was a result of the domination of the world surrounding man. Rex Warner wrote that “it was common for the Egyptians to worship animals” (16), but as time passed and the Egyptians grew wiser they began to understand the world. Therefore, they started changing the gods to human form or at least fusing them with human parts (Spence 4). Whenever new aspects of the Egyptian society organized or changed, to reflect the times, the Egyptians created new gods. For example during the time of social organization and crafts Ptah, god of craftsmen, was created and worshipped (Casson 72). Many gods in the Egyptian myths had a certain purpose. For example, Anubis was the god of the dead, and when the Egyptians were buried in the ground, like most middle and lower class people, a jackal would always come and dig up their bones. So from that the Egyptians derived Anubis, the jackal headed god of the dead (Casson 71). Many texts show that when “followers of one god fought with followers of another god, both of the gods were pictured in conflict” (Montet 152). This shows another example of how actions of the Egyptians were reflected in their stories or myths. Rex Warner backed up that statement when he said, “it is accordingly not surprising that in the earliest written cosmogonies, or creation myths, we find a mixture of thought and imagery about the beginnings of things which derives both from the new needs of civilized society, and from the cruder concepts of the pre-literary past” (13). People are attracted to elaborate and beautiful things, and the architecture in Egypt was magnificent. The Egyptians built temples for gods on grand scales with many amenities, and the richer the temple the more admired, worshipped, and elaborate the god became in myths (Montet 19). Lionel Casson wrote “the prominence of a god and the union he might make were a result of the political and economic fortune of the town of his origin” (73). Along with many other developments, Ancient Egypt was one of the first cultures to emphasize life after death. The Egyptians “religion permeated their whole life – socially, politically, and economically” (Casson 71). The Egyptian culture, way of life, and surroundings were ultimately responsible for inspiring the root and branches of myths and deities.
According to the creation myth in the beginning there was a nothing called Ginnungagap. Then the fiery Muspell and the icy Niflheim came into being, and in between these two realms the cool air from Niflheim met the warm air from Muspell to thaw ice that began creating a sleeping giant named Ymir. As the giant slept he began to sweat, and from his sweat formed three frost giants. The melting ice then created Audhumla; a cow that fed Ymir with the four rivers of milk that flowed from her utters. She fed herself by licking the salty ice, and as she licked the ice, she uncovered a god named Buri. As the years passed Buri had a son named Bor, and he married Bestla, the daughter of a frost giant. Then the three brothers Odin, Vili, and Ve were born to the couple (Philip 18-19), and “the god brothers hated the evil [Ymir] and the ever-growing number of brutal frost giants” (Hamilton 70). Therefore, they murdered Ymir, and the slaughtered giant bled so much that his blood drowned all but two giants and created the rivers, lakes, and vast ocean. The brothers used the flesh of the giant to make the earth, and his shattered bones and teeth to make the rocks. Then four dwarfs: east, west, north, and south secured the skull of Ymir above the earth to make the sky. Sparks from Muspell were then flung into the sky to make the sun, moon, and stars while Ymir’s brains were used to shape the clouds. Then the three brothers were walking along the shore when they spotted two pieces of wood. Each of the brothers took the pieces of wood and contributed a part of life to make two humans. They created a man named Ask and a woman named Embla, and the gods gave them the land of Midgard to use as their home (Hamilton 70-71). Since Ask and Embla were the only two humans “so it is [said] that all nations and all families and every race of human beings came from [them]” (Hamilton 71). The Vikings ” are known for their mastery of literature and prose ” (Oeland 65), and that explains why their myths are longer, more detailed, and better overall.
Many aspects of the environment reflect information that was vital to the creation of myths and deities. Iceland, along with many other Viking homes, was a country of volcanoes and bubbling geysers; as well as, icy glaciers and snow (Philip 19). The theory that the Vikings wrote myths influenced by the surrounding environment clarifies the beginning of the creation story that is set in the fiery realm of Muspell and the icy realm of Niflheim. The Vikings were relaying their environment as it was known to them. Richard Cavendish explained the theory well when he wrote, “in the stony, sea-beaten lands of the north, men confronted snow, ice and extreme cold, and this inevitably influenced their myths” (Cavendish 179). In the creation myth the blood of the giant, Ymir, forms the rivers, lakes, and vast sea that surrounded and drowned the frost giants. This also shows again the fascination with violence and the influence of life and environment (Jones 63, 98). Also, in the Norse creation myth Ymir’s bones and teeth become the rocks and stones reflecting the mountainous and rocky region they lived in (Philip 20). Most Vikings lived by the sea because it was easier to use ships and the land was more fertile there. Therefore, it was only logical for the Norsemen to use the example of the Vikings by the ocean to create the story about Ask and Embla being created by the sea. (Roesdahl 94). In the Viking region the main trees were the Elm tree and the Ash tree. During the Norse creation myth when Odin, Vili, and Ve create the first man and woman they name them Ask, meaning Ash, and Embla, meaning Elm tree which reflects the influence of nature on mythology (Hamilton 71).
The influence of the Vikings society produced evidence that factored into the creation of Norse myths. The Vikings were arranged into three classes: nobles, freemen, and slaves; and in Norse mythology there are also three classes: frost giants, gods, and man (Roesdahl 30). Many Vikings owned and worked their own farms with animals like cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep. The cows on the farm provided the Vikings with milk and food to nourish and strengthen their bodies just as the cow, Audhumla, fed Ymir to strengthen him (Roesdahl 56). Other Vikings were shipbuilders or traders, and they depended on the sun, moon, and stars for navigation. The use of the sky as a navigational tool explains why the sky was said to be held in place by four dwarfs named: north, south, east, and west (Jones 110).
The Vikings were fierce creatures, and ” ‘their souls were drifting as the sea, and all good towns and lands they only saw with heavy eyes, and broke with heavy hands. Their gods were sadder than the sea, gods of a wandering will, who cried for blood like beasts at night, sadly, from hill to hill’ ” (Cavendish 179).
Many times, the Vikings massacred people as they were terrorizing a country. With a life like that it is no wonder they created a myth in which the creation of the earth came from a slaughtered giant (Jones 92). The god Odin was the god of battle and death and lived in the home of the gods, Asgard. The Vikings believed that if they died fighting they would go to a hall in Asgard called Valhalla, where they would fight all day and dine all night. The Vikings also had burial customs that involved great ceremony. Many Vikings were buried in a ship with their possessions and in some cases with their live slaves and dogs. Such graves were supposed to “ensure a safe journey to the land of the dead” (Oeland 67-68).
The ancient Egyptian and Norse myths and deities reflect many different aspects of culture including the environment, society, way of life, and people. The Egyptians based most of their myths on parts of their society and way of life. By looking at life around them, the authors of Egyptian mythology created an explanation for their existence. Norse myths were influenced by the environment and people of the culture, and the Vikings created their existence from surrounding evidence. Cultural influence was extremely important in the creation of both Egyptian and Norse mythology.
Budge, E. A. Wallis. Legends of the Egyptian Gods: Hieroglyphic Texts and Translations. New
York: Dover, 1994.
Casson, Lionel. Ancient Egypt. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life, 1965.
Cavendish, Richard, ed. Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Barnes, 1992.
Hamilton, Virginia. In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World. New York:
Jones, Gwyn. A History of the Vikings. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1984.
Montet, Pierre. Eternal Egypt. New York: NAL, 1964.
Oeland, Glenn. “Norse Myths and Legends.” National Geographic May 1997: 65-70.
Philip, Neil. The Illustrated Book of Myths; Tales and Legends of the World. New York:
Dorling Kindersley, 1995.
Roesdahl, Else. The Vikings. New York: Penguin, 1987.
Spence, Lewis. “Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends.” 9 August 1998.
(3 Jan. 2000).
Warner, Rex. Encyclopedia of World Mythology. New York: Galahad, 1975.
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