A Celtic Creation: Sea-foam, the Placenta from the Birth of the Universe
Creation myths are like bubbles of time, and when you pop one, stories of how prehistoric cultures interacted with each other, and nature, are found. Celtic mythology, more so than most folkloric systems, offers a perspective on how people interacted with the land and sea during different seasons of the year. Where in Greek myths heroes battled with titans, representing psychologies such as jealousy, greed and envy, Celtic myths featured farmers and sailors fighting weather fronts, in the form of mythological creatures.
Euboean amphora, c.550 BC, the fight between the Giant King Cadmus and a dragon. (Image: Public Domain )
Because the Celtic landscapes changed from rugged coastline to deep forest and open moors, within a few miles, the myths and legends followed suit and changed significantly by the region, featuring prominent natural features and weather phenomena. There is one Celtic myth, however, that transcended location and environmental circumstances that was told all over the Celtic world.
Looking no further than the opening two lines of this Celtic creation myth we find many classical mythological correspondences. In Scott Leonard’s 2004 book Myth and Knowing, the Celtic myth opens with:
“Once upon a time, there was no time and that was when there also was no gods and no man walked the surface of the land. But there was the sea, and where the sea met the land, a mare was born, white and made of sea-foam. And her name was Eiocha.”
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Rooting Out the Seeds of the Celtic Creation Myth
To the layman, reading that Eiocha was made of “sea-foam” is so abstract it could justifiably be called psychedelic, but this is actually an essential component that can be found at the primary levels of many other creation myths. In Greek mythology, for example, from Aphros ("sea foam”) mixed with the blood from Uranus' genitalia, came Aphrodite, the beautiful Goddess of Love and Sex who sailed on a “pillow of foam.” Furthermore, in Tamra Andrews 2000 book Dictionary of Nature Myths, we learn that Viracocha, the creator deity of pre-Inca and Inca mythologies in the Andes region of South America name translates to "Fat (or foam) of the sea.” It should also be noted that the opening line of the Peruvian myth is almost exactly the same as the Celtic creation myth where it tells, “Sea Foam emerged from a lake with a few associates.”
Fourth-century BC Attic pottery showing Aphrodite inside a clam shell and floating on sea-foam, from the Phanagoria cemetery in the Taman Peninsula . CC BY-SA 3.0
The Celtic creation myth states “where the sea met the land, a mare was born, white and made of sea-foam.” Broadly speaking, mythologists classify this story as an Emergence myth, which is itself defined by creator entities passing through weird worlds, or “transitioning,” to arrive in the present world. In this case, a mare emerged from a tideline, which is representative of duality. What is more, sea-foam is a near perfect expression of ‘emergence’ and ‘transition’ in that it is formed out at sea ‘in the otherworld,’ and drifts to shore “where two worlds meet,” where sea and land become one. Sea and land being the provider of the bounties upon which Celtic nations were built.
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Reading Donald Alexander Mackenzie’s 1997 S cottish Wonder Tales from Myth and Legend one gains a deeper appreciation of the centrality of the ocean in Celtic culture, and therefore, a greater understanding of the “sea-foam” archetype. Mythologists Marta Weigle and Raymond Van Over grouped recurring mythological themes and noticed that “before anything” in myths, a “ Primeval abyss” is described alternatively as cosmic pulp, primordial soup and an infinite expanse of water or space. Originator deities are generally poised above this abyss, or live eternally within it and spark creation by “stirring the abyss” with sounds, word, vibrations or dreams.
The abyss appears in the holy books of the Hindus (the Vedas) which explain that all the inhabitants of the earth emerged from the “primordial sea.” Again, at the beginning of the Judeo-Christian story of creation, the spirit of God "stirred above the waters" and later created "a firmament in the midst of the waters to divide the waters" (Genesis 1:1-6). The Celtic creation myth refers to a time when there were “no gods and men, there was the sea.” This is a classic rendition of the primeval abyss where “before anything was an infinite expanse of water” and it is in the abyss - sea-foam forms then emerges.