The awesome, terrible, and unknowable creator gods through history
All throughout history people have invoked gods of various kinds, including incomprehensibly strange creators. Crediting an almighty god as the creator of the universe is an acknowledgement that the universe is so complex and beautiful that only a being much greater than human could create it.
People from every inhabited corner of the planet have told stories about the creator and how he or she brought the world into existence. Creators have been seen as male and female, wonderful and awesome, terrible and unknowable. They are usually the oldest being in any pantheon.
Modern scientists too have a creation story: the Big Bang. Some modern people do not believe God set off the Big Bang. In fact, many millions of people from various traditions around the world, including Christians and Muslims, still believe in fundamentalist creation stories.
Abstract model of the Big Bang. Source: BigStockPhoto
A creator is difficult to understand because it doesn’t show itself except through its works. It doesn’t explain how or when or why it made the universe and us. So people develop stories or allegories to explain the inexplicable: How did our universe come to be?
There was probably really never any creator who vomited up everything, or who fought a monster and sliced up her body and created the world from it, or who hatched the universal egg on her stomach and created the world and heavens from its parts. It’s uncertain if people truly believed these things happened, but these exact stories were first told long ago.
To give a flavor of just one people’s telling of a creation tale, here is a short excerpt from the very first part of the American Indian Navajo creation story Dine bahan é:
Of a long time ago, long ago these things are said.
It is said that at To bil dahisk’id white arose in the east and was considered day. We now call that spot Place Where the Waters Crossed.
Blue arose in the south. It too was considered day. So the Nilch’I diné’e, who already lived there, moved around. We would call them Air-Spirit People in the language spoken today by those who are given the name Bilagaana, which means White Man.
In the west yellow arose and showed that evening had come. Then in the north black arose. So the Air-Spirit People lay down and slept.— From the book Diné bahane: The Navajo Creation Story, University of New Mexico Press, Paul G. Zolbrod, editor and translator.
The text of the Navajo creation story runs 300 pages in Zolbrod’s book, and it tells a lot about ancient Navajo Indians.
It is fortunate the Navajo people have such a complete creation story from many centuries ago. Other indigenous people are not so lucky. Many ancient people’s stories were never recorded and are lost because their cultures or civilizations ended by attrition or in various disasters, including colonialism, imperialism, and genocide.
Below is a list of 20 creators as told by real people in real religions and cultures at various times around the world down through the ages. Some of these beings have fallen out of favor wand have no believers left. Some were imagined or prophesied about thousands of years ago. Others, though their stories are old, are still loved and worshiped today:
- Atum of Egypt, "the not-yet-Completed One who will attain completion" and dwelt in the primordial depths, masturbated to create the father and mother of the earth and sky.
- Nammu is the Sumerian mother ancestress who gave birth to all the gods.
- Enki of Sumer impregnated the lovely Ninhursag, who was the mother of the land.
- Marduk of Babylon sliced up the body of the terrible monster Tiamat and formed all of creation from her corpus.
Marduk and Tiamat ( Wikimedia Commons )
- The Persian gods Ahura Mazda, who fashioned all that is positive on Earth, and Ahriman, who fashioned all that is negative, are still believed in by Zoroastrians.
- Awonawilona was the Zuni god who existed before the beginning and who contained the universe within his male and female self.
- In Jewish Cabala, the Aged of the Aged, Unknown of the Unknown, Truth of all Truths, Form without Form, the Uncreated Uncreating has an unblinking face, Makroposopos, always seen in profile. On it is the blinking face of the Uncreated Creating, Mikroprosopos. Joseph Campbell describes them in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces . Campbell said Cabalists believe Makroposopos is the “I AM” of the Old Testament, and the Mikroprosopos is named God.