Create Your Own Religion

Traditional religions often belittle their break-off sects of “making-up their own religion”.  Should that accusation really hurt? Hell, someone made up every religion at sometime — well, unless you believe in revelation, which I don’t.

Cris Campbell, a scholar over at Genealogy of Religion, has a fun post discussing classic research by Anna Rooth (1957) which classified 300 North American creation myths into 8 thematic types. Below I shameless copied a summary of those myths from Cris’ site.

Read the myth types and tell us which creation myth would be your favorite if you were creating your own religion. Then go read Cris’ blog — it is superb!

1. The Earth-Diver: this myth involves some being, often an animal, who dives to the bottom of an ocean to get sand or mud from which the earth and its denizens are created. It is found all over North America except for Arizona and New Mexico (i.e., the Puebloan area). Interestingly, the earth-diver creation myth is also widespread in Eurasia.

2. The World-Parents: this myth tells of a sky-father and earth-mother who jointly produce the earth and all living things. This usually involves the earth-mother giving birth and the fertility symbolism is heavy. This myth is found primarily in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Similar myths can be found outside of North America in Japan and Polynesia.

3. The Emergence: this myth involves a hole in the earth or a cave from which humans and animals emerge to the present world. It is found primarily in the southwest Puebloan area with some spillover the the adjacent Plains. This is the primary form of creation myth found in Meso-America.

4. The Spider as First Being: in this myth the spider is the first being who spins a web that holds the earth together or makes it firm and thus makes it possible for other beings to exist on it. How these other beings come into existence is highly variable, but the spider is at the center of the entire cosmology. Versions of this myth can also be found in south America and China.

5. The Fighting or Robbery: this myth recounts the heroic deeds of a culture hero or transformer who steals the earth and its creations from greedy, pre-existing beings who have been hoarding for themselves. The transformer then gives these gifts to humanity. This is the most common form of creation myth among Northwest Coast Indians and finds parallels in northeast Asia.

6. The Ymir: in this myth the world is created from the corpse of a dead giant or a dead man or woman. The skull is made into the sky, the bones become rocks, the hair becomes vegetation, and the blood becomes water. It is found throughout the North American continent. It is similarly widespread in Eurasia, and has interesting parallels with the Edenic myth.

7. The Two Creators Contest: this highly varied myth involves two creators, often siblings or relatives, who engage in a contest to “make” the best things with the result being the creation of the world and its contents. In some variations the world is created as a byproduct of a contest between the two. This myth is found in all areas of North America and has parallels in Asia.

8. The Blind Brother: this myth tells of two brothers who rise from the depths of the ocean bringing people with them. One brother tricks the other in a way that results in blindness; the blind brother in his anger then visits hardship on the people who have come to earth. This myth is found only in southern California and Arizona, and it told in adjacent parts of Mexico. Its distribution seems limited to these areas.

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5 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “Create Your Own Religion

  1. I like The Emergence the best, like literally coming from the womb of the earth. That’s pretty cool! It sure beats some magic man breathing life into some clay figurine. :-)

    By the way, in case you are curious, the Puebloans did not consider just one specific hole in the earth as being the origin. Wherever they settled, as the different groups sprawled out, they established a literal hole-dwelling as representing the metaphorical origin point.

  2. Earnest

    As an arachnophobe my choice is not number 4!

  3. Mike

    I love the spider as first being – an arachnocentric religion would put us humans in our place!

  4. Fascinating! Some parallels between these Native American themes and near eastern religions came to mind (for instance, Tiamat as the Ymir; Inanna stealing the me from Enki as the Fighting/Robbery, etc.).

  5. @ Ahab,
    Ah, indeed! If you go to the Cris’ post (linked) you will see that he discusses that the original article was interested in mapping the linkages and the migration of myths. Fascinating stuff.

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