Page 9 || Encyclopedia Article || Fantasy Arts || Modern Surrealism Art Observation || Mythology
III Common Types of Myths
(modern surrealism movement)
No system of classification encompasses every type of myth, but in discussing myths it is helpful to group them into broad categories. This article concentrates on three major categories: cosmic myths, myths of gods, and hero myths.
A Cosmic Myths
Cosmic myths are concerned with the world and how it is ordered. They seek to explain the origin of the world, universal catastrophes such as fire or flood, and the afterlife. Nearly all mythologies have stories about creation, a type of story technically known as cosmogony, meaning "birth of the world." Creation stories also include accounts of how human beings first came into existence and how death and suffering entered human experience.
The oldest cosmogonies known today are those of Egypt and the ancient Near East. An example is the creation epic of the Babylonians, Enuma elish (When on high), which dates back to at least the 12th century bc. According to Enuma elish, in the beginning of the world there was only a watery void in which fresh waters mingled with salt waters of the sea. The fresh waters were personified as Apsu, a male being, and the salt waters as Tiamat, a female.
The myth describes a conflict between these earliest gods and a younger generation that sprang from them. Ultimately the younger gods won the war, led by Marduk, a god of thunder and lightning who resembles the Greek god Zeus and the Norse god Thor. Marduk defeated the army of the elder gods and killed Tiamat-represented as a dragon-in single combat. He then split her carcass in two, forming heaven and earth from the halves, and established the sun, moon, and constellations.
Enuma elish contains several themes common to many ancient Near Eastern creation stories: the ordering of the world out of chaos, the central role of waters in the creation of the world, the victory of a divine king over enemies who represent chaos, and the creation of matter from the corpse of a world-mother. A very different type of creation story appears in the Spider Woman myth of the Native American Hopi people. According to this narrative, in the beginning the only two beings in existence were Tawa, the sun god, and Spider Woman, an earth goddess who lived in a shadowy, cavelike underworld. Human beings were created from clay by Spider Woman and animated by the gaze of Tawa. Tawa used his light and heat to create dry land, and the world took shape. Spider Woman led the humans and other creatures up to the earth's surface, and each species was assigned its proper residence and role in the world. This myth features the common Native American theme of emergence, in which creatures emerge from the earth as if from a mother's womb.
Other types of creation myth occur in the cosmogony of the Maya people, with its many cycles of creation and destruction, and in the ancient Hebrew account of creation by a single, all-powerful deity.
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