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In the Beginning: Cosmogonic Myth and Oneness

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The cosmogonic myth — or mythical creation story — is a fascination of mine. I collect these stories like a magpie, mentally tucking them into my nest of tales and traditions, bringing them out now and again to mull over.

The Norse cosmogonic myth is one of my favorites: a yawning gap lies between two polar realms, one of ice and one of fire. When they meet in this middle ground of pure nothingness — a perfect balance, where all is potential — the fire melts the ice, kindles the frozen life-bringing yeast, which forms the first being, a jotun (meaning “devourer”) named Ymir. More beings follow, and eventually the first Asgardians Odin and his brothers rend Ymir into bits, building what we know of the universe from his body parts. The first humans, Ask and Embla, were pieces of driftwood breathed upon and given sparks of intelligence by the destroyers of Ymir — pieces, it can be assumed, of Ymir’s own body.

The beginning of that myth reminds me of the concepts of yin and yang in Chinese Taoism — yin being the principle of emptiness, cold, passivity, darkness; yang the principle of fullness, heat, energy, light. Where yin recedes, yang advances — it’s this dance that creates the shifting, swaying balance of the universe. And, as with Ginnungagap, before yin and yang split into being, they existed in a neutral state of nothingness.

Another cosmogonic myth I love is the Cosmic Egg myth found in places as far-flung as Iceland and Africa: before everything else, there was an egg, with all that would ever be nestled inside. The egg cracked open, and life burst forth. What fascinates me about this cosmogonic myth is how it poetically parallels current scientific cosmogony: first nothing, and then a single, bright particle of Something — a seed of matter, a fertile egg of being — that explodes into a whole universe, ever expanding and creating. The Cosmic Egg myth is also found among the Finnish, the Egyptians, the Hindus, and other peoples.

The Chinese Taoist myth of Pangu contains similarities to both the Cosmic Egg myth mentioned above and the Norse mythological beginning: the universe began as an egg, from which hatched the intersex deity Pangu, fully formed. When this deity died, like Ymir, Pangu’s body parts became the various parts of the earth.

Why do myths matter? Why do we keep telling them? They satisfy a need in us that other things cannot, though what that is may be different for each person. For me, they are a reminder of a different way of seeing the world. I recall the Australian Aboriginal concept of the Dreamtime, in which creative events occur in a mythic form in the spirit world that impact this physical, living world, only expressed in a different way here. In other words, mythical versions of events are just as real as the scientific, material observations of these events, just experienced from another angle: a storm is electricity and wind currents and rain clouds, and a storm is an angry god or the Furious Host, and the only difference is how we perceive or experience it.

These cosmogonic myths all suggest a similar notion: that everything began in Nothingness, until Something appeared, and we were all inside it together. All of us, a single point of light.

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