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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.  There are multitudes, at least one for every culture in existence, some having died with dead languages unrecorded and others continuing to be told.

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.

Sometimes I think that all of these are versions of the same real event, a memory held by the atoms that make up our bodies, the same atoms that were there at the beginning of the universe and have somehow, in some way, never quite forgotten. Because of how our minds work — the subconscious transmitting information to the conscious interface through images (symbols, metaphors) — we have these beautiful myths reminding us of what we already know. Then, at other times, I consider that myths may be just as literal as physical reality, just from another angle: a storm is electricity and rain clouds, and a storm is an angry god or the Furious Host, and the only difference is how we experience it.

Either way, 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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