MYTHS OF CREATION
4. On the Science of
Comparative World Mythology
4. On the Science of Comparative World Mythology
“The sacred literatures of all races and nations have many things in common. Almost as if they can be regarded as the products of a single mind.”
-- Doris Lessing
Because the historians, philosophers and theologians can be interpreted only by reference to the poets; and to understand the poets, we must know something of the earlier mythological stage of thought, “It follows that the first science to be learned should be mythology or the interpretation of fables; for, as we shall see, all the histories ... have their beginnings in fables... . This is the proper starting-point for universal history... .” (Vico, New Science 51)
— So we must go back there now — deep down into the poetic means, the myths, that poets and artists, as well as all other humanists, have always used ... and explore the cross-cultural common ground between the myths and the histories of myth-making peoples worldwide -- from Eurasia and Africa, from the Near and Far East, from the Americas and from the Pacific -- gathering together specifically those that recall the cosmological and cosmogonical creation story themes so frequently found in world mythology.
If we want to see the past anew, to perceive the mystery of human life and history through their eyes . . . if we want to find out what was so important, that it has since become indelibly perpetuated in our later modern history . . . we may find it seems we catch glimmering glimpses of the primordial traditions of myth at the core of every living religion we know today, as well. For ultimately, we are not looking back to some sort of universal, all-prevailing myth or cosmology, diluted with time -- but rather at many individual cultural mythologies that have always coexisted side by side.
Most specific and central to our study here, of course, are textual and pictorial remains — those memorial souvenirs and carriers of cultural memory most central to the knowledge and beliefs passed down through the myth-making and story-telling of some three score or more now extinct ancestral cultures from all around the globe. Specific varieties of these mythic media include narrative art and inscriptions painted or inscribed on papyrus or leather, or chiseled and carved in wood or stone... . -- By these means we shall go back to what was said with human hands -- in images, hieroglyphs, and early phonetic alphabets -- regarding what was earlier said by word of mouth by our myth-making ancestors.
In addition to those which have turned up at nearly every major archaeological dig everywhere — ethnographic materials stemming from colonial contact with surviving mythopoeic traditions in Africa, Australia, the Americas and Polynesia have been slowly accumulating in travelogues and annals and encyclopedias since the earliest explorations of the late Middle Ages. All of these traditions held many formal features and principal properties in common, parallel to the beliefs and practices of myth-making peoples from the past, as well as the basic beliefs and practices still found among the few remaining indigenous peoples to have survived the sociological strife of the modern industrial age.
What is presented here, these cosmogonies retold, should be of paramount interest and importance to everyone on Earth. For all of it is crucial to the unfolding recovery of lost cultures and civilizations and the messages they were transmitting through the ages in their strikingly similar mythologies, all the way down to us.