Throughout history there have been many questions about the creation and arrangement of the universe. After all, the answers to these questions provide the basis for explaining everything we know. Understanding the universe allows us to make sense of the world that we live in, but the attempt to understand it and the underlying nature of all things is not an easy task.
One of the oldest theories about where it all began suggests that a god exists beyond the physical world and that it was this god who created the universe. This theory is based on the idea that something beyond our comprehension must have been responsible for the beginning of everything. Theories such as these are often based on the assumption that the universe cannot have 'come out of nothing'. Today, theories stating that Earth and its life forms were created by a God are referred to as creationism. Other theories suggest that there was no creation or beginning of the universe and that the universe 'just is'.
Different theories about the origin of the universe form the basis for many religious practices as well as atheistic (non-religious) viewpoints held by different people. Below are some examples of the earliest theories held on how the universe was formed.
The role of birth in creation myths
The idea of 'birth' played a very important role in creation myths. In ancient times, the universe often appeared in the shape of an egg or a representation of a mother giving birth to children. This was based on the view that life emerged from 'Mother Earth' and from the womb of a mother. People mystified by the birth of children tried to create a sense of unity by marrying 'Mother Earth' with the idea of a 'Father' in the heavens or sky.
Aboriginal creation myths
There are several Indigenous Australian myths about the origins of the universe. Many Aboriginal people believed the Earth was ultimately made by the Sun Mother upon the urging of the Father of All Spirits. These two divine beings were not thought to have children, although the Sun Mother was portrayed as one that gives life to the sleeping spirits. The first humans were thought to have grown out of lizards, which had originally grown out of magical ancestors. The Dieri people believed in a god that made the first man in the form of a lizard but found it could only walk when its tail was cut off. The Arandan people spoke of a creator-lizard, Mangwer-kunger-kunja, who gave them the boomerang and taught them how to survive.
In Australian Aboriginal culture the mystical past, when spirit gods were believed to have inhabited the Earth, is referred to as Dreamtime. The expression 'Dreamtime' is most often used to refer to the 'time before time', or 'the time of the creation of all things'. See image 1.
Greek creation myths
The Ancient Greeks believed that first there was the void, chaos, out of which sprang the goddess, Gaia, who was the Earth. Gaia gave birth to Uranus, who was the sky and heaven. After she created the hills, mountains, valleys and seas, Gaia joined with her husband-son Uranus and mothered the first gods, the Titans, who lived on Mount Olympus. Some of the best-known gods included Oceanus, the one-eyed Cyclops, three horrid hundred-armed monsters, Hyperion, the earth goddess Rhea, and the terrible Kronos. Gaia and Uranus also created plants, animals and stars. See image 2.
Japanese creation myths
Japanese creation myths reflected the Shinto religion's worship of the divine forces and forms in nature. These were influenced by the Chinese principles of yin and yang which were personified in the Japanese figures Izanami (female) and Izanagi (male), who were the first ancestors in a creation from chaos at the beginning of time. The universe was thought to be a jumble of elements containing the seeds of creation, until Heaven and Earth were separated. Izanami gave birth to three children, Amaterasu, who became the sun, Tsuki-yumi, who became the moon, and Sosano-wo, their unruly son. See image 3.