The making of creation myths

On bringing stories into being

"There are stories that predate our need to tell them."

There are stories that predate our need to tell them. They exist as a whisper between thoughts, their shadows following creators until they are ready to be brought into the world. Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat compared them to creation myths, stating that these stories are not ones we make up, but ones we already know. 

In terms of the universe, there are many creation stories: abiogenesis where life arises from the ground, Iroquois mythology where life falls from the sky, Greek mythology where life emerges from chaos. But what about the life that comes from within? The life that exists as a half-formed thought, fighting its way into being? 

Based on my research, the most common story of creation is creatio ex nihilo — creation out of nothing. The first things that come into existence are often the ocean and the sky — the vastest things that humans were aware of. Creation stories reflect writing traditions of the time, as well as ideals and norms that already existed. In the Popol Vuh, creation was spoken into existence. In Hinduism, the world is created over and over again in periodic cycles that give birth to innumerable universes. This makes me think of a frustrated artist drafting multiple versions of their art, unsure of which one to move forward with.

But what is the purpose of a creation myth? To take nothing and turn it into something? To explain why and how certain things come into being? Maybe we don’t always create these myths, but sometimes they create us. In Ancient Greece and Rome, creativity was a disembodied genius, a divine attendant spirit from a distant and unknowable source. This spirit was called a daemon, and was thought to be the cause of all human creation. The paranormal nature of this concept is one with which I resonate, because I often feel like my characters are on loan to me from creation gods, only made available when I’m desperate. It is quite humbling to believe that the most remarkable aspects of my being came from somewhere outside of me. Building on daemons, I believe it is possible to catch a story. In a TED talk on “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about a woman who could feel her poems coming toward her in a thunderous train of air that would shake the earth beneath her feet. She would “miss” the poem if it wasn’t written down immediately, and the poem (or daemon) would move on to find another poet. 

I have characters I’ve been trying to write since I was fourteen. Their narratives change often, but they remain the same. An overpowered woman, an army of one surrounded by a pale lilac glow, who never has to fear for her safety or answer to anyone. An angry girl with glowing eyes and demon claws and vengeance coursing through her. A boy who can bend reality if he obsesses about it too much, who lives in fear of the things he’s afraid of coming to life.  Now that I know they form my creation myth, I see glimpses of them in my childhood, character traits sprinkled into imaginary friends and nonsensical daydreams. 

I wanted to know if other people had similar experiences, obsessions that haunted them into creating art or destroying it. A friend of mine, Sunaina, has multiple creation myths. She, too, described the sensation as if it had agency, as if it forced her to tell stories. It was similar to what I had experienced, the incessant need for my magnum opus to be out in the world. We didn’t know how, but there was something within us that needed to be made, to be freed. She told me that it was different from writing, like she’d be walking down the street and see a certain shade of green she had to have in the background of a video she wanted to make. The first one she ever told me about always crosses my mind. There’s a melody she’s always known, chords that communicated yearning and introspection, vocals that relayed anxious inhibition. Attempting to recreate it was never practical. The baggage that came with wanting every little detail to be perfect was not easily discarded. 

The wonderful thing about creation myths is the possibility of a new one to emerge. It doesn’t have to be the start of the physical universe, it could be a world beginning entirely for myself. The myth is only the origin — what comes after is entirely up to me.

Filed under: