Mythologies: why they were on drugs

I was visiting a museum not long ago, and I came across a painting representing Aphrodite. The goddess of love, of sensuality, who turns all heads, especially the wrong ones… Did you know that this beauty was born from the balls of Zeus’ father? He cut them off during the final battle between the gods and the titans. The balls then fell into the ocean and the Greek magic worked: Sperm from a titan + foam from the ocean = birth of the most beautiful creature in the world. I can’t imagine the introduction of the goddess to the rest of the pantheon…

As you probably already suspected, mythologies from all over the world are really weird. But there is an undeniable logic behind these stories, which can be glimpsed even without additional subtances: they offer an answer to life’s big questions. 

How did it all begin? 

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This is the biggest chapter in mythology! Each culture has its own version, but the stages of genesis are similar. First the universe is created, then the earth and finally humans. It’s the how that has an infinite number of interpretations… 

According to Mesopotamian mythology, the creation of the world as we know is called “Enuma Elish”. This “epic of creation” begins with two primordial beings: Apsu and Tiamat. From their union (probably incestuous, since there are only two to populate the universe), the gods were created. But an issue strongly disturbed the god of chaos Tiamat, indeed his children made too much noise. So Apsu and Tiamat legitimately planned to destroy their brats. 

One of the children, Ea (god of water and mischief) heard his parents and killed Apsu to thwart his plans. From his ripped out heart, Ea created his first son: Markuk. This son helped him to defeat Tiamat. The two victors created heaven and earth from his lifeless body. The city of Babylon was created in honour of Markuk’s victory. 

But where does the sun come from? 

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In Aztec mythology, the sun was created five times. The first sun was Tezcatlipoca, God of the north, of night and of discord. But his brother, Quetzalcoatl (try to pronounce this name out loud), God of the west, of light and life, was jealous and expelled his sibling from the sky. As the result, Tezcatlipoca went crazy and killed all the humans with his army of jaguars. 

After that disaster, we were created again (we are indeed the gods’ toys), and Quetzalcoatl represented the second sun. But then the people became disrespectful of the gods, and we were turned into monkeys by Tezcatlipoca. 

The third sun was incarnated by Tlaloc, God of rain. In the meantime, Tezcatlipoca seduced the wife of the new sun god, who was shattered by the news. He then decided to burn everything that moved on earth. 

The fourth representative was Chalchiuhtlicue, undisputed goddess of the oceans. She accepted this job and fulfilled it with devotion and humility… until Tezcatlipoca arrived and told her she was only pretending to be nice. Crying, she drowned humanity with her tears. Gods are the worst divas. 

In the end, Huitzilopochtli was the fifth and current sun god, and he didn’t destroy humanity on a whim (for now anyway). 

When will the world end?  

Everyone knows about the Mayan calendar, and how it did (not) predict the end of the world in 2012. Instead, I’ll tell you how Norse mythology predicted ‘Ragnarok’. 

You’re probably familiar with the name, but that’s it, because you probably paid more attention to this during Thor’s movies: 

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Rather than the wording of the end of all things. Yet there are warning signs that humanity is coming to an end. 

Ragnarok begins with three uninterrupted winters. The bitter cold will destroy all agriculture, leaving humans without food. It will be war; families will kill each other and eat each other to try to survive a little longer. 

But that’s not all! When three roosters will crow in chorus, the goddess of death Hel and her giant wolf Fenrir will be released from their chains, causing destruction in their path. The gods will try to stop them, but they will fall one by one. To top it all off, the world will be swallowed by the waters. 

Charming, isn’t it? But some versions also announce the birth of a new planet on the ashes of the old one, so I guess it’s okay. 

How can I find my way around without the internet?

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Another existential question, but perhaps more contemporary. Yet the mythology of the Australian Aborigines had the answer long before the existence of the telephone. 

Nature is central to this mythology. Many of the stories will explain how the environment where the Aborigines lived at the time was formed. Thus, by learning these legends, the Aborigines knew how to orient themselves on their land. The routes they took were called songlines or dreaming tracks, referring to Dreamtime, or what the Aborigines called the world they lived in. 

The songlines were used to orientate themselves on the land, to recognise important features of the surrounding nature and to meet other Aboriginal people. The dreaming tracks were also used as part of a special rite of passage: that of the adolescent finally becoming a man of the tribe. For several months, the child had to survive alone on the land, orienting himself only with the stories he had learned. 

Mythology can answer hundreds of existential questions: How do we acquire absolute knowledge? Where do we go after death? Was the last person I slept with a god? These stories aren’t just stories of people on drugs… They are an inexhaustible source of knowledge, insights if I dare say so, from people who explained how the world could turn out, and the rules that humans had to follow to survive. 


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