Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The world egg

Posted by Fredsvenn on June 2, 2015

Fossil ostrich eggs have been found all the way from the African continent in the west to India, Siberia and China in the east. In the Gobi-dessert and Northern China there are reports of burials with ostrich eggs or parts of eggshells endowed. Further findings have also been reported from Inner Mongolia at Hutouliang and in the southern parts of Siberia at Krasnji Jar in Trans Bajkal There have been findings of large ancient Struthiolothus Ostrich(168-186 mm) eggs outside of China in Cherson, Ukraine, and of stone eggs in Visoko on the Bosna River.

Neolithic burial jars of Old European cultures such as Cucuteni-Trypyllia were often egg-shaped, while clay eggs were often buried with the dead, symbolizing the regenerative power of the Great Goddess. The primary symbolism of Old European burials focuses on the tomb as the womb for the regeneration of life. According to Old European Myth, the primordial egg was created by the cosmic snake, and from the egg gods have arisen.

The hatching of an egg is another familiar kind of birth. Some creation myths tell of a cosmic egg containing the seeds or possibilities of everything. While Easter eggs are associated with Christianity, the egg as a symbol of spring is found in cultures around the world and has been associated with renewed life for thousands of years. The hatching of the egg lets the possibilities take form.

The world egg, cosmic egg or mundane egg is a mythological motif found in plenty of traditions that involve the egg as a symbol of rebirth and in the creation myths of many cultures and civilizations. Typically, the world egg is a beginning of some sort, and the universe or some primordial being comes into existence by “hatching” from the egg, sometimes lain on the primordial waters of the Earth.

In West and Central Africa the idea of creation from a cosmic egg is common. The Dogon of West Africa say that the world is imperfect because one of a pair of twins broke out early from the cosmic egg.

Ancient Egyptians believed in a primeval egg from which the sun god hatched. Alternatively, the sun was sometimes discussed as an egg itself, laid daily by the celestial goose, Seb, the god of the earth. The Phoenix is said to have emerged from this egg. The egg is also discussed in terms of a world egg, molded by Khnum from a lump of clay on his potter’s wheel.

In the original myth concerning the Ogdoad, the world arose from the waters as a mound of dirt, which was deified as Hathor. Ra was contained within an egg laid upon this mound by a celestial bird. In the earliest version of this myth, the bird is a goose (it is not explained where the goose originates). However, after the rise of the cult of Thoth, the egg was said to have been a gift from Thoth and laid by an ibis, the bird with which he was associated.

A philosophical creation story traced to “the cosmogony of Taautus, whom Philo of Byblos explicitly identified with the Egyptian Thoth — “the first who thought of the invention of letters, and began the writing of records”— which begins with Erebus and Wind, between which Eros (“Desire”) came to be. From this was produced Môt which seems to be the Phoenician/Ge’ez/Hebrew/Arabic/Ancient Egyptian word for ‘Death’ but which the account says may mean ‘mud’.

In a mixed confusion, the germs of life appear, and intelligent animals called Zophasemin (explained probably correctly as ‘observers of heaven’) formed together as an egg, perhaps. The account is not clear. Then Môt burst forth into light and the heavens were created and the various elements found their stations.

Following the etymological line of Jacob Bryant one might also consider with regard to the meaning of Môt that according to the Ancient Egyptians Ma’at was the personification of the fundamental order of the universe, without which all of creation would perish. She was also considered the wife of Thoth.

The Hindu texts known as the Upanishads describe the creation of the world as the breaking of a cosmic egg. The Sanskrit term for it is Brahmanda, Brahm means cosmos or expanding, and anda means egg. Certain Puranas such as the Brahmanda Purana speak of this in detail.

The Rig Veda (RV 10.121) uses a similar name for the source of the universe: Hiranyagarbha, which literally means “golden fetus” or “golden womb”. The Upanishads elaborate that the Hiranyagarbha floated around in emptiness for a while, and then broke into two halves which formed Dyaus (Heaven) and Prithvi (Earth). The Rig Veda has a similar coded description of the division of the universe in its early stages.

Hinduism makes a connection between the content of the egg and the structure of the universe: for example, the shell represents the heavens, the white the air, and the yolk the earth. The Chandogya Upanishads describes the act of creation in terms of the breaking of an egg:

The Sun is Brahma—this is the teaching. A further explanation thereof (is as follows). In the beginning this world was merely non-being. It was existent. It developed. It turned into an egg. It lay for the period of a year. It was split asunder. One of the two egg-shell parts became silver, one gold. That which was of silver is this earth. That which was of gold is the sky … Now what was born therefrom is yonder sun.

In the Zoroastrian religion, the creation myth tells of an ongoing struggle between the principles of good and evil. During a lengthy truce of several thousand years, evil hurls himself into an abyss and good lays an egg, which represents the universe with the earth suspended from the vault of the sky at the midway point between where good and evil reside. Evil pierces the egg and returns to earth, and the two forces continue their battle.

Greek cosmogonies, echoed by the Romans, begin with birth and end with struggle. Gaia, the earth mother, emerged from chaos and gave birth to Uranus, the sky. The union of Uranus and Gaia produced plants, animals, and children, the Titans. Imprisoned by their father, the Titans overthrew Uranus, only to be overthrown by their own children, the gods.

Another Greek creation myth, possibly borrowed from the ancient Near East, combines many images and themes. It tells how a primal goddess emerged from the waters of chaos. Her union with a serpent produced a cosmic egg that split to become the heaven and the earth.

According to Epiphanius, the world began as a cosmic egg, encircled by Time and Inevitability (most likely Chronos and Ananke) in serpent fashion. Together they constricted the egg, squeezing its matter with great force, until the world divided into two hemispheres. After that, the atoms sorted themselves out. The lighter and finer ones floated above and became the Bright Air (Aether and/or Uranus) and the rarefied Wind (Chaos), while the heavier and dirtier atoms sank and became the Earth (Gaia) and the Ocean (Pontos and/or Oceanus).

The Orphic Egg in the ancient Greek Orphic tradition is the cosmic egg from which hatched the primordial hermaphroditic deity Phanes/Protogonus (variously equated also with Zeus, Pan, Metis, Eros, Erikepaios and Bromius) who in turn created the other gods. The egg is often depicted with a serpent wound around it. On the island of Cyprus, the egg is represented as a gigantic egg-shaped vase.

Many threads of earlier myths are apparent in the new tradition. Phanes was believed to have been hatched from the World-Egg of Chronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity). His older wife Nyx (Night) called him Protogenus. As she created nighttime, he created daytime. He also created the method of creation by mingling. He was made the ruler of the deities and passed the sceptre to Nyx. This new Orphic tradition states that Nyx later gave the sceptre to her son Uranos before it passed to Cronus and then to Zeus, who retained it.

In Findland, Luonnotar, the Daughter of Nature floats on the waters of the sea, minding her own business when an eagle arrives, builds a nest on her knee, and lays several eggs. After a few days, the eggs begin to burn and Luonnotar jerks her knee away, causing the eggs to fall and break. The pieces form the world as we know it: the upper halves form the skies, the lower the earth, the yolks become the sun, and the whites become the moon.

In the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, there is a myth of the world being created from the fragments of an egg laid by a diving duck on the knee of Ilmatar, goddess of the air: One egg’s lower half transformed And became the earth below, And its upper half transmuted And became the sky above; From the yolk the sun was made, Light of day to shine upon us; From the white the moon was formed, Light of night to gleam above us; All the colored brighter bits Rose to be the stars of heaven And the darker crumbs changed into Clouds and cloudlets in the sky.

Several mythologies, including one developed in China, begin with the splitting in two of a cosmic egg. In the Chinese version this is followed by the growth of a giant whose limbs eventually form the observable world. A dismembered giant features also in the Germanic (or Norse) account of creation.

A Chinese creation myth tells how Pan Gu hatched from a cosmic egg. One part of the eggshell formed the heavens; the other part became the earth. For 18,000 years, Pan Gu stood between them, keeping them apart by growing ever taller. He grows taller each day for 18,000 years, gradually pushing them apart until they reach their appointed places. After all this effort P’an Ku falls to pieces.

Finally he became weary, lay down, and died. From his eyes came the sun and moon, from his hair the stars, from his breath the wind, and from his body the earth. His limbs become the mountains, his blood the rivers, his breath the wind and his voice the thunder. His two eyes are the sun and the moon. The parasites on his body are mankind.

In China, there are several legends that hold a cosmic egg at their center, including the idea that the first being or certain people were born of eggs. For example, the Palangs trace their ancestry to a Naga princess who laid three eggs, and the Chin will not kill the king crow because it laid the original Chin egg from which they emerged.

In the myth of Pangu, developed by Taoist monks hundreds of years after Lao Zi, the universe began as an egg. A god named Pangu, born inside the egg, broke it into two halves: the upper half became the sky, while the lower half became the earth. As the god grew taller, the sky and the earth grew thicker and were separated further. Finally Pangu died and his body parts became different parts of the earth.

In the temple of Daibod, Japan, it is represented as a nest egg floating in an expanse of water. ‘In Japan, in the Pagoda of Miaco, he says: “upon a large square altar is placed a bull of massive gold on a block of rock; the animal is ornamented by a rich collar, and pushes with its horns an egg floating in the water contained in a cavity of the rock. To explain this image, the following is told by the Priests. At the time of chaos, before the creation, the world was concealed and inert in an egg which floated on the surface of the waters. . . The divine bull image of creative force broke the egg by a stroke of its horns, and from the egg issued the terrestrial globe.”

In Cook Islands mythology, deep within Avaiki (the Underworld), a place described as resembling a vast hollow coconut shell, there dwelt in the deepest depths, the primordial mother goddess, Varima-te-takere. Her domain was described as being so narrow, that her knees touched her chin. It was from this place that she created the first man, Avatea, a god of light, a hybrid being half man and half fish. He was sent to the Upperworld to shine light in the land of men, and his eyes were believed to be the sun and the moon.

In Tahitian mythology, the supreme creator deity was Ta’aroa, also called Rua-i-tupra (source of growth). Ta’aroa emerged from a cosmic egg and started the process of creation. To fill the emptiness around him, he used part of the egg to make the sky and the other part to create the earth. Satisfied with his accomplishment, he filled the world with all the creatures and things that are now found in it. The Tahitians believed that Ta’aroa sent both blessings and curses, and they tried to appease him with human sacrifices.

In the beginning, Taaroa, the supreme creator god in the mythology of French Polynesia, existed in an egg, in darkness, from which he later burst forth. So he broke the shell into pieces and from them formed the rocks and the sand, and the foundation of all the world, Tumu-Nui. With his backbone he created the mountains; with his tears he filled the oceans, the lakes, the rivers; with his fingernails and toenails he made the scales that cover the fish and the turtles; with his feathers he created the trees and the bushes; with his blood he colored the rainbow.

Ta’aroa then called forth artists who came with their baskets filled with To’i, so that they might sculpt Tane, the first god. Then came Ru, Hina, Maui, and hundreds of others. Tane decorated the sky with stars and hung the sun in the sky to illuminate the day and the moon to illuminate the night. Ta’aroa decided then to complete his work by creating man.

He divided the world into 7 levels. On the bottommost level lived man, and he multiplied quickly, which delighted Ta’aroa. Sharing the space as he did with creatures and plants of all sorts, it was not long before man felt crowded in his space and so decided to expand his domain by opening a hole into the level above his. Man continued in this fashion, filling one level and then climbing to the next, one level at a time, until all levels were occupied. And so man filled the earth, but still all belonged to Ta’aroa, who was master of all.

In Hawaii another version appears, according to which a bird laid an egg upon the primeval waters, and this afterward burst of itself and produced the world. In the Admiralty Islands, according to one version, a dove bore two young, one of which was a bird and one a man, who became the ancestor of the human race by incestuous union with his mother. Another recension has it that a tortoise laid ten eggs from which were hatched eight tortoises and two human beings, one man and one woman; and these two, marrying, became the ancestors of both light-skinned and dark-skinned people.

At the other extremity of Melanesia, in Fiji, it is said that a bird laid two eggs which were hatched by Ndengei, the great serpent, a boy coming from one and a girl from the other. A variant of this is found in Torres Straits where, according to the Eastern Islanders, a bird having laid an egg, a maggot or worm was developed from it, which then was transformed into human shape.

Myths of the origin of men or of deities from a clot of blood are of interest in their relation to other areas in Oceania. One version again comes from the Admiralty Islands. A woman, named Hi-asa, who lived alone, one day cut her finger while shaving pandanus strips. Collecting the blood from the wound in a mussel-shell, she put a cover over it and set it away; but when, after eleven days, she looked in the shell, it contained two eggs. She covered them up, and after several days they burst, one producing a man and the other a woman, who became the parents of the human race.

Comparison with Polynesia and Indonesia suggests that the myths of the origin of the sea, of mankind as originally having had the power to renew their youth by changing skins, and of the obtaining of fire from or with the aid of snakes, were primarily Papuan, for no traces of either appear in Indonesia, and only the former is found in somewhat mutilated form in Samoa, but nowhere else in Polynesia.

Other themes, however, such as the origin of human beings from eggs or from a clot of blood, are widely known in Indonesia and also occur in western and south-western Polynesia, and would seem to be immigrant elements from the great culture stream which, passing from Indonesia eastward into the Pacific, swept with greatest strength the north-eastern and south-eastern parts of Melanesia.

A somewhat similar tale has been reported from New Zealand also, according to which a great bird flew over the primeval sea and dropped into it an egg, which burst after floating for some time. An old man and an old woman emerged with a canoe, and after they had entered it–together with a boy and a girl, one carrying a dog, the other a pig–it drifted to land in New Zealand.

These are some of the stories that build the foundation for the tradition of eggs at Easter. Contrary to the assertion of our meme, eggs and bunnies actually do have something to do with the idea of resurrection: in these early stories, the creator often emerged from the egg itself in some form.

The cosmic egg, according to the Vedic writings, has a spirit living within it which will be born, die, and be born yet again. Certain versions of the complicated Hindu mythology describe Prajapati as forming the egg and then appearing out of it himself. Brahma does likewise, and we find parallels in the ancient legend of Thoth and Ra.

Egyptian pictures of Osiris, the resurrected corn god, show him returning to life once again rising up from the shell of a broken egg. The ancient legend of the Phoenix is similar. This beautiful mythical bird was said to live for hundreds of years. When its full span of life was completed it died in flames, rising again in a new form from the egg it had laid.

The Phoenix was adopted as a Christian symbol in the first century AD. It appears on funeral stones in early Christian art, churches, religious paintings, and stonework. The egg from which it rose has become our Easter egg.

In 1955 poet and writer Robert Graves published the mythography The Greek Myths, a compendium of Greek mythology normally published in two volumes. Within this work Graves’ imaginatively reconstructed “Pelasgian creation myth” features a supreme creatrix, Eurynome, “The Goddess of All Things”, who arose naked from Chaos to part sea from sky so that she could dance upon the waves.

Catching the north wind at her back and, rubbing it between her hands, she warms the pneuma and spontaneously generates the serpent Ophion, who mates with her. In the form of a dove upon the waves, she lays the Cosmic Egg and bids Ophion to incubate it by coiling seven times around until it splits in two and hatches “all things that exist… sun, moon, planets, stars, the earth with its mountains and rivers, its trees, herbs, and living creatures”.

The concept was resurrected by modern science in the 1930s and explored by theoreticians during the following two decades. The idea comes from a perceived need to reconcile Edwin Hubble’s observation of an expanding universe (which was also predicted from Einstein’s equations of general relativity by Alexander Friedmann) with the notion that the universe must be eternally old.

Current cosmological models maintain that 13.8 billion years ago, the entire mass of the universe was compressed into a gravitational singularity, the so-called cosmic egg, from which it expanded to its current state (following the Big Bang).

Georges Lemaitre proposed in 1927 that the cosmos originated from what he called the primeval atom. In the late 1940s, George Gamow’s assistant cosmological researcher Ralph Alpher, proposed the name ylem for the primordial substance that existed between the big crunch of the previous universe and the big bang of our own universe.

Orphic Egg

Creation myths

Forms and Themes of Creation

Creation Stories

World egg

Eggs as the Symbol of Creation

Cracking the History of Easter Eggs

Origin of the Pangu myth

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