The Creation (3)

comments by Patrick C. Ryan (1/17/98)

The male and female

principles separated (into sky and earth).


That male and female principles separated seems to be generally acknowledged but the traditions vary as to the details of the division.

On the one hand, we have the male principle becoming the sky (Sumerian An, "sky") and the female principle becoming the earth (Sumerian Ki, "earth", wife of An); this seems to the overwhelmingly the commoner division of assignments to the gender principles. The idea of "Mother Earth" is virtually universal; "Father Sky" almost as prevalent.

But, on the other hand, we do have, notably, apparently a male earth-god and a female sky-god in Egypt:

"[Seb/Geb] and Nut were being born of Shu and Tefnut (author's translation)".


mjs.w jn Sw Tj.f-(J)nw.t [*Zwj3b/*Gjb] Hn' (J)nw.t

(Budge 1969, I, p. 313)

Seb/Geb (earth) is normally considered to be male; Nut (sky), female and, if our analysis is correct, we have a male earth (Adam) and female sky (Eve) in the Hebrew creation account, which quite possibly is derived from Hurrian sources.

One of the major features in these creation myths is that the Sky first produces the Sun and the Moon, which are his/her eyes:

"That the heavens, or the skies, were considered to be a Face is evident from many allusions. Thus, the Sun is frequently called Eye of Horus', and the Moon is also an Eye of Horus', the Sun being the right eye, and the Moon the left."

(Budge 1969, I, p. 467)

Horus (Egyptian Hrw), whatever he may have become later, began as a sky-god, a face whose two eyes were the sun and moon.

Though most Sumerologists maintain that An, the Sumerian sky-god, "is seldom (if ever) represented in art, (and) his specific iconography and attributes are obscure (Black and Green 1992, p.30)", I believe we have seen his symbol but only have not recognized it as such.

eye-idol from Eye Temple, Tell Brak, Late Uruk Period If An was visualized by the Sumerians like the Egyptians visualized Horus as a face, in which the two eyes were the Sun and Moon this symbol would faithfully reflect that idea, including the base support (axis mundi = neck/base). Since An was an important god throughout Sumerian and later Mesopotamian history, it would be highly unexpected if he did not have, at least originally, a proper symbol.

After Ra' has produced Shu and Tefnut in this myth, not by bearing them but by exhalation and expectoration, Ra's father (J)nu complains: "They make to be weak my eye" (Budge 1969, I, p. 311).

Now, although Shu (Sw) is normally considered to be the god of the air (with the determinative of a sitting god'), Shu can also be the sun (with the determinative of a circle with a dot in its center).

The explanation I have for this is that Egyptian (J)nu(n) represents the primeval ocean in the sky from which all life sprang, and his eye is the North Star. The production of the Sun and Moon diminish the perception of his "eye"; i.e. the light of the North Star becomes weak by comparison. Ra' is originally the North Star and Northern Circumpolar Regions, symbolized by the circle with the dot (=North Star) placed in the center of the primeval ocean ([J]nu[n]), who, by his revolutions (symbolized by the circle), begins the wheel of life. And, in fact, his name, Ra' (r') should, on the basis of late transcriptions of words containing it, be emended to *rj', which by the tables provided in the Proto-Language section for Afro-Asiatic at this website, allows it to be related to IE re(i)t(h)-, "roll, wheel".

In the version of the creation we have above, for doctrinal reasons, the natural order of the sky (Horus) producing the Sun and Moon as his eyes has been modified so that Ra' takes the credit with the unnatural result that the myth has the Sun's (Shu) and Moon's (Tefnut) coming into existence before the sky ([J]nut) is there to contain them!

Additional support for this interpretation in the myth is that (J)nu's/Ra's original eye (which is the North Star) "raged against me after it came [and] found [that] I had made another in its place (Budge 1969, I, p. 312)"; i.e., the Sun and Moon. This demonstrates that at some level, Shu and Tefnut were being visualized as "eyes". And, if eyes, and Shu was the sun; then Tefnut, although usually interpreted as the spirit of moisture (in the form of dew), must have been a name for the moon.

To further disrupt the natural sequence, the myth proceeds to proclaim that Seb and Nut produced, among others, Hrw-xnt-n(j), "Horus the Face without Eyes", a well- known name for the sky without sun or moon.

If we were to accept the standard Egyptological explanation of the significance of these figures, we would have Shu (air, sky) producing Nut (sky) producing Hrw-xnt-(j) (sky), which is altogether too rarefied to have been a very early belief.

But for this interpretation to be plausible, we need to show that there is some reason to believe that Tefnut represented the natural accompanier of the sun: the moon. Tf[j]nwt

Tefnut is frequently depicted as here in lioness-headed form with a disk on her head. For those of us who believe that animal avatars usually have some discernible characteristic that relates to their main function, it is difficult to understand how a lioness should be related to "moisture". However, members of the feline family, because of their slit irises which recall the lunar crescents, have often been associated with the moon. In addition, a term that is thought to refer to Tefnut and Shu, rwtj, the "two lionesses", may also refer to these waxing and waning crescents rather than to Tefnut and Shu since Shu is usually depicted with a human head. Also, though no Egyptologist to my knowledge has mentioned it, how inappropriate it is for a term like the "two lionesses" (the masculine lion is rw; rw.t would be the feminine) to refer to a lioness (Tefnut) and a theoretical male lion (Shu)!


Finally, we have the depiction of the Syrian goddess Ashtoreth, who "was regarded as a Moon-goddess (Budge 1969, II, p. 279)"; the similarity of the methods of depiction speaks for itself.

There is also the question of the meaning of the name Tefnut (tf[j]nw.t). Though the Egyptians connected it with tfn, "to spit", there is no derivational process of which I am aware that would allow a theoretical *tf(j)nw.t as "(female) spitter"; this theoretical interpretation of the name of this "goddess of moisture", is, I believe, is pure Volksetymologie; and, in fact, we have an unrelated (in my opinion) goddess by the name of tfn.t, the normal form we would expect for "female spitter".

The phrase "his father" occurs many times in Egyptian as t.f alongside the commoner jt.f. I believe that the correct interpretation of t.f-(j)nw.t is "his father is Nut"; and Nut ([j]nw.t) is the ordinary feminine of (J)nu(n) ([j]nw[n]). I suspect that the earlier form of the name was *t.f-jnw, "his father is (J)nu", and that the name has been made feminine to be complementary with the male Shu.

Because the mythical locale of the act of creation was the Northern Circumpolar regions, we should not be surprised to find a serpent as a character involved in it, representing Draco, the Dragon, a very prominent constellation, the a-star of which, Thu'ban (alpha Draconis), was the North Pole star 4750 years ago, an epoch during which many of the preserved myths took the form in which they have been transmitted.

Draco the Dragon

Now, although this myth credits Shu and Tefnut (sun and moon) with bearing Seb/Geb and Nut (earth and sky), I believe the earlier sequence called for the appearance in (J)nu(n) (primeval ocean) of Ra' (North Star and Northern Circumpolar Regions); and that (J)nu(n), a bisexual entity, first opened its eyes, producing Shu and Tefnut (sun and moon); and then separated sexually into the female principle (Nut, emptiness [womb]; rest = Sumerian Nam-mu(- 10) [see above]) while retaining the male principle (Seb [but not Geb], *zwj3b = "*hissing-animal = *goose", movement in water [penis]; motion = Sumerian Ura [see above]); thereby creating sexual dimorphism, from which all subsequent life was indirectly procreated (Geb = *gjb = "*bent, bowed, humped" [Greek Ke:b; cf. IE gei-bh-]; "the earth") and Horus, the sky.

An indication of the early importance of Seb(/Geb) as the primal male principle is his title r-p'.t nTr.w nb, "spokesman of the noble estate, patriarch of all the gods" a title shared by no other god.

We can see in the Greek myth that the divergence from the earliest version begins at the substitution of male Draco (Ophion, "[the] snake") for the male component of the celestial ocean (Okeanos) while retaining an appropriate term for the female component, Eurynome.

Now the employments of the snake as a symbolic penis, and of the snake as a denizen in the earth, are rather well-known (e.g. Egyptian *z[wj]3 t3, "son of the earth = snake"). It appears to me that we have a situation in which two metaphors of unrelated employments have been conflated.

Finally, it is my belief that the image of the Celestial Cow arose as a name for the Milky Way not as the symbol for the female component of the celestial ocean ([J]nut); and was originally one symbol of the programmatic connection which was retained between the three worlds (heaven, earth, underworld) after the sky and earth had been separated. The provision of milk is a function of the seasonal variations (presumably due to seasonal calving) that were the main significance of the axis mundi. Therefore, the Celestial Cow was not, at least originally, a designation for the sky but only a very dramatic part of it. Bovine goddesses like Sumerian Nin-sun, "Lady Cow", show their connections with the World Tree (Milky Way), the conduit among the worlds, by acting as interpreters of dreams. Others like Egyptian Hz3.t "are met as mother of the dead and helper (i.e. as psychopomp; Bonnet 1971, p. 404; author's translation)".

The earliest name for the sky in Egypt was almost certainly Hor(us) (Hr(w))

The Beng people of West Africa also identify Earth as male and Sky as female; and interestingly, the kapok tree, which represents the axis mundi or World Tree, is a special object of veneration among them (Gottlieb 1992).

The Japanese tradition also incorporates this less common assignment of gender (see below).


Here, unfortunately, we must rely on inference rather than clearly stated descriptions. If the earliest tradition is hermaphroditic, as we remarked above, then further deities would have been compelled to arise by division. Also, I believe it is significant that as late as the Akkadian version cited below, the method of coming into existence of entities like Lahmu and Lahmu is described as "appeared" or "made" rather than as "*being born" or *being engendered".

Painted Prehistoric Bowl from Samarra In addition, we have indirect evidence for the locale of these first events in the form of representations on a prehistoric bowl found at Samarra. In my opinion, it depicts the celestial ocean revolving around the North Star (swastika) and four positions of the constellation Draco, surrounded by four celestial cranes, symbols of the celestial ocean.


"Lahmu and Lahmu appeared and they were named . . . ,

Anshar ("sky in [its] totality") and Kishar ("earth in [its] totality")

then were formed, surpassing them. . . ,

Their heir was Anu, equal to his fathers,

Anshar made his firstborn Anu to his own likeness,

and Anu engendered his likeness Nudimmud" ("not fashioned [nor] born").

Jacobsen (1976, p. 111) interprets Nu-dm-mud as "image fashioner" but I reject that interpretation because, in my opinion, it neglects to account for the element -mud, "bear"; and analyze nu, "not" + dm, "fashion" + mud, "bear". This is an appropriate name for the hermaphroditic self-created being that arose in the primeval ocean, of which An is the male and Ki the female component. I believe that originally, therefore, Nudimmud preceded Anu and Ki; and was their parent.

(Enma elish [Akkadian], in Jacobsen 1976, p. 169)

1. The Akkadian version has included characters that seem to refer to the cosmic ocean identity of the first entity: Lahmu and Lahmu, which Thorkild Jacobsen identifies as "silt".

To this detail, one might want to compare this Ainu myth: "In the beginning, the world was slush, for the waters and the mud were all stirred in together."

(in Leach 1956, p. 205)

However, more recent scholarship has interpreted this term (Lahmu) differently: as "hairy". And we interpret Lahmu (and Lahmu) as a symbol for the whitecaps of the primeval ocean, and the clouds of the first sky. seal impression of Nabu-sharhi-ilani. Neo-Babylonian


If the etymology of the name of the Egyptian creator-deity, Atum, is "father-mother", as we have proposed, a subsequent separation is implied by the term employed. In the most literal physical meaning of the word, this is the process also implied by "exhalation" and "expectoration" from Ra'.


Here we have only the faintest echo of this ancient belief, although contradicted by Genesis I, 27: "So God created man in his own image . . . ; male and female created he them (English 1948, p. 3)", in the circumstance that:

"And the Lord God made man of the dust of the ground."

(English 1948, p. 4 [Genesis II, 7])

"And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam . . . ; and he took one of his ribs . . . And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman."

(English 1948, p. 5 [Genesis II, 21-22])

One can, I think, legitimately ask why the "woman" was not similarly made "of the dust of the ground" if a kind of "separation" were not intended to be described.


In view of the attested Hurrian deity Adamma, the origin of Adam (Hebrew [?]adham) may be more complex than generally assumed. He may be a re-statement of the hermaphroditic creator-god from whom a female deity is "separated"; and, as such, represents the an actor in the process in creation of the separation of earth (Adam) and sky (Eve), interestingly mirroring the male earth/female sky division of responsibilities we have seen in Egypt (male Geb/female [Tef]nut).

In view of Hebrew [?]adhmh, "earth" (from dhom, "be red"), there will perhaps be less reluctance to consider the possibility that Adam represents the separated male earth component of the celestial ocean deity but what of Eve (Hebrew Hawwh)?

If Adam represents the earth, Eve should represent the sky. A connection between Eve and the Hurrian goddess Hebat, the wife of the weather-god Teub, has often been considered; and, functionally, would be appropriate since the marriage metaphor frequently symbolizes a male/female division of an originally integral deity and the weather has a close relationship with the sky.

Without going into a lot of linguistic argumentation, let me say only that some words written with Hurrian b are believed to represent /w/ phonetically (Diakonoff 1971, pp. 27- 31) so that there probably would be no problem in relating Hebat to Hawwh. And, it is even vaguely possible that the attested spouse of Adamma, Kubaba, might be distantly cognate as well.

As for the meaning, Arabic Haw(w), "howl, yelp" and ?istaHw, "ask help against", which may correlate with Hurrian hawaha, "prayer" (and perhaps also Hebrew Hwh, "tell, declare, make known"), suggest that the basal meaning may be "howl(er)", an appropriate name for both the wind and fervent prayer in the Near Eastern style.

For any who might think that "howler" is an inappropriate name for a deity, we might remember Greek Boras, the "North Wind", which should be derived from Indo- European bher-, "buzz, drone, growl, mutter, thunder".

In Creation (4), we will see that the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, probably represent the seasonal variations signalled by the positions of the Milky Way, which also correlates with this line of reasoning.


The Pelasgian Creation Myth (as transmitted by the Greeks) makes the same connection of the celestial snake (Draco) with the earth that we found in the Egyptian myth: Ophion (cf. phis, snake') "vexed her (Eurunme:, wide holding' [a name reminiscent of Sumerian Nam-mu]) by claiming to be the author of the Universe. Forthwith she bruised his head with her heel, kicked out his teeth, and banished him to the dark caves below the earth."

(in Graves 1959, I, p. 24 [I, 1, The Pelasgian Creation Myth])


"At first there was neither earth nor sky, Shuzanghu and his wife Zumiang-Nui lived alone...In due time Zumiang-Nui gave birth to a baby-girl, Subbu-Khai-Thung, who is the Earth and to a baby-boy, Jongsuli-Young-Jongbu, who is the Sky. "

(in Elwin 1958, p. 13)


"Sedi is the Earth; Melo is the Sky. The Earth is a woman, the Sky is a man."

(in Elwin 1958, p. 48)


"Of old, Heaven and Earth were not yet separated, and the In and Yo (feminine and masculine principles) not yet divided. They formed a chaotic mass like an egg which was of obscurely defined limits and contained germs.

The purer and clearer part was thinly drawn out, and formed Heaven, while the heavier and grosser element was accomplished with difficulty."

NOTE: here the myth seems to be equating the female principle with the sky, and the male principle with the earth.

(in Aston 1956, p. 1)


"In the beginning there was nothing but water, a wide sea...It happened then that a woman fell down from the upper world. It is supposed that she was, by some mischance, pushed down by her husband through a rift in the sky. Though styled a woman, she was a divine personage...She took it (earth brought from the bottom of the waters) and placed it carefully around the edge of the tortoise's shell. When thus placed, it became the beginning of dry land...She was buried, and from her body sprang the various vegetable productions which the earth required to fit it for the habitation of man."

NOTE: Though this myth is not as explicit as some we have seen, it appears probable that the "woman" is the earth, and her "husband" is the sky.

(in Hale 1888, p. 175)


"Before the beginning of the new-making, Awonawilona (the Maker and Container of All, the All-father Father), solely had being. There was nothing else whatsoever...With the substance of flesh outdrawn from the surface of his person, the Sun-Father (into whom Awonawilona had transformed himself) formed the seed-stuff of twain worlds, impregnating therewith the great waters...they became Awitelin Tsita, the Fourfold Containing Mother-earth,' and Apoyan Ta'chu, the All-covering Father-sky.'"

NOTE: Except for the interpolation of a solar figure, this myth seems to follow the common pattern.

(in Cushing 1986, p. 379)


There will probably never be a truly definitive answer to the question of why one culture has chosen to assign male or female qualities to the sky or earth but I would like to offer, what I hope, is, at least, a plausible explanation.

Natural phenomena, which elicited admiration and awe in our most ancient ancestors, were the ultimate bases for divinities. Every natural phenomenon can be experienced psychologically at different times and places, in two basic ways: positively, i.e. as something beautiful and pleasing, which correlates with femininity; or negatively, i.e. as something strong and potentially dangerous, which correlates with masculinity.

For a people dwelling in foothills or mountains, the Earth might well be regarded as male because of its hardness, ability to inflict pain while walking, and potentially dangerous falls; while another people, dwelling in a soft-carpeted forest, teaming with life of all kinds, might be inclined to regard the Earth as female. Similarly, to residents in a Mediterranean or North African setting, where weather is generally mild, the Sky might be considered female, contrasting with occupants of lands where terrible storms rage, where we might expect a male Sky-god.

So we can hypothesize that there is nothing intrinsically exclusively male or female about any given natural phenomenon; and further speculate, that the assignment of a gender to it is not so much originally doctrinally as situationally determined. But this has the additional correlate that, though the formative experience of people in a certain place may dictate a gender assignment, e.g. a female Sky in Egypt (Nut); the potential for a contrasting assignment of gender, perhaps based on previous residence in a different locale or the abstraction of a different aspect of the natural phenomenon, is always potentially realizable (Horus).

Of course, migrations of peoples from one locale to another, have complicated the picture; and sometimes we will see earlier assignments of gender being "inappropriately" retained or subtly modified, or grafted, with inevitable contradictions, on systems based on psychologically more consistent models. At a certain level of civilization, doctrinal considerations also become significant.

Therefore, the numina (powers that reside in natural phenomena) are inherently male and female (we can easily see how bisexuality and hermaphroditism are appropriate metaphors); and the pattern we will frequently find is that any given natural phenomenon will have male and female divinities associated with it, expressing only different aspects of the same phenomenon, frequently expressed through the more conventional metaphor of marriage (husband and wife).

To complicate our analyses even further, we will find that epithets which originally denoted only different sub-aspects of a divinity representing originally one natural phenomenon, have been differentiated into apparently separate divinities.

For example, the male realization of the planet Saturn, which is usually associated with the non-agricultural aspects of the earth, has been differentiated into Hephaestus, the lame smith (and hence, slow-moving), the lord of metallurgy; and Hades, the lord of the underworld among the Greeks.

But, like the thread of Ariadne, the basic categories of the ancient human experience and their cosmic associations can lead us through the labyrinth of gods and goddesses which we actually find if we can correctly identify and frame the basic categories and correctly associate them with cosmic phenomena:

earth/vegetation/death (Saturn); sky/weather (Jupiter); water/birth [from the release of amniotic fluid at birth] (Venus); aggression/blood/hunting (Mars); knowledge/medicine (Mercury); fire/family (North Star); social order/justice (Sun); sexuality/procreation (Moon); afterlife/prophecy (axis mundi, World Tree [travel between planes of existence]); ancestors (stars); and evil/demonic influences (comets).


Aston, W. G. Translator. 1956. The Nihongi. London: George Allen and Unwin

Bonnet, Hans. 1971. Reallexikon der gyptischen Religionsgeschichte. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter

Budge, E. A. Wallis. 1969 [1904]. The Gods of the Egyptians - or Studies in Egyptian Mythology. 2 vol. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Cushing, F. H. 1896. Outlines of Zuni Creation Myths. in Thirteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Etnnology. Washington, D. C.

Diakonoff, I. M. 1971. Hurrisch und Urartisch. Mnchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft, Beiheft 6, Neue Folge. (Bernhard Forssman, Karl Hoffmann, Johanna Narten.) Munich: R. Kitzinger

Elwin, Verrier. 1958. Myths of the North-East Frontier of India. Calcutta: Sree Saraswaty Press

English, E. Schuyler, editor-in-chief. 1948. Holy Bible. Pilgrim Edition. New York: Oxford University Press

Gottlieb, Alma. 1992. Under the Kapok Tree - Identity and Difference in Beng Thought. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press

Graves, Robert. 1959. The Greek Myths. 2 vol. New York: George Braziller, Inc.

Hale, Horatio. 1888. Huron Folklore. In Journal of Americal Folklore, Ie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1976. The Treasures of Darkness - A History of Mesopotamian Religion. New Haven and London: Yale University Press

Leach, Maria. 1956. The Beginning. New York: Funk and Wagnalls

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