Who made us and our world? The questionhas baffled humans for centuries, and resulted in stories known as the “myths of creation.” Based on oral tradition, many of these myths have been told and retold in different versions. They have the enviable quality of appealing to people of all ages. Children like them because they provide easy movement from the real to the fantastic. Adults like to visit them ritualistically because they are sacred, and convey essential values. As philosophical responses to fundamental questions around being and existence, these myths are sometimes based on historical interpretations of heroic acts performed by ancient male heroes and powerful female figures representing sustenance and growth. They are like seeds of wisdom passed on from one generation to another. The myths provide excellent material for adult literacy practitioners looking for relevant, high-level content written in easy-to-read language. For parents of very young children, these myths form an endless repertoire of ancient tales that never fail to delight and interest.
In this particular story, a father narrates three myths that attempt to explain how our world might have been created, or “made,” a word better understood by the child who is awed by her father’s ability to produce images with the click of a mouse. To her, the creation of the world can be as magical as the creation of screen images.
When Melanie’s father narrates the three myths, she asks if these are “true.” Her father replies that the first two, one from China and the other from the Mi’kmaq First Nations people, are “myths” or stories only believed to be true. The third one from the Old Testament, he says, is a true story, and therefore no longer a myth. There are further questions, but no further answers: Who writes these stories? Who validates them? Are they sacred texts conveyed through divine intervention, or are they like screen images painstakingly put together to appear, as desired, with the click of a mouse?
A Child’s Story
Story time with Papa Brian was Melanie’s most favorite part of the day. That was when she had him all to herself. He was away from big, bad Junior Brian, and from her mother who always found something for him to do around the house. He was also away from his magical silver plate that seemed to follow him around everywhere. And even if he brought it along for story time, it was there only to do whatever Melanie wanted. With a few clicks, he could bring monsters to life; he could conjure up tall castle towers with narrow rooms and small iron-spiked windows meant for beautiful princesses to remain locked up by jealous, wicked witches. He could make good people look evil, or make the evil ones look as harmless as young princes or innocent birds and squirrels. Papa Brian worked for movies and “made” things that could never be the same in real life. He was the best dad in school, the envy of all of Melanie’s friends. He got to work in “neat” movies, a fact that Melanie did not fail to point out at every opportunity, even though she was too young to watch his movies. But she loved her story time with him. Above all, she liked the stories he “made up” for her, because she could turn these any which way she wanted.
Tonight was no exception. Melanie could tell from Papa Brian’s eyes that he was not tired, and that they could both settle down for what might be a long, story-telling session.
“Tonight, I am going to tell you three short stories, Melanie,” said Brian. “The first one is about Pangu or P’an Ku. He was born from a large egg in which he lay asleep for many years. When he awoke, the egg cracked into two equal halves. The shell above formed the sky, and the one below, the earth. As P’an Ku continued to grow, the distance between the two halves of the shell also began to grow, and created a huge space between the sky and the earth. The only problem was that it was empty except for Pa’an Ku who grew into a massive giant with horns on his head and thick fur all over his body. He kept growing thus for 18,000 years until he could not grow anymore. Then, he began to fall apart. First, his arms and legs fell off and turned into hills and mountains. His two eyes became the sun and the moon. His blood turned into water to form rivers; and his voice became the thunder in the skies. Finally, the tiny little things that had made their homes on his hairy body turned into living things such as birds, animals, and finally, people like you and me.”
“Is this a true story, Papa?” asked Melanie.
“It is called a ‘myth,’” replied Brian. “It is not really a true story, but people like to think that it is…. My second story is about a time long, long ago when the sun ruled over everything and created one man and one woman to live on this earth. As time went by, they grew old and had children and grandchildren. For a while, things went well, and the large family lived peacefully together. Soon, however, they began to quarrel, at first over small things, and then over larger, more important things. Their quarreling became so bad that they started to fight. Then their fighting became so bad that they started to kill. The sun felt very sad to see this, and began to cry. He cried and cried, but no matter what anyone tried to do, he could not stop. So strong was his grief. Very soon, his tears began to fall as rain, and because he could not stop crying, the rain kept falling from the sky until it covered the earth. The members of the large family tried to save themselves from drowning by sitting in canoes made out of barks of trees. But these were swept away by the strong winds made from the sun’s uncontrollable sighs. Finally, everyone drowned except for the old man and the old woman who were left to start a family all over again. They had new children and grandchildren, and this time around, they knew better, and were better able to control their fighting. Their family grew larger and larger into many more families that filled the earth.”
“Is this a story that people like to think is true as well?” asked Melanie.
“Yes, my dear, this one is also a myth,” Brian replied.
“I like myths,” said Melanie.
“I have kept the best one for the last,” said Brian. “This one is about the time when there was nothing around except God, the maker of all things. Everything in the universe was dark and empty. One day, God thought of making light. Therefore, on the first day, Monday, we had light….. In the same way, on the second day, Tuesday, God made the sky.”
“Like in the story on ‘Pa’an Ku’?” interrupted Melanie. “Pa’an Ku had the sky above and the earth below him while he was still in his egg shell.”
“Yes, perhaps, Melanie, it is a little like that,” said Brian. “On the third day, Wednesday, God made land, seas, rivers, plants and trees.”
“Wednesday must have been a busy day for God!” cried Melanie.
“I’m not so sure,” said Brian. “Sometimes making one sky can take much longer than making land, trees, rivers, plants…. But I see what you mean. I think you are right. Wednesday must have been a busy day for sure…. On the fourth day, Thursday, God made the sun, the moon, and the stars. You know how important these are. The sun provides us with light during the day, but at night we can see the moon and the stars. We also have spring, summer, fall and winter, all of which God gave to us on the fourth day…. On the fifth day, Friday, God made all animals, birds, insects…”
“And butterflies?” asked Melanie.
“And butterflies in all different colours,” replied Brian. He could see Melanie’s eyes slowly beginning to close, heavy with sleep. “On the sixth day, Saturday, God made us human beings. He made us very much like him so that we could communicate with him….”
“This is a long myth,” cried Melanie. “Why did it take so many days?”
“This is not a myth,” Brian said very quietly. On the seventh day…”
“Then what is it?” Melanie insisted.
“What is what?” asked Brian. He was keen to finish his story.
“What is this story? You said it is not a myth. What is it then?” Melanie was getting impatient and testy.
“It is Creation.” Brian said.
“What is Creation, Papa?”
“It tells us how we were made, Melanie, how we were created.”
“Is that how I was made, Papa?”
“Is that how you were made, Papa?”
“Yes, little one. Now hush…… no more questions! It is late. Close your eyes. Until tomorrow! Sleep well darling!”