The boy sat by the fire with the old woman, and the two of them started up at the night sky. So many lights danced across the sky, and the boy had marveled at them night after night. He knew the woman besides the fire was a wise old lady, and so he asked the question that had been perched on the edge of his tongue.
“Why are there lights in the sky?” The boy asked. The woman responded with a chuckle.
“That is a long, and a very old story.” The woman said.
“I would like to hear it all the same.” The boy responded. The woman chuckled again.
“I want you to picture the world around you blackness, as black as the sky is above you.” The woman said.
“But the sky is not black, it is filled with light!” The boy said.
“This is true now, but that is not how things once were. All of this, all that you see, there was nothing in its place but black and cold. There was no light in the world, nor anywhere throughout all the worlds. At the beginning of time, there was nothing to be seen or heard, no songs or stories, and no rivers or birds in the sky, nor sky for the birds to call home.
And then there was a fire, small beyond all measure. It was small enough to fit into the palm of your hand.” The woman said.
“Why so small?” The boy said.
“Because all seeds are small at first. That small fire was the seed of everything to come, all the worlds, and all the lights in the night sky would grow from that little seed. Over the long stretches of time, the little seed started to grow. It was in that time that people came into the world.” The woman said.
“What kind of people?” The boy asked.
“They were not people like you and I, but people all the same. They grew and multiplied and so did the seed. More fires appeared in the world, and because they brought warmth and light into the cold black, the people carried them with them. The people came to be in many forms and kinds, and they carried the fires with them wherever they went. That is how the sky came to filled with light, as the fires of the people still burn in the heavens.” The woman said.
“But what about the land and the sky? Where did the forests, the plains, and the high mountains come from?” The boy asked. The woman smiled.
“I will tell you child, if you have but a little patience. As the people set across the darkness, they went about building homes for themselves. That is how this world came into being, as the dwelling for a great many peoples. They became greatly gifted in skill and art, and so they went to work and shaped a home for themselves. First they brought forth the fire from their own camp, and we call that fire the sun. They shaped the world from its burning core, and they were pleased with their work.
But in time, they found the world too hot to bear, and so they sought out ways to cool their fiery home. They found ice in the darkness, and so they brought it to the world. And so the world was cooled, and they found it to be a lot more pleasant. Something else too happened that they did not intend, because as the world cooled the land came forth from cooling fire, and the steam rose up above the land. They saw these things, and went to work once more. That is how the land came into being. So too did the sky form in those days.
That is how the earth and the rivers came into being, and the world was covered by the sky. Mountains grew high and strong, and the oceans became very deep in those days. All the while the people watched and worked, and soon they found their new home to comfortable, and so they set up homes for themselves.
The fish people loved the waters, and so they grew and multiplied in the rivers, lakes and oceans.
The bird people loved the sky and the feel of the wind, and so that is where they made their home.
The tree people found the soil to their liking, and the they too loved the wind. So they buried their roots deep in the earth, and stretched out into the sky.
And so, in kind and form did each of the people find a dwelling that suited them. The forests grew across the world, the rivers ran from the mountains, and the wind blew across the plains. The river people welcomed the fish, and the trees welcomed the birds, and the great plains loved the sounds of the herds as they crossed them.” The woman said.
“And what of people like us? We are not the same kind as the fish or the birds, or the wolves and bears of the forest. Where did our people come from?” The boy asked.
The woman smiled they widest of all smiles.
“That child; is a story for another time.” The woman said.
I have always enjoyed creation stories, and at the same time found them very frustrating. I think all creation stories need to be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t think any of them should be taken as literally true, and I do think such a literalism would probably be a detriment in the long run.
What also needs to be considered, is that our understanding of the world and the universe has changed quite a bit. When many of the old stories were written down, the state of knowledge was very different. In addition, when I read some of the creations stories, I am amazed at how they arose to meet the needs of a certain people, in a certain time, in a certain place. The Bible tells of Yahweh, and the stories of the Jewish People. The Norse stories tell of a land of ice giants, and of fire and ice. It has always been curious to me how the stories of many lands, have a striking resemblance to the context they arose in.
And that broad understanding was part of the inspiration for the form of this story. Not as a creation story of one being, or even a family of beings. But a story where the world was deliberately shaped by a diversity of beings. Taken separately, a lot of creation stories are about how one “god”, or a family of them, were or became the masters of everything. Yahweh alone claims that he created the whole of the universe and humanity. The Nordic stories tell of how the gods overthrew Ymir, and set themselves up as rulers, and also created humanity. I could go on and on. However, something that always struck me, that when taken together you get a world that had a lot of hands in the pot. It makes me skeptical that any one being or family of beings “created” humanity, or the universe as a whole, the universe being a complicated place after all. However, once more taken together, you certainly get a plurality of beings each invested in “making space” for their respective peoples. That is something that I really tried to capture in this story. More on this in a bit.
The Saami, Finnish, and Norse stories is from where that I took most of my inspiration, along with a healthy serving of animism and science. I want to discuss that a bit more.
Fire was the logical place to start with all of this, because in most of the sources I consulted, fire is kind of a big deal. In the Norse Creation myth, Muspelheim is the world of fire, and one of two primordial worlds. In the Kalevala, water is considered the “eldest brother” and fire the “middle brother”. The Saami creation story is a little bit different, and revolves more around the Sons of the Sun, and how they were the ancestors of the Saami. I wrote about that more in my own piece on these topics, which is linked below.
I wanted to try and fit all those inspirations in with a generalized Big Bang narrative, which in and of itself is a kind of creation story. It is a scientific narrative to be sure, which means it has been tested over and over again and generally accepted, but it is still a narrative. As such, I mixed all these ideas together and this is the result. I found that the idea that the universe started as a kind of “fiery singularity” fit in nicely with the fire metaphors. I also through some tree and “organic” imagery in their by calling it a “seed”. I am hoping a kind of “world tree”/”tree of life” metaphor becomes a bit of a theme as this progresses, because that is a concept I have always related to.
I tried my best to leave it a kind of “open narrative”, with plenty of room and diversity for other interpretations and other narratives as well. That is part of the reason I opted for the use of “people” in most cases, as opposed to “spirit” or “god.” I wanted to leave space for “others”, even if they are not the main focus of this overall story.
Eventually, my own ancestry will be the primary focus of this narrative, and as such this will move from broad things like creation stories, towards a much more focused narrative of my own ancestry. Though I do think that even that story is going to be really complicated, and leaves plenty of room as well. That is one thing I have learned over the years of compiling my own story, that ancestry is really, really complicated.
But we haven’t gotten to that part just yet.
Thanks for reading!
Poetic Edda, by Carolyn Larrington
Kalevala, translated by Francis P. Magoun.