A reader asks, “I know that some of my Christian friends have the whole “God created the universe” thing going on that they believe, and all my atheist friends are all “OMG Science!” but I’m wondering what Pagans believe about the beginning of the world and the universe? How come I can’t find anything anywhere that says what Pagans think about how the earth was formed?”
The reason you can’t find any concrete information about what Pagans think about the beginning of the world is because Paganism is an umbrella term that defines a lot of different believe systems. Because “Paganism” means lots of different belief systems, you’re going to encounter lots of different mythologies about creation, the beginning of the universe, and the origins of mankind as a species.
In other words, there are a vast array of beliefs, in the Pagan community, about the origins of everything, and those will be different from one person to the next, based upon their own individual belief systems.
Believe it or not, many Pagans don’t assign any sort of great cosmic metaphysical meaning to the origins of the universe at all. While many people do follow pantheons that have creation stories, often these are accepted as the way that our ancestors, and early cultures, explained scientific events, but not as hard fact in today's society. It’s not uncommon to find Pagans who accept scientific principles such as evolution as a core principle, but also have room in their practice for their tradition’s creation stories.
Scott is a Heathen from North Carolina, and comes from a family background of German Lutheran stock. He says, “I’ve got an engineering degree and I’m a very science-based person. I completely accept, on a scientific basis, that evolutionary theory exists. But I also accept that within my pantheon, the creation legend detailed in Snorri Sturlson’s Prose Edda is a legitimate explanation of how things began, from a spiritual perspective. I don’t have trouble reconciling the two, because my spiritual path is a way that my ancestors understood how things began.”
In some Pagan traditions, particularly those that are goddess-based, there is a legend that the Goddess created all things herself by giving birth to a race of spirits that filled the world and became mankind and all the animals, plants, and other living beings. In others, the Goddess and the God came together, fell in love, and the Goddess’ womb produced humanity.
In Native American traditions, there are a number of different creation myths, and they are as varied as the tribes who have passed these legends along through the centuries. An Iroquois tale tells of Tepeu and Gucumatz, who sat around together and thought up a bunch of different things, like earth, the stars, and the ocean. Eventually, with some help from Coyote, Crow, and a few other creatures, they came up with four two-legged beings, who became the ancestors of the Iroquois people.
In West Africa, there is a creation myth that tells of the first two people in existence, who were lonely - after all, they were the only two people around. So they created, out of different colors of clay, a group of human beings. Those clay people went out into the world to become the founders of the different races of humans.
So, in other words, there isn’t a single “Pagan creation story,” to answer all the questions. As mentioned above, many of us accept the theory of evolution as an explanation for how things came to exist and be, but plenty of Pagans also have room in their spiritual paths for the various creation myths as explanations for the beginnings of the human experience.