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Flood as Cultural Reflection
Since long ago, a culture's art has revealed the belief system of that culture. Paintings, music, dance, drama, and other forms of art all portray the values of a culture, weather it is done subtly or explicitly. Today’s rap and jazz acts somewhat like the orally passed myths myths of long ago; they pass on the acceptable nature of a society.
Throughout this Wiki page the idea of how the floods incorporated in myths reflect the cultural background of each myth and its people will be explored. These reflections will be illustrated through four different creation stories from all over the world: the Emergence, the Bible, the Creation Cycle, and the epic of Gilgamesh. The focus is on the specific differences between each flood story, and how these differences allow each culture unique influence on their people.
Humans being left behind during the flood (Bible)
Myths, belonging to different cultures and belief systems, are created to tell a story or express a belief. They are passed on in hopes of instructing future generations as to the values of that culture. Most often, they have a moral or lesson, where those who make mistakes are punished and those few righteous are rewarded for their goodness.
The flood is a significant area in which to search for these beliefs because of the tendency for the true nature of life to appear when all is ending. Inferences can be drawn from the actions of those, usually gods, who condemn the earth to a watery demise. The different ways in which the flood effected earth’s human beings and creatures reveals a cultures thoughts on death, or even rebirth.
Gilgamesh, said to be the oldest major recorded work of literature, contains a description of a flood, sent by the gods, to destroy all of the humans who inhabit the earth. Utanapishtim, who Ea chose to survive the flood and save other creatures of the Earth, shows great dedication and faith in abandoning his possessions in order to save the creatures who the gods have set out to destroy. This shows how faith, obedience, and selflessness were esteemed qualities in ancient Mesopotamian culture. When the gods send the great waters to the earth and "the land shattered like a pot," the gods cowered in fear of their own, horrible actions. This depicts the belief that there is no perfection, and even those in the highest positions of authority, even gods, make mistakes. All humans who were destroyed by the waters, did not "die", but they returned to clay, their most fundamental form. This also shows a belief not in death, but a return to an earlier stage of a cycle that will once again begin. The number seven also has great importance in the flood; the flood lasted seven days, the boat was lodged on Mt. Nimush for seven days, and seven and seven cult vessels of incense were offered to the gods after the flood. Enhil, angered at the survival of Utanapishtim, confronted Ea, who said that it would have been better to create a famine or disease, wiping out some but not all of the human beings. This shows that Ea knew that it was wrong to make many suffer for the actions of those few who disturbed the gods, and also translates into the Mesopotamian belief system.
In The Emergence ,the Navajo creation myth, Water Monster starts a flood when his two sons have be taken away from him because Coyote deceived him in a game. In the Navajo culture the coyote is a symbol of deceit and trickery and in other Indian cultures a symbol of death. Because the myth portrays the Coyote as a trickster it is evident that the Navajo culture has based this assumption from the story to their culture, and like other Indian cultures who portray the coyote as a symbol of death they say that coyote brings bad luck and floods as the one did in the story. The Navajo's also believe that the coyote is a symbol of karma and is a karma enforcer. In other words the coyote represents symbol of what goes around comes around. The Navajo religion may get this idea from the fact that in the Emergence when coyote stole Water Monster's kids, punishment comes around when Water Monster, in retaliation, starts a flood for coyotes deceitful acts.
In the Aztec creation myth, The Creation Cycle, the gods bring fourth a great flood because the race of human beings that Quetzalcoatl had created are greedy. That fact that the Aztec gods destroy a race of greedy people represents the negative influence of greed in Aztec culture. The flood destroys them all, however, the Supreme Being spared one human couple from the devastation. This desire for continuation of life on earth illustrates the value Aztecs put on all life. However, when the couple cannot overcome their greed, their heads are cut off and are turned into dogs. Throughout history, the Aztec people have been known for violence, and this is symbolized when the human couple's punishment is such a gruesome act. Also, the two humans are given brains the size of animals for punishment, which could represent the value of knowledge and learning in Aztec society.
In the bible, God decides to flood the earth because the human's thoughts have become evil and their hearts wicked. He chooses Noah, however, to be saved and to save the other creatures of the earth. Noah, the last of the sacred in midst of a world of corruption, may suggest that there was a belief in destiny or greatness from birth. As in the other myths, Noah’s willingness to abandon his life in order to do God’s will depicts a cultural respect for faith and devotion. This same devotion is expected in Christianity as the faithful often honor god at mass each Sunday. After the flood when Noah makes a sacrifice to God, the Lord feels sorrow for his actions. He realizes that the human heart is inevitability evil from youth, which translates into the beliefs of the people of this time. God made a covenant with the creatures of the earth, vowing to never again destroy flesh with great waters. This may suggest that God realized that his actions were wrong. God, perhaps from God’s seemingly imperfect nature, it can be inferred that perfection does not exist.
A depiction of the ark as Noah boards two of every living animal
Flood stories can reveal many mysteries to the cultural and religious background of their people. As one can see, a culture's beliefs are strongly instilled within each creation story, including the flood. This information gives insight to many on unknown stories and culture simply through how each flood is depicted. The differences between each flood story are helpful to many, and reveal interesting background to mysterious cultures through the oral and written traditions of story-telling.
Questions to Consider:
Why do certain cultures choose the story of a flood to instill belief and faith in their people?
What magnitude of influence on their people do you think the flood stories have?
Do others stories, other than the flood, reflect cultural beliefs and religious ideas as clearly?
What other tools are used to pass on culture from generation to generation?
Other than cultural beliefs and values, what other aspects of human nature do myths from around the world reflect?
Does the ability to reflect one's culture through mythology unite different people from all around the world?
The Epic of Gilgamesh: Tablet XI. 15 Dec. 2007
Zuisudra. 19 Jan. 2007. 17 Dec. 2007
Current Message: Noah's Last Sermon. 17 Dec. 2007
Venefica, A. Symbolism of the Coyote. 1 Oct. 2007. 15 Dec. 2007
Teubner, Rita. Animal Symbolism. 16 Dec. 2007
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