Different cultures use different mythological descriptions to explain the meaning and origin of sky and earth. The myths differ from culture to culture, but they also bear some similarities. For instance, most of these concepts associate the sky and its features with a powerful god, also referred to as the sky god. The earth and its physical aspects are linked to gods and goddesses in different cultures. Some of the myths used to explain the earth and sky phenomenon include Paleolithic myths, Greek mythology as well as the Maya time myths of the American Indians.
Sky Gods of Pleistocene
According to Karen Armstrong (10), people used myths to explain the sky and earth during the Paleolithic period. According to the myths, the sky is divine and hence no human can affect it in any way. As such, different cultures, such as the Israelites, perceived the sky as sacred. Consequently, the personification of the sky started, thus the emergence of stories of the sky god, the creator of both the sky and the earth from nothing. When people discovered agriculture during the Neolithic period, they were amazed by the ability of the earth to nurture the seeds into fruitful plants. As such, the myths that were invented during this period depicted the earth as a female (Armstrong, 20). Just like women, the earth had a womb, which could bring forth plants when equipped with a seed. Some cultures, therefore, believe the first people sprouted from the earth like plants. As such, the earth is depicted as a mother goddess. These myths are partially similar and partially different from creation stories written in holy books in different cultures, such as the Bible and the Quran (Armstrong, 50).
Sky and below Sky of the Maya
The Maya community celebrates different festivals based on the movements of the sun in the sky. Two of the common celebrations include the day of the cross and the day of death. The two are associated with Zenith and Nadir passages of the sun respectively (“The Sun Above, the Sun Below”). As such, the Maya calendar is divided into halves where one-half coincide with the sun and zenith and the other half coincide with the sun and the underworld. The day of the cross is celebrated by the erection of giant crosses, while the day of death is celebrated by flying kites. Consequently, the kites are Mayan’s way of communicating with the dead. In addition to celebrations, Mayans use the sky and its features to differentiate between n different times of the year. For instance, equinox marks the start of the planting season, which coincides with Zenith passage. In addition, Mayans believe that there is a connection between the earth and the sky through the Ceiba tree (“Connecting Earth and Sky”). Moreover, the tree acts as the pillar, which separates the earth and the sky, hence considered mighty.
Demeter’s Dark Underworld
The underworld is considered the kingdom of the dead and is therefore inhabited by the spirits of the dead individuals. The underworld is ruled by two gods including the Hades or Pluto and his queen Persephone. According to the Greek mythology, Persephone was the beloved daughter of another goddess (grain/corn goddess), who is also known as Demeter (Hamilton, 22). As such, she belonged to the earth until she was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld. From then on, Persephone became the wife of Hades and hence the co-ruler of the underworld. Consequently, Demeter became disillusioned and angry and therefore denied the earth of its fruit. As such, everything on earth dried until Persephone was brought back to her mother, Demeter (Hamilton, 20). However, Hades had given Persephone a pomegranate seed and she had to go back to the underworld after four months.
Summary of Similarities
Some of the similarities present in the three mythological concepts are the association of sky and earth with divine power. As such, the three concepts explain the powerful nature of the earth and the sky. The mythologies are also similar in that, there is the personification of the earth and the sky thus the emergence of different gods such as Demeter and the sky god. There is also recognition of spirits and the underworld. The mythological concepts explain that people become spirits after death and the spirits reside in a different place away from the living (Hamilton, 25).
Summary of Differences
Some of the differences in the myths include the celebrations of different passages of the sun by the Maya while Greek mythology does not explain passages of the sun. On the other hand in Greek mythology, when people die they go to the underworld which is beneath the earth while the Maya believe that the spirits of their dead reside above the earth. As such, they fly kites to communicate with the dead.
The mythological concepts serve an important role in the explanations of the different phenomenon for the sky and earth. Despite the differences, the myths are a pillar of cultural practices by different communities around the world. Although myths are not based on facts, they can be associated with reason, hence acting as the basis of people’s beliefs that cannot be explained by science, especially nowadays (Armstrong, 45).
Armstrong, Karen. A short history of myth. Vol. 1. Canongate Books, 2004, pp. 1-56.
Hamilton, Edith. Greek mythology. Little Brown, 1942, pp. 21-40.
“Connecting Earth and Sky” YouTube, uploaded by SmithsonianNMAI, 14 June 2012, https://youtu.be/PssOEjpAvso
“The Sun Above, the Sun Below” YouTube, uploaded by SmithsonianNMAI, 18 June 2012, https://youtu.be/KC_eeCmqdiE