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Similarities and Differences of North American and Central American Creation Myths

  • Updated July 27, 2023
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Many creation myths share striking similarities despite the cultures being incredibly different. In reality, however, each myth has a different formula that fits each civilization and is made to explain the exact happenings for that specific group of people. Many people will argue that the North American and Central American creation myths are more similar than they are different; this view is faulted. While it is true that both the North American Maidu and Central American Mayan creation myths share some similarities, it cannot be denied that they are actually vastly different in their origins and themes.

One of the first major differences that can be found between the Maidu and Mayan creation myths is how the creators make things and the complexity with which they make them. Both stories do start with only land and primordial waters. The way that the Mayan explained how Gods created land was much simpler than the way that the Maidu explained the origin of land. The Mayans had two major original Gods when it came to creation – The Heart of the Sea (also known as the Plumed Serpent) and the Heart of the Sky (also known as Hurricane, who was actually three Gods – Thunderbolt Hurricane, Newborn Thunderbolt, and Sudden Thunderbolt – summarized as one).

Hurricane asked the Serpent to create land, and suddenly mountains and forests were made. All of this was almost instantiations and very simple. There was no struggle or challenges faced when creating land; everything was suddenly there. Unlike the simplicity of Mayan Earth, the Maidu had a much longer explanation. The Maidu creation story includes many more characters, such as the Earth Initiate, Turtle, and Father-of-the-Secret-Society. This story has Turtle and Father already in a raft drifting across the primordial waters, and when Earth Initiate comes down, Turtle asks him to make Earth.

There is a struggle, as at first, they cannot figure out how to make land; then Turtle suggests that he dives for mud. Turtle is gone for six years, and when he resurfaces, all the mud he had collected had washed off of him. Earth Initiate then took what little mud was left under Turtle’s nails and made a ball, letting it grow for four days into land. This land creation process was much longer and filled with many more obstacles than the Mayan’s.

This shows how little similarities there are between the origin of land myths in these two civilizations. Another major difference between the two myths are the process of the Gods creating people. Where the Maidu had a complex explanation for the creation of land compared to the Mayans, the Mayans in turn have a much more intricate description for the creation of people. Heart of the Sky and Heart of the Sea tried to make people on their own at first out of mud and water, but these people couldn’t worship them, which was their whole reason for making people in the first place.

These people were then dissolved with water. The Gods then turned to the Grandparents, who suggested that they make people from wood. These wooden people however had no soul or blood, and too were mindless robots who could not worship the Gods. These wooden people were then broken down by floods and attacked by other animals, which in turn transformed these wooden people into monkeys. This explanation for the creation of a specific animal is also a major difference between the Mayan and Maidu stories. The Mayan Gods finally tried to make people from corn-maize and succeeded.

This myth explains why corn is so important to their culture. The Maidu also had people be created out of earth (red clay) and water, but this was the first try of the Earth Initiate and was an immediate success. The process for the Maidu myth was much faster and had much less experimenting and failures than the Mayans. The Mayan human creation offers much more explanation for occurrences in their cultures while the Maidu process is very simple and straightforward. Another major difference between The Mayan and Maidu creation myths are the themes that can be found in each.

While it is true that both share a common theme in primordial waters, that’s really about it. In fact, many other cultures such as Mesopotamia also feature primordial waters, so such a theme being the thing that connects two myths is not a strong argument. A major difference between the two is the theme of a trickster. In the Maidu creation myth, one of the major characters that dooms humanity into lifelong work and mortality is the trickster Coyote, who had been created by the Earth Initiate. He tricks the people into going against the simple lifestyle designed by Earth Initiate and the first man – Ku’ksuu.

Through his trickery many problems arise. People now have to work for food and are prone to disease and death; this also brings about burial rituals and defines much of the culture. The Mayan creation myth has no major trickster that stands out. They do, however, have a flood theme unlike the Maidu. As mentioned before, during the creation of people the Mayan Gods messed up several times, and to cleanse themselves of these creations to be able to start anew, they had to send floods. The floods represent the helplessness of these creatures and a new beginning, which are a major theme in the Mayan creation.

It’s true that the Maidu myths feature helplessness of people as well, but the two myths show this through different themes. This proves the variances between these myths, as they are much more different than similar. Through a simple analysis of similarities and differences between Mayan and Maidu creation stories, it can be easily observed that these two origin myths actually share very few similarities.

Many people will try to argue that they have similar occurrences such as creation of animals, sun, moon, stars, and people or common themes such as primordial waters, but these are weak links that are actually featured in a number of other creation myths as well. It’s actually easier to find differences such as why were people created and how the land came to be rather than similarities. This proves the argument that the Mayan and Maidu creation stories are much more different than they are alike.

References

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Similarities and Differences of North American and Central American Creation Myths. (2021, Jun 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/similarities-and-differences-of-north-american-and-central-american-creation-myths/

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