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The Comparison of the Norse and Inca Cosmogonies

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This essay presents a comparative overview of the Norse and Inca creation mythology with a view to finding their similar and divergent features. The following aspects are analyzed here: cosmological shape of the world(s); role of creator(s); sequence of creation(s); creation cycles and eschatology.

Keywords: mythology, creation myths, the Norse, the Incas

Creation Myths: The Comparison of the Norse and Inca Cosmogonies 

Historically, various pre-modern cultures held different views on cosmology and creation/destruction of the world they lived in. In this paper, a comparison of cosmological myths of the Norse and Inca cultures is provided as these cultures played a significant role in the development of their respective regions.

The Inca creation myth is rather similar to Biblical notions of the world’s origins. The Incas credited the supreme deity known as Con Tici Viracocha Pachayachachic (or Viracocha) with the creation of the humankind and all living beings (Steele, 2004, p.18). However, unlike Biblical creation story, the Inca cosmogony did not provide for creation ex nihilo: Viracocha (sometimes equated with the sun deity Pachacamac) came from Lake Titicaca, which had already existed at that time and created first humans out of clay (D. Leeming & M. Leeming, 1994, p.137). Sometimes, it was asserted that Viracocha’s first creations were giants who walked under the Moon as the Sun had not yet existed. It was said that when Viracocha was displeased with his first children, he destroyed the giant race and created the Sun together with the first humans (Steele, 2004, p.18).

In the Norse creation myth, the Nine Worlds of Yggdrasil were viewed as evolved out of primordial chaos. The Norse mythology posits a succession of the creator figures succeeding/eliminating each other.  According to the Younger Edda, the universe came to existence as the result of coalescing flows of ice and fire between the two realms, Niflheim and Muspelheim, which met in the void of Ginnungagap. Eventually, Ymir, hermaphroditic progenitor of the giant races, was formed out of their mutual interpellation (Lindow, 2001, p.40). The ice melted around his body, and the giant cow Audhumla was born. From her licking of the ice blocs, Buri the Strong, the forefather of the Aesir gods, emerged. From the marriage between his son Bor and Bestla, the frost giantess, three great gods Odin, Vili, and Ve were born. After they killed Ymir and all the tribe of frost giants, Bergelmir, Odin, and his brothers placed the slain giant’s body at the center of Ginnungagap creating earth out of his flesh, seas out of his blood, and mountains out of his bones. The Sun and stars were made from the embers of Muspelheim’s fires (Leeming & M. Leeming, 1994, p.135).  The humans were either created from the fallen trees or crafted by the dwarves, the demigod race of supernatural smiths; in any case, it were the gods that breathed life into them (Lindow, 2001, p.63).

Therefore, unlike the Incan mythology, the Norse cosmogony lacks a concept of single and unchallenged creator. Its demiurgic characters are temporarily harmonizing the chaos around them rather than bending it to their supernal will. Whereas the Norse placed the concept of sacrificial creation (with Ymir playing the role of a cosmic burnt offering) at the center of their creation story, the Incas conceived of Viracocha as the only and almighty creator of the world. In both cultures, demiurgic characters were invariably male reflecting the inferior role their social structure accorded to females.

The cosmological concepts of the Inca and Norse mythologies are distinct in other aspects as well. In the Incan myth, the creation of the Sun was an important step towards the ‘fixing’ of the world making previously fluid and chaotic existence ordered and static (Steele, 2004, p.111). The Sun, the Moon, and the other celestial bodies were viewed as moving across the sky following Viracocha’s will, and it was he who was their only master and source of existence. On the contrary, in the Norse cosmology, the sun and the moon were shaped from the substance of Muspelheim, being predestined to return to its fold after Ragnarök. The gods did not hold ultimate authority over their fate.

The Norse and Inca cosmological schemes are rather distinct. The Incas followed an archetypical cosmological schemes of the three planes of existence, with Hanaq Pacha, Kay Pacha, and Ukhu Pacha being the realms of divine beings, mortals (humans and animals), and the dead and evil spirits respectively. Each plane related to another through a vertical connection. The Norse upheld a more complex planar cosmology of the Nine Worlds connected by Yggdrasil, the World Tree. The realm of the dead (Hel) and the icy pit of Niflheim were connected at Yggdrasil’s roots. Muspelheim was somewhat higher, and Jotunheim, the land of exiled giants, bordered the Middle Realm of Midgard where humans lived being separated from it by the insurmountable mountains. The realms of Asgard (populated by the Aesir), Vanaheim (home of the divine race of Vanir, the fertility gods), and Alfheim (land of the elves) rested on the top, while Svartalfheim (the realm of dark elves, or dwarves) existed between Midgard and lower planes.

Eschatological myths of both cultures are different from each other. While the Incas believed that the end of the world was not predestined but might be caused by Viracocha’s displeasure with humans, the Norse viewed Ragnarök (‘the Judgment-of-Powers’) as inevitable part of the cosmic cycle. In addition, the Inca mythology lacks the concept of the powers opposing the supreme deity, whereas the Norse myths are fundamentally based on the narrative of struggle between the Aesir and other tribes of gods (or giants).

Therefore, it should be concluded that the Inca and Norse creation myths are sharply different from each other being based on distinct conceptual structures. Both their ideas of creation cycle and eschatological mythos attest to the originality of these myths’ authors.

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