A myth is a narrative projection of a given cultural group's sense of its sacred past and its significant relationship with the deeper powers of the surrounding world and universe. A myth is a projection of an aspect of a culture's soul. In its complex but revealing symbolism, a myth is to a culture what a dream is to an individual.
A creation myth is a cosmogony, a narrative that describes the original ordering of the universe. The word cosmogony is derived from the Greek words kosmos, meaning order, and genesis, meaning birth. A given culture's cosmogony or creation myth describes its sense of how cosmos (order, existence) was established. Just as individuals and families are preoccupied with their origins, cultures need to know where they and the world they live in originated. So it is that virtually all cultures have creation myths.
Like all myths, creation myths are etiological—they use symbolic narrative to explain beginnings because the culture at one point lacked the information to explain things scientifically. In such myths, then, we find the origins of certain recognizable rites, of places and objects sacred to the culture. We also find more general explanations of the "How-the-Leopard-Got-Its-Spots" sort. In a more important sense, however, creation myths, and other myths, describe an understanding that is significant whether advanced science exists or not. A modern Hindu scientist might well subscribe to the "scientific" big bang theory of creation and in another part of his or her being have faith in the Hindu creation myth as a true metaphor for an ultimate reality that transcends science. A creation myth conveys a society's sense of its particular identity; it reveals the way the society sees itself in relation to the cosmos. It becomes, in effect, a symbolic model for the society's way of life, its world view—a model that is reflected in such other areas of experience as ritual, culture heroes, ethics, and even art and architecture.
The complex ceremony of the whirling dervishes of Islam provides mystical experience of the perfectly interrelated geometric universe created by the mysterious power that is Allah. The Navajo sand painting is a visual metaphor of creation, through contact with which the individual in need of curing can begin life again. In the old form of the Christian ceremony of the Eucharist, in which the communicant partakes of the sacred meal, the rite was concluded with a recitation of the Christian creation myth of John I (as opposed to the older Judaic myth of Genesis), indicating its deep structure as a curing ceremony of re-creation. The divine nature of the Christian culture hero, Jesus, is a reflection of the idea of the eternal Word or Logos that is revealed in John's creation story as the beginning of all that exists ("In the beginnning was the Word"). The ethics of Judaism are a logical derivation from the "just" and paternalistic creation expressed in Genesis. The Hopi underground kiva, where men weave and the most sacred ceremonies take place, is a microcosmic