The Geography of Mythology

With no advanced scientific knowledge at their disposal, ancient civilizations were forced to use their imaginations to explain the world around them. Their polytheistic religions often mirrored and explained the characteristics of their environment. If their habitat was harsh and merciless, ancient humans would most likely apply those traits to their gods. Likewise, if their land was plush and bountiful, the gods were thought to be kind and benevolent. Aside from giving meaning to the nature of their environment, man also used myths to answer other questions.

Early humans used their simplistic polytheistic religions, known as animism, to explain the world around them. For example, according to Chinese legend, Pan-Gu was the creator of the universe. Pan-Gu was born as a dwarf from the "cosmic egg." The lower half of this egg formed Earth, or Ying, and the upper half formed the heavens, or Yang. For 13 years Pan-Gu grew ten feet a day, separating the eggshell halves as he increased in size. Finally, he split apart. His eyes flew into space to become the sun and moon, his head split into four sacred mountains, his blood collected on Earth to form oceans and rivers, his hair became the grasses and trees, his breath blew across the land as wind, his sweat fell to Earth as rain, and his voice shook the ground as thunder. According to this myth, Pan-Gu's fleas became the ancestors of the human race.

In order to feel a sense of belonging, connect with nature, and understand the world around them, ancient civilizations created polytheistic religions. These religions created gods that were often the personification of nature, deified. By giving nature god-like characteristics, humans of the ancient world were able to feel as if they could control nature by worshipping, praying to, or appeasing it.

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