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The Nordic Africa Institute, Agrarian Change, Property and Resources.
2011 (English)In: The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion: Timothy Insoll, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, 76-88 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Cosmogony as a term is derived from the two Greek words kosmos and genesis. Kosmos refers to the order of the universe and/or the universe as the order, whereas genesis refers to the process of coming into being (Long 1993: 94). Thus, cosmogony has to do with founding myths and the origin and the creation of the gods and cosmos and how the world came into existence. There are schematically several different types of cosmogenic myths classified according to their symbolic structure: (1) creation from nothing, (2) creation from chaos, (3) creation from a cosmic egg, (4) creation from world parents, (5) creation through a process of emergence, and (6) creation through the agency of an earth diver. Several of these motifs and typological forms may be present in a given cosmogenic myth-system, and these types are not mutually exclusive but may rather be used in parallel in creation ororigin myths (Long 1993: 94). There are cosmogenic myths in all religions. In the Hebrew myth, there is creation from nothing: ‘And God said. “Let there be light”; and there was light’ (Gen. 1: 3). Importantly, in transcendental religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam the omnipotent god exists totally independent of its own creation (Trigger 2003: 473), but still there are cosmogenic myths. Usually, however, cosmogony refers to a divine structuring principle where cosmos and the world are not independent of its original creation, but dependent upon the outcome of the ritual relation between humans and deities for its future existence, and such religions are traditionally called cosmogenic, putting the emphasis on human rituals. Thus, there are differences between cosmogenic and transcendental religions with regards to structures of beliefs and practices. A cosmogenic religion links humans’ rituals in the present with the divine glory in the past and cosmic stability and prosperity in the future. Hence, a cosmogenic religion enables and prescribes particular types of ritualpractices which are archaeologically manifest in the material culture, and all the early civilizations have been cosmogenic (Trigger 2003: 444–5) together with the majority of prehistoric religions. Although cosmogony had been an analytical term before Mircea Eliade developed these perspectives, his writings in the 1950s (e.g. Eliade 1954, 1959a [1987]) have strongly influenced researchers’ views of peoples’ beliefs of the world and universe in early civilizations (Trigger 2003: 445). Cosmogony as a religious framework for understanding the world and the universe necessitates specific types of interactions and rituals with the divinities. Hence, due to the strong influence of Eliade’s work on cosmogony as a principleand process, this article will focus on (1) his premises and analyses, (2) criticism and development of cosmogony as a concept, and (3) how it is possible to analyse cosmogenic rituals and religious practices as manifest in the archaeological record. This will include:(a) rituals, with particular emphasis on death and sacrifices in the Aztec civilization; and(b) monuments, with particular emphasis on the pyramids in the ancient Egyptian civilization, since these are processes and places where the dual interaction between humans and divinities took place, which recreated cosmos against the threat of chaos. Together, these case studies will illuminate the possibilities of a cosmogenic perspective in the archaeology of ritual and religion despite the difficulties with Eliade’s structural universalism.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. 76-88 p.
Keyword [en]
Cosmogony, Eliade, religion, Egypt, pyramids, cremation
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:nai:diva-1475ISBN: 978-0-19-923244-4OAI: diva2:465959
Available from: 2011-12-15 Created: 2011-12-15 Last updated: 2011-12-21Bibliographically approved

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