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IE Mythology 2, Requirement 1

Describe and compare how the cosmos is created through sacrifice in two different IE cultures. (150 words min. each culture)

Ancient Indo-Euopean rituals involved sections of cosmos re-creation: Heroditus tells us that the Magi chanted a "theogany" while dismembering their animal sacrifices;(1.131) the Senchus Mór tells us that the Druids claimed to have made "sky and earth and sea. . . sun and moon";(1.22) and the AB tells us that the eye of an animal went to the sun, it's breath to the wind, its life-force to the atmosphere, its ear to the directions, and its flesh to the earth.(2.6) It is clear that the idea of sacrifice and cosmos creation (or at least renewal) are bound together strongly. We also find that when the ritual is over, the disembodied parts return: they are ingested by the folk as the final step in the sacrifice, nourishing them and maintaining them. (Lincoln, 170)

As we sustain the cosmos through sacrifice, the cosmos sustains us.

Cosmos Creation Through Sacrifice in the Vedas

In what is probably the latest hymn in the Rgveda, hymn X.90, we are introduced to the cosmic giant Purusa. From him is created Viraj (female principle), and Purusa is created from Viraj (through being defined as male in opposite to female, as he was neuter to begin with; Maurer, 274). The gods (also created from the original Purusa) sacrifice Purusa, using as their tools of sacrifice the three seasons (as there is nothing else to use), and offer the "new" Purusa to the "old" Purusa (that is, the primeval or neuter version).

The animals are created from the fat and the ghee (the season of spring); the three Vedas were born (the Atharvaveda not being written at the time of this hymn) from the sacrifice; and then other, highly important animals were created: first the horse, then the cows, then goats and sheep (note the descending order of sacrificial importance). Four classes of humans were then created (an artifact owing to its lateness of origin) from his body parts. Additional body parts were then partitioned out: his mind became the moon, his eye the sun, his mouth Indra and Agni, his breath the wind, his navel the atmosphere, his head heaven, his feet the earth, and the directions from his ears.

Cosmos Creation Through Sacrifice in the Eddas

In the Prose Edda of Snorri, we learn much regarding the way the world began. Here, we have a giant named Ymir, appearing from the melting ice. From his various body parts, beings arose: man and woman came from under his left arm (armpit? rib?); from his feet were born the frost giants; and from a cosmic cow on whom he suckled, a being named Buri was created when the cow licked a block of salt-ice and freed him. Buri's grandsons would carry out the sacrifice.

The three sons of Bor (son of Buri) slay the giant Ymir, and use his body parts to form the world we know: his blood become the sea and lakes, his flesh the earth, his bones the mountains, his teeth and jaws become the rocks and pebbles. His skull becomes the dome of the sky, and a wall of his eyebrows protects mankind from the giants. (Davidson, 27)


  • Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe.
  • Heroditus. Histories
  • Lincoln, Bruce. Death, War, and Sacrifice.
  • Maurer, Walter. Pinacles of India's Past: Selections from the Rgveda
  • Senchus Mór


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