Almost all creation myths feature women, with their roles and their natures, be they good, evil, or neutral, varying form myth to myth. However, one theme seems to be consistent through a variety of cultures. women in myths, if they have names, are trouble.
Arguably, all women in myths, be they creation myths or otherwise, cause problems for the inevitably male character or protagonist. As these stories come from patriarchal societies, women are usually either in back ground roles or villainess’, and very few have names. But when these female characters are given names in myths, it usually signifies some amount of importance or power. Three examples of this in creation myths are Tiamat, Isis, and Eve.
Tiamat Being Chased by Marduk
Tiamat is the mother goddess of Babylonian and Sumerian myths. She comes from the creation myth, the Enuma Elish. Tiamat begins as a benevolent mother goddess, discouraging her husband from killing their noisy children. However, after those children conspire to murder her husband, Apsu, Tiamat becomes vengeful. She raises an army of monsters and demons to destroy her children and their offspring, led by her son/consort, Kingu. Tiamat is so powerful that none of the other gods can defeat her and her army. Tiamats’ power is even more impressive considering that each successive god is more powerful than his father, and it was her great-grandson, Ea, who murdered her husband. It’s only after Marduk, the son of Ea, fights Tiamat and her forces that she is defeated. Tiamat is already a force of chaos, her name meaning ‘bitter water’ or ‘salt water.’ Without Apsu, ‘sweet water,’ her creations are all demonic and evil in nature. We’re shown in this myth that even before Tiamat turns her attitude and creative powers to destruction, she is the chaotic and less pleasant side of her partnership with Apsu.
In Egyptian creation myths, Isis is the goddess who holds her own against the male gods. While she isn’t the only goddess given a name, Isis often considered the most powerful. She is one of the nine major gods of the Egyptian pantheon, part of the Ennead and partnered with Osiris, King of the Afterlife and a god of order. Isis is neither completely good, not completely evil, but she is a powerful goddess. In “The Legend of the Sun Worshippers,” an Egyptian creation myth, Isis poisons Ra, the sun god and ruler of the heavens, making him very ill. She tricks Ra into revealing his true name, claiming she needs it to heal him. His true name holds his power, and by revealing it, that power is now given to Isis. Isis doesn’t appear to do anything with the power of his name. However, Ra is still very ill and eventually dies. He enters the underworld in the company of several other gods, creating day and night. Isis is among the gods who go with him, fighting off demons in the darkness. In other myths, though, we’re told that Horus, Isis’ son, takes over some of Ra’s duties, including being god-pharaoh to the humans, so perhaps there was more to her plan than just equalizing the distribution of power.
Eve in the Garden with Adam and the Serpent
Eve is the first woman in Judeo-Christian creation mythology, created out of a rib of the first man, Adam. As creations of God, whom we are told is good, we are led to infer that Adam and Eve are good by proxy. In Genesis, however, ‘good’ may well equate with ‘naïve.’ Eve is tempted by a serpent to eat the fruit of a tree in the garden; specifically, a tree which she and Adam have been told not to eat from. God had explained that if they ate from that tree, they would die; however, considering neither Eve nor Adam knew they were naked, it’s questionable if they understood the concept of death. The serpents’ reasoning for eating the fruit made more sense to Eve, so she ate it along with Adam. When God found out they had disobeyed him, Adam and Eve were banished from the Paradise they had lived in, and because Adam had blamed his disobedience on Eve, she was additionally punished with menstruation and painful childbirth.
All three of these women caused significant problems for their male peers and counterparts. But what makes them unique, and possibly is why they were given names, is that they all held power equal or comparable to their male peers and counterparts. Tiamat and Isis stand as powerful female deities in otherwise male dominated societies and religions, defeating the male gods around them; while Eve’s curiosity got mankind kicked out of paradise in her own mythology, her extra punishment coming solely at the hands of a man eager to pass the blame.