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Death has long been a complicated concept for humankind to grasp. Though inevitable, every person must go on his or her own journey to come to terms with the concept. According to anthropologists, finding evidence of ancient humans interacting with death is a marker of advanced civilization. Coming upon a burial site, for example, means the nomadic humans who stopped there found the idea important enough to offer the departed a place of rest before journeying on. While this might seem practical, early beliefs surrounding death were often a mix of rituals and complex mythologies.

Accepting death as a part of life can be challenging. Explore some of these stories surrounding its origin to expand your own understanding.

Biblical Origins

Though “origin-of-death myths” are common in all ancient religions, some of these stories persist to modern day. The most famous is the tale of Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden from the Abrahamic religions. In this story, the humans Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden after disobeying the rules set forth by their creator. By being removed from paradise, the two also become mortal and the human race is damned to suffer the consequence of death. This tale has been interpreted in a number of ways by scholars and theologians, but always explains death’s beginnings. 

Ancient Greece

Another myth that has survived history is the Ancient Greek tale of Prometheus. According to mythology, Prometheus was a titan who was responsible for creating humans from clay. Disobeying Zeus, the father and leader of the Greek gods, Prometheus gave his humans the gift of fire. Enraged, Zeus creates a woman named Pandora who owns a box containing all of the horrors of the world. Pandora is sent to Prometheus’s brother, who opens the box and releases all the evils held within. One of these evils was death, which would now haunt humans for all eternity.

Of course, many Greek myths also suggest the existence of the underworld from the moment the universe was created. This means that there was always a need for a realm of the dead, even before the concept was introduced.

Native American Mythology

In North America, the Blackfoot Native American tribe had a very unique story regarding the origin of death. According to their tale, it came about due to circumstance. The cultural hero known as Old Man had a disagreement with Old Woman about whether or not humans should die, with Old Woman believing they should. To prove herself correct, Old Woman rigs it so that humans have to die and wins the argument. The result is the introduction of death. The story illustrates that it is not particularly a fair or unfair circumstance, it just is the result.

Every tribe across North America had a unique way of viewing death. A large number of the plateau tribes blamed it on Coyote. Known as the trickster god, Coyote is said to have brought death and suffering to mankind as a way of staying amused.

African Mythologies

Throughout Africa, there are similar myths from culture to culture surrounding the origins of death. Many of the stories share the similar component of a message that is never delivered. In some stories, a bird is meant to tell humans not to die but does not reach people in time. Other tales are similar to Greek and Abrahamic origins in that an early transgression against the gods on the part of mankind resulted in death coming about. One particular tale suggests humans are cursed to die due to general indifference about the state of the world.

All living creates must die as a part of the natural order of things. Though it can be odd to think about, there is comfort in knowing it is a mystery that has been faced since the dawn of humanity.

Category: Universal Life Church


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