Persistent Mythologies; Pt3, Gardens of Eden

Gardens of Eden

The successive warming and cooling periods of the various Dryas periods since the last Glacial Maximum have left folk memories in the traditions of the people of Eurasia.

Just as Australia has 15,000 year old folk myths of the last Glacial Maximum, Eurasia  has its own oral history which goes back around the same length of time, or longer, before the invention of writing fixed these memories and ended pre-history.

The identification of this oral tradition adds a more human element to the dry suppositions about our ancestors gained from the archaeology of brick walls, stone flakes, funerary rites and pottery shards.

If we are to date the adverse climate change which forms the core of these myths to a Dryas Period it is worth remembering that, while there was a limited amount of Glacial growth, it was also a time of  dry cold as moisture was held on the Ice Sheets and on the glaciers.

Which Dryas period these tales refer to can be estimated by the number of extraneous elements there are to the tale. In the case of these Gardens of Eden it seems there are later stories blended into the original campfire tale. One of the key points is that while the men in the story lose their easy way of life, there is little talk of them losing farms or of cultivation. Indeed, in this collection, only the Indian one speaks of “irrigation”. Nowhere are “herds”, implying ownership, mentioned. Just “beasts” which implies wildness or freedom.

The similarity of these stories could be attributed to either a common experience or a common ancestry.

Since the best estimates for the beginning of cultivation appear to set it in the gap between the Oldest and the Older Dryas (14,650BC) it is reasonable to set the Gardens of  Eden back beyond the Oldest Dryas. ie; beyond 18,000BP.

The standard Garden of Eden story can be reduced to just a few elements. Mankind lived for a time in a world of ease and plenty. He was then forcibly ejected from that place either by a god or by changes in the weather. Good times then return.

Here is a collection of those myths from across the Eurasian Continent.

The Hebrew Eden

Rather than the normally quoted version of this story, here is the story untouched by Christian dogma. From  “Antiquities of the Jews”,  Josephus

Chapter1, Para3. Moses says further, that God planted a paradise in the east, flourishing with all sorts of trees; and that among them was the tree of life, and another of knowledge, whereby was to be known what was good and evil; and that when he brought Adam and his wife into this garden, he commanded them to take care of the plants. Now the garden was watered by one river, (3) which ran round about the whole earth, and was parted into four parts. And Phison, which denotes a multitude, running into India, makes its exit into the sea, and is by the Greeks called Ganges. Euphrates also, as well as Tigris, goes down into the Red Sea. (4) Now the name Euphrates, or Phrath, denotes either a dispersion, or a flower: by Tiris, or Diglath, is signified what is swift, with narrowness; and Geon runs through Egypt, and denotes what arises from the east, which the Greeks call Nile.

4. God therefore commanded that Adam and his wife should eat of all the rest of the plants, but to abstain from the tree of knowledge; and foretold to them, that if they touched it, it would prove their destruction. But while all the living creatures had one language, (5) at that time the serpent, which then lived together with Adam and his wife, shewed an envious disposition, at his supposal of their living happily, and in obedience to the commands of God; and imagining, that when they disobeyed them, they would fall into calamities, he persuaded the woman, out of a malicious intention, to taste of the tree of knowledge, telling them, that in that tree was the knowledge of good and evil; which knowledge, when they should obtain, they would lead a happy life; nay, a life not inferior to that of a god: by which means he overcame the woman, and persuaded her to despise the command of God. Now when she had tasted of that tree, and was pleased with its fruit, she persuaded Adam to make use of it also. Upon this they perceived that they were become naked to one another; and being ashamed thus to appear abroad, they invented somewhat to cover them; for the tree sharpened their understanding; and they covered themselves with fig-leaves; and tying these before them, out of modesty, they thought they were happier than they were before, as they had discovered what they were in want of. But when God came into the garden, Adam, who was wont before to come and converse with him, being conscious of his wicked behavior, went out of the way. This behavior surprised God; and he asked what was the cause of this his procedure; and why he, that before delighted in that conversation, did now fly from it, and avoid it. When he made no reply, as conscious to himself that he had transgressed the command of God, God said, “I had before determined about you both, how you might lead a happy life, without any affliction, and care, and vexation of soul; and that all things which might contribute to your enjoyment and pleasure should grow up by my providence, of their own accord, without your own labor and pains-taking; which state of labor and pains-taking would soon bring on old age, and death would not be at any remote distance: but now thou hast abused this my good-will, and hast disobeyed my commands; for thy silence is not the sign of thy virtue, but of thy evil conscience.” However, Adam excused his sin, and entreated God not to be angry at him, and laid the blame of what was done upon his wife; and said that he was deceived by her, and thence became an offender; while she again accused the serpent. But God allotted him punishment, because he weakly submitted to the counsel of his wife; and said the ground should not henceforth yield its fruits of its own accord, but that when it should be harassed by their labor, it should bring forth some of its fruits, and refuse to bring forth others. He also made Eve liable to the inconveniency of breeding, and the sharp pains of bringing forth children; and this because she persuaded Adam with the same arguments wherewith the serpent had persuaded her, and had thereby brought him into a calamitous condition. He also deprived the serpent of speech, out of indignation at his malicious disposition towards Adam. Besides this, he inserted poison under his tongue, and made him an enemy to men; and suggested to them, that they should direct their strokes against his head, that being the place wherein lay his mischievous designs towards men, and it being easiest to take vengeance on him, that way. And when he had deprived him of the use of his feet, he made him to go rolling all along, and dragging himself upon the ground. And when God had appointed these penalties for them, he removed Adam and Eve out of the garden into another place.

“Antiquities of the Jews”,  Josephus

If myths live for thousands of years, there will be additions and alterations. Yet the core of the myth will remain. By looking at other creation stories from the past we can dig out that core.

A Greek Eden

This tale is found all over the internet and is short and very readable. Unlike the much denser story recounted by the scholar, Robert Graves in his book “The Greek Myths” Chapter 39 j.

Zeus had Hephaestus create a mortal of stunning beauty. The gods gave the mortal many gifts of wealth. He then had Hermes give the mortal a deceptive heart and a lying tongue. This creation was Pandora, the first women. A final gift was a jar which Pandora was forbidden to open. Thus, completed Zeus sent Pandora down to Epimetheus who was staying amongst the men.

Prometheus had warned Epimetheus not to accept gifts from Zeus but, Pandora’s beauty was too great and he allowed her to stay. Eventually, Pandora’s curiosity about the jar she was forbidden to open became to great. She opened the jar and out flew all manner of evils, sorrows, plagues, and misfortunes. However, the bottom of the jar held one good thing – hope.

“The Greek Myths” Chapter 39 j. Robert Graves

Again there is a time of wealth and ease in a generous world followed by misfortune caused by a disobedient woman.

Despite Greece being small in the context of Europe, it was made up of a number of City States, each with its own Pantheon of Gods influenced by other civilisations, from Lybia and Egypt to Mesopotamia and beyond. There are several Greek Gardens of Eden.

The Anatolian Eden

It was however, Hannahanna, the “grandmother”, whose name is written with the ideogram of

Hannahanna, the Bee Goddess

the Sumerian Mother Goddess Nintud, who was really the Phrygian Magna Mater. Thus, in the Telipinu myth recording the disappearance of Telipinu, the son of the Weather-god, bringing all life to a standstill, it was to Hannahanna that appeal was made to intervene in the desperate situation that threatened the extinction of every living thing. On her advice, a bee was eventually sent out to discover the whereabouts of Telipinu and sting him but although this device failed she was finally successful in securing his return and the restoration of fertility.”

The Ancient Gods; EO James

Oh oh! There is no disobedient woman in this story. Just the Utopian Garden of Eden which is damaged by a change in the weather.

An Indian Eden

The seven rivers of the Earth had been swallowed by the evil dragon Vritra and imprisoned in his mountains. Vritra lay down on top of the mountain to guard them, and gradually the land became dry and arid. Without water, the trees and plants began to shrivel and die. Unable to irrigate their crops, the people prayed to the gods to help them, but none of the gods felt strong enough to challenge Vritra. Eventually all the food was used up and the people began to starve, much to the dismay of the gods, who saw that they were powerless to help.

Indira, Bronze, British Museum

 However, Indira, the youngest, yet the most strong-willed of the deities, was determined to do something. He drank three bowls of the magical soma, feeling himself becoming stronger with each bowlful. When they were finished, he knew he was mightier than any of the gods, and bravely grasped his thunderbolt, and set out to confront the dragon.

When Vritra saw Indira approaching, he let loose the full panoply of his evil powers, trying to overpower the god with blackening fog, blinding lightning, deafening thunder, and piercing hailstones. Indra was impervious to Vritra’s earth-shattering attack, and hurled his thunderbolt at Vritra, who fell lifeless to the foot of the mountain, When Vritra’s mother appeared to avenge her son, Indra killed her too.

Indira broke open the mountain to free the seven rivers, which poured down the mountain, filling the cracked river beds and reviving the plants, trees, and crops.

Found in”Indian Gods and Myths” Pub.  Chartwell Books, 1999 (no Author)
Wikipedia also has the story and quotes from
Rig Veda, tr. by Ralph T.H. Griffith, [1896] HYMN XXXII. Indra.
Also on the internet here.

 A Chinese Eden

Yi The Hero

This legend is rather similar to the European tale of William Tell. Yi was a highly skilled bowman and was known as “the excellent archer.” In the time of King Yao ten Suns appeared in the sky, scorching and burning the Earth with their heat, drying up rivers, and destroying crops and plants.

The people began to starve, and centaurs, wild boars, huge serpents, and other monsters began to roam.

The hero Yi appeared and shot down nine of the Suns with his magic bow, restoring order, fertility, and harmony to the world.

Found in”Chinese Gods and Myths” Pub.  Chartwell Books, 1999 (no Author)

This following version found on Wikipedia

In the remote ancient times, there was the supreme God Di Jun (帝俊) who existed in the Heaven much the same as the Greek God Zeus. Xihe (羲和), the sun-goddess, bore ten suns for Di Jun. Changxi (常羲), the moon-goddess, bore twelve moons for Di Jun. Xihe and her sons lived in the east. Her sons rested in a divine tree Fusang (扶桑). Every morning, Xihe took one son to Gan Pool (甘泉) and bathed him. Then she drove a sun-chariot and carried her son from the east to the west in the sky in the day, and returned to the east through the underground in the night.

One day, the ten mischievous sons of Xihe played in the sky together. Di Jun and Xihe doted on their sons, and actually didn’t stop them from their mischief. Crops and trees began to wither, and many people starved. At that time, many evils and savage beasts went out and harmed humans. Humans suffered terrible disasters. Di Jun started to sympathize with humans, then he sent a god Hou Yi (后羿) and his wife Chang-e (嫦娥) to descend to the world of mortals and help humans. Di Jun gave Hou Yi some divine arrows.

Hou Yi was an excellent marksman. He killed many evils and savage beasts. Yet the ten suns still had their mischievous fun in the sky. Hou Yi had to warn suns, but the suns thought reasoned to themselves that they were the sons of the supreme God Di Jun, and Hou Yi was merely an ordinary god. So the suns ignored the warning of Hou Yi. Hou Yi was hesitant whether he should shoot the suns. When he saw there were too many starving people in the world, he indignantly shot at the suns. The suns which were shot became crows which had three legs and fell down to the earth. When there was only one sun in the sky, the people stopped Hou Yi and told him they needed a sun to warm them and light the world.

A Japanese Eden

Susanoo, the Storm God, became restless and went on a rampage destroying his sister’s rice fields, hurled a flayed pony at her loom, and killed one of her attendants in a fit of rage. Amaterasu, who was in fury and grief, hid inside the Ama-no-Iwato (“heavenly rock cave”), thus effectively hiding the sun for a long period of time.

Remembered from a scrap in an old book and this found in Wikipedia

Another version of this myth, again from the Internet


Susanowo was the god of the sea and the storms according to the ancient Japanese religion Shinto, which means “the way of the gods”. He had a furious and impulsive temper. He could create ravaging storms that caused a lot of damage. Once, his sister, the Sun goddess Amaterasu, was so distressed by his fierce temper that she decided to hide herself in the cave of heaven.

Unfortunately, without Amaterasu, who ruled the realm of light, darkness surrounded the world. Evil spirits left their hiding places. Using a trick, the assembly of the gods got Amaterasu to come out of the cave. Light once again invaded and colored the world. To prevent another similar accident, the gods banished Susanowo in the province of Izumo and took everything he had.

I have been unable to find an Egyptian or Libyan Garden of Eden although they may not exist.

The Egyptians relied much more of the flooding of the Nile which is sourced much closer to the equator. It is likely the Dryas periods had less effect on Egypt than on Mesopotamia.

The Libyans were based on the Northern edge of a vast fertile, pre-Saharan plain and again, may not have noticed the Dryas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.