Eve was Created from Adam’s Rib, but What About the Other Women? Where did the First Women of Ancient Creation Come From?

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Eve was Created from Adam’s Rib, but What About the Other Women? Where did the First Women of Ancient Creation Come From?

Eve was Created from Adam’s Rib, but What About the Other Women? Where did the First Women of Ancient Creation Come From?

In the Bible, Genesis 2:7 is the first verse that tells us about the first man. It tells how God formed a man from the dust and blew the breath of life into him. The man was then placed in Eden where he had to tend the garden and animals. In the garden, there was a tree containing the knowledge of good and evil. God prohibited the man from eating the fruit of this tree.

Adam and Eve: Benedictine monastery St. Michael's Church, Hildesheim, Germany (Public Domain)

Adam and Eve: Benedictine monastery St. Michael's Church, Hildesheim, Germany (Public Domain)

Later, as none of the animals were found to be a suitable companion for the man, God created a woman from the man’s rib. The chapter ends by establishing the state of primeval innocence, noting that the man and woman were "naked and not ashamed," thus providing the basis for the subsequent narrative where wisdom is obtained through disobedience initiated by the woman.

Although there are so many stories and interpretations surrounding the first woman, the story of Adam or Eve is by no means universal. According to the Iroquois, Huron, and Navajo people, the first human being was, in fact, a woman. This interpretation of the origins of the human race accords reasonably well with the facts concerning Mitochondrial Eve, who, according to currently popular scientific mythology, is the mother of us all. Nevertheless, the role of the woman in many legends is the most intriguing as, varied as they are in the method in which they were created and in their circumstances, the first women share many similar characteristics across cultures: they are beautiful, they change the course of the world through their mere existence, and they provide us with glimpses of personalities that women around the world still inherit to this day.

Lilith, Pandora, and Shatarupa: Women who Befuddled Men and Gods

For 4,000 years Lilith has figured in the imaginations of writers, artists, and poets. Her origins lie in Babylonian demonology, where amulets and incantations were used to counter her sinister powers - Lillith was described as a winged spirit who preyed on pregnant women and infants.

This portrayal of Lilith continued well up to the seventh century CE. However, in the Middle Ages, as the alphabet of Ben Sira was introduced, the ancient Babylonian she-demon took on new characteristics. The fifth chapter includes a Lilith with a new twist— as Adam’s first wife, before Eve, who left Eden because she refused to be treated as Adam’s inferior.

Lilith, by John Collier, 1887. (Public Domain)

Lilith, by John Collier, 1887. (Public Domain)

The alphabet’s narrative about Lilith is framed within a tale of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In his effort to cure the king’s young son, a courtier named Ben Sira invoked the name of God and inscribed an amulet with the names of three healing angels. He then told a story of how these angels travel around the world to subdue evil spirits, such as Lilith, who cause illness and death. Ben Sira cited the Bible passage which indicates that, after creating Adam, God realized that it was not good for man to be alone. In Ben Sira’s additions to the tale, God then formed a woman named Lilith. Soon the human couple began to quarrel as Lilith refused to lie underneath Adam, yet he insisted that the bottom is her rightful place and that she should submissively perform wifely duties. Lilith did not accept this and said that they were equal as they were both created from the earth.

In ancient Greek mythology, the story of the first woman first appears in Hesiod's Theogony (c. eighth to seventh centuries BCE). After humans, all of whom were men, received the stolen gift of fire from Prometheus (“forethought”), an angry Zeus decided to give humanity a punishing “gift” to compensate for the boon they had been received. Zeus commanded Hephaestus to mold the first woman, a "beautiful evil" whose descendants would continue to torment the human race “for from her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble.” When the first woman appeared before gods and mortals, they looked at her in wonder. However, according to Hesiod, the woman was "sheer guile, not to be withstood by men."

Prometheus brings fire to mankind as told by Hesiod (Public Domain)

Prometheus brings fire to mankind as told by Hesiod (Public Domain)

The more famous version of this legend comes from another of Hesiod's poems, Works and Days, in which Hesiod expands on her origin and widens the scope of the misery she inflicted on humanity. In this version, more gods contribute to the first woman’s completion. Athena clothed her and taught her how to weave; Aphrodite "shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs"; Hermes gave her "a shameful mind and deceitful nature" as well as the power of speech, putting in her "lies and crafty words". The Charites adorned her with finery and the Horae adorned her with a garland crown. The woman was given the name Pandora ("all-gifted") because all the Olympians gave her a gift.

Pandora, by Thomas Kennington, 1908. (Public Domain)

Pandora, by Thomas Kennington, 1908. (Public Domain)

Pandora brought with her a jar (due to textual corruption in the sixteenth century CE, this jar came to be called a box). The jar contained toil, sickness, and miseries that bring death to men. Prometheus had warned his brother Epimetheus (“afterthought”) not to accept any gifts from Zeus. However, Epimetheus, who quickly fell in love with Pandora, did not listen and accepted her. Pandora later opened and scattered the contents of her jar, releasing all the evil and miseries to the world, only leaving hope within. The opening of the jar serves as the beginning of the Silver Age, in which mankind is subject to the cycle of death and rebirth.

Hindu mythology believes that when Brahma was creating the universe, he gave form to a man and a woman. The man was named Swayambhu Manu (“self-manifested man”) and the woman was named Shatarupa (“she of a hundred beautiful forms”). However, after Brahma created Shatarupa and saw her for the first time, he was immediately infatuated and pursued her wherever she went. This made Shatarupa uncomfortable, and she moved in various directions to avoid Brahma’s gaze. However, wherever she went, Brahma developed another head until he had four—one for each direction of the compass.

A frieze of the Hindu deity, Brahma, with his many heads. (Jean-Pierre Dalbera/CC BY-SA 3.0)

A frieze of the Hindu deity, Brahma, with his many heads. (Jean-Pierre Dalbera/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Shatarupa desperately leaped over him to stay out of his gaze for a brief moment. At this, a fifth head appeared above the other heads of Brahma. Shiva saw this and sympathized with Shatarupa. Shiva then merged with his wife Parvati and formed the Ardhanarishvara ("half-man and half-woman god"). In this form, Shiva taught Brahma that males and females are the same because their souls are exactly the same—the soul does not have a gender, only material. The different outer bodies are only due to different body parts.

Born of Corn and Flower: Women who Inspire Men to be Better

A Cherokee legend says that for a time, the first man, Kanati, was very happy on earth. He roamed around the world, ate the fruits, and visited the animals. However, after some time, the man grew discontented and became very unhappy. This was mankind’s very first experience of “boredom”.

Due to his boredom, Kanati started to use his mind and his strength in a new way, such as shooting arrows at the deer, picking plants with no reason, and tearing up the animals' dens just because he could do it. Soon, the animals became concerned about him and called a council meeting to determine what to do. They thought that as the human was given a mind, he was supposed to have respect for other creatures. They called to the Great One to help them. Hearing their troubles, the Great One realized that he had forgotten his other gift for the earth. The Great One made a green plant grow up tall. Above the tall plant was a woman; a beautiful woman growing from the stalk of strong corn.

Meanwhile, Kanati had been roaming around the earth, sleeping in the strangest places and eating the unhealthiest food he could find. He was just lying on his side nursing a stomach ache when the Great One kicked him in his behind. "Get up you lazy thing," the Great One said, "be a man for your lady". The Cherokee believed that more than just being taught manners, we need someone to expect the best from us. Now that Kanati had this person, he quickly got up, brushed himself off, and gallantly offered his hand to the woman. The woman’s name was Selu.

The Gamilaraay people of Australia believe that Yhi, a goddess of light and creation, lived and slept in the Dreamtime. Whenever Yhi opened her eyes, light fell on the Earth and plants grew where she walked. One day, Yhi decided that in addition to plants, she wanted to make something that could dance. She shined her light on the being resting inside ice caves, and fish and lizards came out, along with many other kinds of birds, mammals, and amphibians. Before she returned to her own world, Yhi blessed her creations with the change of the seasons and promised that when they died they would join her in the sky.

After many millennia of the Dreamtime, Yhi decided to return to see the animals she had created. Each animal had a request for her. The kangaroo wanted to jump, the wombat wanted to wiggle, the lizard wanted legs, the bat wanted wings and the platypus wanted something of everything. Yhi granted these wishes. Before returning to the sky, Yhi saw an animal she did not recognize as he looked nothing like her other creations. This animal was a man and he was the only one who did not wish for anything. While the man slept, Yhi turned all her power on a flower. Soon, when the man woke up, he and all the other animals saw the flower turn into a woman.

With the arrival of the woman, the duties and obligations of man began. He was the hunter, the maker of shelter as she was the food-gatherer, homemaker, and bearer of children. They worked, danced, played, and loved together.

In one Maori creation myth, the primal couple are Rangi and Papa, depicted holding each other in a tight embrace. (Public Domain)

In one Maori creation myth, the primal couple are Rangi and Papa, depicted holding each other in a tight embrace. (Public Domain)

Embla and Mashyana: Without Whom Men would not be Complete

Askr and Embla are the first male and female in Norse mythology. After the gods created the cosmos, they created Askr and Embla from two tree trunks that had washed up onto the beach of the land that the gods had recently raised out of the primordial waters. The gods, led by Odin, endowed these newly-enlivened beings with önd (“breath/spirit”), óðr (“ecstasy/inspiration”), and  (most scholarly suggestions relate this to vital processes). Askr and Embla were then given Midgard, the world of human civilization for their dwelling-place as they became the father and mother of the entire human species.

Illustrated stamp for the Faroe Islands, 2003 featuring art of the Völuspá - Ask and Embla - The First Human Beings. (Postverk Føroya - Philatelic Office/Public Domain)

Illustrated stamp for the Faroe Islands, 2003 featuring art of the Völuspá - Ask and Embla - The First Human Beings. (Postverk Føroya - Philatelic Office/Public Domain)

One of our two main sources for the narrative of Askr and Embla’s origin is the Völuspá (“The Insight of the Seer”), one of the poems in the Poetic Edda. By calling the first man Askr (“Ash Tree”) and the first woman Embla (“Water Pot”), and by linking this first couple to the image of the tree and the well in the structure of their poetry, masculinity and femininity were shown to be sacred, complimentary, and reciprocal in the cosmology; one was just as essential to the promotion of life and well-being as the other. The Roman historian Tacitus recognized this when he wrote Germania, regarding the Germanic tribes of the first century CE, “Their holy places are the woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence.”

Zoroastrianism believes that in the beginning, there were only Ahura Mazda, the wise lord, and the Evil Spirit, Ahriman. One day, Ahura Mazda made the sky, water, and plants of the earth, quickly followed by big and small animals. He then created the first man, Gayomard. After all this was done, evil Ahriman decided to destroy what had been created. He returned to his darkness and began to create demons and evil things to attack the pure light. When the wise lord Ahura Mazda realized his creations would be attacked, he created six immortals to guard his creations. Ahriman became enraged by this and began his attacks.

As he could not destroy them, Ahriman found ways to ruin Ahura Mazda’s creations. He brought bitterness to the water. He created mountains and valley to the flat earth. He inflicted death into life, condemning them to always be fighting each other. He also mixed pain into pleasure and sadness into happiness. Gayomard, the first man, who tried to protect the earth from evil Ahriman and his demons was unable to defeat them alone. However, a rhubarb plant grew where Gayomard died and after 40 years a man and a woman, Mashya and Mashyana grew from the rhubarb plant.  Mashya and Mashyana promised Ahura Mazda that they would help him in his struggle against Ahriman together.

The birth of Mashya and Mashyana from a rhubarb plant. (Pborys/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The birth of Mashya and Mashyana from a rhubarb plant. (Pborys/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Martini Fisher is a Mythographer and author of many books, including Time Maps: Evolution of Languages and Writings. For regular updates about Martini’s books, interviews, courses, and blog, check out MartiniFisher.com


Top Image: Pandora, Bouguereau, 1890 (Public Domain) and mosaic of Eve and snake (Wikimedia Commons);Deriv.

By Martini Fisher


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