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Why do Most Cultures Have Flood Myths and Stories?

Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.

Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa

Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa

Flood Myths go Global

Flood myths have been around probably since man first started oral traditions. The most well known in Western culture is the story of Noah's flood from the Bible but there are many other stories. The Sumerians were probably the first to write down their flood myths with the story of Gilgamesh in around 2,600 BC.

In Europe Plato wrote of the city of Atlantis that swallowed up by the sea. It is said he got his story from the ancient Egyptians. This isn't to say that Europe did not have any original flood myths, as they did. The Arcadians, Samothrace, ancient Germans, Scandinavians, Celtic, Welsh, Lithuanian, Transylvanian, and Turkish peoples all had various forms of flood myths popping up in their culture.

In Asia the Vogul, Samoyeds, Yenisey-Ostyak, Kamchadale, Ataic, Tuvinian, Mongolian, Sagaiye, Buryat, Bhil, Kamar, Assam, Tamil, Lepcha, Tibetian, Singpho, Lushai, Lisu. Lolo, Jino, Karen, Chingpa, Chinese, Korean, Munda, Santal, Ho, Banar, Kammu, Zhuang, Sui, Shan, Tsuwo, Bunun, Ami, Benua-Jakun, Kelantan, Ifugao, Atá, Mandaya, Tinguian, Batak, Nias, Engano, Dusun, Dyak, Ot-Danom, Toradja, Alfoor, Rotti, and Nage all had their different versions of flood myths.

In Africa flood myths can be seen in the cultures of the Cameroon, Masai, Komililo Nandi, Kwaya, Pygmy, Ababua, Kikuyu, Bakongo, Basonge, Bena-Lulua , Yoruba, Ekoi, Efik-Ibibio, and Mandingo.

In Australia the Aboriginals of each region seemed to have a different flood myth and hundreds of tribes in the Americas each had their own wild stories of flooding as well. These stories often involved animals, sometimes rescuing people, sometimes riding the storm out with boats. In our current modern day world most of the major religions still have at least one flood myth among their texts.

The Common Threads

Although all the flood myths vary, sometimes to large degrees, many of them have some thread of commonality. Often these stories are told about one human character or one human family. Animals are involved in many of these stories and there is almost always a moral, with the flood coming only after the human race has committed some wrong doing.

Theories about their Origin

It's long been noted that flood myths are one of a handful of stories that seem to be common in almost every culture. This may be because floods are a common experience to the human race when heavy rains, monsoons, tropical storms, tsunamis, and other natural occurrences flood and destroy human habitations. It could also be part of our collective conscience, something strange in and of itself. Collective conscience is thought to be a throw-back memory from Paleolithic times. It's one theory why many mythologies around the world have not only flood myths but also tales of water monsters and ape-men (possibly a memory of Neanderthals.) This theory is sketchy at best.

Cross-cultural germination can be the root of some of these flood myths. Scholars are quick to note that flood myths in the Middle East started with the Sumerians story of Gilgamesh but soon was followed by cultures that came after including the Babylonians and Hebrews. As each culture became more globalized these stories got passed around and took on the moral undertones of the societies adopting them, accounting for the variations in the tales.

One of the most interesting theories is that all these stories could have started out as one story that really happened sometime during the end of the last ice age when glaciers would have been melting rapidly making ocean waters rise and swallowing whole civilizations near the coasts. So far this theory has gone unproven as many anthropologists think that civilizations (such as the building of cities) wasn't possible until much later, citing the lack of evidence. However if this ancient culture were to exist records of their existence would be very difficult to find, probably being erased by the sea. It is an intriguing idea.

In the end we may never know why flood myths are so prevalent across time and civilizations. Perhaps it is a testament to our fears about the collapse of society, civilization, or the world. It is not beyond our reach to hypothesize that perhaps even ancient man feared the ending of their known world and sought not to take on the vengeance of Mother Nature. Within every moral story, fable, and tale there does lie some element of human truth. Perhaps in this case the truth is our ancient knowledge that natural disaster and other people are our worst enemies in life.

Try some other ponderous articles by Theophanes:

Around the World in Search of Different Forms of "Family"

Judas the Misunderstood Disciple

Is Modern Isolation the Cause of Unhappiness?

Overworked Children and Their Parents

Feral Children - Raised by Animals and Wilderness

Seven of Earth's Mass Extinction Events

Why do People Choose to be Happy or Miserable?

Are Artistic Personalities Prone to Flirting with Disaster?

Theories on the Domestication of Cats

Do Neglected Children Suffer More Brain Damage than Abuse Victims?

some-speculations-on-the-commonality-of-flood-myths

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Comments

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on September 18, 2016:

Well.... I can't say I expected to hear from Jesus Christ for writing... but thank you for dropping by! Parable or not it's a hell of a story.

IAmJesusChrist on September 29, 2015:

Ugh, I can't believe people actually bought that shit. It's a parable, guys! Dad wrote a parable, it didn't really happen.

Okay?

*Sigh* why do my followers make me look so bad all the time

Erika Sims on August 04, 2015:

The Bible says "kinds", not "species" of animals. A look into the Hebrew language clears that up. So Noah only had to take two members of the canid family, not all breeds and species of dog/wolf. Insects most likely hitched a ride and again, "according to their kinds", not "400,000" species of beetle. So not only were the larger animals young, but 1. The gathering of animals was by kind with variations within those groups happening later. 2. Insects, fish, and different types of invertebrates were not on the ark; only those with " nephesh", the God-given breath of life, and those who truly could not swim for that period of time were saved.

So there's your "logic and science". But quite honestly, it will come to nothing unless you know Christ. The idea that this world is all there is happens to be nothing more than a philosophy, not the truth. But maybe you're comfortable being stuck in what you think is "reason"....

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on July 30, 2013:

No dear, that doesn't really help. Since we started classifying animals we've discovered over a million species of insects and there are more out there we've yet to discover. Some estimates say there may be another million species out there, other estimates say there might be as much as 30 million we've yet to lay eyes on. Now even if we took the most conservative estimate, that's 2 million species, that still means you'd have to find space for 4 million insects alone and even before this you'd have to track them down, find them camouflaged, catch them, and preserve them somehow for the voyage. And you'd have to keep a large majority separated so they wouldn't eat each other or be eaten, and that includes territorial species who might eat each other if say, they were confined in a small box together. And oh yes, while we're at this whole segregation thing, what are we feeding these bugs? Grass is great but only some bugs eat grass. Most herbivorous insects have VERY specific diets (say the leaves or roots of a very specific plant only it eats.) So before we've had the chance to even let on the mice we've already beyond filled up our whole ark with 400,000 species of beetles and all their insect counterparts. Insects, mind you, don't include spiders, all 34,000 species and seeing as they'll eat each other that's an additional 64,000 containers to add to the four million yo u already have. We're getting pretty damn cramped here.

Am I saying Noah didn't exist? No. Am I saying he had two of every animal on his ark? Nooo... although maybe he thought he did. The point is it isn't the literal interpretation of the story that's important it's the big chunks of commonality between stories and the moral given at the end. It says more about humanity and psychology than it does about math or science. Believe what you will but I will stick with the logical world that math and science have provided for me, which doesn't exclude a form of spirituality but it certainly keeps it within reason.

adrian mctiernan on July 30, 2013:

The apparent problem about the number of animals in the ark is easily solved if you consider that Noah took the young of the animal species, and that it is logical to assume that food supplies for the animals would partly be supplied by milk from adult animals of some species which could be used to feed the young animals, and plants could be also included in the food supply. Water would not be a problem, with the amount of rain which was rather a feature of the extreme weather during the flood. I have a friend from chapel who was really bothered by the problem of how to deal with adult animals and a smallish ark - about the size of several large buildings - and in answer to fervent prayer, was given a personal prompting from the Lord to understand that it was young animals which were taken onto the ark, and not mostly adults. Does this help?

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on April 14, 2013:

That is your right to believe what you want but it doesn't make sense to me. If the whole earth flooded all land animals would have gone extinct (and don't tell me they were all on that ark - which couldn't even hold two of each of all the world's beetles, much less large animals!) This is not to mention that flooding earth is 1)not logical to punish one species (human) and terribly inefficient if he's trying to punish all species (as many species live in water or can fly.)

sfumato1002 on April 14, 2013:

I am with Cary, the simple answer must be that a world wide flood did happen. the Bible does not just give the details..but also the reasons. It seems angelic life left their place in heaven to have sexual relations with human woman, resulting in half demon men and the entire race was ruined. God destroyed society or else we would have all self destroyed ourselfs.

purpletib on March 19, 2013:

The ignorance of Christians abounds. I love religion! It must be nice to live is such a blissful place where you delude your intelligence to find truth in fables written in a book that are just copies of other fables.

cary on February 11, 2012:

It's even simpler if you trust the truth that is written in God's Word. Can you but for a moment believe that it just might be true- no hidden theory, n no collective consciousness just the recorded history of the world as plainly told in scripture.

tlmntim9 on March 30, 2011:

tinyteddy

Ridiculous!!! How silly.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on September 01, 2009:

Very good background information.

LondonGirl from London on February 28, 2009:

fantastic hub - I really enjoyed it.

The co-existence of flood myths across cultures is fascinating.

LondonGirl from London on February 28, 2009:

fantastic hub - I really enjoyed it.

The co-existence of flood myths across cultures is fascinating.

issues veritas on February 27, 2009:

How many of the flood myths had vessels holding all the animals?

issues veritas on February 27, 2009:

How many of the flood myths had vessels holding all the animals?

Chef Jeff from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago. on May 12, 2008:

There are remnants of villages beneath the Black Sea that apparently were submerged in one, great flood. One can also add to that the apparent ruins beneath the waters near Japan and in the Caribbean.

Whitney from Georgia on January 13, 2008:

Wow! More thorough than I had expected. Thank you.

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on January 12, 2008:

Very nice. Thanks, Theo:-)

tinyteddy from INDIA on January 11, 2008:

hi

the entire flood myth is because of the meurian and atllantis concept where greatest civilsations have got submerged and it is treasures in the subconscious as history and carried over to genrations by way of religious and gnosis text books. see my article on lemuria for more details.

Ashok Rajagopalan from Chennai on January 11, 2008:

I 'third' it, as Mark Knowles would put it!

Eric Von Daniken happily used these myths 

to sell his books and propagate his ancient astronaut theory.

Clever chap, that! 

Iðunn on January 11, 2008:

what he said. :)

MrMarmalade from Sydney on January 11, 2008:

An excellent hub, i hope to read many more

Thank you