Many ancient cultures admit breezes, whirling sounds, whispers, voices, and shouts as creators of materials. It’s unlikely that modern thought does not investigate the physics behind it. In a world whose essence is acoustic, the sacrifice that “unfolds” the world is necessarily an acoustic phenomenon.
My translation from the Italian edition of “La Musica Primitiva” by Marius Schneider, Adelphi Spa publisher, Milano, 1992:
A Divine Voice creates World and Humankind
Studying the documents that refer to the world’s creation, we often encounter the difficulty of delimiting exactly the role of each of the gods that come into play. Comparing the different myths leads us to distinguish an Almighty God from another god in charge of creating the world. The Almighty never gets involved directly in action: he only has the idea of creation. He limits himself to “enunciating”, in an almost imperceptible voice, an inferior god whom he entrusts with implementing his idea. This is how, for example, Prajāpati, the Vedic god, acts when he creates the sky, the waters, the atmosphere, and the earth.
Similarly, in America, the god of thunder, or “great howler,” does the work of creation at the command of the great Manitou. But this inferior and more properly creator god is still placed too high to be able to deal with the creation of a material world. He can only produce an acoustic world. To complete his work, he, in turn, needs to designate a demiurge (the coyote or transformer of the English and American ethnologists) and entrust him with the partial materialization of the acoustic world. This assistant, who is sometimes crazy, is not always a faithful servant. A great liar and thief, he sometimes presents himself as a more or less declared adversary or at least as a bad imitator of his master.
Contrary to his master, always guided by the idea of good, Coyote gives birth to evil and prepares for the world’s decadence. Therefore, the activity of these first three figures is very particular. The Almighty is a purely celestial being. And “the great Dead,” who has no direct relation to the earth. In return, his helper maintains a certain contact with the earth as he creates the world. The transformer appears to be only a demiurge. he is the lord of matter. These last two figures, sometimes united in a single individual of a dual nature, represent the principle of concerted action. The first is essentially celestial; the second is instead terrestrial. Since heaven is where the dead reside, while the earth houses the living, these gods are neither dead nor alive but living corpses. It is also said that the other two gods dream while the Almighty is fast asleep. Death or sleep are the reservoirs of their strength.
In the mythology of primitive peoples, the Almighty, whose activity generally consists of giving life to the creator god, rarely appears. In most legends, it is almost non-existent or fused with its servant. The Big Ventri (America) says that “God” created the world by singing three times. The Miwok, the Uitoto, and the Masai attribute the world’s origin to the sound of a “divine word”, but the context does not allow us to discern whether this creator is the Almighty or his first servant. On the other hand, the great philosophies clearly distinguish two stages or two different figures. The Satapatha Brāhmana says that initially, only waters were animated by the will to create. That wish produced a golden egg that gave birth to Prajāpati, whose word gave birth to heaven and earth. According to the Laws of Manu, the egg is split into two parts: heaven and earth. Sometimes the Almighty seems to be the mind of Prajāpati. In the Tandya Mahā Brähmana, we read the passage: “Prajāpati wished to multiply and procreate. Silently he contemplated with his mind. What he had in mind became the säman (chant). He thought: ‘Here I am carrying an embryo; I want to procreate with vãc (the voice).’ He emitted vãc … and cut it into three parts: A was the earth, KA the atmosphere, and HO the sky”.
The Byhadāranyaka Upanişad describes the creator god to us as a dead man who sings or as the personification of hunger, that is, of the indomitable will to create, of the restlessness of coming out of nothing to “unroll” or “unfold” the universe. His aria, a chant of praise and joy, created the four elements.
Contrary to this dead singer who creates life, his assistant (Coyote) is a living god whose hoarse and broken voice “sings death”. He is the holder of the perishable matter that he can. sometimes fashion, but which he is unable to animate. In vain, he is given feathers to fly (sing): when he tries to fly, he loses his wings and falls to the ground. The Maidu (America) mythology also tells us that the two partner gods originally lived in the north where, while making thunder, they sang like talking trees. One day, crossing the waters in a boat (probably a drum tree), Coyote exclaimed: “Where art thou, o world?”
But nothing happened. Then the creator arose and sang “the chant of the created world,” and immediately, the waters began to echo. However, the creator could not do without the help of his servant because immateriality prevented him from giving a material body to his acoustic creation. Coyote then had to descend to the bottom of the waters to look for clay which, under the spell of the creator’s voice, turned into dry land.
Different Item Identifications; Creator of Material
According to the Mattole (California) and the Sakai (Malacca), a pair of divine twins created the world through a whirling wind. Similar beliefs are also found among the nomadic Mongols. But the most popular creative voice is that of thunder: the American Cheyenne represent in their pantomimes the great Manitou, who gives birth to the world utilizing the voice of thunder. The dual nature of the god of thunder (creator + transformer) is manifested above all in the distinction between the different noises attributed to him. In Timor, dry, clear, and celestial thunder is distinguished from another thunder whose voice is low, rumbling, and earthy. The Zulus do not fear heavenly thunder but are very afraid of earthly thunder. For the Masai, thunder is good and black when heard from afar; it’s red and evil when it’s near. The Ewè (Africa) call violent and sudden thunder masculine and prolonged rumble feminine. Tuia-Futuna, the god of thunder of the Polynesians, shouting splits into two parts (Tonga). For the Mbowamb (New Guinea), thunder is a pair of twins called Ngakukl and Ngkalka. In ancient China, the thunder that marked the beginning of cosmic life and every spring renewal was regarded as the laughter of the clouds. In Egypt, the god Thoth created the world by clapping his hands and laughing seven times. From that laughter, seven gods were born: “He laughed six more times, and every outburst of laughter gave birth to new beings and phenomena. The earth, hearing the sound, gave a scream in its turn, bowed down, and the waters divided into three masses. Fate, justice, and soul were born. Seeing the light of day, the latter laughed, then wept, at which point the god whistled, bowed down to the earth, and created the serpent Python, universal foreknowledge. At the sight of the dragon, he was amazed. He smacked his lips, and an armed being appeared at his smack. Seeing this, he was once again struck by amazement as in front of a being more powerful than himself and, lowering his gaze towards the ground, uttered the three musical notes I A O! From the echo of those sounds was born then the god who is the lord of all”.
According to the Yukis of California, God clapped his hands, saying, “Let this exists”, and the earth appeared. Yukun (Africa) claims that the world was created with a snap of the fingers. In the myths that give birth to the world inside a musical instrument, it is often difficult to verify whether the instrument is an attribute of the god or the god himself. But in that acoustic world, every concrete object is only a symbol, and since the gods are what they do, the subject and the attribute merge.
The creator that the Lango (Africa) places in a speaking tree, like the god of the Uitoto, who extracts the creative word from his body, is the drum-tree characteristic of these tribes. The Dravidian tradition also traces the world back to a drum sound, and indeed the cow (cloud) of the Rg Veda is the same instrument.
In Australia, the voice of thunder comes not from a drum but from a rumble. Each object, born from the crash of that instrument, bears the name of the totem god who made it resonate. But the turbot is mentioned more in rituals than in creation myths. Among the Kato of California, however, it produces the voice. Of the god of thunder “who brought forth all”, the Warramunga (Australia) relates that a god with a round body and no legs (a rumble) spewed men out of his mouth. Then some dogs rushed at him and tore him to pieces, and pieces of meat flew like diamonds. Wherever those pieces fell to the ground, trees sprouted. Instead of pieces of meat, other versions speak of feathers that were glued to the diamonds.
Often the creation is also accomplished by blowing violently or forcefully expectorating. The Chippewa (America) say God blew into the earth until it swelled. In the Caucasus, it is thought that the creator and the transformer succeeded in separating the land from the sea by blowing into the waters through two pipes. In the Nihon-Shoki (Japan), there is talk of a divine reed from which a creator god came. The Wintuns of California mentions a lamprey “with nine holes” (the nine orifices intended for respiration) which, early in creation, attached its mouth to a rock and played its body like a flute.
An American legend (Arapaho) mentions a sacred flute that God carried on one arm while walking fast on the sea’s surface. That rod was his only companion. For six days, the creator “moaned in a faint voice”. On the seventh day, he coughed to clear his throat and exclaimed, “Hey! Come and try to find land!” Then numerous cotton plants began to appear, and the turtle plunged to the bottom of the waters in search of the indispensable clay. Meanwhile, the god clutched his rod tightly to his chest. He did it five times; the sixth time, his body changed into a flute like a red-headed duck. He dived, and when he re-emerged from the water, he resumed human form. Then he placed clay balls on his instrument and played four songs to each. And the earth was. The bundle of reeds floating on the waters that the god Marduk covered with earth to form the continent could be a panpipe.
On the other hand, the flute often seems to have an affinity with the pipe, a classic attribute of the drum in American medical associations. It is also probable that the embers and smoke spewed by volcanoes correspond to the luminous chant. According to an Arapaho legend, the creator was a pipe floating on the water (perhaps a volcanic island); hungry from a long fast, he groaned and finally cried out for help until a duck (the transformer) brought him some mud which he placed on the embers of his pipe. Then the mud dried up and turned into dry land. The Pomos (America) say God created the sun using pipe embers. Instead of a flute or a pipe, Californian peoples mention feathers. The Yukis tell that the creator Taikomol hovered over the waters at the world’s origin as a feather, emanating a great chant. According to another legend of the same region, the creator, who resided in the north in the form of a pen, began to sing when he went east. As he crossed the foam of the waves, he gradually assumed human forms, and as he placed a crown of feathers on his head, the waters began to echo. In that solemn moment, the creator taught Coyote to participate in his chant and “glued” him to the person of his master. Undoubtedly, the pen that sings as it whirls and induces creatures to respond with a chant of glory to the Lord is directly connected to the wind turbines produced by the bird’s wings – thunder. Many Asian and American tribes consider this bird the world’s creator. The great Manitou has his idea of creation carried out by four thunderbirds, and the Vedic rși (primordial rhythms) are also considered birds.
The Sound Sacrifice
A Polynesian (Maori) chant says: “The power of procreation, the first ecstasy of living, and the joy in the face of growth transformed the silence of contemplation into sound”. That sound created heaven and earth, which “grew like trees”. The Tahitian god Taaroa, born of an egg, was a bird whose feathers turned into trees as creation progressed. Here sound symbols (egg, bird, feather, tree) pile up; they could represent the metamorphoses necessary to bring about creation, for such a work is not done without effort. Philosophy and rituals describe this effort as a rubbing, a spiral path, a circular journey, a whirling movement, or a sacrifice with which the transfer of forces is accomplished. In a world whose essence is acoustic, the sacrifice that “unfolds” the world is necessarily an acoustic phenomenon. Numerous texts report that the singer-gods first moaned and exhausted themselves by suffering and mortifying themselves with fasting. Then producing their scream of hunger and light, they warmed up, and their hunger to create new songs and to receive their echoes grew without ceasing. The Arapaho god is now a pipe, now a hungry flute. Prajāpati feels “emptied and exhausted” after uttering his creative song, that is, after having “sacrificed his body composed of hymns”, since “everything the gods do, they do with sung recitation. Now, the sung recitation is the sacrifice” (Satapatha Brāhmana).
The Brāhmanas never tire of repeating that Prajāpati, the creative song, is the sacrifice. More often than not, this god emits the different categories of creatures directly from his body, limb by limb, organ by organ. His head was the sky, his chest the atmosphere, his waist the ocean, his feet the earth. Having accomplished his work, Prajāpati loses his breath and falls apart. To put it back together, the help of his creatures is essential. «Being no more than a heart, he lay down. He let out a shout: “Ah, my life!” The waters heard him and, with [chanting] Agni-hours, came to his aid and brought back his trunk” (Taittiriya Brāhmana). The gods are glory and beauty but do not owe this privilege to nature. Those dead are sonorous, luminous, and immortal only thanks to the sacrifice of the sung recitation.
When Prajāpati had emitted all beings, he thought he had emptied himself and was afraid of death. Like the god Thoth, he was frightened by his works. “He brought forth Agni from his mouth… and Agni turned to him with his mouth wide open. Prajāpati was so afraid that his greatness came out of him. Then he searched within himself for an offering [a chant] which pleased Agni… and Agni walked away” (Satapatha Brāhmana). As long as the gods are alone, sacrifice takes place within or between them; after the world’s creation, it begins to extend and take place between the gods and their creation. As the gods live by the sound of the valleys of sound, they exist by the voice of the gods, making them resound. The sun of ancient Egypt feeds on “the roar of the earth”, which feeds on the rays of the diurnal star. This sonorous sacrifice of protohumans must have been very similar to that of the gods, given that (according to Brahmanic cosmogony) the first humans were incorporeal, transparent, sonorous, and luminous beings that hovered over the waters. Since the language that created the gods was a chant of light, all beings and objects in that world born of that music were not concrete, palpable objects or beings but hymns of light reflecting their creator’s ideas. They constituted the acoustic images that were the essence of their nature, and only in the second stage of creation would they clothe themselves with the matter.
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