• Proto-Indo-European Religion
• Indo-European Languages
• Indo-European Goddesses
• Indo-European Myths
• Creation Myth
• Myth of Ymir
• Correspondents in Other Languages and Religions
• Indo-European Creation Myth in Hebrew and Phoenician
• Indo-European Rituals
• Festivals, Food and Farming
The Primal Cow Creation Myth or the Myth of how the World was made from the body of a giant bovine is one of the best represented and most widely recognized myths of the Indo-Europeans. The following versions of this myth show the range of the material, and the approximate dates indicate the time span. The elements are (1) *Yama or *Yemós, the ‘twin’ who is (2) dismembered by (3) *Mánu, his brother, and then the parts of the twin’s body are used to (4) create the world according to a specific formula “his bones are the rocks, his blood made the rivers and seas”, etc. While the substance of the formula is essentially folkloric (rocks do look like “bones of the earth”), the use of the formula in this particular context and the linguistic correspondence of the names make possible the reconstruction of a Proto-Indo-European myth, as recognized by Cox, p. 189. This myth is also described by Mallory and Adams, p. 129-130, in the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture and many other modern authors including Jaan Puhvel and Bruce Lincoln, which is why it was chosen as the first example. The forms of the myth are organized here according to the language group.
Yamá dies (it doesn’t say how): “Yamá surrendered his dear body,” see Rig Vedic hymn 10.14. This was published on p. 223,
Vol. 2, in Vedic Mythology.
Sanskrit (late 2nd millennium BCE), “Yama died as the first of mortals.” The
original source is the Atharva Veda XVIII.3.13, and this was published on
p. 222, also in Vol. 2, Vedic Mythology.
later Sanskrit (1000 - 500 BCE). First a bull, then the wife of Manu, named
Manâvî is killed (with Manu’s permission) in sacrifice by the Ashuras but
without any world making. Here the bull is unnamed and although Manu gives
permission, it is the Ashuras who actually kill it. The original source is the
Satapatha-Brâhmana: 1 Kanda, 1 Adhyâya, 4 Brâhmana 14-17. This was
published on pp. 29-30, Vol. 12 (trans. by Julius Eggeling), Sacred Books of
Avestan and the Iranian Languages
Yima Kshaeta makes the world grow larger three times, but he does this while
he is still alive. This version is clearly mythological. Yima is the Avestan
form of Sanskrit Yama and Kshaeta means ‘shepherd’ later ‘shah, king.’ The
original source is the Zend-Avesta, Vendidad, Fargard II, and this was
published, p. 12-21, Vol. 4 (translated by James Darmesteter), in the Sacred
Books of the East.
Another reference, also in Avestan mentions “....Aži Dahâka and Spityura, he
who sawed Yima in twain.” According to the editor of the text (Darmesteter),
Spityura was a brother of Yima. The original source is the Zend-Avesta,
Zamyâd Yasht, VIII: 46, published p. 293-297, Vol. 23, in the Sacred Books of
Pahlevi (Middle Persian) texts date to between 224 BCE and 664 CE. In this
source Gayomard (older form Gaya Maratan ‘mortal life’) is killed by Ahriman
(spelled Aharman in this translation). A cow and Gayomard are both killed. Out
of the cow’s body grows the world, and from Gayomard’s body are born the first
humans, his children Mâshya and Mâshyana (who are male and female) so he is the
ancestor of everyone. The name Gayomard is not a good cognate with Yima Kshaeta,
but Jaan Puhvel equates them on the basis of the similarity of the stories. The
original source is the Bundahišn, Ch. 3, part 23, (“Gayomard spoke thus:
‘mankind will be all of my race’”) and Ch. 15, the whole of it. This is
published in Vol. 5 (translated by E.W. West), p. 19 and p. 52, in the Sacred
Books of the East. An analysis of this was published by Jaan Puhvel, under
the title Remus and Frater, pp. 300-311.
Pahlevi (Middle Persian). Here there is only the bare statement: “Spîtûr was
he who, with Dahâk, cut up Yim.” The original source is also the
Bundahišn, Ch. 31, Verse 5, and this was also published on p. 131, of
Vol. 5, in the Sacred Books of the East.
In Persian, from the Shah Namah written by Firdausi around 1100 CE, Yima Kshaetra appears in the later form Jemshid. In this source, Jemshid is sawed in two by Zohak. Jemshid is the Persian form of earlier Yima Kshaeta, and Zohak is the Persian form of earlier Aži Dahâka. Gaiúmart also appears in this text but he simply “passes away” after winning a battle against the son of Ahriman. The first section of the Shah Namah is ostensibly a history of the kings of Persia, although it is actually a reprise of old myths. As this source was produced in a Moslem cultural context, the beings are no longer “Gods” but they still have many supernatural qualities. The Shah Namah has been published in English in many very bad verse translations. The one used here is Vol. 1 of the Shahnama of Firdausi, translated by Arthur George Warner and Edmond Warner, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London, 1905. There is also an abridged prose version of this on the net, translated by Helen Zimmern, 1883, called The Epic of Kings.
Remus is killed by his brother Romulus at the foundation of Rome; and
Romulus is dismembered by the senators, “...there were some who secretly
hinted that he had been torn limb from limb by the senators...” There is no
world-making here, but Romulus is the eponymous ancestor of the Romans, and the
founder of Rome. One of the original sources for the stories of Romulus and
Remus is Livy’s Ab Urbe condita or the History of Rome, Vol. 1,
parts iv-vii and xvi. This has been published in an Everyman edition, translated
by W. M. Roberts, E. P. Dutton & Co. NY, 1912.
Gemini is the Latin word for ‘twins’ though it usually applies to Castor and
Pollux. They were worshiped all over the Roman world with votive altars with
inscriptions, which remained after the Romans were gone. They were especially
revered by sailors and they may be the source of some of the Pagan Saints which appear in early Christian myths,
such as various Sanctos Geminos, the various Sts. James and/or Santiago de
“It was not long before the men of Erin (Ireland), as they were there in the
company of Ailill and Madb early on the morrow, saw coming over Cruachan from
the west, the Brown Bull of Cúalnge with the Whitehorned Bull of Ai in torn
fragments hanging about his ears and horns.” Among the less revolting
distributions is this one: “Then he raised his head, and the shoulder-blades of
the Whitehorned fell from him in that place. Hence, Sruthair Finnlethe (‘Stream
of the White Shoulder-blade’) is the name given to it.” The original source is
the last chapter of the Táin Bó Cúalnge, usually called in English,
The Cattle Raid of Cooley. These quotations are from The Ancient Irish
Epic Tale, Táin Bó Cúalnge, translated by Joseph Dunn, publ. David Nutt,
A Roman text Germania 2 by Tacitus, writing in Latin in the year 98, tells that Mannus, the son of Tuisto, was the ancestor of the Germanic people. We never see this person/being again, but the names Alamanni and German(s) are interpreted (perhaps by folk etymology) as ‘all-men,’ the German name for themselves.
In Old Norse texts written down in the 13th century but composed earlier, Ymir is a giant dismembered by Odin and Odin's brother Gods to make the World with the formula:
“Of Ymir’s flesh the earth was fashioned,
The original source is the Grimnismal 40-41, (in the Poetic Edda or
the Elder Edda). This version is quoted from p. 21, The Prose Edda
by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, The
American-Scandinavian Foundation, Oxford University Press, London, 1923.
“The maiden upon returning released her bull. The bull knelt down and spoke
in a man’s voice: ‘Chop off my head!’ The maiden did not want to chop it off,
but she had to. She chopped the head off--a fourth of the seas disappeared,
became land. Her brother emerged from the bull. She cut off the heads of all
three cows, who were her sisters. All the seas disappeared, turned to land. The
earth sprang to life.” The original source for this is a folktale called
Saulė and Vejų Motina (“The Sun and the Mother of the Winds”), pp.
309-13, of M. Davainis-Silvestraitis’ Collection, Pasakos, Sakmės,
Oracijos (“Tales, Legends and Orations”) published in Vilnius, 1973. The
English version is from p. 67 Of Gods and Men by Algirdas J. Greimas,
translated by Milda Newman, Indiana Univ. Press, Indianapolis, 1992.
There are also West Semitic versions of the Indo-European Creation Myth, notably in the Phoenician of the Ras Shamrah tablets, and in Hebrew in Psalm 74 in the Old Testament of the Bible. The West Semitic versions are clearly borrowed from the Indo-European original as can be seen by the confusion in the meanings of the word Yam or Yama, which refers to a domestic animal in Indo-European languages but is a word for the sea or a lake in Hebrew and Phoenician.
General Link for Indo-European Myths
The image of Ymir was lifted off of a Gutenberg Project version of the Myths of the Rhine, by X. B. Saintine and is used under a GNU type license, which states "This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org". The complete Project Gutenberg ebook is available at Myths of the Rhine, and I appreciate their work in providing this, especially since the pictures by Gustave Doré are great, although the text of the book is bigoted nonsense, dating from 1875.
A version of this article was originally posted by me on Wikipedia but it was repeatedly vandalized by religious bigots. The page was published at pierce.yolasite.com/yamamyth but Yola was hacked in Nov. 2011 and they could not salvage their servers. It is now published here with many revisions based on continuing research.
© 2007, last updated 3/3/2014, at piereligion.org/yamamyth.html