Ages of Mythology
According to Karen Armstrong following are the various
developmental phases of mythology through human history.
1. The Palaeolithic Period: Age of the Hunters, 20000 – 8000 BC
2. The Neolithic Period: Age of the Farmers, 8000 – 4000 BC
3. The Early Civilizations: 4000 – 800 BC
4. The Axial Age: 800 – 200 BC
5. The Post Axial Period: 200 – 1500 CE
6. The Great Western Transformation: 1500 – 2000
The Palaeolithic Period 20000-8000 BC
1. Palaelithic people could not grow crops, and depended entirely
2. Some of the early mythologies were associated with “Sky God”
which seems to have given people their first notion of the divine.
The endless drama of thunderbolts, rain, storms, eclipses, stars and
meteors had a dynamic life of their own.
Sky god was believed to be sole creator of heaven and earth.
Every pantheon has a sky god. This made Palaeolithic society a
monotheistic society to some extent.
Since The Palaeolithic period “Height” has remained the
mythological symbol of the divine.
Height as a symbol signifies man’s quest to attain a higher
realm of the divine or consciousness. For this very reason,
mountains are considered holy in many mythologies and
religions. Mountains signify a “middle realm” where the
divine and the earthly meet. Mosses, Elijah etc.
Indira, Enlil & Baal, Uranus, (Various mythological sky gods)
3. The myths related to ascent were associated with Shamans.
Shamans operate only in hunting societies, and animals
play an important role in their spirituality. A Shaman
goes to the wild to train with animals. He meets
different animals, who teach him lessons of wisdom. He
is taught the lessons of ecstasy, animal language and
befriends them. Animals were not seen as inferior
beings because they possessed wisdom.
Shaman goes along the hunting party.
Drum beating along with sacred chants and dancing
are performed during the hunt.
A hunter must remain pure, physically and spiritually
before the hunt.
After the killing, meat is stripped from the bones and
skeleton, skull and pelt are carefully laid out in an
attempt to reconstruct the animal and give it a new
Young boys are taken away from their mothers to
transform them into men.
It is a symbolic death and rebirth. The boy’s childhood
dies, and adulthood is born.
Sometimes they are buried in tombs or grounds.
They are subjected to intense physical pain. They might
This extreme experience changes the boy forever.
At the end of this experience the boy learns that death
is actually a rebirth, and he returns to his society as a
wise man and a warrior.
The Great Goddess of Hunt
Female is an eternal force. Men die and are
expendables. Women endure.
Women ensured the continuity of life.
The Neolithic Period: 8000-4000 BC
The discovery of earth as a chief source of food.
Farming, instead of hunting, became the sacred duty
of the Neolithic people.
The mysterious process of seed becoming a plant
was seen as the revelation of the divine energy. Earth
was considered a maternal womb.
Mother Earth replaced the Father Sky as the “High
Goddess”. A mystical return to the source of all
Asherah, Anat, in Syria
Demeter, Hera in Greece
Motherh Earth is not always benovolant.
Anat is depicted as a fierce warrior, walking through a
sea of blood.
Demeter’s Anger in Greek mythology.
Earth was a living womb. A divine source of everything. Rituals
were designed to make the mother Earth happy and
First seeds were thrown away.
First fruits were left unpicked.
Neolithic people believed in the ideology of give and take.
The Early Civilisations 4000-800 BC
The age of the builders. Mesopotamia and Egypt,
later in China, India and Crete.
The development caused wars, bloodshed and
destruction. The religious writers saw it as a
separation from the divine—another lost paradise.
The Tower of Babel. A human act of hubris.
Ziggurat replaced mountain as the palace of
gods. Gods lived among men.
Cities were considered abodes of different gods
like Enki, Enlil and Inanna.
Mesopotamian people believed that like them,
their gods were city planners. Their chief god was
Enki, god of wisdom.
He was the patron of metal workers, technicians,
physicians, leather workers, potters, irrigation
technicians, barbers and builders.
According to Mesopotamian creation myths gods came
into being through an evolutionary process. The gods
emerged from a sacred matter.
Sky, Earth and sea were not separate.
Gods emerged from a slime of mixed elements.
Apsu, sweet river god, Tiamat, the salty sea god and
Mammu, cloud god came into being first.
A Mesopotamian flood poem.
In the poem gods are shown as city planners. The lesser gods go on
strike due to the exhaustive process of digging waters canals to make
the country side habitable. The mother goddess, creates human beings
to perform the building tasks. Enlil, decided to flood the human race
because they produced so much noise while building.
Enki decides to save Atrahasis, the wisest man of the population.
Enki tells him to build a boat. A godly device of technology. He along
with his wife are saved and repopulate the earth.
In Vedic Cosmology, Purusha, a cosmic giant,
offered himself up to the gods, who
dismembered him, and made the cosmos and
human society including social classes from
his body parts.
In Chinese Mythology, a giant
named Pan Gu, worked for 36000
years to make universe, and then
died of exhaustion.
Axial Age 800-200 BC
It marks the beginning of religion.
Many religious-philosophical systems emerged.
Confucianism and Taoism in China.
Buddhism and Hinduism in India.
Monotheism in Middle East.
Rationalism in Greece and Europe.