The Mythology of Belief Systems in Different Civilizations: Mayans, Egyptians, and Shinto Cultures

The mythology of belief systems in different civilizations has an important influence on how people live their lives. The creation myth/afterlife, rituals, and deities from the Mayans, Egyptians, and Shinto cultures will be examined for similarities and differences. The beliefs will be examined to uncover the degree to which belief systems are universal among cultures or unique to individual cultures.

Creation stories of the Maya, Japanese-Shinto, and Egyptian cultures

Mayan creation story:

The universe began with a large pool of water. The land was brought forth by “Makers” and the Plumed Serpent. The makers made all animals of air, earth, and water. The animals could not speak and were therefore not a suitable fit for praising the gods. They then tried to make humans out of mud, but the creations were faulty because they didn't look good and disintegrated into water. The makers then decided to make humans out of wood carvings. These creations multiplied and talked. These humans were decided to be insufficient as they had nothing in their hearts and minds as well as no memory of their creator. Unsatisfied with the created humans, the Makers put forth a great flood. Animals came into the homes of the wood carvings and ate them. These failed humans are the explanation for present-day monkeys as they look like the previous people. The Makers tried a final time and made the people out of maize. These people were successful and became mankind. 

Japanese-Shinto creation story:

In the beginning of the universe, there was a shapeless void of matter. Then came the sounds of the movement of particles. This movement caused light and the lightest of these particles rose to the top of the universe. Below it, the other particles formed the clouds and then formed heaven, called Takamagahara. The particles which rose the least formed a large, dense mass called Earth. This separation of heavy and light particles created the universe. Five gods emerged out of the formation of the Takamagahara. These were the Kami Ame-no-minka-nushi, Taka-mi-mushi, Kami-mushi, Umashi-ashi-kabi-hikoji, Ame-no-toko-tachi. These deities were known as Kotoamatsuki, appeared unprompted, with no definite sex. The Kotoamatsuki went into hiding after their creation. Then, seven generations of Kami emerged. Of these, Izangi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto were the most important. They created the many islands of Japan as well as many deities of Shinto. The two Kami fell in love and wished to mate. They constructed a pillar named Ame No Mihashira. They then circled the pillar in opposite directions meeting on the other side. The female deity, Izanami, spoke the first greeting. They mated and produced two children, Hiruko and Awashima. These children were badly formed and were sent away on a boat. They were informed that the cause of this misfortune was the lack of manners from Izanami. This time, Izanagi spoke first and the union was successful. This union produced the fire- god, Kagu-tsuchi who killed Izanami in childbirth. Izanagi executed the fire god for the death of his wife (and sister). Izanagi paid a visit to his partner in Yomi-no-kuni, the underworld, with the intention of bringing her back. This was rendered impossible as Izanami had eaten food cooked in the underworld. Izanagi lit a fire a discovered his partner's hellish form. To avenge her shame, she sent the lighting god Yakusa-no-ikazuchi and the horrible hag Yomotsu-Shikome to chase him. Upon escaping, Izanami vowed to kill a thousand people every day. Izanagi replied that he would create one thousand five hundred people every day. Izanagi rolled forth a boulder, covering the entrance to hell and trapping Izanami. So begins the cycle of life.

Egyptian Creation story:

The beginning of the world was an infinite expanse of directionless and dark water, called Nun. The personification of the Nun was as four pairs of female and male deities. The couples represented one of each of the four principles that were characteristic of Nun. These were invisibility or hiddenness, infinite water, lack of direction and straying, and lack of light or darkness. Out of Nun, Atum created himself either by will or by uttering his own name. Atum emerged in the form of a Bennu bird, which was similar in form to a heron or Pheonix. Atum then created two children. Geb, the dry land, as well as Nut, the sky. The primeval waters then receded, and a mound of earth materialized. This created the first solid dry land for the sun god Atum to rest. The gods Geb and Nut produced four children: the god of disorder, Seth; the god of order, Osiris; and sisters Nephthys and Isis. Atum ruled over the earth. Divine beings and humans coexisted. Humans were created from the eye of Atum. This process was induced when the eye dispatched from Atum and failed to return. In the struggle to recapture the eye, the eye shed tears which became humans. As Atum aged, the deities and humans alike, plotted against him. This led to their fall from grace. Atum transferred into the god Sakhmet and slaughtered the rebels. Atum withdrew from the world taking with him the gods who became the stars. Thoth, the moon god, created a spell to protect humans from harm for when the sun disappeared below the earth. This is the separation from humans and gods, and earth from the heavens. Atum traveled across the sky in his sky boat as the sun. These is the creations of humans and the world.

There are few similarities between the creation stories of each civilization. Firstly, each civilization conceptualized the pre-existence universe as an empty void requiring creation from a divine being. Secondly, each creation story involves multiple gods having an influence on the creation of the world and humanity. Finally, each creation story hypothesized that humans were made from biological matter. There are many differences between the creation stories. Firstly, although each creation story says we are made of biological matter, they use different forms of biological matter. The Mayans state that humans were created out of maize. The Shinto state that humans were born from Kami. Egyptians state we were created from the tears of the eye of Atum. Secondly, Shinto’s creation story lacks the concept of water being present within the pre-universe void, as is found in the stories of the Mayans and the Egyptians. Thirdly, The Mayans conceive that there were multiple failed attempts at making humans, unlike the single attempt found in other myths. Lastly, the Egyptians often personified inanimate objects such as found in their personification of Nun. There are more differences than similarities when examining the creation stories of each civilization.

The beginning and the end. Summarizes of each interpretation of the afterlife

Mayan’s interpretation of the afterlife:

In the religion of the Maya, the afterlife was the quest of the soul in pursuit of paradise. Just as with any quest, success was not guaranteed. Upon death, save for certain circumstances, the soul was sent down to the Mayan version of Hell called Xibalba. Xibalba is populated by eldritch abominations. Perpetually dark, this place holds rivers of blood and pus as well as dead trees and barren landscapes. Lords of Xibalba were just as content in guiding souls away from the goal location as toward it. In order to ascend to heaven, the soul must ascend all nine levels of hell to reach the middle world. Furthermore, the soul must ascend thirteen more levels to reach paradise. After successfully completing the quest, the soul may descend to a lower level to live in paradise. Souls exempt from this journey include sacrificial victims, women and children who died in childbirth, those who were killed in battle, and suicides. 

Shinto’s interpretation of the afterlife:

Many interpretations of life after death in the Shinto religion. Adoption of the Buddhist view of the afterlife was used. As well, a conceptual land of the dead called Yomi exists. Yomi is the land of the dead mentioned in the creation story. This place is neither a land for the punishment of action performed during life, nor is it a paradise. It is simply a place for the deceased to carry a perpetual gloomy and shaded existence, in spite of actions performed while alive. 

Egyptian’s interpretation of the afterlife:

Upon death, one's soul would leave their body. The soul would then be collected by Anubis, the god of the dead and the afterlife, who would then lead them to the Hall of Truth. Here, one's soul would be judged by Osiris, Thoth, and the Forty-Two Judges. Here the soul would confess their sins in prayer. Each person would have a different list of applicable sins depending on what job they had in life. After confession, their heart would be weighed against the feather of truth on a golden scale. If their heart was lighter than the feather, then, after some consultation between the Judges and the gods, the person would either be judged worthy of paradise or not. If they were worthy of the soul would embark on a short but dangerous journey to reach paradise. Upon arriving in paradise, the soul would receive back all that was lost upon death, including loved ones, favorite objects, and even long-lost pets. If one’s heart was heavier than the feather, the heart would be cast to the floor where it would be devoured by the God Amenti. Once eaten, the soul would simply cease to exist, as the Egyptian version of a fate worse than death, is non-existence.

The similarities of the afterlife are scarce. Firstly, each contains the concept of a soul permeating into a life after death. As well, each conceives that there is a place for the soul to go after death. There are many differences in the ideas of the afterlife. Firstly, the Mayans and Egyptians believed in a soul quest in order to reach paradise. Secondly, both the Shinto and the Mayans believe that hell is not a desirable place to be. Alternatively, the Egyptians believe that if one fails the weighing of the heart, they simply cease to exist instead of hell. Thirdly, In the Mayan religion, if one dies in childbirth, battle, sacrifice, or suicide, they are instantaneously sent to heaven. In the Shinto and Egyptian interpretations, it does not matter how one dies. Fourthly, each portrayal of “hell” is different. In the Mayan perspective, one is to wander the nine levels of hell until they escape. The Shinto believe in wandering a gloomy Planescape. Egyptians believe that if one fails the weighing of their heart, they cease to exist. Egypt is the only place where a person's soul is judged based on their actions from their life. There are very few similarities between the concepts of the afterlife.

Actions speak louder than words. Commonplace rituals of each ancient mythos

Mayan rituals:

Human sacrifice - Blood was seen as nourishment for the gods. Most of the important rituals include elements of human sacrifice. Human sacrifices were usually high-status prisoners of war. Most usual methods include decapitation and heart extraction. Other forms of sacrifice include arrow firing squad, throwing them into a sinkhole, entombing (especially to accompany a noble burial), and disembowelment.

Bloodletting - It was believed that blood contained a “life force”. This life force was believed to be a required a supernatural force. Blood was offered to gods or deities. Practitioners had options when it came to methods. Blood could be taken by bone awls, thorns, needles, or obsidian blades. Locations for bloodletting include the nostrils, arms, legs, tongue, cheeks, lips, and ears. The blood would be caught on bark paper, cotton, animals, and feathers. The blood-covered items would then be burned in order to deliver it to the gods. Bloodletting was considered pivotal in every stage of life (much akin to Christian baptism, communion, and marriage).

Animal sacrifice - Sacrificed animals include quail, deer, turkeys, and dogs. Quail were of greater importance as they didn’t drink from “unclean” water sources, but from dew drops. 

Ear and Tongue cutting - Ears and tongues were important places to be cut. Ears were pierced in order to open their ears to the revelations of the gods. Tongues were cut in order to be able to speak these revelations. 

Consumption of Alcohol - Often drunken at ceremonies. Drunkenness was supposedly able to give the ability to interpret the reasons for misfortune, bad weather, and illness. 

Ethogenics - Hallucinogens were used to reach a higher state of consciousness and connect with the gods. Hallucinogens include fermented drinks, mushrooms, water lilies, morning glories, and salvia. Often used by Shamans (priests). 

Death rituals - The dead were laid to rest with maize in their mouths. A jade or stone bead was placed in the mouth to act as currency for the journey of the afterlife. Royalties were wrapped as a means of localizing their remains. A corpse may be buried with bloodletting tools to appease the Gods. Most Royals were adorned with headdresses, bracelets, and necklaces. Once a tomb was closed a fire was set on top of it to signify the soul leaving the body.

Fasting was a typical ritual for the friends and family of the deceased. They would then hold an all-night vigil around the corpse while burning incense calling upon the ancestors to guide them and watch over the new soul on its journey in the underworld. It was believed that the soul would return home and sleep for nine days after a successful journey to the underworld. Some corpses were buried and some were burned. 

Shinto rituals:

Shrines - Shinto holds no weekly service. Instead, shrines are available to visit at one's own convenience.

Birth rite of passage - A newborn infant commits its first visit within the first 30 to 100 days after birth. The Seven-Five-Three festival on November 15 gives the opportunity for boys aged five years and girls aged three and seven years of age. This visit is purposed for giving thanks for the protection of the Kami and for healthy growth. 

Weddings - Wedding ceremonies in Shinto style include pronouncing their wedding vows to Kami. 

Kannushi - Priests of the Shinto religion. They performed purification rights, acted as an intermediary between people and the Kami, and maintained shrines. 

Jichinsai - Before the construction of a building, the Jichinsai ritual is performed. This ritual is performed to purify the ground and to pray for safety during construction. 

Conventional festival rituals' order of events include: 

  • Purification - held at the corner of the shrine
  • Adoration - participants bow to the altar
  • The sanctuary door is opened
  • Offerings of food (cannot be meat)
  • Prayers
  • Music and dance
  • Offerings - symbolic and consists of twigs of a sacred tree bearing of white paper
  • Removal of offerings
  • Closing of sanctuary
  • Final adoration
  • Sermon (optional)
  • Ceremonial meal (often reduced to ceremonial drinking of sake)

Harae - Harae is a purification ritual. Water and salt are often used as a face and hand rinse. The shrine is also washed with the rinse prior to preparation with offerings of food and goods. 

An ancient and effective method of purification is full immersion in the sea. 

Egyptian rituals:

Funerary practices - Cleaning of the body. The organs are removed and placed in (canopic) ritual jars. The body is then embalmed. The body is wrapped and placed in the appropriate location for their class. Involves priests. 

Oracles - Oracles were used to ask for advice, knowledge, or guidance. 

The Rehearsal of Life - happened only in temples. Hymns were sung. Celebration of life in thanks to the Pharaoh. These were initiated by priests. 

Monthly observances - linked with the cycles of the moon, in particular the new moon. These were dedicated to the moon god Osiris. 

Opening of the mouth - priests gave statues offerings of food in the morning and evening as well as clothing, cleaning, and adorning them with new jewelry and make-up. Performed in sanctuaries, which only allowed the Pharaoh and priests. 

Execration ritual - Purposed with eradicating one's enemies. Ritual objects were bound (likely a small figurine but also could be a human sacrifice). Then the object was damaged or destroyed by stomping, smashing, stabbing spearing, cutting, spitting on, burned, locked in a box, saturated in urine, and then buried. Any number or combination of the aforementioned methods could be used. This process could be performed multiple times with multiple figures. 


There are some similarities between each civilization's rituals. Firstly, each civilization performs rituals to appease the gods. Furthermore, each ideated the concept of a priestly figure. There are some differences between each civilization's rituals. Firstly, each civilization has different focuses on how to perform rituals. The Mayans were focused on sacrifice and blood offerings. The Shinto more so focused on purification. The Egyptians focus on death and the praise of Pharaohs. As well, the Egyptians and the Mayans had elements of human sacrifice, whereas the Shinto did not. The ideations of rituals between the three are somewhat similar.

07 July 2022
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