An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Creation Myths

Each culture has its own version of how the universe began. Artist Noah MacMillan brings this “visual vocabulary” to life

The watercolor above is an East African myth: Juok the Creator (shown twice) molding Egyptians from reddish brown clay and Southern Sudanese from the black earth. MacMillan says this image came faster than any of the others, "I literally did the entire thing in an hour and a half, just at home with no prior planning or sketching." Noah MacMillan
Here, MacMillan depicts the Aztec sun and war god, Huitzilopochtli, who killed his rival sister and many of his 400 siblings, using a flaming serpent as his weapon. Huitzilopochtli is known for leading the Aztecs into the Valley of Mexico. Noah MacMillan
Though some of the stories were quite literal, MacMillan says he approached others more abstractly, as was the case with Hinduism's origin tales. "It's trying to boil a sometimes much longer and more complex story down to one image and so it's not as much the whole narrative as just the mood that I was able to extract from it." The lotus bloom that birthed both Lord Brahma and all creation emerges between the hands of Lord Vishnu, surrounded by the heavens. Noah MacMillan
Mankind came to this world through a rip in the sky, according to the Huron, originally from Ontario. Actually, woman came first. Falling to the watery realm below her, the Sky Woman was caught and rescued by two birds who helped her create Earth on the back of a turtle. Noah MacMillan
MacMillan looked for geographical range in his artwork, venturing as far east as China where Nü Wa once explored the wild world on her own, eventually creating humans from the mud. Soon, disaster befell her world, and it was filled with flood, fire and wild beasts. She had to drive the beasts away and repair the earth, an effort that left her so exhausted, she laid down and became part of the earth itself. His design shows modern-day celebrations remembering her struggle. Noah MacMillan

The world's creation stories have a colorful cast. Artist Noah MacMillan set out to capture nine such tales, from the Aztecs to the Inuit. "They almost always have the same prompt: How do you explain the sun and the moon?" says MacMillan, who researched traditional art and clothing to imbue his work with each culture's distinct "visual vocabulary." He used a combination of hand drawn and digital color processes, focusing on "how people responded to their direct environment" to tell their story.

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