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Mawu and the Earth That Became Unwieldy


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(Fon/Benin)

Each of the three main pantheons, sky (Mawu-Lisa), earth-smallpox (Shapata), and water-thunder (Sogbo), has certain common characteristics. Each one is headed by deities who are androgynous or a pair of male and female twins; in each there is a youngest god who is mischievous and unpredictable. The three pantheons are alternative ways of viewing the gods and the heaven. The sky pantheon is generally considered the most significant of the three, the gods in the other pantheons being the offspring of Mawu and Lisa. Earth gods and thunder gods are the forces that deal justice to men, smallpox and thunder being their weapons. Mawu, the creator god, is the moon, mother of the gods, of the world, and of mankind, giver of souls to the newborn. Another god, Nana Buluku, had power great enough to create Mawu.

Mawu (moon, female) and Lisa (sun, male) are supreme. When there is an eclipse of the moon, it is said the celestial couple are engaged in lovemaking. When there is an eclipse of the sun, Mawu is believed to be having intercourse with Lisa.

Mawu created the universe. And as she went around creating the universe, she rode on the back of Aido-Hwedo, the great rainbow serpent who was so big he could encircle the sky. Every morning, wherever Mawu and Aido-Hwedo had spent the night, mountains stood; in whatever place the great serpent had lain coiled, the mountains rose and towered. When the world was finished, they soon saw that too many things were too big. The earth itself was too big; it was heavy. Mawu saw that it would surely topple. So she told Aido-Hwedo to coil around the earth and steady it. Aido-Hwedo coiled around the earth. Mawu told him to bear its weight, and Aido-Hwedo tightened up a little. Aido-Hwedo encircles the earth today. And to keep himself from slipping, he holds the tip of his tail in his mouth. He cannot bear the heat of the sun, so Mawu caused the sea to rise around him for his dwelling place. He arches across the sky from edge to edge and around the whole curve of the earth below. And his body lies in the sea. Once in a while, he gets tired and uncomfortable and shifts a little to ease himself, and then there is an earthquake in the world. One day he will get hungry and begin to swallow his tail. On that day, the world will fall into the sea. See also: Aido-Hwedo, Fa, Gu, Hevioso, Legba, Lisa, Nana-Buluku, Sagbata.

Subjects: Religion.


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