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Dualistic cosmology

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Dualistic cosmology is a collective term. Many variant myths and creation motifs are so described in ethnographic and anthropological literature. These motifs conceive the world as being created, organized, or influenced by two demiurges, culture heroes, or other mythological beings, who either compete with each other or have a complementary function in creating, arranging or influencing the world.

There is a huge diversity of such cosmologies. In a Chukchi example, the two beings do not compete, rather collaborate. They contribute to the creation in a coequal way. They are neither collateral nor consanguineous relatives.[1] In many other instances the two beings are not of the same importance or power (sometimes, one of them is even characterized as gullible). Sometimes they can be contrasted as good versus evil.[2] They may be often believed to be twins or at least brothers.[3][4]

Dualistic motifs in mythologies can be observed in all inhabited continents. Zolotaryov concludes that they cannot be explained by diffusion or borrowing, but are of convergent origin: they are related to a dualistic organization of society (moieties); in some cultures, this social organization may have been ceased to exist, but mythology may preserve memories in more and more disguised ways.[5]

Types of dualism

  • Radical Dualism - or absolute Dualism which posits two co-equal divine forces. Manichaeism conceives of two previously coexistent realms of light and darkness which become embroiled in conflict, owing to the chaotic actions of the latter. Subsequently, certain elements of the light became entrapped within darkness; the purpose of material creation is to enact the slow process of extraction of these individual elements, at the end of which the kingdom of light will prevail over darkness. Manicheanism likely inherits this dualistic mythology from Zoroastrianism, in which the eternal spirit Ahura Mazda is opposed by his antithesis, Angra Mainyu; the two are engaged in a cosmic struggle, the conclusion of which will likewise see Ahura Mazda triumphant. 'The Hymn of the Pearl' included the belief that the material world corresponds to some sort of malevolent intoxication brought about by the powers of darkness to keep elements of the light trapped inside it in a state of drunken distraction.
  • Mitigated Dualism - is where one of the two principles is in some way inferior to the other. Such classical Gnostic movements as the Sethians conceived of the material world as being created by a lesser divinity than the true God that was the object of their devotion. The spiritual world is conceived of as being radically different from the material world, co-extensive with the true God, and the true home of certain enlightened members of humanity; thus, these systems were expressive of a feeling of acute alienation within the world, and their resultant aim was to allow the soul to escape the constraints presented by the physical realm.



Gnosticism is a diverse, syncretistic religious movement consisting of various belief systems generally united in the teaching that humans are divine souls trapped in a material world created by an imperfect god, the demiurge, who is frequently identified with the Abrahamic God. The demiurge may be depicted as an embodiment of evil, or in other instances as merely imperfect and as benevolent as its inadequacy permits. This demiurge exists alongside another remote and unknowable supreme being that embodies good.

Bogomils, Paulicans and Cathars are typically seen as being imitative of Gnosticism. Whether or not the Cathari possessed direct historical influence from ancient Gnosticism is a matter of dispute. The basic conceptions of Gnostic cosmology are, however, to be found in Cathar beliefs (most distinctly in their notion of a lesser creator god). Unlike the second century Gnostics, they did not apparently place any special relevance upon knowledge (gnosis) as an effective salvific force.

Uralic peoples

In a Nenets myth, Num and Nga collaborate and compete with each other, creating land,[6] there are also other myths about competing-collaborating demiurges.[7]

Comparative studies among Uralic peoples and Kets

Among others, also dualistic myths were investigated in researches which tried to compare the mythologies of Siberian peoples and settle the problem of their origins. Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov compared the mythology of Ket people with those of Uralic peoples, assuming in the studies, that there are modelling semiotic systems in the compared mythologies; and they have also made typological comparisons.[8][9] Among others, from possibly Uralic mythological analogies, those of Ob-Ugric peoples[10] and Samoyedic peoples[11] are mentioned. Some other discussed analogies (similar folklore motifs, and purely typological considerations, certain binary pairs in symbolics) may be related to dualistic organization of society — some of such dualistic features can be found at these compared peoples.[12] It must be admitted that, for Kets, neither dualistic organization of society[13] nor cosmological dualism[14] has been researched thoroughly: if such features existed at all, they have either weakened or remained largely undiscovered;[13] although there are some reports on division into two exogamous patrilinear moieties,[15] folklore on conflicts of mythological figures, and also on cooperation of two beings in creating the land:[14] the diving of the water fowl.[16] If we include dualistic cosmologies meant in broad sense, not restricted to certain concrete motifs, then we find that they are much more widespread, they exist not only among some Uralic peoples, but there are examples in each inhabited continent.[17]


A Chukchi myth (it has many variations) reports the creation of the world, and in some variations, it is done by the collaboration of several beings (birds, collaborating in a coequal way; or the creator and the raven, collaborating in a coequal way; or the creator alone, using the birds only as assistants).[1][18]


All three Fuegian tribes had dualistic myths about culture heros.[19] The Yámana have dualistic myths about the two Template:IPA-xx brothers. They act as culture heroes, and sometimes stand in an antagonistic relation with each other, introducing opposite laws. Their figures can be compared to the Kwanyip-brothers of the Selk'nam.[20] In general, the presence of dualistic myths in two compared cultures does not imply relatedness or diffusion necessarily.[17]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Zolotarjov 1980: 40–41
  2. Zolotarjov 1980: 42
  3. Zolotarjov 1980: 43
  4. Gusinde 1966: 71, 181
  5. Zolotarjov 1980: 54
  6. Vértes 1990: 104, 105
  7. Zolotarjov 1980: 47–48
  8. Ivanov & Toporov 1973
  9. Ivanov 1984:390, in editorial afterword by Hoppál
  10. Ivanov 1984: 225, 227, 229
  11. Ivanov 1984: 229, 230
  12. Ivanov 1984: 229–231
  13. 13.0 13.1 Zolotaryov 1980: 39
  14. 14.0 14.1 Zolotaryov 1980: 48
  15. Zolotaryov 1980: 37
  16. Ivanov 1984: 229
  17. 17.0 17.1 Zolotarjov 1980: 56
  18. Anyiszimov 1981: 92–98
  19. Gusinde 1966:71
  20. Gusinde 1966:181


  • Anyiszimov, A. F. (1981) (in Hungarian). Az ősközösségi társadalom szellemi élete. Budapest: Kossuth Könyvkiadó. ISBN 963-09-1843-9.  Title means: “The spiritual life of the primitive commune”. The book is composed out of the translations of the following two originals: Анисимов, Ф. А. (1966) (in Russian). Москва • Ленинград: Наука.  The other one: Анисимов, Ф. А. (1971) (in Russian). Москва • Ленинград: Наука. 
  • Gusinde, Martin (1966) (in German). Nordwind—Südwind. Mythen und Märchen der Feuerlandindianer. Kassel: E. Röth.  Title means: “North wind—south wind. Myths and tales of Fuegians”.
  • Ivanov, Vyacheslav; Vladimir Toporov (1973). "Towards the Description of Ket Semiotic Systems". Semiotica (The Hague • Prague • New York: Mouton) IX (4): 318–346. 
  • Ivanov, Vjacseszlav (=Vyacheslav) (1984). "Nyelvek és mitológiák" (in Hungarian). Nyelv, mítosz, kultúra. Collected, appendix, editorial afterword by Hoppál, Mihály. Budapest: Gondolat. ISBN 963-281-186-0.  The title means: “Language, myth, culture”, the editorial afterword means: “Languages and mythologies”.
  • Ivanov, Vjacseszlav (=Vyacheslav) (1984). "Obi-ugor és ket folklórkapcsolatok" (in Hungarian). Nyelv, mítosz, kultúra. Collected, appendix, editorial afterword by Hoppál, Mihály. Budapest: Gondolat. pp. 215–233. ISBN 963-281-186-0.  The title means: “Language, myth, culture”, the chapter means: “Obi-Ugric and Ket folklore contacts”.
  • Vértes, Edit (1990) (in Hungarian). Szibériai nyelvrokonaink hitvilága. Budapest: Tankönyvkiadó. ISBN 963-18-2603-1.  The title means: “Belief systems of our language relatives in Siberia”.
  • Zolotarjov, A.M. (1980). "Társadalomszervezet és dualisztikus teremtésmítoszok Szibériában". in Hoppál, Mihály (in Hungarian). A Tejút fiai. Tanulmányok a finnugor népek hitvilágáról. Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó. pp. 29–58. ISBN 963-07-2187-2.  Chapter means: “Social structure and dualistic creation myths in Siberia”; title means: “The sons of Milky Way. Studies on the belief systems of Finno-Ugric peoples”.

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