The first traceable written record of the myth of Pan Gu was made during the period called the ‘The Three Kingdoms’ in China (220 to 280 AD), by Xu Zheng, who was a Taoist writer famous for ‘Three Five Historic Records’ and ‘Biographies of Spirits and Immortals’.
Opinions differ as to whether he was writing down a Chinese myth that had its origins a thousand years before in Southern China, or whether he ‘distilled’ it from the creation stories of a number of cultures further west.
There are variations of the story in different parts of China. Indeed Xu Zheng himself is attributed two versions, this one explains the Yin and the Yang, a core concept in Chinese philosophy. The yin and yang are complementary forces (often seemingly opposite like light and dark and, in this story, the heavens and earth) which combine to form a balanced whole.
Are there other similar creation myths?
Ymir killed by Odin and brothers
There are many creation myths from very different parts of the world, in which the world is formed from the body of a primal being or god. Here are two examples, please look for others.
In Babylonian mythology, the god Marduk kills Tiamat, who is the primordial goddess of the ocean. Marduk cuts her body in half and one half becomes the heavens and the other, the earth.
In Norse mythology, the primordial giant Ymir, who has become evil, is killed by Odin and his brothers. Ymir's flesh forms the land, his blood creates the sea, his bones become mountains and his hair forms the trees.
What is 'The Cosmic Egg'?
Many cultures, the world over, have origin myths containing some form of a ‘Cosmic Egg’. In each case, the egg symbolizes the origins of conscious life. In some myths the egg is produced by some kind of mother figure, in others, such as this, the egg just grows in chaos.
The cosmic egg contains all the material needed for life to begin, just as the eggs produced by the creatures of the world contain what is needed for each creature to grow. Similarly, as Pan Gu eventually broke from his egg, lived to create the heavens and earth and then died to form earth’s features and life, creatures break out of their eggs, fulfill their life and then die and become part of the earth cycle again.
Cosmic eggs can also be found in the creation mythologies of the Egyptians, the Hindu and the Greeks amongst many others.
Isn't this all like the Big Bang theory?
The Big Bang?
Many creation myths and theories suggest chaos came first. And out of the chaos sprang order in some way. Pang Gu’s gigantic egg formed from the chaos and contained all the elements of the universe totally intermixed together. The Greeks were the ones who gave this initial formless state of the universe the name of chaos.
The separation of the heavens and earth generally comes next in origin myths – sometimes formed by two deities instead of just one – often of different genders.
The concept of chaos being the original state was also explored by modern scientists trying make sense of the idea of an expanding universe and the idea that it is eternally old.
However, the current theories suggest that there was a kind of ‘cosmic egg’, into which the entire mass of the universe was compressed, before being released by the ‘Big Bang’ and expanding into its present state.