Myths We Used to Explain Natural Disasters

It seems as though humanity has always had a deep and instinctual fear of natural disasters, even in ancient times. The immeasurable and destructive power behind it has always fascinated us, which is why our ancestors created a number of mythological stories that helped them cope with these very scary situations. The “gods” were often blamed as they lashed out against mankind in a fit of rage (for just about whatever reason made sense at the time). Below are a few of the myths that we have created over the centuries to explain natural disasters.

1. A Vengeful Earth Mother

For the Incans who lived in the regions of Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, their fertility goddess, Pachamama or the Earth Mother, had two very distinct sides to her. On one hand she helped nourish and protect plants and animals. On the other hand, she could be quite vengeful and unleash her fury onto humans in the form of earthquakes, landslides and even lightning. It didn’t help that she was often depicted as a dragon or serpent.

2. Namazu Shakes the Earth

In Japanese mythology, a giant catfish who went by the name Namazu was the reason why we had earthquakes. He is said to be contained under a colossal capstone by the god Kashima, who wasn’t always diligent about his duties. Despite Kashima’s efforts, Namazu still managed to shake his tail uncontrollably, leading to the formation of earthquakes and tsunamis. He later became a punisher of greedy humans, and sent his earthquakes to destroy the properties of the rich, forcing them to redistribute their wealth.

3. Tsunamis from a Sea Spirit

The Moken are a group of sea nomads off the coast of Myanmar and Thailand who spend much of their time swimming, diving or fishing for food. One of their legends involves the sea spirit, Katoy Oken, who sends forth “monster waves” to purify the people. In 2004, a magnitude 8.9 earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. A small Moken settlement of 200 could have been one of the many victims but only one person perished. They attributed this luck to remembering the story of Katoy Oken and his “man-eating waves” and ran to higher ground as the waters receded.

4. Kagutsuchi’s Body Made Volcanoes

Kagutsuchi was a Japanese Shinto god who was born from the creator gods Izanami and Izanagi. Because he was a fire god, Kagutsuchi’s birth led to the death of his mother Izanami, who was sent to Yomi, the land of darkness. Izanagi descended into Yomi to search for his dead wife but she was trapped and could never leave as she had already eaten food from hellish land. In his revenge, Inzanagi ended his son’s life and with the eight pieces that were left, mountain gods, particularly volcanoes, were born. These volcanoes went on to spew flame and heat just like Kagutsuchi did when he was alive.

5. Storms Stirred Up by the Thunderbird

Storms have always been of great interest to humans and the Native Americans were no different. In several native tribes, the thunderbird is seen as a powerful figure with the ability to control the weather by beating its enormous wings. While many tribes had their own account of the thunderbird, most of them agreed that it was a benevolent helper sent by the great spirit to help after natural disasters. A Quillayute myth stated that the thunderbird appeared out of a thunderstorm and gave the people a whale at a time when they were desperate for food.

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