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From what I know, there were at least three ancient civilizations that believed that giants created the world.

Firstly, we have the Chinese, where the creation myth dates back to 600 BC, according to which, the giant Phan Ku creates the world and everything in it.

Secondly, we have an Icelandic myth called Prose Edda where after some events, Imir the giant took form and the creation begun.

And last but not least, we have the Krachi people of Rongo in West Africa, where they believed that there was the vast blue god-giant Wulbarib.

Why were there so many beliefs that giants creates the world?

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    There are thousands of ethnic groups in the world and you listed three; I am not convinced there really is "so many" giant creation myths. BTW, the Chinese Panku creation myth did not appear until ~2nd-3rd century AD, probably as an evolution of an earlier myth of Panhu, a worm-turned-dog-turned-dogman. – Semaphore Jul 28 '15 at 4:54
  • Consider also Cylopean masonry. If current civilizations could not have constructed [these ruins], and all past people were inferior to us, then the ruins must have been constructed by alien visitors/giants, surely? – TimLymington Aug 8 '15 at 11:54
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I'll do a similar assessment of the Norse segment, since I'm most familiar with it, and because I think it is a good illustration of why giant beings are at least sometimes featured in such myths.

Technically speaking, Ymir did not create the world, he was the world (well, specifically, "the world," minus Muspellheim, Niflheim, and Ginnungagap, which already existed and actually created Ymir, himself; and possibly only Midgard and Asgard, specifically, though presumably the other worlds, too, given the dwarves were also created at the same time). His body (even before Odin, Vili, and Ve killed him) was the source from which the materials to make the world and life came. (Gylfaginning) It's a potentially subtle (on the surface), but rather important difference.

The world is freaking huge. Trees, left to grow for a few hundred years, can grow several feet in diameter and a couple hundred feet tall. The sea, even when out on it, stretches as far as the eye can see, and the sky was untraversible entirely. The planet, itself, is so huge that even modern humans have a hard time wrapping their head around the concept of its size (yes, we can measure it and can cite the distance of its circumference or diameter, but it's still difficult to fully understand what that size actually means).

We create things all the time, so someone had to create the world, right? We create things larger than us (houses, boats, etc), but generally require materials to also be larger than us (namely, trees), even if the materials aren't as large as the final thing, or if we use different parts of the source material for different purposes. So, the gods would have had to have a source from which to create things, since they were the creators. That's the hypothetical idea, anyway (unfortunately, it's impossible to know why ancient people created the stories the way they did, we can only interpret the information we do have, find patterns and whatnot, and form hypotheses).

It's hypothesized by some scholars -- namely Finnur Magnússon* -- that Odin, Vili, Ve (and, for that matter, their parents, Borr and Bestla), as well as Ymir, in the myth are representations of the primal forces of nature. Additionally, many parts of the natural world are, in other nordic myths, created/handled by Jotunar, are Jotunar, or handled by descendants of Jotunar, lending them again to the role of the primal/primeval forces. The stories, then, are a way of understanding forces that otherwise seem completely random, nonsensical, or otherwise mystifying (in Norse lore, this continues on beyond the creation myth, with the sun and moon as beings unto themselves, complete with parentage).

*(Using this link, because it seems and English version of Lexicon Mythologicum is not readily available online. Here's the original-language version for those interested. If someone knows of an English version, I'll be happy to link it.)

  • Hi, Shauna, welcome to Mythology! We generally require answers to cite reputable sources (e.g. no Wikipedia) to back up points. For example, your newer answer to a different question does that well. This is an interesting assessment, but it could use good references. Thanks! – HDE 226868 Aug 31 '15 at 23:55
  • @HDE226868 Unfortunately, sections of it are interpretation, but I've added citations for things stated as factual and tried to more clearly delineate the interpretation. – Shauna Sep 1 '15 at 12:55
  • +1, this is a pretty good answer insofar as the question is answerable. I like the observations in the 4th paragraph. – Semaphore Sep 7 '15 at 6:43
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I can only speak to the ones I know. The Greeks postulated two earlier generations of gods, including the Titans, who fought Zeus and co. for domination of the world, and lost. (Greek myth is complicated by the three generations: primeval gods, the Titans, and the Olympians.)
The other example that springs to mind is the Fomorians in Irish myth, who aren't giants, but once again are an earlier and somewhat monstrous (Balor of the Evil Eye) race who fight the new gods, the Tuatha de Danann, for dominance.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that gods come in generations, and the earlier ones are often distinguised by being less like idealized humans than the later gods.

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    The Titans were neither giants nor did they create the worlds. This really seems to be a different phenomenon from what you're describing. – C. M. Weimer Aug 2 '15 at 18:59

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