The seven gods who rule the world were born when God laughed. …After he had burst out laughing, light appeared. …He burst out laughing a second time: the waters were everywhere. At the third burst of laughter, Hermes appeared; at the fourth, [generation]; at the fifth, destiny; at the sixth, time. Then, before the seventh laugh, God had a tremendous inspiration, but he laughed so hard that he cried, and from his tears the human soul was born.
This is a translation of an Egyptian myth, which I found here, by Stephen Nichols in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory. (I’ve changed ‘creation’ to ‘generation’ as the translation of the French “la génération” that he footnotes as his source, because I think ‘generativeness’ is at the heart here, not the static ‘stuff’ of creation.)
Hermes is the god of shepherds, land travel, merchants, weights and measures, oratory, literature, athletics and thieves, and known for his cunning and shrewdness. Most importantly, he is the messenger of the gods. (lifted from here). I like the way Wikipedia puts it: “Hermes is a god of transitions and boundaries.” He stands at the boundaries, not so much to enforce them as to transverse them. He’s the go-between. The boundaries are where play happens, where ‘is’ and ‘as if’ meet, where the sacred touches the ordinary.
I wonder what it felt like to live with this as one’s story of origins, as the story that tells its tellers who they are and what kind of world they find themselves in. If the world is born in laughter, then there is something playfully subversive about it. It doesn’t pay to be too solemn. When confronted with chaos, we laugh. Not the laugh of derision or cynicism, nor the laughter of madness, but a playful laugh. We play, and watch with delight as something new emerges. I love that human beings are an idea of God so ridiculously wonderful that God cries with laughter. We are the result of tears, but not of despair. It reminds me of the words of a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter: “I can cry until I laugh or laugh until I cry. So cut the deck right in half, I’ll play from either side.”
It is interesting to compare this to what we find in Genesis 1. There we also have the number 7, and God creating by expelling breath, but there is it a word, not a laugh. There’s also the creation of water, the setting of the boundaries, the marking of time (through the luminaries set in the firmament on the fourth day), the generativity bestowed on earth, plants and animals (let the earth bring forth …. With their seed in them …. Be fruitful and multiply ….) It is much more solemn, though. In Genesis 1 God knows what God is doing, and step by step executes the plan to make order out of chaos and to fill the void with life. In the Egyptian myth the creative process seems much more like we as human being might experience it. Out of delight, something new emerges. The Egyptian myth gives us another model of creativity, one that puts play and discovery and wonder at the heart of the process. It is like reading Genesis 1 through the lens of Proverbs 8, and identifying with Wisdom rather than God (which makes sense, since we are creatures before we are creators.) In Proverbs 8, Wisdom plays at God’s side and in the world, delighting in creation and in human beings. The bridge between the divine and the human realm is Wisdom at play.