Origin of the Gods

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 210 2023 May)

Gods are as old as civilization.  Egypt, one of the earliest civilizations had many divinities, one of which was Mayet, goddess of truth and justice and the personification of divine order.

If we look at wall paintings of Mayet we immediately see that she is dressed in the manner of an ancient Egyptian.  She wears a kalasiris – a kind of tight fitting chemise fastened just beneath the breasts and falling to the ankles, and is also adorned with jewelry typically worn by a noblewoman of the age.  Her features and coloration are also that of an Egyptian lady.

The ancient Greeks were also polytheists.  Zeus was the father of the gods, and is depicted wearing garments in the style of the times.  His features, of course, are distinctly European. Turning to India, we also find that representations of the god Shiva and other divinities are portrayed in the likeness of Indians with regard to racial features and traditional national dress.

In China, too, the gods of the Chinese – Shou-lao, head of the heavenly bureaucracy, for example, – resembles the Chinese people in appearance and costume.  On the continent of Africa, it can be seen that a similar situation prevails. For example, A Kwa Ba, the primal mother of the Ashanti people of Ghana has African characteristics.

What is most striking to the observer is how the various gods so closely resemble their worshippers in racial appearance, dress and attitudes.  How can this be?  Did the various divinities dictate to their worshippers what they should wear?  Did they create their worshippers in their own image – European gods creating Europeans, Asian gods creating Asians, and African gods creating Africans?

In the past this belief was generally assumed to be true – each culture had its own creator-god who was thought to be responsible for the origin of the world and/or mankind as shown in the table below:

Culture                    Creator-god

Egyptian                  Atum, or Atum-Ra
Greek                      Prometheus
Indian                      Brahma
Chinese                  Pangu
Yoruba, Africa         Olorun

The science of paleontology, as well as that of archaeology and evolutionary biology has revealed a quite different story.  The evidence shows our remote ancestors evolved in Eastern Africa, and from here slowly spread across the face of the Earth, with the migration occurring between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago.

As early people moved across the globe they diversified into the various races and cultures from which all contemporary civilizations and peoples have sprung.  Human beings create their own culture, and religion is an aspect of culture. Therefore, it seems reasonable to deduce that we created the gods in our own image – Europeans created European gods, Africans created African gods and so on.

But why would people create gods?  The most likely reason is that the gods served as explanations of why things exist. The gods were born in an age without science. Nothing was known concerning the mechanisms of evolution responsible for the development of the inorganic and organic world.  People could only reason by faulty analogy.

Primitive humans could fashion things with their hands. They looked at the world around him and arrived at the conclusion that it was also made by more powerful beings. That they modeled these beings on themselves is understandable, for they had no other conception of an intelligent entity on which to base their gods. The anthropomorphic nature of divinity is evidence of this fact.

The theologians will partially object to this conclusion.  They will look at gods not their own and no doubt say something like this: “Ah yes, we can see how these other gods are the inventions of the human mind, but our God is real.”

It is only natural that they should hold this opinion.  Every religious person thinks their gods are real, and why shouldn’t they?  After all, most people have been taught this since they were knee-high. The belief is reinforced by parents, friends, teachers and society in general. It is very difficult to break free from well established habits of thought.

Belief in the gods persists not only because people are taught to believe they exist, but also because the idea proves useful to those who believe by providing them with a sense of meaning and comfort. The idea that the universe is ultimately under the control of a benevolent guiding intelligence is far more reassuring than the facts, which indicate it is instead controlled by blind and impersonal forces, and that Humanity is merely a happy accident of uncaring nature.


Ions, Veronica:  The World’s Mythology in Color, Hamlyn, England, 1987

Johanson, Donald:  Origins of Modern Humans: Multiregional or out of Africa?

New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Hamlyn, 1989

Radlin, Paul:  Primitive Religion, Dover Publications, New York, 1957

Sykes, Egerton:  Everyman’s Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London 1961