Old Tree Makes the World Myth in The River | World Anvil
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Old Tree Makes the World

One popular girls' game is reciting stories by turns. The favorite is a legend telling of how Old Tree created the world and then, in order to save it, became the moon that watches over it from a distance. The legend is the foundation of the women's worship of the moon, a practice that goes back to their nomadic ancestors.  But the story itself goes back even further than that, to a people an entire continent away and more than a hundred thousand years older.


The first women could not walk, and the first trees sang. In the first time, trees and women were the same. Old Tree was in the center, and from her came the light and the wind, the water and the land, and the trees.
  So begins the creation of the world. Old Tree's gifts pour out until the trees gather them all in one place, and all is well until the gathering light becomes too strong and damages the trees. Old Tree puts living things into the world in an attempt to save it, but nothing works until she rises to the sky and sends the light away. She remains in the sky as the moon, visiting the light (the sun) every month to move it in a course that will keep it near enough to warm the world but not so close as to hurt it.

Historical Basis

The story of Old Tree creating the world is the most ancient of legends. It originated as a eulogy spoken at the death of a legendary matriarch:
Old Old Mother, she was with us. Here she made fire. Here she made sky. Here she made land. All of the people, Old Old Mother made them. The people hold fire. The people hold sky. The people hold land. Old Old Mother, go up.
It was traditional for the people to speak aloud the value of the one who had died so that their spirit would be satisfied to go on its way. Old Old Mother was a respected matriarch, but her gift was in telling stories, so much so that when she died she was honored for how real her words seemed when she spoke them.


The simplicity of the original words is what enabled it to survive so many generations of retellings. However, it underwent many changes along the way.  
  • Linguistic: A language is never spoken the same by two successive generations. Pronunciation shifts; words absorb new meanings and discard old ones. Old Old Mother had never seen a forest, and when her descendants became familiar with massive trees they called them "old mother", which had come to mean "ancestor", because of the bark which resembled elderly, wrinkled skin. "Fire" meant light and flame until flame was taken over by heat; "sky" was eventually reduced to meaning only wind. The direction of the verb "make" reversed, taking on the inverse meaning of "come from".  
  • Dramatic: The cadence of the words also changed over time. When stories were new, they were simply told as a series of words. Later storytellers found that a pause here, a rhythm there, caught their audience's attention more firmly. So even when the words did not change in sense, the pattern in which they were spoken added nuances of meaning that hadn't been there originally.
  • Numeric: Old Old Mother was honored with three creations not because that was all there was, but because three was the most powerful number that her people knew. When it became important to count higher than three, but before they had names for those numbers, the people found a way to make three count up to five by doubling up on "one" and "two". It was like something magic, to make the biggest number in the world mean something bigger yet, and the pattern of two and two and one came to signify something complete. Naturally, then, storytellers had to add elements to make the legend fit the new pattern.
  • Narrative: As storytelling became a more established tradition, stories grew more complex. After a while, the simple eulogy didn't satisfy an audience that expected a more complete narrative. It was fleshed out with pieces from other stories, with explanations of how and why these things were made, and what happened afterward.


The memorial to Old Old Mother was carried everywhere her descendants went.  This version is the one that has traveled the farthest, from the middle of one continent to almost the opposite end of another.
Related Ethnicities

View from the future

12,000 years, The Ocean
The lunar worship body of legends are not recorded anywhere on the Journey's End monument, the oldest surviving example of written language, and are equally absent from Valdian oral tradition. In Oceanfolk tradition, the story of Old Tree making the world was supplanted by a different creation myth.

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Cover image: The Moon and Clouds by The Big G


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Aug 1, 2023 20:09 by Sebastian Du Pont

I love that you included the evolution of this story throughout the ages, very fascinating!

Aug 3, 2023 02:29

Thanks! This was fun to do, one of my favorites from this Summer Camp.

From The River to The Ocean, a civilization grows up.
Aug 10, 2023 18:48 by Sapha Burnell

The focus on the myth through time was fascinating. Well done!

Aug 11, 2023 21:20

Thank you! I was glad for the opportunity to go into the background of this story.

From The River to The Ocean, a civilization grows up.