Pangu, Yin and Yang:
how the universe was just a messy bedroom
With 1.3 billion people, China has more people living in it than any other country on the planet. Chinese culture and myth were very advanced very early on. I’m about to tell you an old Chinese myth, but people can’t agree on when it started! The important thing is it’s so old that we just can’t know where it first began.
Way way back, long long ago, the universe was just a messy bundle of what is commonly known as chaos. Mayhem. Disaster. Muckiness. Confusion. Basically, think of all the words your parents use to describe your bedroom when you’ve had a really great time - that is what the universe was like.
There wasn’t heaven and earth and planets and stars and seas and comets and creatures and air and minerals and chemicals and all those things. That’s way too organised. Nope - it was just one great big hellish, heavenlyish, muddy, sunny, cold, hot MESS. Like I said, just like a messy bedroom before a grown-up walks in.
Now the weird thing about this particular myth is that the Chinese didn’t talk about all this chaos as a messy bedroom. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. They talked about it as a - can anyone guess?
They said it was a big, black egg. Uhuh - an egg. Which is kind of clever, of course, because eggs are where life comes from. But then, of course, we hit the age-old puzzle - where did the egg come from?
Unfortunately, Story Circle is not going to be where this eternal riddle gets solved, so I will just carry on with the story.
Right, so we have this messy, bedroomy, insane, muddle and it’s inside a big black egg. Well, what happens inside eggs? Yep - things grow and then get born. And that is why this is such a clever myth. Because inside THIS particular egg, there grew a god.
And not just any old god. This god was called Pangu.
Now does anyone know how long it takes for a human baby to grow before it gets born? 9 months. Does anyone know how long it takes for a whale? 19 months - that’s more than a year and half. Elephants? 24 months - that’s two years! Shark babies? 36 months - that’s 3 years! But guess how long Pangu was in his egg....18,000 years.
So before he gets born, I want to just have a peek at what on EARTH was going on inside that EGG for 18,000 years! (If this is the year two thousand and nineteen, if year zero was when Jesus was born, 18,000 years is a very, very very long time).
Inside the egg, as I’ve said, it was a mess. Confusion, Mayhem. Et Cetera. The bedroom thing. The Chinese did have a name for that mess. Well, actually, two names. Yin and Yang.
Yin and Yang weren’t really actual things - objects or creatures - for the ancient Chinese - they’re ideas. Ideas about opposites. That’s why if you ever hear about one, you’ll hear about the other. “Yin and Yang”. The idea of yin and yang is about how opposites NEED each other to mean anything and to matter at all.
Light doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t dark. They need each other - like Old and Young. Female and male. Cold and Hot, water and land, odd numbers and even ones, hills and valleys. They are kind of like cosmic twins. They always go together, they are opposites but always tightly linked. Here’s the Chinese symbol for ying and yang:
Can you see the little dots? That reminds us that in yin there is some yang, and in yang there is some ying.
So, surrounding Pangu in the big black egg, there was lots and lots of yin and lots and lots of yang. One isn't better than the other and we need both at all times. It’s all about two important ideas: balance and harmony. And when you have too much of one or the other, you get imbalance and fighting.
As Pangu grew in the egg, so did the Yin and Yang, keeping a balance all the time.
Eighteen thousand years after the start of this story, Pangu woke up.
He looked like a hairy giant with horns on his head and a furry coat. Inside the egg, it was very, very cramped, what with all the ying and yang also growing in there with him.
“I’m trapped!” yelled Pangu. And the sound echoed all around the egg. “I’ve gotta get out of here,” he said a little more quietly, realising that there was only cosmic muddle to hear him. And he started to push the egg shell from the inside.
Slowly, slowly, Pangu began to crack open the big black egg - and when I say Big Black Egg, you need to remember that what I mean is Universe. So he began to crack open the universe so that he could get born.
And as he cracked open the egg, the Yin and the Yang began to separate! With the bottom half of the egg shell, the Yin became the Earth and with the top half of the shell, the Yang became the sky.
“This is not so bad!” said Pangu. But he felt a little worried. Now there was a gap between yin and yang, there was a world, and it looked great. But what if the two parts came back together and closed the egg again? It would quite literally be CHAOS! Pangu had just basically tidied up his universal bedroom and he liked it. The last thing he wanted was a terrible mess again. What could he do to keep it tidy?
“I know,” he said. “I’ll make an effort. I’ve just had 18,000 years of doing nothing, so it’d be good to do something productive and creative.”
But he knew he couldn’t do this alone. As if by magic, help appeared. Actually, to be honest, it WAS by magic. Because it came in the shape of 4 mystical creatures. They arrived one by one, like rock stars in a band coming onto the stage:
First up, representing North, Winter, Black and Water, it’s….. TURTLE! Who’d have thought it? The turtle. But it’s true. The turtle was famous for its strength and patience.
Secondly, please welcome onto the stage, well, into the world, but you know - it is just a stage, kind of. Shakespeare said so, as you will find out when you’re bigger - so it must be true.
But anyway, waiting patiently while I chatter on, representing West, Autumn, White and Metal, it’s … Kirin the white unicorn! Kirin was famous for wisdom and with a magical horn, was naturally respected far and wide for its power.
Next up, we have Phoenix, who represents the South, Summer, Red and surprise, surprise - Fire! A symbol of being born and reborn through the struggles of fire, Phoenix was a vital member of the team.
And last, but just as important as everyone else, we have the East, Spring, Blue/Green and Wood - it’s Dragon! A symbol of energy and good luck, the presence of Dragon was all everyone needed to make sure that their plan to keep the world going would be a success.
These four wonderful creatures set about doing everything and anything that Pangu needed to keep the world in order.
They stopped him from getting bored. They gave him massages. They kept his hair nicely trimmed and gave him lovely home-cooked meals when he was hungry. After all, Pangu had his head pressed hard against the sky to keep the heavens up, and had his feet pushing down on the earth, to keep the land in its proper place.
And because Pangu and the gang were very determined to keep the world nice and tidy, and chaos-free, he did this for another 18,000 years. Turtle kept him strong and patient, Kirin kept him wise and powerful, Phoenix kept him going through times of struggle and Dragon kept him in a good mood and feeling lucky.
You see, all you need to create the world the way you want to see it is Turtle’s patience, Dragon’s good humour, Kirin’s wisdom, and Phoenix’s determination to carry on, especially when when you’re struggling.
Every day, Pangu grew bigger - just like you do - and stronger - just like you do - and the universe (like your bedroom) over time became tidier and lovelier and more interesting and more enjoyable for him and his friends. But obviously, 18,000 years is a long time to do this. And eventually, like every living thing, Pangu died.
But just like every living creature, that wasn’t the end of the story. Of course not! His creativity was not yet over!
His breath became the wind, the mist and the clouds.
His voice became the thunder.
The sun came out of his left eye and went way way up into the far, far heavens. The moon came out of his right eye.
The mountains took form from his head and his blood became our rivers. The land came from his muscles, and his beard turned into the stars. The fur on his skin became our forests and his bones, the valuable minerals deep in the land. The rain came from his sweat and - Oh, I think that’s probably everything, right?
Wind, mist, clouds. Thunder, sun, moon. Mountains, land, rivers and stars. Forests and minerals and rain. Is something missing? Oh, yes, US! The animals! Sorry - I forgot - because they - we - are, well, so, so tiny. Well, you see, the animals, and that includes us, came from the fleas on Pangu’s skin….
And we all lived happily ever after.
- What do you need to make the world you want it to be?
- Which animal’s help do you need the most?
- Which animal is most like you - are you patient, wise, do you keep going through struggles, do you feel lucky and keep a good mood?
- When your bedroom feels like chaos, what do you do?
- Does chaos help your creativity or slow it down? Maybe that changes at different times?