Beyond Noah: Great Flood Myths From Around the World

When you hear the name ‘Noah’, the first thing that would come to your head is the story of the great flood described in the Bible and how Noah constructed a giant vessel to harbor his family and a massive coterie of animals to survive the deluge brought on by God. Epic flood legends such as these also happen to exist in various cultures outside of Judeo-Christian territories, and the story of Noah happens to be in good company with other mythical torrents outside of biblical folklore. Presented below are some of the most fascinating flood myths from around the world.


Ancient Greece has been a veritable hotbed for fabled tales, and this Mediterranean nation has not one, but three impressive floods that are rooted in their mythology: the floods of Ogyges, Deucalion, and Dardanus. Much like Noah, all of these Grecian deluges were named after the central figures of the respective flood myths. It is said that the Greek Ages of Man ended in floods, such as the flood of Ogyges ended the Silver Age while the deluge of Deucalion ended the First Bronze Age.


You would think that up in the Nordic region of Europe—marked largely by icy weather and tundra terrain—would not have a flood myth to call their own. But that’s where you’re wrong! In Finland, there is a fable about a famous folkloric figure known as Väinämöinen, which was described in several accounts as a Nordic god. In the Finnish flood myth, Väinämöinen made a heroic feat which resulted in a fatal wound and the blood of which covered the whole world.


One of the well-known flood myths in India revolves around the tale of Vaivasvata Manu, who is considered in Hindu mythology as the savior of the great flood. Traditionally, the title of ‘Manu’ is bestowed upon one who is considered to be the progenitor of humanity, and it is the seventh Manu (originally known as Satyavrata from birth but anointed as Vaivasvata Manu upon ascension) who was warned by the god Vishnu to prepare for an oncoming flood that would wash away the entire world by building a boat to house his loved ones and carry necessary supplies to rebuild civilization.


Chinese mythology has what is known as the Gun-Yu Myth, or the Great Flood of China. Unlike other flood tales from Western cultures, the Gun-Yu Myth is essential to Chinese culture as it is a highly extended narrative that ties closely to the histories of the Zhou Dynasty and the Xia Dynasty, as well as providing the main inspiration for several works in classical Chinese poetry. The Great Flood of China has several accounts spanning two generations but common motifs to the story include the origins of the flood stemming from natural causes rather than through divine retribution as punishment for human sin, and a strong emphasis on collaborative efforts by the Chinese population to mitigate the ongoing deluge.


A more whimsical version of a global flood myth can be found in Australian Aboriginal mythology involving a frog known as Tiddalik. The story goes that Tiddalik went and drank all the water due to his unquenchable thirst and life everywhere began to perish because of the absence of replenishing moisture. It was at this point that the other animals conspired with each other to make Tiddalik give back all the water he consumed. This was achieved when an eel called Nabunum made Tiddalik laugh by contorting his body into funny shapes, thus, allowing the water to gush out of Tiddalik’s body and back into the world.


South America is rich with disaster events in its encyclopedia of mythology, and one great example comes from Chile where it involves a battle between two primordial gods in the form of massive serpents. Trentren Vilu is the spirit of the earth and protector of its inhabitants while Caicai Vilu is the spirit of the water and holds dominion over the seas. According to Chilean legend, Caicai Vilu—in the guise of a gigantic snake—invaded the earth and inundated the whole area with water. Trentren Vilu—also in the form of a colossal serpent—arrived immediately to battle with the enemy in order to protect his kingdom. The fight between the two snakes was a protracted one, the victory of which would eventually go to Trentren Vilu.
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