As Hurricane Harvey demonstrated in Houston, major flooding in urban centres can happen relatively unexpectedly. Storm surge and king tides are expected phenomena on the coast during bad weather events like the ones currently affecting the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. However, this isn’t something that is new, as flood myths have been a major part of many mythological tales and legends stretching back millennia – but why?
Usually, a flood myth is a story in which a great flood descends and affects an entire population, often time as retaliation from a deity for angering them or not following their will. These will often overlap with real life events of major flooding on the banks of large rivers such as the Nile. Over time this school of thought has persisted, with a certain percentage of the population still looking to the skies for answers after major natural disasters.
Major floods have had a significant role in more than one culture’s beliefs and history, as has been recorded in their ancient texts. For example stories like those speaking of the Mesopotamian floods and the Genesis flood narrative from the Bible are still widely known, whilst several Mesoamerican civilizations and Aboriginal tribes in southern Australia have all spoken of such events at lengths. In many cases these helped shape their beliefs and certain traditions, which can still be observed today.
Historians and anthropologists believe that these stories stem from real events, embellished through time and rationalized as the actions of a higher power unhappy with ongoing happenings. This is corroborated by geological accounts showing areas of high flood activity or markers of a major event in areas from which some of these stories originate. Stories from third parties also seem to agree upon certain factors, putting further credence that instead of being some sort of machination, the event did indeed happen, but its magnitude and certain aspects may have been tweaked to make it sound more terrifying.
Although in modern times we are able to take a step back and are able to understand the forces behind flooding and other major weather events, one cannot blame our ancestors for thinking that these major incidents have something otherworldly to them. The sheer force of nature can be put on full display given the right – or wrong – conditions, leading to some incredible shows of force like those we’ve seen in recent years as well as in the past.