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Primordial Chaos

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The universe... before the universe.

"In Plato's Timaeus, God does not create the universe, as does the Christian God; He simply finds it one day. It is in a state of total chaos. God sets to work to transform the chaos into order."
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In all mythologies, there exists a time before time, where the world had not yet been made. All that existed was simply Chaos (usually), and from here the gods/primordial entities would form, and shape the world as they saw fit. In other cases, there was nothing at all, and in others still, it was someplace indescribable by mortal words. It may still exist in some form, either as a (strange) part of the reality in question, or as a connected but separate reality.

Eldritch Abominations like to call this place home. It occasionally has an Anthropomorphic Personification, or may be sentient itself, in which case see God of Chaos. It's also nearly always part of a Creation Myth.

The Cosmic Egg may have resided in it. See also Chaos Is Evil and The Dark Times.


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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash★Star: The true Big Bad, Gooyan, lived in the Primordial Chaos long before the Big Bang that created the universe. The reason he wants to destroy the universe is because he thinks life is too noisy and he wants to return to peaceful nothingness.
  • Slayers has the Sea of Chaos, from which the four worlds arose at the beginning of time.

    Comic Books 
  • During Blackest Night, the origin of the Green Lantern villain Nekron is given: it turns out he is a "defense mechanism" created by the Primordial Chaos to fight back against light and life. You see, the universe rightfully belonged to the Darkness; the Presence invaded when He created the Entity, which in turn created life. Whether this Darkness is the same being as the Swamp Thing character (covered below) is anyone's guess, but given Geoff Johns' apparent fondness for Alan Moore stories about Eldritch Abominations, it wouldn't be surprising.
  • Marvel Comics:
    • The villain the Chaos King is the Primordial Chaos as an Anthropomorphic Personification. He's very loosely based on the Japanese mythological figure Amatsu-Mikaboshi. A later story links Mikaboshi to the abstract entity Oblivion as an aspect of said entity. Oblivion IS the nothingness/chaos/whatever that preceded creation.
    • Knull — the god of the symbiotes — is another Anthropomorphic Personification of the primordial void that existed before the universe began.
    • Marvel loves this trope. There's Oblivion, who the aforementioned Chaos King is a mere fragment of. In the third iteration of the multiverse, there was the Anti-All, the Draconic Abomination embodiment of non-existence, who, upon defeat, shattered and gave rise to the void beings that would plague the current iteration of the multiverse. There's the Rokkva, an "antilife" being that emerged from the Norse Ginnungagap. Nyx, like Knull, existed in the primordial darkness and sought to return it to that state.
  • In Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, during a tie-in to Crisis on Infinite Earths, a cult called the Brujeria summons up something far, far worse than the Anti-Monitor: this very chaos, called the "Original Darkness". It's likely the most powerful supervillain DC has ever thought up: its fingernail couldn't be dented by The Spectre, and, again, this is during Crisis, meaning this is the same Spectre who fought evenly with the Anti-Monitor after the latter had absorbed the Infinite Earths. Despite its power, however, the Darkness is a rather innocent being, very ignorant of the ways of the universe. It absorbs Etrigan, Doctor Fate, and the Spectre, trying to get information from them, but they just end up making it worse when they tell the Darkness that it is "evil". Swamp Thing then convinces it that it is what it makes of itself, and finally the Presence Himself descends from Heaven and merges with the Darkness, equalizing it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Thor: The Dark World: The Dark Elves are reimagined as an extremely ancient race originating from the primordial void, who seek to return the universe to darkness. They tried using the Aether ( actually the Reality Stone) to do so, but were defeated by the Asgardians. 5,000 years later, they've returned to try again.
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    Literature 
  • A Batalha do Apocalipse: Tehom was the embodiment of the primordial chaos and darkness, who existed alongside with Yahweh in the timeless, space-less Proto-Universe and opposed Yahweh's order and light.
  • Cthulhu Mythos: Azathoth is described as this. As Lovecraft wrote: "the ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, at whose center sprawls the blind idiot god Azathoth, Lord of All Things, encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous piping of a demonic flute held in nameless paws." Ramsey Campbell makes Azathoth an inversion: as it wasn't always ultimate chaos. It became that way when it lost its intellect.
    They danced insanely to the high, thin whining
    Of a cracked flute clutched in a monstrous paw,
    Whence flow the aimless waves whose chance combining
    Gives each frail cosmos its eternal law.
  • The Dark Tower has the Prim, which will return if the Tower falls.
  • The later books in Orson Scott Card's Enderverse introduce "Outside", an infinite number of philotes (fundamental building blocks of matter, similar to the classical atom) with no sense of time, space, direction, or any other governing principle. It is theorized that the known universe and, potentially, other universes spontaneously sprang (spring? will have sprung?) from it.
  • John Milton's take on the Christian creation in Paradise Lost has "Chaos and Old Night" described as "the womb of nature and perhaps her grave." Satan has to cross this territory to get to Earth from Hell and it's an arduous journey even for him.
  • The world(s) in which Runemarks and The Gospel of Loki take place began with only Order and Chaos.
  • The Silmarillion starts this way. God (Eru) creates classes of angels (Ainur), then shows them His grand design (through having them sing), and sends them out into the void to create it for Him.
  • In Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell, Yaweh and the Angels are fighting to save Heaven from incursions of the formless, chaotic, destructive Cacoastrum from which they all originally sprang.
  • In the Young Wizards series there is Eternity, the place outside of time where the Powers That Be dwelled before they created the universes. The most powerful of the Powers still exist mainly in Eternity, projecting mere fragments of themselves into the universes to interact with things that exists inside of time.
  • N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy: The Maelstrom spat out the three Gods, who in turn created the universe and the lesser godlings. Not even the Gods can comprehend the Maelstrom or know whether it's at all sentient, because it doesn't communicate and would reabsorb them if they got too close.
  • The Moorcockverse ispredicated on the eternal struggle between Chaos and Law. A higher force called The Balance ensures neither gets absolute dominion: even in an aspect of the Multiverse apparently ruled solely by Chaos, there is still a little pocket of Law, and vice-versa. Thus Primordial Chaos always, inevitably, settles into stability as Law gains more and more of a foothold. Eventually Law turns everything into an unchanging grey waste - we call this Entropy - until a little pocket of Chaos emerges. And the cycle begins again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Supernatural:
    • The Season 10 finale has Death reveal that before God created the universe, there wasn't nothing; instead there was the Darkness, an amoral force of destruction. God and His archangels waged war on it, eventually sealing it away and creating the Mark of Cain to serve as the lock and key for this seal, though this had the side effect of the Mark becoming The Corruption for anyone who bore it. Freeing Dean from the Mark destroys it, unleashing the Darkness onto the world. Slightly retconed as Season 11 goes by, as we learn that the Darkness didn't exist before God, she/it is God's equal and opposite and came into existence alongside Him. As for being "amoral force of destruction", that's simply part of their nature — what God creates, the Darkness must destroy. That's why He had to seal her away before He could make reality as we know it.
    • A better example of this trope would be introduced in Season 13, with the revelation of the Empty, which is the actual primal void which existed before creation, before even God and the Darkness. And it still exists outside the universe, being where the souls of dead angels and demons go, to sleep dreamlessly for eternity. Oh, and it's sentient.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • The Book of Genesis says that in the beginning, the Earth was formless, empty, and covered in darkness. Interestingly, a sea still seemed to exist, as it mentions how the spirit of God moved over waters before any creation had taken place. Anthropologists have suggested that nothing spoke "chaos" as well to a tribe of desert nomads as a raging sea. Of course, you can't do it quite as well as the Good Book itself:
    • Contrary to many Creation Myths that feature a Chaos, God existed before it and all other things. Meaning God created the world and it became chaotic or God created the world and it was chaotic from the start. Interestingly, Heaven is implied to be before this universe, and it has many strange creatures that are holy and good however, and can operate by laws that are foreign to this universe.
    • God's monologue in the Book of Job ends with two chapters where He describes the chaos and disorder of the universe as monsters known as the Behemoth and the Leviathan. He describes their vastness and power in great detail while asking who else but the Lord can tame such horrible beasts who laugh at spears of men and strike fear into the gods just by rising up.
  • One explanation for the creation of the world in Chinese Mythology is that the universe was once a formless chaotic thing called Hundun. Two Emperors came across Hundun (somehow) and decided that Hundun should have seven holes in its body, since people have seven holes (nostril, nostril, mouth, ear, ear, anus, the other one). They drilled the seven holes, and Hundun died, creating the universe.
  • Millennia later, Classical Mythology gave us the Trope Namer in the form of the Khaos from which the cosmos arose.
  • In Egyptian Mythology, several of the Creation Myths have the ordered cosmos created or born from the chaos-sea Nun. Nun (as both a god and as the Primordial Chaos) continues to exist alongside the cosmos, which must be continually maintained to prevent it collapsing back into chaos. In some versions, the chaos-sea is instead the Goddess Neith.
  • Hindu Mythology. In fact, gods even intentionally fished there once, just to see what they would pull out of it. And collected an impressive pile of weird stuff, some more useful than others. No boots, though.
  • Japanese Mythology describes the "primordial chaos" from which the Gods came from (and created the Heavenly Plains and later Earth) as dark, cold and jelly-like. The Star God Amatsu-Mikaboshi is usually associated with the pre-Earth chaos.
  • The sea of nothingness known as Apsu in Mesopotamian Mythology is the Ur-Example.
  • Ginnungagap in Norse Mythology was the void between the unbearably hot Muspellheim and the bitterly cold Niflheim in which the world emerged.
  • In some Pacific Island myths, instead of darkness there was light, and a rock. This rock split into 12 brother gods who made the world. Another myth states the world was completely underwater and a deity rose the island chain and threw the basket to make another island.
  • Some variants of theistic Satanism believe that the primordial Abyss or Darkness that existed before the creation of the Cosmos, sometimes called the acausal realm, was/is inhabited by powerful acausal gods who predated Yaweh and that would eventually destroy Yaweh's creation that is currently encroached by it. This has inspire some of the most radical followers to actually commit crimes as this is believe to accelarate the fall of society and Western civilization which at the same time would cause the coming of the Chaos.
  • In Aztec Mythology, the universe was originally an infinite void above a primordial ocean that was home to Cipactli, a giant crocodilian-fish-toad monster with mouths on every joint of its body that devoured everything it came across. Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca had to work together to defeat it, with Tezcatlipoca losing a leg in the process, and later repurposed its body to create the earth's land.

    Pinball 
  • Pro Pinball: Timeshock! has the Dawn of Time, where the player must travel to in order to stop a wave of anti-time from destroying creation.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has a somewhat complicated relationship with this trope.
    • In the Great Wheel cosmology, the original cosmology developed for D&D and popularized by Planescape, this is the basic motif of the Plane of Limbo. It's a swirling vortex of rainbow-colored, ephemeral "protomatter" with the consistency of soup, which can temporarily be stabilized into physical matter by the thoughts and wills of sapient creatures. From a meta-perspective, its primary role in the cosmology is serving as the platonic embodiment of Chaotic Neutral, and it's largely self-confined.
    • Also in the Great Wheel, the Ethereal Plane has aspects of the Primordial Chaos in that it's the plane most associated with untapped potential. This is why demiplanes, miniature bubbles of reality that can eventually blossom into full-fledged planets or even dimensions, are found and created here.
    • In the World Axis cosmology, created for and unique to Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, the plane known as the Elemental Chaos is one of the two meta-planes that created reality, the other being the Astral Sea. Essentially a conglomeration of Limbo and the more strictly defined Elemental Planes of the Great Wheel, the Elemental Chaos is an ever-shifting morass of elemental energies and matter, where elemental matter doesn't follow the same "rules" it does in the mortal world — earth that floats or has the consistency of water, fire that freezes, lightning that is solid to the touch, rivers that float freely through the air, etc. The mortal world and its Dark World reflections were originally part of the Elemental Chaos, created when the Primordials decided to take portions of the Chaos and shape it into the shape of worlds for their own amusement; then the gods came down from the Astral Sea and gave permanency to the world, which created the conditions where life could flourish, but also triggered the apocalyptic Dawn War between Primordials and Gods.
    • Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has both Limbo and the Elemental Chaos, although the latter's role is downplayed to simply a barrier realm where the elemental planes "meet" that also separates them from the alignment-based "Outer Planes" beyond.
  • Exalted has the Wyld, the infinite realm of possibility, change, chaos and unreality in which the Primordials built Creation, the main world of the setting. The Wyld still exists around Creation and periodically tries to eat it, so the world must be actively maintained and protected from this chaos. It's also home to The Fair Folk.
  • Legend of the Five Rings: One of the villains, responsible for "real" ninjas, is this — leftovers of the primal darkness, which hate being forced into shape and so would like to undo all creation. The ninja powers of its servants comes from them being "unnamed" — they don't have true names and as such aren't set in reality, so their shape is a matter of whim. It is generally known as "the Lying Darkness", and it was defeated when it was magically named "Akodo", forcing a shape on it and rendering it vulnerable. Only a handful of its ninja survived, ones given "temporary" names to allow them to infiltrate human society and thus not affected by the naming.
  • Nobilis:
    • The land of the Excrucians (simply known as the Lands Beyond Creation) sometimes plays this role, and the Strategists seem to believe existence was in some way stolen from or is a blasphemy against this void, hence their ability to obliterate all kinds of things.
    • Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine (being a Nobilis spin-off) has a more straightforward example in the Outside. After the sun was killed and brought to the Lands Beyond Creation, there was a metaphysical metamorphosis that turned it from a Void Between the Worlds to this trope.
  • Pathfinder: The Maelstrom, the Outer Plane that embodies the concept of pure chaos untainted by morality or malice, is a vast, churning sea of possibility and creation, where form and matter are eternally emerging, changing and subsuming back into the formlessness. It's believed to be one of the first two planes to have come into existence — it's unclear whether it or the Chaotic Evil Abyss came first — and it gave birth to the other planes, which first emerged as random products of its infinite creative potential. It still serves a major role in maintaining the health of the multiverse, as it constantly erodes away at the edges of the other Outer Planes, breaking them down into unshaped quintessence that is eventually drained away through the Maelstrom and into the Positive Energy Plane, where it matures into new souls that are then incarnated, live lives, and migrate to the Outer Planes once more.
  • Scion: Hundun, the Titan of Chaos, is Chaos, unthinking and unknowable. It couldn't be imprisoned along with the other Titans, for to imprison something requires that you be able to define it. Hundun cannot be defined. Entering it causes you to face a swirling, shifting hell of unreality, which you must fix into place with your thoughts if you want any hope of survival.

    Video Games 
  • Inverted in Dark Souls; The Age of Ancients was a time when the world was unformed, shrouded by fog, and completely unmoving and static. A land of gray crags, Archtrees and Everlasting Dragons. There was no color but grey, no death or life to go with it, and no cold or warmth. Then the First Flame appeared, and with it came the concept of disparity: hot and cold, life and death, light and dark. In other words, the world was originally still and unmoving, until Chaos was introduced into it.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series' most prominent Creation Myth, the early universe was a great "Void" in which Anu and Padomay, the anthropomorphized primordial forces of "stasis/order/light" and "change/chaos/darkness" respectively, had their interplay which led to "creation". This interplay created Nir, "creation". Nir loved Anu, which Padomay hated. Padomay killed Nir and the 12 worlds she gave birth to. Anu wounded Padomay, presuming him dead. Anu salvaged the pieces of the 12 world to create one world: Nirn. Padomay returned and wounded Anu, seeking to destroy Nirn. Anu then pulled Padomay and himself outside of time, ending Padomay's threat to creation "forever". From the intermingling of their spilled blood came the "et'Ada", or "original spirits", who would go on to become either the Aedra or the Daedra depending on their actions during the creation of Mundus, the mortal realm. (Some myths state that the Aedra come from the mixed blood of Anu and Padomay, while the Daedra come purely from the blood of Padomay). Slain Daedra are said to return to the Void on death, where they coalesce (thanks to retaining their Complete Immortality). However, it said that they fear this place, and find the process humiliating.
  • Chaos is a person in Hades, and they (yes, they) govern a realm also known as Chaos. For a blood price, Zagreus can enter this strange dimension, where there are three attractions on offer: an endless void, boons that inflict negative effects on you, and... new fish to catch. Maybe the fishing minigame really has been around since the beginning of time.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: "Three golden goddesses descended upon the chaos that was Hyrule..."
  • In Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons, it's revealed that the world began as a shapeless Void of unchecked magical energy until the Mother Dragon Soo-Won emerged, split the Void into the six aspects of magic, and in turn created the five other Elder Dragons to each regulate one alongside her, giving stability and shape to the world of Tyria as we know it. With the death of the Elder Dragons, the magics begin to meld back together, and when Soo-Won loses control, it re-emerges as the Dragonvoid, an entity hostile to all life that seeks to return all of existence to the nothingness it came from.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: In "Gold Stars", the Lich claims that long ago, the universe was an amalgam of Eldritch Abominations.
    The Lich: Before there was time, before there was anything, there was nothing, and before there was nothing... there were monsters.

    Real Life 
  • Under some hypotheses, the Big Bang arose from a pre-universe described as a "Quantum Foam".
  • Another hypothesis says nothing existed, because before the Big Bang time didn't exist. This idea has lost credibility in the eyes of most physicists, both because of the logical conundrum it presents (if there is no time, nothing can "start" in the first place) and because it relies on the rather narrow definition of "time" to begin with, as the entropic constant rather than the fourth dimension.
  • There are hypotheses that the Chaos permanently exists and is the underlying fabric from which the current universe and all possible universes (past and future included) spring from as temporary nodes of stability. (Cf. especially QED theory, where everything that can happen does happen at the same time - is there a more true Chaos? - and the classic world comes from interference mass-cancelling.)
  • However a recent hypothesis suggests the Universe may have existed forever before the Big Bangnote , likely in Cosmic Egg-esque fashion (for example, as what some cosmologists have described as a sort of "state of Hell": infinitely small, hot, and devoid of space).
  • Another hypothesis for how this universe came to be includes this universe being the remains of another universe that shrank and expanded in a Big Bang, which could be followed by another universe going Big Bang after ours had shrank and so on perhaps ad infinitum. Interestingly, this idea was echoed in some Hindu beliefs, with the idea that even the universe begins, is grown, dies and then will be reborn, just like mortals do.
  • The biological version in "primordial soup", which existed on the very early Earth and contained the basic chemical building blocks of life, including carbon and nitrogen.
  • The Earth itself was like this 4-3 billion years ago, especially when it was a molten rock, and when the planet Theia smacked into Earth, which formed the Moon. Also, about 3 billion years ago the entire Earth was under water or just about, with the continents Ur and Columbia later forming. This was about the same time that life is known to have first existed. Whether or not the entire planet was under thick clouds to make darkness cover the world is still unknown, though if that was the case it did not last long.

Alternative Title(s): Time Before Time, Reality Before Reality, Life Before Life, Before The Dawn Of Time

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