In almost 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.
- Slayers has the Sea of Chaos, from which the four worlds arose at the beginning of time.
- The true Big Bad of Futari Wa Pretty Cure Splash Star Gooyan lived in the Primordial Chaos long before the Big Bang that created the universe. The entire reason he wants to destroy the universe is because he thinks life is too noisy and he wants to return to peaceful nothingness.
- The Marvel Comics 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.
- 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.
- Over twenty years later, 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 is anyone's guess, but given Geoff Johns' apparent fondness for Alan Moore stories about Eldritch Abominations, it wouldn't be surprising.
- 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 the Discworld series, the Anthropomorphic Personification of kaos (none of this new mathematically-defined chaos, thank you very much) used to be the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse. The other four threw him out for being overly destructive, and now he runs a dairy as Ronnie Soak, Milkman.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The world(s) in which Runemarks and The Gospel of Loki take place began with only Order and Chaos.
- 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.
- The sea of nothingness known as Apsu in Mesopotamian Mythology is the Ur-Example.
- Millennia later, Classical Mythology gave us the Trope Namer in the form of the Khaos from which the cosmos arose.
- 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:
- God's monologue in the Book of Job has 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.
- Ginnungagap in Norse Mythology was the void between the unbearably hot Muspellheim and the bitterly cold Niflheim in which the world emerged.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 verions, the chaos-sea is instead the Goddess Neith.
- 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.
- 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..
- 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 as in Egyptian Mythology the world must be actively maintained and protected from this chaos. It's also home to The Fair Folk.
- In 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.
- Hundun, the Titan of Chaos in Scion (named as such in reference to Chinese myths, like the one under Mythology). It 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.
- The Primordial Waters from Leviathan: The Tempest. No one is sure if it actually existed or not.
- 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.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: "Three golden goddesses descended upon the chaos that was Hyrule..."
- 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.
- In the backstory of Dark Souls the Age of Ancients was a time when the world was unformed, shrouded by fog. A land of gray crags, Archtrees and Everlasting Dragons. Then the First Flame appeared, and with it came the concept of disparity: life and death, light and dark.
- 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).
- 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.