Amaterasu-The Sun Goddess You’ve Never Heard Of Part II
In my last article, “Amaterasu, The Sun Goddess You’ve Never Heard Of,” I went over a brief history of the Shinto religion and Japanese history. This week, we will delve into my favorite Amaterasu stories!
The Shinto Creation Myth
In the beginning, there was darkness, stars, and an endless ocean. Amongst the first gods born were two siblings named Izanagi-no-Mikoto (male) and Izanami-no-Mikoto (female). They came down from heaven and created the first land by stirring the ocean with a spear. After that, they built a house, got married, and made some babies. The first of these babies was the malformed fishing god. The next eight were the islands of Japan.
They had many more children; however, Izanami died giving birth to the god of fire, Kagutsuchi and was sent to the underworld. Izanagi missed his wife and traveled there to retrieve her, to which she agreed on the condition that her husband was not to look at her until they reached the surface (Eurydice anyone?).
Of course, he looked anyway and saw that she was now a ghastly, rotting corpse. Izanagi freaked out and ran away. He even rolled a boulder in front of the entrance — not a great way to make an impression on your beloved wife.
Izanami was beyond pissed. She promised that she would kill 1,000 people every day in revenge. Izanagi countered that he would create 1,500 people every day. And that was the end of their marriage.
The Birth of The Three Great Gods
After escaping the underworld, Izanagi decided he needed to purify himself. He stripped and, as he did so, each article of clothing became a God. When he was finished turning garments into deities, Izanagi bathed. As he washed his face in a stream, the dirty water from his left eye became Amaterasu-Oomikami, goddess of the sun and ruler of heaven.
The water from his right eye became Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto, the god of the Moon and ruler of the night. Finally, from the water dripping off his dirty nose, came Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the god of storms and ruler of the seas.
Aside from the insanity of dirty water, becoming gods and goddesses, it’s fascinating that Amaterasu is a sun goddess. These roles are reserved for male deities. Also, her brother, who will later become her husband (we’ll talk about that in a second) is the moon god. In mythology, these roles are normally reversed. The sun is masculine, and the moon is feminine.
The Reason Why The Sun and Moon Are Separate
Tsukuyomi got bored with perpetual darkness and moved in with Amaterasu (and in some versions marry her). Things were going well until he went to a banquet in his sister’s honor, which was hosted by Uke Mochi, the goddess of food.
Uke Mochi provided the feast for this party by vomiting and/or defecating onto the table (surprisingly, there are arguments for each among scholars). Tsukuyomi was so sickened and offended by this act he killed Uke Mochi.
Amaterasu is abhorred by her husband killing her party host (apparently killing a host is a huge faux pas, regardless of nasty “cooking” habits). Amaterasu vows never to look at Tsukuyomi again. And she was serious. From then until the rest of time, she ran in the opposite direction any time Tsukuyomi came around.
There you have it, folks, the reason day and night are separate.
Amaterasu and the Cave
The primary myth of Amaterasu concerns a ritual contest with her brother, Susanoo. As a storm god, Susanoo was known for his disruptive and inappropriate behavior. In fact, he was a bit of a rageful god. One day, he pays his sister a visit.
Everyone is a bit apprehensive at his arrival in heaven, but Susanoo promises no harm will come to Amaterasu because of his visit. Our lovely sun goddess is a bit wary. So, Susanoo proposes a ritual test to prove his good will.
He requests from her five jewels and says that if he can birth boys from these jewels, then it will prove that his intentions are peaceful. She agrees, and Susanoo cracks open the five jewels to reveal five gods.
Before Amaterasu could buy into the results of this little test, Susanoo gets a bit egotistical. He’s so impressed and excited at his ability to birth gods from jewels he goes on a toddler rampage. Susanoo runs around the world jumping and dancing, leaving chaos in his wake. Just like a toddler, he destroys everything in his path.
The final insult occurs when he throws the flayed corpse of a horse through Amaterasu’s heavenly weaving hall. The corpse crashes through the roof, startling Wakahirume, one of Amaterasu’s favorite handmaidens. The poor girl ends up fatally injured and dies. (No, I have no idea why the horse was flayed. I guess being a storm god also comes with a healthy dose of psychotic syndrome).
Amaterasu is so upset that she flees to the Sky-Rock-Cave and shuts herself inside. The world fell dark, deprived of the light of Amaterasu. As blackness covered the world, eight million gods and goddesses come to plead with Amaterasu to return. She refuses and remains locked in the cave (Side note-this little incident reminds me of Achilles and his brooding behavior during the Trojan war, but I digress).
The whole of the earth is suffering without the sun but, never fear. The world is about to be saved by a divine striptease and rowdy drinking. Hang tight.
Enter goddess and shamaness, Uzume. She assesses the situation and decides pleading with Amaterasu won’t do. Instead, this crafty woman (who may be the best unsung hero of all time) flips over a washtub, climbed on top, and danced, sing, and scream lewd comments at everyone.
Her dance became wild. She stripped, swayed, and got the attention of every god and goddess there. Her divine audience was so entertained, they forgot about Amaterasu and began laughing and applauding Uzume.
Inside the cave, Amaterasu heard the merriment and wondered how they could celebrate without her. Finally, her curiosity overwhelmed her, and she opened the cave door a crack and peeked out.
A mirror (the Yata no Kagami) had been installed directly outside the door to Sky-Rock-Cave, and when the door was cracked open, the dazzling beauty of Amaterasu was reflected back to her.
She had never seen herself and stood in shock at the brilliant reflection of her own divine beauty. Quickly, the other gods pulled the door open and fastened it so that Amaterasu was fully exposed and the door could never be closed again. And so… the sun returned to the earth and life was saved… by a striptease.
Like what you’ve read so far? Share your favorite crazy myths with me! Check out The Lore Files and stay tuned for more episodes coming soon!!!