Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Izanagi and Izanami

Izanagi and Izanami
According to the Shinto creation myth, Izanagi and Izanami were brother and sister and husband and wife. They were the eighth pair of primordial, or first, beings, existing before the world. When it came time for Izanagi and Izanami to create the earth, they stood on Ama-no-Uki-Hashi, the Floating Bridge of heaven. There they plunged a special spear into the ocean. When they drew it back, the water from the spear fell and formed into the first land, which was the island of Onokoro. They then stuck their spear into the land, forming the heavenly pillar. Later, the two gods realized that their bodies were not the same. Izanami thought that part of her had not been finished. Izanagi thought he had been given too much. They decided to bring these incomplete parts together. Izanagi suggested that when they did so,  Izanami would give birth to more islands. She agreed, and they circled the heavenly pillar. “A handsome man,” she remarked when they met. And they immediately made love. Izanami soon became pregnant.
Izumo Taisha, an important Shinto temple in the land where Susano-Wo ruled after his dispute with Amaterasu.
Each October, Shinto gods are supposed to gather here. (Photo by 663Highland/Used under a Creative Commons license)

Their child, however, was deformed. He was called Hiruko, or “leach child.” The couple abandoned him to the sea. Perhaps, thought the gods, they had come together in the wrong way. They decided that Izanagi should have spoken first as they circled the pillar, not Izanami. They repeated the ceremony, this time with Izanagi talking first. It worked. Izanami gave birth to the islands of Japan. She also gave birth to gods and goddesses of waterfalls, the wind, trees, and other vegetation. But tragedy followed when she gave birth to Kagutsuchi, the god of fire. His flames burned her so badly she died. In grief, Izanagi chopped off Kagutsuchi’s head. More gods sprang to life from the dead deity. Izanagi’s tears brought still other gods to life. But his wife had gone to Yomi, the land of the dead. Izanagi decided he would find her and bring her back. But when he arrived in the underworld, Izanagi discovered that Izanami had already tasted the food of the dead. She would not and could not return with him and stayed locked behind closed doors. Izanagi would not give up. Finally he charged into the palace where she was. When he lit his comb as a candle, he saw worms crawling through his wife’s distorted, rotting corpse. Eight thunder gods lived in her body, next to the maggots. Izanagi flew away in terror. Angered that he would not stay with her now, Izanami sent thunder gods and demons to bring him back. They sealed the underworld to try to keep him from escaping. Izanagi had his own magic, however, and was finally able to escape. As he reached the
outer limits of hell, he found three peaches. He hurled them at the last demons following him; the
devils ran away. From that day, peaches have helped humankind. Izanami made one last attempt to grab her husband and bring him down to the underworld, but Izanagi rolled a giant boulder across the entrance to hell, blocking her in. “I will kill a thousand people each day,” she promised, angry that he had defeated her. “Then I will create one thousand five hundred,” he promised. Upon his return to the world, Izanagi washed his left eye. This created the sun goddess Amaterasu. When he washed his right eye, the moon god Tsukiyomi was born. Susano-Wo, the god of the seas and storms, was created from his nose. Susano-Wo, jealous because his sister was chosen to rule the earth, soon disobeyed his father and was banished from heaven. In the story, the two gods discover that, in order to have a child born properly, the man must speak first during courtship. This may tell us something about the courtship customs at the time the myth was created. It may also tell us about the status of women, and refer to a change from a matriarchal society (one ruled by women) to a patriarchal one (ruled by men).

From the book: Japanese Mythology A to Z < second edition > by Jeremy Roberts

Next time,  Tsukiyomi & Tsukiyomo

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