When the Sun Goddess Hid in the Cave of Heaven: A Medicine Story from the Japanese Creation Myths
I’ve been pondering the importance of retreating into one’s own ‘cave’ for a few days now (I wonder why). Going deep inside of myself to seek what’s lurking underneath, then to exorcise these demons, so to speak, and finding the treasure they have been guarding for me all this time, my buddha nature.
There had been several attempts at ‘cave expeditions’ in the past. They might have been failed attempts, though, if my intention was to get to my Shangri-La. Being extremely introverted, these journeys are like recreation to me. However, being pretty timid in nature also, I haven’t dared to venture too far. My intuition knows that the rabbit hole goes down far, probably as far as the expanse of the universe. Would I lose my mind if I kept going?
Cave is a symbol that frequently appears in myths and legends of the world and the Japanese creation myths is no exception. Though in this one, the main event is the coming out of the cave.
This is the story of how gods enticed the sun goddess, Amaterasu, to end her self-imposed confinement within the Cave of Heaven. Ama means heavenly, terasu is a verb meaning to shine. Her full name Amaterasu Omikami means ‘goddess of the most high who shines on the world.’
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When Amaterasu’s spoilt brother Susano’o accidentally killed a weaver with his practical joke, Amaterasu went into hiding out of guilt.
Susano’o had never gotten over the death of his mother, Izanami, and he was missing her terribly. Still, Amaterasu had been too soft on her brother. She had failed to take precautionary measures against her brother’s continuous misbehaviour. Gods have been grumbling that Susano’o had ruined the rice crop, and even defecated in the sacred temple.
Amaterasu went into the cave, and using her magic, sealed the entrance with the Heavenly Rock behind her. With the life-giving sun gone, the Upper World and the Middle World fell into darkness. This caused the gods to voice their worries and resentments, and those voices in turn created a series of inauspicious events in the world.
The gods decided to gather for an emergency meeting by the Heavenly River of Serenity to work out a way to bring Amaterasu out of her hiding. The wisest of them all, Omohikane -Think Gold- suggested a plan, which was unanimously agreed. Decisions were made and actions taken with utmost haste.
First, all the cockerels, vassals of the sun goddess, were asked to crow altogether at once.
Then, the one-eyed smith was asked to rhythmically hit an iron nail into a hard rock.
Together they created music.
Ishikoridome -patron god of mirror makers- was instructed to make a large mirror.
Tamano’oya -patron god of jewellery makers- was instructed to make a string of beads as long as the mirror.
Ameno-koyane -Heavenly Prophet- (Ameno meaning ‘of heaven,’ much like Ama in the name Amaterasu) divined using a deer bone in the fire made with a cherry tree specially felled from the Heavenly Mountain of Endless Fragrance.
Evergreen tree was uprooted from the same mountain. Branches were decorated with the string of magical beads and blue and white pieces of paper signifying the tree was a dwelling place of a great god. In the middle of it, the magical mirror was hung.
While Ameno-futodama -Heavenly Jewels- held up the evergreen tree, Ameno-koyane spoke the magical words praying for the reappearance of Amaterasu.
The strongest of the gods, Ameno-tajikarao -Heavenly Grip- took position next to the Heavenly Rock.
Ameno-uzume, goddess of the arts, adorned with ferns around her body and a headdress made of dogbane flowers, began to dance on a make-shift stage of an upside down wooden tub. Her bare breasts swaying, she whirled down low stomping the stage making a loud percussive sound. More she danced, more hypnotic she became. They all joined in the dance in merriment, laughing and cheering.
This puzzled Amaterasu, who assumed that the world had fallen into darkness and despair with her gone.
Amaterasu slid the Heavenly Rock slightly to take a look.
Without missing the opportunity, Ameno-uzume told Amaterasu, ‘we are all overjoyed with the arrival of a god even greater than you,’ twirling.
Ameno-futodama and Ameno-koyane held up the mirror toward the opening of the cave.
Amaterasu, not realising she was seeing a mirror image of herself, leaned out the cave to take a look at the newly-arrived god.
Not missing the chance, Ameno-tajikarao gripped the goddess’ hand and pulled her out of the cave with almighty force. Ameno-futodama ran to the Heavenly Rock behind Amaterasu and wrapped a hemp rope around it to set a magical boundary preventing Amaterasu from reentering the cave.
With that, the light returned in the Upper and the Middle Worlds. The gods, bowing deeply before Amaterasu, praised her greatness more than ever before.
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Reading the Japanese creation myths, I realise how steeped in magic Japan is. Ameno-uzume is considered the first shamanic dancer in Japan. In Shinto rituals, to this day, priestesses and priests dedicate dance to the deities.
What’s really interesting to me is the way the gods save the day (literally) in this story; by creative arts. I see a correlation here with our current situation. Has our confinement brought out our innate creativity? To me, the answer is a resounding yes. I have been amazed at how creative we are as a human race. I have seen with delight countless number of videos coming out of people’s homes, of them dancing or singing in the kitchen or recreating famous artworks with everyday objects around the house.
Another crucial point is wisdom. The importance of having a figure -elder- who we trust as having wisdom to call on when faced with a sticky situation, and the democratic way -a circle- in which the wisdom is translated into action.
Another thing I cannot fail to notice is the divine trickery. There are many stories told of how calculated deception has saved people, like in the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in One Thousand and One Nights. Does this speak to us about taking matters into our own hands and bringing divine justice? It stirs in me, at least, the desire to take back my own power from powers that be.
Interesting how the words of worries and resentment take form to become inauspicious events in this story. This reinforces the popular feeling of Japanese people that words have spirit in them and they are powerful, not to be misused. Ameno-koyane the divine prophet ‘speaks the word’ consciously in bringing back the sun goddess, stressing the importance of prayer.
This story also inspires me to think that the temporary darkness befallen us is not the end of the world at all; it is rather positive. Let’s face it, the world was less than ideal before the sun goddess went away, with someone needlessly being killed, crop failing and faith smeared. Sounds familiar… When the sun goddess reemerges, the gods are filled with even more reverence. When one misses someone or something, one becomes more aware of the blessing that they are.
I sincerely wish that’s where we are at now, on the cusp of a new day dawning. I dare to dream the dream. I’ve decided that’s my super power. Even if I’m the only one left standing, I will be dreaming of a new day and daydreaming of a night filled with stars.
Susano’o Slays Yamata-no-orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon: A Medicine Story from the Japanese Creation Myths