AMATERASU : THE ONE WHO MAKES THE HEAVENS SHINE; HEAVEN-ILLUMINATING GREAT DEITY
Amaterasu is the beautiful, radiant kami of the sun, but she is more than just the shining sun: she is a great goddess who provides for people and protects them. Amaterasu was the first to cultivate rice, albeit in heaven. (Her grandson, Ninigi, eventually brought rice to Earth from her celestial paddies.) She also invented and taught people the arts of weaving and cultivating silkworms. Rice, silk, fabric: all are gifts of Amaterasu (and are appropriate offerings to bestow upon her).
Her most famous myth involves her withdrawal to a cave. Susano’o, Amaterasu’s brother, Spirit of Chaos, went on a rampage. He trampled Amaterasu’s rice fields, filled in her irrigation ditches, and threw excrement into her palace. Amaterasu protested strongly, but Susano’o’s response was to profane her weaving workshop by throwing the corpse of a skinned horse, the sacred solar animal, at her weaving maidens. The impact of the horse’s body caused one of Amaterasu’s handmaidens to fall against her wooden spindle, piercing her vagina, killing her.
Livid, grieving, and just plain disgusted, Amaterasu shut herself up in a cave and refused to come out. The world was plunged into darkness, a never-ending solar eclipse. Despite the pleading and cajoling of various kami, Amaterasu remained in the cave, swearing she would never emerge. Although attempts were made, Amaterasu was too powerful and radiant: she couldn’t be forced out. The world began to wither and die. Famine spread.
The primordial spirit Izanagi entered Yomi, Realm of Death, in an attempt to rescue his female compatriot, Izanami. Amaterasu was born from Izanagi’s left eye as he bathed after his successful escape from Death, the first of three children. (Her brothers are Tsukiyomi and Susano’o; she would eventually feud with both.) Alternative myths suggest that Amaterasu was born from Izanami’s menstrual blood or that the two primal spirits created her in conjunction, intending her to be an all-powerful ruler.
Eight million despairing kami camped outside Amaterasu’s cave and debated what to do. Uzume, Spirit of Joy, hatched a plan. Mounting a drum, she began to dance, distracting the kami, who momentarily forgot their woes and joined in the mirth, laughing, singing, dancing, and drumming. Inside the cave, Amaterasu wondered what was going on. She called out, only to be told that there was a new goddess in town. She poked her head out of the cave to see. Instantly a magical sacred mirror was thrust in front of her: she was entranced by her own beauty. Before she could even think of returning to the cave, she was pulled out and the cave sealed up. After some negotiation, she returned to her previous role, but this time as chief of the Shinto pantheon.
Amaterasu is the divine ancestor of the Yamato clan. As they grew in prominence and influence, so did she. Or vice versa. Her grandson, Jimmu Tengu, became Japan’s first emperor and founder of the Imperial Dynasty. Although considered the literal ancestor of the Japanese royal family, she is also the spiritual mother of Japan in general. Japan means “Land of the Rising Sun”; the sun on the Japanese flag may be understood to refer to Amaterasu. (After World War II, the Japanese emperor was forced to disavow celestial ancestry.)
Amaterasu’s shrine at Ise in the Yamato region of Honshu is Shinto’s holiest shrine. Her sacred mirror may be enshrined there. The cave to which she withdrew, Ama-no-Iwato (“Heavenly Cave of Darkness”), is in the vicinity, too.
Since the eighth century CE, every twenty years all buildings in the Ise shrine complex are replaced by exact replicas. Last rebuilt in 1993; the next rebuilding is scheduled for 2013. With each rebuilding, Amaterasu (and her shrine mate, Toyouke) are empowered and reinvigorated. Once the new shrine is complete, old buildings are dismantled but not destroyed. Sacred pieces are distributed to other shrines.
Ôkami is a videogame developed by Clover Station for the Play Station 2 and released in 2006. The main character is the goddess Amaterasu in the form of a white wolf.
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Mirror, sword, jewel (Japan’s three sacred treasures); also bow and quiver of arrows, in case Susano’o bothers her again.
Japan in general, but especially Ise. She also has thousands of other shrines throughout Japan. Amaterasu is the local deity of Tokyo’s Nishi-Waseda district.
17 July and the Winter Solstice, when the sun begins to wax
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.