Datsueba – The Hell Hag
Datsueba is a gateway goddess. Her name is related to words indicating bathhouse, dressing room, or to undress. It’s theorized that in her earliest incarnation, she was a goddess of birth and death. She presents each new birth with its skin, which must be returned to her at time ofdeath. In the context of Japanese Buddhism, Datsueba is now among the gatekeepers of Hell. It’s her job to strip clothing from sinners who arrive at the River of Three Roads, threshold to Hell.
Datsueba stays at the gate. She doesn’t cross the river or enter Hell. She is assisted by a male consort, Kenne-o. Datsueba strips off the clothes; he hangs them on trees. The naked souls of sinners are then sent to meet the Kings of Hell. She is not a kind, gentle spirit but a fierce, implacable one. Should someone arrive without clothes, she may strip off their skin.
No need to wait to arrive in Hell to be tortured; Datsueba is also an agent of punishment. While taking clothes, she doles out punishment as deemed appropriate: she breaks the fingers of thieves, for instance. Imagine what she does to rapists.
Datsueba makes no exceptions for children or babies, but strips away their clothing, too. She is accused of tormenting them, encouraging them to build cairns of stones ostensibly as stairways to Heaven but really a trick. Every time a tiny baby manages to pile up a few rocks, Datsueba or one of her band of Demons knocks it over and the baby must start again. Luckily the Bodhisattva Jizo patrols the waterfront, comforting and rescuing these little ones.
Vestiges of other facets of Datsueba sometimes emerge: some Datsueba statues are credited with healing powers and venerated. Women sometimes invoke Datsueba’s aid with lactation or to protect children.
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Shozuka no Baba; Datsue-Ba –
She is a fierce old hag.
She is usually portrayed seated on the ground with one knee up and her breasts at least partially exposed.
- Kings of Hell
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.