Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Amaterasu ~ Sun Goddess

Origin: Japanese, Shinto
Language: Japanese 
Translation: Amateru meaning "shining in heaven." The meaning of her whole name, Amaterasu-ōmikami, is "the great august kami (Gama or God) who shines in the heaven".
Feast Days: July 17th & December 8th
Goddess of: Sun and Universe
Goddess Type: Queen of Heaven
Also Known As: Amaterasu-ōmikami (天照大神/天照大御神) or Ōhirume-no-muchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神)
Symbols/Offerings: Unknown


Amaterasu (天照) is a part of the Japanese myth cycle and also a major deity of the Shinto religion. The Emperor of Japan believes himself to be a direct descendant of Amaterasu.

The oldest tales of Amaterasu come from the ca. 680 AD Kojiki and ca. 720 AD Nihon Shoki, the oldest records of Japanese history. In Japanese mythology Amaterasu is the sister of Susanoo, the god of storms and the sea, and of Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon. All three were born from Izanagi, when he was purifying himself after entering Yomi, the underworld, after failing to save Izanami.

Amaterasu was born when Izanagi washed out his left eye, Tsukuyomi was born from the washing of the right eye, and Susanoo from the washing of the nose.

She became the ruler of the sun and the heavens along with her brother, Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon and ruler of the night. Originally, Amaterasu shared the sky with Tsukuyomi, her husband and brother until, out of disgust, he killed the goddess of food, Uke Mochi, when she pulled "food from her rectum, nose, and mouth". This killing upset Amaterasu causing her to label Tsukuyomi an evil god and split away from him; separating night from day.

The texts also tell of a long-standing rivalry between Amaterasu and her other brother, Susanoo. When he was to leave Heaven by orders of Izanagi, he went to bid his sister goodbye. Amaterasu was suspicious, but when Susanoo proposed a challenge to prove his sincerity, she accepted. Each of them took an object of the other's and from it birthed gods and goddesses. Amaterasu birthed three women from Susanoo's sword while he birthed five men from her necklace. Claiming the gods were hers because they were born of her necklace, and the goddesses were his, she decided that she had won the challenge, as his item produced women. The two were content for a time, but her brother became restless and went on a rampage, destroying Amaterasu's rice fields, hurling a flayed pony at her loom, and killing one of her attendants in a fit of rage. Amaterasu, who was in fury and grief, hid inside the Ama-no-Iwato ("heavenly rock cave"), thus effectively hiding the sun for a long period of time.

Though she was persuaded to leave the cave, Susanoo was punished by being banished from Heaven. Both later amended their conflict when Susanoo gave her the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi sword as a reconciliation gift.

According to legend, Amaterasu bequeathed to her descendant Ninigi the Yata no Kagami mirror, Yasakani no Magatama jewel or orb, and the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi sword. This sacred mirror, jewel, and sword collectively became the three Imperial Regalia of Japan.

Worshipping the Sun Goddess

The Ise Shrine located in Honshū, Japan houses the inner shrine, Naiku dedicated to Amaterasu. Her sacred mirror, Yata no Kagami is said to be kept at this shrine as one of the Imperial Regalia of Japan. At this shrine, a ceremony known as Shikinen Sengu is held every 20 years to honor Amaterasu. The main shrine buildings are destroyed and rebuilt at a location adjacent to the site. New clothing and food is then offered to the goddess. This practice is a part of the Shinto faith and has been practiced since the 690s.

The worship of Amaterasu to the exclusion of other kami has been described as "the cult of the sun". This phrase can also refer to the early pre-archipelagoan worship of the sun itself.

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