A while ago I wrote a post about the myth of Izanagi and Izanami, the Creator God and Goddess of Japanese mythology, which provided a substantial part of the backstory for my novel, At Yomi’s Gate. There’s more to the myth, and I really meant to get back to it sooner, but life got distracting and demanded my attentions elsewhere. But now I’m finally back with Part 2. Go here to read Part 1.
When we last left off, Izanami had just died giving birth to the fire god Kagu-tsuchi and her husband Izanagi slew said god in his grief and anguish.
Unable to accept his wife’s death, Izanagi journeyed to the gate of Yomi, the land of the dead, to see her once more. In the Kojiki- the primary source for much of early Japanese mythology- Yomi is presented as a real place under the Earth rather than a separate metaphysical realm like the Buddhist or Christian Hells (my version, though, is more like the latter two, in that it is another plane of existence). At the entrance, Izanagi calls to his spouse, begging her to return to the land of the living. She appears, obscured in deep shadows, but laments that she cannot leave Yomi because she has already eaten the food of the underworld and has thus become a part of the realm. She does, however, promise to speak with the mysterious gods of Yomi and see if she can strike a deal with them. It’s worth noting that these rulers of the underworld are never elaborated on anywhere else in the Kojiki. It’s possible the reference to them came from another source, now lost, that was consulted when this book was compiled.
Izanagi soon grows impatient and, grabbing a torch, goes in after his wife. When he finds Izanami at last, his light reveals that she is a rotting corpse crawling with maggots. Horrified, Izanagi flees back towards the surface. Ashamed at being seen in her decayed state, Izanami flies into a rage and sends the Yomo-tu-siko-me, or hags of Yomi, after him.
|My attempt at illustrating in the Ukiyo-e woodblock print-style. Except without the wood block.|
To evade his pursuers, Izanagi flings down the comb and leather string binding his hair which magically transform into, respectively, bamboo shoots and grapes that the siko-me eagerly stop to eat. But Izanami won’t let him escape that easily. She sends a massive army of demonic warriors to continue the pursuit, backed up by eight gigantic maggot-demons that grew from her own body. Despite the tremendous odds against him, Izanagi manages to fight them off using his divine sword- and also a handful of peaches (a weird little detail derived the ancient Chinese practice of using peaches to dispel evil spirits).
|Another Ukiyo-e attempt. There's a reason this isn't my primary style...|
After finally driving back the Underworld hordes, Izanagi seals the entrance to Yomi with a massive boulder. Izanami herself comes to the blocked entrance and calls out to him, threatening to kill a thousand people each day. Izanagi responds by saying that each day he will, in turn, build one thousand five hundred birthing huts to help mortals replace the people she takes.
Putting the whole Yomi debacle behind him, Izanagi purifies himself by bathing in a river. During this ritual multiple deities sprout from the clothes he leaves on the shore and from the cleansing waters that touch his body. The most prominent of these beings are the three major deities of Japanese Shinto mythology: Amaterasu the sun goddess and ruler of the mortal world; Tsukuyomi, god of the moon; and Susano-o, god of storms and the sea.
Delighted by these new gods, Izanagi gives them control over the mortal world. While Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi are content with their stations, Susano-o is deeply unsatisfied and weeps day and night, desperately begging to see his mother, Izanami. Even though he was technically spawned from just one parent, he clearly still considers Izanami his mother since he was born from the pollution of her realm that washed off Izanagi’s body.
Enraged by Susano-o’s petulance- and by this painful reminder of his former wife- Izanagi banishes his son to exile. After this final act, Izanagi ascends to the Heavenly Palace and leaves the Kojiki narrative.
At least that’s how it happens in our world. In the world of the Magma Sea Cycle, Izanagi’s tasks on Earth are not quite done thanks to a certain fire god that he thought he’d killed....
The information for this post was taken from Doland L. Philippi's translation of the Kojiki for University of Tokyo press.