Goddess of the Season: Amaterasu
The islands of Japan were isolated from outside influences, in much the same way as the old world islands of Crete or Malta. Due to this separation, the indigenous people of Japan have retained their polytheistic, nature based, Goddess centered beliefs well into modern times. This belief system is called Shinto, which translates as “The way of the Gods”. Within Shinto mythology, the most revered deity is Goddess…… the Sun Goddess and supreme deity of all Kami, the elemental forces of nature. She is….. Amaterasu-o-mi-kami.
Born of the primeval forces of the universe, Izanagi and Izanami; Amaterasu reigned over the heavens and brought life into the world. Her name literally means she who illuminates the heavens. “The Goddess of the beginnings is thus not only the mother of the world, but also the nurturer of living beings, animal as well as vegetable and humans. She is the protectress of all life, the unfailing one.”, writes Jean Markale in her book The Great Goddess. Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, is associated with royal power and with the returning of life and joy after dark-times.
For the story of Amaterasu and her brother Susano-O, both in audio and written form, entitled “Out of the Cave and into the Light” click on the following:
Amaterasu ruled over weaving and agriculture. She taught her people how to grow rice, their sacred food, and grains and how to cultivate the silkworm. She invented the art of weaving with the loom and was known to make the garments of the Gods. Like other solar deities, she is an archer, her quiver holding 1000 arrows. Her emblem, the rising sun, still appears on the flag of Japan today. Associated symbols from her myth are the mirror (truth), the necklace (compassion) and the sword (courage and strength) and they represent the Imperial Regalia which are kept at the Great Shrine of Ise. Her gift to the people as their guardian was to show them their own beauty and potential and to develop a cultural unity. As Patricia Monaghan writes “even the inroads of patriarchal Buddhism have not destroyed the worship of the bejeweled ancestor of all humanity”.
The Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, is still worshiped today in the Shinto Temples of Japan. The Japanese Imperial family traces their heritage back to her lineage. Emperor Akihito, the current Emperor, is said to be the 125th direct descendant of Jinmu, the great great grandson of Amaterasu, and is revered as a living God. The Japanese calendar starts from 660 BC and was the year of her accession. There are other scholars who believe it is possible that the indigenous religion of Japan (Shinto) may date back 5000 years. However, there is no official sacred scripture or dogma to validate this.
Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century and it maintained a peaceful coexistence with Shintoism. However, by the end of the 19th century Shintoism was to lose its status and recognition as a religion to become known as a cult of the Imperial family in the eyes of our western culture. At the end of WW2 the Imperial cult was abolished by the allies. The teaching of Shinto was forbidden along with the Japanese State financial support of it’s temples. Fortunately, this was but a temporary state, as today it again flourishes as a primary religion.
The major festival of Amaterasu, according to Patricia Monaghan, “is not tied to an annual cycle; it is held every twenty years when the sacred mirror is ceremoniously carried to a newly built shrine, identical in all respects to the shrine that has preceded it. Thus Amaterasu’s major ritual, like the myth of her return from the cave, emphasizes renewal.”
~Sacred pilgrimages to the Great Shrine of Ise occur in mid-February and again in mid-June.
~On May 3rd the Hakata festival takes place in Japan and is a national holiday with special celebrations for children and parades to honor their deities. Wear gold colored items today to honor Amaterasu. (365Goddess)
~Another celebration is on February 5th and is known as Sebutsen, the feast of “closing the door on winter”.
~On July 17th, the Great Festival of the Sun Goddess is held and street processions go on all day in honor of the queen of all Kami (Gods).
~And on December 21st, the winter solstice, she is honored for her creativity and the birth of light to the world.