Friday, March 28, 2014

A mirror for the Sun Goddess

One of my favorite teaching stories about soul loss and soul recovery comes from Japan. It is a mythic tale of Amaterasu Omikami, the Japanese sun goddess, and it offers a wonderful script for soul healing.
     The beloved sun goddess Amaterasu is shamed and abused by a raging male, her stormy brother/consortt Susanowo, who is a hero when is comes to fighting monsters but is no hero in the family home. They have had children together, born magically from gifts they have given each other – three girls from Susanowo’s sword and five boys from the jewels of Amaterasu.
     But Susanowo plays spoiler, smearing excrement where Amaterasu made fertile fields and crops, throwing a horse that is sacred to the goddess into the midst of her intimate weaving circle, and so on. The storm god’s violence reaches the point where Amaterasu takes refuge in a rock cave. And the light goes from the world.
      In her dark cavern the once radiant goddess sits brooding on the past, sinking deeper and deeper into feelings of guilt and shame. Maybe she starts telling herself that what has happened is somehow her fault, that she failed her consort in some important way, that she failed to give what was needed. In the depths, she has lost her inner light, while the world has lost her radiance. The myriad gods and goddesses are desperate to call the sun back.
     They try many ruses to lure Amaterasu out of the dark cave. They call on a wise god, whose name means Keeper of Thoughts, to advise them. He usually keeps his best ideas to himself, but the cold and darkness in the world have got him worried too. So he counsels the gods to gather all the roosters than can be relied to crow at dawn. He tells the gods to hang a mirror with strands of jewels on the branches of a Sakaki tree at the entrance of Amaterasu’s cave. The gods do this, decorating the tree with bright cloth banners, without fully understanding the plan. The cocks crow, the gods whoop and howl. And Amaterasu stays in her cave.
      Now one of her sister goddesses, Uzume, comes up with a plan of her own. Uzume is the goddess of mirth and revelry. She is also called the Great Persuader and the Heavenly Alarming Woman. Now we see why. Uzume overturns a tub near the mouth of the rock cave, strips off her clothes like a professional, and moves into a wild, sexy dance that has the gods laughing and bellowing with delight. Amaterasu is curious. Why is everyone having so much fun? She approaches the mouth of her cave and demands to know what is going on. Uzume calls back to her, “We’ve found you the perfect lover. Come and see.”
     Suspicious, Amaterasu peeks around the edge of the boulder she placed at the cave mouth to shut out the world. And she is awed and fascinated to see a figure of radiant beauty looking back at her. She is drawn, irresistibly, to this beauty, and comes up out of the darkness – to discover that the radiant being is her own beautiful self, reflected in the mirror the gods have hung in a tree near the cave. Now the god of Strength rushes out and holds Amaterasu, gently but firmly, to restrain her from going back into the dark. Another god places a magic rope across the entrance to the cave.
    Gods of passion and delight lead Amaterasu back into the assembly of the gods, and her light returns to the world. This is a marvelous collective dream of how soul recovery and soul healing become possible when we help each other to look in the mirror of the greater Self.
     Mirrors hang in the temples of Amaterasu today, to remind us to look for the goddess or god in ourselves. When we locate the drama of Amaterasu in our own lives, we begin to make a mirror for the radiance of the larger Self that can help to bring us, and those we love, up from the dark places.
     In some of my workshops, we have taken the story of Amaterasu's descent to the Underworld and turned it into a shamanic theater of soul recovery, with amazing results. However, the unfortunate cast as Susanowo must be depossessed of his role, and then welcomed back into the circle as a "new man", healed and enlightened. This can be profoundly healing too.

Graphic: Amaterasu returning from the Underworld, returning light to the world. By Utagawa Kunisada , 19th century. Public domain.


nina said...

I think this beautiful Japanese story on the soul recovery also shows how easy it was for men to feel superior over women in ancient societies.
I have been thinking about initiation rites for boys in which they invariably had to go through some kind of humiliation. Not to be humiliated but to understand that they are just one tiny part of life (though immensely important) and that they are equal to women. The only time in Pueblo Indian tribe when girls were allowed to sacred space during an initiation, was the moment when boys were ceremonially whipped by the elders. The future man was given this lesson (among others) to teach him that he wasn´t better than a girl.
Nowadays the situation looks somehow reversed, with girls overconfident and boys uncertain of themselves but in the past it was probably a very healthy method to create a living society in which men by experiencing difficulties and by overcoming pain during initiaton process were later able to share female pain and responsibilities for bringing and taking care of a new life.

DMarie Fekete said...

This is incredibly synchronous! I am conducting a workshop on healing as a process of understanding our shining qualities and using them to our tender wounds. I am retelling the story of Ameratsu being captivated by her own light to introduce the first exercise. As a huge fan of the "Three Not Only Things" I thank you for spinning coincidence my way!