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Amaterasu: The Brilliant Sun Goddess

This article was written by Katalin Koda
posted under Pagan

Summertime brings out the brilliance of sunshine, sunflowers, and an abundance of active energy. In the long summer days of heat and light, we find the sacred feminine aflame in the Japanese sun Goddess of beauty and radiance, Amaterasu. Amaterasu is the delightful sun Goddess of the Shinto Japanese culture whose name means "Great Divinity illuminating heaven." Unlike most cultures, the ancient Shinto honored the sun as feminine and the moon as masculine. Viewing the sun as the endless loving heart of the feminine, high in the day sky, is a way to tap into our own radiant selves as women and inner divine feminine as men.

The Return of the Sun
The story of Amaterasu and her discovery of her brilliance begins when she is placed in charge of the "High Celestial Plain," the home to all the kami, or gods and spirits. During her rule her brother, the Storm God Susano-o, begins to behave very rudely. He defiles her dwelling place, breaks down the rice fields, and throws a flayed horse into her weaving hall. Amaterasu is so disturbed by his behavior that she retreats to her cave and refuses to come out. Without the warmth and beauty of the sun, the land quickly becomes cold and dark and quiet.

All the gods and goddesses gather together to figure out what to do. They collect roosters to stimulate the sounds just before dawn and hang a mirror and jewels on a sakaki tree in front of the cave. One goddess in particular, Uzume, the Shaman-Goddess, becomes increasingly frustrated by the dark and Amaterasu's refusal to come out. In an act of courage and defiance, she stands up on an upturned tub. She stamps and laughs and begins to dance. The gods and goddesses adore her antics and clap and laugh asking for more. She continues to dance, becoming more bawdy and lewd, eventually allowing her robe to fall from her body. The gods and goddesses roar with delight and wild merry at her wild antics.

Meanwhile, Amaterasu, deep inside the cave, hears the laughter and merriment happening outside. Knowing that the world is plunged in darkness without her, she can't help but become curious as to what it is they are laughing about. Finally, she can no longer resist and peeks out of the cave. As she does she glimpses her own beautiful and illustrious reflection shining in the mirror. Overcome by her inner beauty and love, she emerges from the cave and brings light to the earth once again.

Gender Bending
This myth is striking because the sun is portrayed as a Goddess. In my lifelong studies of mythology, it is rare to come across the Sun as a feminine force. Often the brilliance of the sun is characterized by the masculine qualities of active, bright, shiny, and outward while the moon is usually feminine, quiet, inward, psychic, and intuitive. What does that do when we soften our perspective of rigid gender roles or flip them around altogether? In many indigenous cultures, there were several forms of gender, with aspects of feminine and masculine resting together in a variety of ways within men and women. A woman may express masculine traits and be interested in male activities or vice versa.

Our Western culture has placed strong significance upon the solar god, the return of light as masculine in both ancient Pagan beliefs as well as the overlay of Christian religion that followed. The romantic periods of art often glorified male as bright and sun-like. Really, the sun is neither male nor female; however, shifting our perspective helps soften rigid roles we may project on the world around us. Close your eyes and imagine the sun as a feminine Goddess form. See her radiance shining outward toward you, her eyes sparkling with fathomless light, her fingers emitting the golden rays of sunlight. She is the epitome of beauty and brilliance.

The Beauty Way
As in my book, Fire of the Goddess, I examine each character or archetype in myths and dreams as an aspect of ourselves. Amaterasu is the part of us that is brilliant, beautiful, and illuminated both within and without. Just as in the story, many of us tuck this part away when we are hurt or when our ego is bruised and damaged. Sometimes in life we face people and situations that slander us, call us names, make fun of us. This may be actually happening or it may be that we assume other's comments are directed in hurtful ways toward us. How many times do we close down when we feel hurt, betrayed, or taken advantage of? How do we return to the open spaciousness that is the heart, the way of beauty and light?

Curiously Clowning
If each part of the myth is an aspect of ourselves, then Uzume is our bawdy, wild self, the one that draws our own brilliance back into the world. She asks us, what are our unique gifts? How might we explore them further? She is our bridge back from the dark, sulking interior to the bright world and our beloveds. Through her dance, which delights the gods and goddesses so much, turning them on with her bawdy and even lewd behavior, she knocks the ego out of its own way. Uzume is a Shaman-Goddess, the one who breaks the rules and pushes the edges to make change, real lasting and healing change. In my own healing practice, I often sense the stories and beliefs in my clients that prevent them from moving forward and healing. Sometimes we have to cleanse those stories through trickery, dance, song, and movement. To break open the boundaries and allow the light to flood in.

Synchronistically, as I began the study of this Goddess, I was shown another even more ancient version of Uzume's act in the book Why Is That so Funny?, by John Wright. He remarks that this is the first story of performance ever, written down in the Kojiki around 712 AD in Japan. In this version, Uzume's actions begin with stamping and the gods' reaction to it, which then moves to her dancing delightedly, then disrobing and stroking herself, and into the final and disturbing act of ripping off her nipples. This chain of activity—from comic to bawdy to sexual to disturbing—intrigued me. What is the connection between delight, comedy, and disgust? Often shamans are portrayed as wild, untamable, and even disturbing. It seems that they must be to hold the power to encounter dark forces and take them back through fear, hatred, and torment into the light. Uzume acts this out, another feminine force, the force of darkness and wildness who ultimately brings Amaterasu back out into herself and the light. What must we face with our own wildness in order to come back into the light? To come into the full radiance of ourselves?

Back into the Light
Amaterasu is the reminder that regardless of our stories, our hurt, and our betrayal, we still own our inner light. She is our brilliant self, our inner beauty. The Beauty way is a deep connection to our own nourishment, our connection to light and love. I feel that more than anything our entire purpose on earth is to learn to embrace loving and emit love. Every day we are presented with countless opportunities to emit love, to turn over and over again from fear and withdrawal toward the light of wonder and beauty. The sun is our ever-constant reminder. The sun is a fierce and perpetual fire. She never stops shining, ever. She is the quality of generosity that comes without expectation. May Amaterasu be a reminder to you of your own brightness!

"And still, after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
'You owe Me.'
Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky."
― Hāfez
Katalin KodaKatalin Koda
Katalin Koda is a passionate explorer of earth stories, women's mysteries and the mythic expression of our world. A practicing Vajrayana Buddhist, Koda also works with indigenous wisdom and shamanism in her healing practice. She is a visionary artist,...  Read more


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