Yesterday we heard the story of Izanagi and Izanami creating the world, the islands of Japan, and many of the gods and goddesses. After giving birth to the god of fire, poor Izanami was too badly burnt to live, and she died in her husband’s arms. Izanagi was so angry that he slaughtered the infant god of fire, cutting him up into many new gods. But his grief didn’t end there.
Izanagi was so upset that he determined to travel to the underworld, Yomi, to retrieve his wife. He searched and quickly found her (presumably there weren’t too many dead at this point in history). At this point it was too dark to see her, but he called out to her to come back to the land of the living. Izanami spat at him that he came too late, as she had already eaten the food of the underworld and could no longer return to life.
Izanagi refused to accept this, so he waited until Izanami fell asleep, and snuck up on her to carry her back to the land of the living. When the light of his torch fell upon her face, he was horrified, as she was in a terrible state of decompose, with maggots and worms crawling through her once beautiful face. Izanagi shrieked (wouldn’t you?) and fled, waking up Izanami in doing so. Izanami was so indignant that she sent eight hell-hags after her husband, instructing them to bring him back to live with her forever.
Izanagi fled the underworld and quickly threw a huge boulder over the entrance, keeping the demons and hellbeasts — and his now-hellish wife — trapped in Yomi. Furious, Izanami shrieked out at him that if he left her, she would destroy 1000 lives every day for the rest of eternity. Izanagi replied that if she did that, he would give life to 1500 new lives every day.
Izanagi left his wife forever that day, and went to perform a cleansing ritual to purify himself of having visiting Yomi (and presumably to wash off any bits of his wife that were stuck to him after that traumatic venture). In cleansing himself, the water that fell out of his left eye became the sun goddess, Amaterasu. The water that fell from his right eye became the moon god Tsukuyomi (we heard about him in Inari’s story too). And whatever it was that came out of his nose (yuck!) became Susano’o, the evil storm god.
As for Izanami, she became the queen of the underworld.
The Japanese version of hell, or Yomi, isn’t really like the Christian concept of hell. Originally, it was quite similar to the Greek underworld, Hades. After Buddhism came to Japan, Yomi was incorporated into Buddhist cosmology and became one of the many hells one can go to if they’ve been a bad person…
Extra credit to any of you who caught the similarities between the story of Izanagi and Izanami and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Double extra credit to any of you who caught the similarities to the Mayan myth of Itzamna and Ix Chel, the Indian myth of Savitri and Satyavan, or the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s decent into the underworld. Myths are fun!
Anyway, as usual, head on over to Etsy if you’d like to support me by buying a print!