Gods ‘r’ Us (part 4)

THE HAWAIIANS

For many months, Pele followed a star from the northeast, which shone brighter than the rest, and migrated toward it. One morning, Pele awoke to the smell of something familiar in the air. In the distance could be seen a high mountain with a smoky haze hiding its peak. Pele knew she had found her new home. She named the island, Hawai’i.

Pele, carrying her magic stick Pa’oa, went up to the mountain where part of the earth collapsed into the ground. She placed the stick into the ground and called the place, Kilauea. Inside the Kilauea Crater was a large pit, which she named, Halema’uma’u. Halema’uma’u would be her new home.

There was a fire god named ‘Ailaau (forest eater) living on Kilauea, who also wanted Kilauea for his home. The two threw fire balls at each other, causing considerable damage, but ‘Ailaau finally fled and still hides in the caverns under the earth. Pele alone would rule the island of Hawai’i.

The people of the island loved and respected the goddess Pele. An egg her mother had given Pele hatched into a beautiful girl. Pele named her new sister, Hi’iaka’ikapolioPele, which means Hi’iaka of the bosom of Pele.

Pele fell in love with a man she saw in a dream, named Lohi’au, a chief of the island of Kaua’i. She sent her sister, Hi’iaka, to Kaua’i to bring Lohi’au back to Hawai’i to live with Pele. Pele gave her sister forty days to complete the task or Pele would punish her by hurting her girlfriend, Hopoe.

Upon reaching Kaua’i, Hi’iaka found Lohi’au dead. She quickly rubbed his body with herbs and chanted to the gods for help, bringing the young chief back to life. Grateful for Hi’iaka’s help, Lohi’au agreed to return with her to the Big Island.

The forty days having passed, Pele suspected that Hi’iaka and Lohi’au had fallen in love and weren’t coming back. In a fury, Pele caused an eruption that turned Hopoe into stone. On her return to Hawai’i with Lohi’au, Hi’iaka found Hopoe, a statue of stone, and overcome with sadness and anger, decided to take revenge. She lead Lohi’au to the edge of the Halema’uma’u crater where Pele could see them, then put her arms around him and embraced him. Furious at this, Pele covered Lohi’au with flames and lava.

Once their anger had subsided, the two sisters were remorseful — one had lost a friend, the other a lover. Pele decided to bring Lohi’au back to life (again!), to let him choose which sister he would love. Pele was sure he would choose her, but Lohi’au chose Hi’iaka instead. So Pele, with aloha, gave the two lovers her blessing and Hi’iaka and Lohi’au sailed back to Kaua’i.

Pele still lives on Hawai’i, where she rules as the fire goddess of the volcanoes. The smell of sulfur reminds the natives that she is still there in her home, Halema’uma’u, her fiery lava building a new island to the south – still submerged – named Loahi.

THE MIAO PEOPLE OF CHINA

The Miao have no written records, but they have many legends in verse, which are sung or recited by two persons or two groups at feasts and festivals, often by a group of young men and a group of maidens:

Who made heaven and earth?
Who made insects?
Who made Men?
Made male and female?
I who speak don’t know.

Heavenly King made heaven and earth.
Ziene made insects.
Ziene made men and demons.
Made male and made female.
How is it you don’t know?

How made heaven and earth?
How made insects?
How made men and demons?
Made male and made female?
I who speak don’t know.

Heavenly King was intelligent,
Spat a lot of spittle into his hand,
Clapped his hands with a noise,
Produced heaven and earth,
Tall grass made insects,
Stories made men and demons,
Made men and demons,
Made male and made female.
How is it you don’t know?

The legend proceeds to explain how and by whom the heavens were propped up and how the sun was made and fixed in its place. They also have an interesting flood story, which we’ll explore a little later.

MIDDLE KINGDOM CHINA

A cosmic egg floated within the timeless void, containing the opposing forces of yin and yang. After eons of incubation, the first being, Pan-gu, emerged. The heavy parts (yin) of the egg drifted downward, forming the earth. The lighter parts (yang) rose to form the sky. Pan-gu, fearing that the parts might reform, stood upon the earth and held up the sky. He grew ten feet per day for eighteen thousand years, until the sky was thirty thousand miles high. His work completed, he died. His body parts transformed into elements of the universe, whether animals, weather phenomena, or celestial bodies. Some say that fleas on him became humans, but there’s another possible explanation:

The goddess, Nuwa was lonely, so she fashioned men out of mud from the Yellow River. These first humans delighted her, but they took too long to make, so she flung muddy droplets over the earth, where each one became a new person. These hastily-made people became the commoners, while the earlier, more carefully-crafted ones, became the Chinese nobility. I wonder to which class the author may have belonged…?

THE JAPANESE

This story, in its original form, can be found in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest chronicle, compiled in 712 C.E (or A.D., if you prefer), by O No Yasumaro.

By this comparatively late date, as far as creation myths go (though doubtless, the story itself is centuries, if not millennia older), Japanese culture was well on its way to becoming the strongly ritualized society that existed in Japan until the end of World War II, when it succumbed to outside influences and became global in scope, though remnants of such rituals as the various protocols of bowing still exist today. I mention this only to draw your attention to the serious consequences experienced by our hero and heroine of the story to follow, when they failed to observe precise societal etiquette.

Interesting to note also, that of all of the creation myths, this is the only one I’ve examined that acknowledges the vast age of the earth.

Before the heavens and the earth came into existence, all was chaos, unimaginably limitless and without definite shape or form. Eon followed eon: then, lo! out of this boundless, shapeless mass, something light and transparent rose up and formed the heaven.

This was the Plain of High Heaven, in which materialized a deity called, Ame-no-Minaka-Nushi-no-Mikoto [the Deity-of-the-August-Center-of-Heaven]. Next the heavens gave birth to a deity named, Takami-Musubi-no-Mikoto [the High-August-Producing-Wondrous-Deity], followed by a third called, Kammi-Musubi-no-Mikoto [the Divine-Producing-Wondrous-Deity]. These three divine beings are called the Three Creating Deities. [AKA, the Trinity, for short]

In the meantime, what was heavy and opaque in the void gradually precipitated and became the earth, but it had taken an immeasurably long time before it condensed sufficiently to form solid ground. In its earliest stages, for millions and millions of years, the earth may be said to have resembled oil floating upon the face of waters.

Suddenly, from the condensing earth, a pair of deities were born, “like the sprouting up of a reed.” There were then so many deities born in this manner that before long, they were knee-deep in deities. But as long as the world remained in a chaotic state, there was nothing for them to do.

The Heavenly Deities summoned two divine beings, brother and sister, Izanagi and Izanami and ordered them to descend to the nebulous earth, to consolidate it.

“We bestow on you,” they said, “this precious treasure with which to rule the land, the creation of which we command you to perform.” So saying, they handed them a spear called, Ama-no-Noboko, embellished with costly gems. The divine couple respectfully and ceremoniously received the sacred weapon, then withdrew from the presence of the Deities, ready to perform their august commission.

For those unfamiliar with Japanese name endings, Izanagi is a male and Izanami, a female — trust me, this is important.

They descended the floating bridge that connects heaven and earth (sounds a lot like Bifrost, the rainbow bridge of the Norse, that connects Midgard with Asgard). Gazing down, “What they beheld was a world not yet condensed, but looking like a sea of filmy fog floating to and fro in the air…” Izanagi suggested they stir the fog with the magic spear, and when he did, he touched something. Drawing up the spear, drops fell from it which coagulated immediately and became that which, to this very day, is known as the Island of Onokoro. The divine couple descended from the bridge to make the island their base.

Once settled in, they wanted to marry, so they erected a pillar, the Heavenly August Pillar (what else!?), in the center of the island and built around it a great palace, called the Hall of Eight Fathoms. Finally, they were ready for the ceremony:

Thereupon, the male Deity, turning to the left and the female Deity to the right, each went around the pillar in opposite directions. When they again met each other on the further side of the pillar, Izanami, the female Deity, speaking first, exclaimed: “How delightful it is to meet so handsome a youth!” To which Izanagi, the male Deity, replied: “How delightful I am to have fallen in with such a lovely maiden!” After having spoken thus, the male Deity said it was not in order that woman should anticipate man in greeting.

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Setting aside for the moment their protocol faux pas, they threw caution — and their clothes — to the wind, although two birds had to fly in to give them instructions in the art. From their union came a son, who was “weak and boneless as a leach.” Disgusted with it, they put it in a boat made of reeds and abandoned it in the water (Moses!?). Their second offspring was no better.

The two decided to trek back to heaven to find out what the problem was — after all, they’d been doing everything the birds told them to, plus a few things birds just aren’t built to do.

The trinity of deities pondered the problem and putting their wits together, almost came up with a whole wit: “It is the woman’s fault. In turning round the pillar, it was not right and proper that the female Deity should, in speaking, have taken precedence over the male.”

The young couple saw the error of their ways, skipped back down the bridge and re-performed the ceremony, this time in strict accordance with protocol, about which, the Kojiki assures us: “This process was more appropriate and in accordance with the law of nature.” What do you think, N.O.W.?

“After this, the children born to them left nothing to be desired,” the book relates. However, for some time after that, all of the “children” born to them happened to be the eight islands of Japan, followed by the numerous smaller islands surrounding Japan. It sounds like Izanagi abandoned his magical spear in favor of his own.

To make a short story long, after the couple finished birthing all of the myriad islands of Japan (and seemingly neglecting entirely the rest of the globe), they began begetting other deities who would preside over the sea, the harbors, the wind, and all natural phenomena that would affect an island nation that depended upon the sea for its sustenance.

But alas, in giving birth to the god of fire, Izanami was badly burned by the child. For a long time, she lingered, while Izanagi did everything in his power to help her recover. During this time, various parts of her body continued to give birth to still other deities. At last, she died, and hers was the first death in the world.

In anger, Izanagi drew his sword and decapitated his new son, the fire god, but from his blood sprang eight more deities, and from his lifeless body, eight more.

Izanagi mourned for his wife for a long time and finally decided to go down to Yomi, the land of the dead, in search of her. He finally found her after a long and perilous journey, and begged her to return with him to the land of the living.

She wanted more than anything to do so, but since her arrival in Yomi, she had eaten of the local food, and seemingly, once you’ve partaken of the cuisine of Yomi, Thomas Wolfe was right, you can’t go home again.

He continued to implore her and she finally admitted that there might be one slight chance, if she could ask for and receive permission from the gods of Yomi. She insisted he promise to wait where he was until she returned, and he vowed on his love for her, that he would. After waiting for what he felt was an interminably long time, he finally decided to go looking for her. And he found her — a rotting corpse in an advanced state of decomposition, and in that state, she was still giving birth – to eight thunder gods!

Izanagi turned and ran, but the noise awakened Izanami from her death-like slumber, and angry that he had broken his word, and that he had shamed her by seeing her in that decomposing state, she ordered the foul spirits (women, of course) of Yomi to slay him.

The spirits pursued Izanagi, but each time they came near to catching him, he threw off an object of his attire, first his headdress, then his comb, and each time it turned into food, which the women stopped to eat. Seriously, I am not making this up, it’s in the book!

Just as Izanagi reached the pass between Yomi and the land of the living, Izanami nearly caught up with him, but he blocked the pass with a giant boulder that that would take a thousand men to lift, forever sealing the passage between the land of the living and the land of the dead.

Standing on the Yomi side of the boulder, Izanami shouted to Izanagi, “Every day I will kill a thousand people and bring them to this land!”

To which Izanagi replied, “Every day I will cause one thousand, five hundred babies to be born!”

We’ve all had lover’s spats like that, haven’t we?

pax vobiscum,
archaeopteryx

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