Amaterasu Shining Kami of Heaven
PE 2011, July
This is the 3rd in a four part series looking at some of the ways we can bring ourselves in tune with Gods and Goddess playing significant roles in the way we live our daily lives. Of course we can do this with any Deity speaking to us but we have chosen four revered for their places in the home and family life. Understanding the Japanese view of the world takes as much study as any of the Western paths. Influences from their neighbors, the very environment in which they live and their interrelatedness make for perception of the world that is both complex and subtle. Shinto, the indigenous animistic religion of Japan, features the worship of gods, and or kami.
Kami (神) is the Japanese word for spirits, natural forces, or “essence” in the Shinto faith. Although the word is sometimes translated as “god” or “deity,” some Shinto scholars argue that such a translation can cause a misunderstanding of the term. “[A kami is] anything or phenomenon that produces the emotions of fear and awe, with no distinction between good and evil.” (Motoori Norinaga) kami are located within the human world and not outside it (non-transcendental). In fact, traditionally human beings like the Japanese Emperor could be kami and according to Shinto belief are descended from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu.
Amaterasu (天照大神／天照大御神) Amaterasu-ōmikami, means “the great august kami who shines in the heavens” and she is considered one of the most powerful, as she is the Shinto Goddess of the Sun and rules over the Plain of High Heaven. Amaterasu provides all the light for the world via her radiant body. She also gifted the Japanese people with rice fields and taught them how to cultivate wheat and how to weave on a loom. Her Ise shrine is considered to be the equivalent of Mecca for the Shinto faith and the Japanese people.
In Shinto tradition, the souls of kami are dualistic and take on a gentle aspect (nigi-mitama) and a more aggressive aspect (ara-mitama). Powerful Kami that have risen to the God or Goddess level will also take on the aspect that reflects where they are in the universe, heaven (amatsu-kami), or here on earth (kunitsu-kami). In many ways, this was representative of nature’s sudden changes and would explain why there were kami for every meteorological event: snowfall, rain, typhoons, floods, lightning and volcanoes.
So how can Amaterasu be relevant to a western euro-centric culture? Besides fitting into the rights and actions of other Sun Deities more familiar to us she allows us to develop a greater connection to the earth and its powers through the recognition and inclusion of various other kami in our lives. In a sense worship of kami as deities is not as much the goal as revering the virtues or ideals they represent. The goal of life to follower of the Shinto path is to obtain magokoro (a pure sincere heart) which can only be granted by the kami. As a result, followers are taught that humans should venerate both the living and the nonliving, because both possess a divine Kami within.
We can accomplish this veneration by upholding the five affirmations of Shinto. The first affirmation is to hold onto tradition and the family. Family is seen as the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved and traditions help to keep the family together and functioning in a way that helps ensure survival. The second affirmation is to have a love of nature. Nature objects are worshipped as sacred because the kami live within them. Therefore, to be in contact with nature means to be in contact with the gods. The third affirmation is to maintain physical cleanliness. Followers of Shinto take baths, wash their hands, and rinse out their mouths often. The last affirmation is to practice matsuri, which is the worship and honor given to the kami and the ancestral spirits.
If you feel like Amaterasu and Shinto have a lot in common with your current practices you may be right there has been a lot of cross pollination in belief systems and since Shinto is alive and well it is easier for many to learn by observation than buy searching for traces of practice from ancient texts.
Name – Amaterasu
Culture – Japanese
Worship/Ritual – Ise Shrine, festival on July 17, Winter Solstice
Associations – Sun, Winter Solstice, Harvest
Related Deities – Daughter of Izanagi, Brother to Susanowa
Amaterasu-ōmikami (天照大神／天照大御神) or Ōhiru-menomuchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神) is a sun goddess and one of the principal Shinto deities
(神 kami). The meaning of her name, Amaterasu-ōmikami, is “the great august kami who shines in the heaven”. She was born from the left eye of Izanagi as he purified himself in a river and went on to become the ruler of the Higher Celestial Plain (Takamagahara).