MYTHOLOGY OF HINDUISMULTIMATE INFINITE MYTHOLOGY OF THE TWO AMERICAS
We apply the word 'Hindu' to the population resulting from the mixture or propinquity of the
different races of India; and the name 'Hinduism' is given to the social, religious, and mythological
mixture produced by the interpenetration of the most divergent rites, beliefs and superstition. This
syncretism occurred under the aegis of Brahmanism, because the Brahmans remained the most
educated caste, destined to maintain the inheritance of Vedic tradition. But the history of
Hinduism is that of the concessions which orthodoxy was forced to make to new or foreign beliefs
and practices, since orthodoxy could only survive by giving its blessing to what it was unable to
RELIGION OF VISHNU
The Vishnu of Hinduism adds a large number of fantastic developments to the comparatively
little personified Vishnu of the Vedic age, the principle of light 'penetrating', vich, the whole
universe, which he crossed with three steps. The later epochs represented this god as dark blue,
dressed in yellow, riding an eagle, Garuda, while his four arms carried a mace, a sea-shell, a disk
and a lotus. The Vaikuntha heaven over which he reigns is made of gold and its palaces of
precious stones. The crystal waters of the Ganges fall on the head of Druva and then on the seven
Rishis, and so make their way to the sea. Vishnu is seated on white lotus flowers, having on his
right his wife, the brilliant and perfumed Lakshmi, born from the churning of the sea and
sprinkled with the Ganges by elephants with golden ewers, thus associating the ideal of love and
beauty with the prestige of the supreme god. Here are some of the names or epithets of this first
principle: Svayambhu who exists of himself, Ananta the infinite, Yajnesvara
the lord of sacrifice, Hari the abducter who carries off souls to save them. Janarddana who
captivates peoples' adoration, Mukunda the liberator, Madhava made of honey, Kesava the hairy
whose hairs were the solar rays-, Narauana, the source and refuge of beings. The variety of these
forms is explicable historically by the fusion of different gods and demi-gods into a single figure
under the action of a particular sentiment, a king of piety quite unknown to primitive
Brahmanism, and called by the Hindus Bhakti made up of confidence, love, and the gift of self to
The Avatars of Vishnu. In the intervals of successive creations, Vishnu sleeps on the cosmic
waters, lying on the snake Sesha whose seven heads spread like a fan make a canopy for him. This
slumber is not death but a state in which the god's virtuality slowly ripens to unfold again in
another universe. These alternations of rest and activity, although each of them lasts for thousands
of millions of centuries, are as regular and certain as an organic rhythm - India thinks of them as
the god's in-breathing and out-breathing. To each cycle of creation there corresponds an 'avatar',
literally 'a descent', of the god Vishnu. These avatars theoretically number ten, but the wealth of
popular imagination has greatly increased the number. The lion avatar, Narasimha, has appeared
in the story of Hiranyakasipu, and Vamana the dwarf in that of Bali.
Avatar of the Fish, Matsya. This implies ancient traditions to do with a flood. One day when the
wise Manu was making his ablutions he found in the hollow of his hand a tiny little fish, which
begged him to allow it to live. So he put it in a jar, but next day it
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was so much bigger that he had to carry it to a lake. Soon the lake was too small. Throw me into
the sea,' said the fish, 'and I shall be more comfortable.' Then he warned Manu of a coming deluge.
He sent him a large ship, with orders to load it with two of every living species and the seeds of
every plant, and then to go on board himself. Manu had only just carried out these orders when
the ocean submerged everything, and nothing was to be seen but Vishnu in the form of a huge
one-horned fish with golden scales. Manu moored his ship to the horn of the fish, using the large
snake Vasuki as a rope. Thus mankind, the animals and the plants were saved from destruction.
Avatar of the Wild Boar, Varahavatara. When the earth was submerged by the deluge it was
captured by demons. Vishnu in the form of a wild boar dashed across heaven and dived into the
waters, where he tracked down the earth by his sense of smell. He killed the demon who held it
prisoner, and came up to the surface of the water, bringing with him the earth which he lifted
from the abyss on his tusks. The sculptors represented the Varahavatara in the form of a giant
with the head of a wild boar, holding in his arms the goddess of Earth.
Avatar of the Turtle. This is connected with the episode of 'the churning of the sea', one of the
most popular legends of Indian mythology.
Long ago Indra, king of the gods, was cursed by a great rishi named Durvasas. Thereafter Indra
and the three worlds began to lose their first vigour. Vishnu appeared smiling and said: 'I will
give you back your power. This is what you must do. Take mount Mandara as a stick and the
snake Vasuki as a rope and churn the sea of milk, and you will see it produces the liquid of
immortality and other wonderful presents. But you must have the help of the demons. Make an
alliance with them and tell them that you will share with them the fruits of your common labour. I
shall myself take care that they don't get their share of ambrosia.'
So the gods made an alliance with the Asuras, and having taken mount Mandara as the stick and
the snake Vasuki as the rope, they began their work. By its violent motions the mountain did great
damage to the inhabitants of the ocean, and the heat created by its rotation destroyed the animals
and birds living on its slopes. In fact the whole mountain would have been destroyed if Indra had
not sent heavy rains down from heaven, to quench the flames and comfort the inhabitants. But
owing to its weight and rapid motion the mountain bored into the earth and threatened to break
through it. Vishnu, again invoked, assumed the form of a gigantic turtle, got beneath the
mountain, and became its pivot. The churning went on faster than ever. So great is the power of
Vishnu, and so numerous the forms that he is able to assume, that even while he supported the
mountain he was also present, though invisible, among the gods and demons hauling at the rope.
His energy also sustained Vasuki, king of the snakes, while everyone saw him seated in glory on
the peak of Mandara.
The Snake suffered from this painful labour. While the gods pulled him by the tail and the
demons by the head, torrents of venom escaped from his jaws and poured down on earth in a vast
river which threatened to destrqy gods, demons, men and animals. In their distress they called
upon Siva, and Vishnu joined in their entreaties. Siva heard them and drank the poison to save the
world from destruction, but it burnt his throat, and his neck still bears a
blue mark which gave him the name of 'Nilakantha', blue throat.
At last the persevering efforts of gods and demons received their reward. First of all their eyes
beheld Surabhi, the marvellous cow. mother and nurse of all living things. Then came Varuni
goddess of wine, Parijata the tree of paradise, the delight of the nymphs of heaven, scenting the
whole earth with the perfume of its flowers, and then all the Apsaras with their grace and
Then appeared the Moon which Siva grasped to wear on his forehead, and Lakshimi, the goddess
of fortune, Vishnu's joy, seated radiant on a wide-open lotus. The heavenly musicians and the
great sages began to sing her praises. The sacred rivers asked her to bathe in their waters. The sea
of milk gave her a crown of immortal flowers. The great sacred elephants who support the world
poured on her the holy water of the Ganges from golden ewers. As she was Vishnu's wife she sat
on his knees, and refused to look at the demons who coveted the goddess of prosperity.
Among other products of the sea of milk must be mentioned Dhanvantari, doctor of the gods, and
inventor of the Ayur-Vedic system of medicine; a miraculous horse, a sort of Pegasus; and a
marvellous jewel which Vishnu placed on his breast.
The doctor of the gods was the last to appear, holding in his hand the cup which contained the
liquid of immortality. The furious and impatient Asuras snatched it from him and fled. But
Vishnu assumed the form of a most lovely woman, fascinated them by the illusion, and while the
demons were arguing with each other, he took the ambrosia and brought it back to the gods.
When they had drunk of it they regained their vigour and drove away the Asuras.
Krishna. Krishna is the most charming and human of Vishnu's incarnations.
He was born at Mathura, between Delhi and Agra. His mother
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was Devaki, a sister of king Kamsa, who killed all her children as soon as they were born, since it
had been predicted that he would be assassinated by one of them. Krishna owed his life to a ruse
of his parents, who exchanged him for the daughter of a poor cowherd, in order to hide him from
his uncle's anger. Krishna therefore spent his youth among keepers of herds, in the company of his
Soon after his birth Krishna.was already full of vigour, and sometimes of malice, and started his
series of mighty deeds. He overthrew a cart, pulled up two trees together by the roots, fought
successfully with a big water snake, and helped his brother Balarama to destroy a dangerous
He played tricks on Indra himself. Once when the herdsmen were preparing to pay homage to the
dispenser of rains, he advised them rather to honour the mountain which fed their herds, and the
cattle who gave them milk. Krishna in this way appropriated to himself the cult devoted to Indra,
for he appeared on the top of the mountain, saying: 'I am the mountain!' and took the first fruits of
the offerings to himself. Indra was furious, and poured down cataracts of rain to drown the
herdsmen and their cattle, but Krishna lifted the mountain and held it in the air with one finger,
and thus protected his friends from the storm for seven days and nights. Indra was amazed, and
came down from heaven with his wife Indrani, and they both begged his friendship for their son
In time Krishna became an adolescent. One day some shepherdesses went bathing in the Yamuna,
and hearing their bursts of laughter he came up softly and stole their clothes, hiding with them in
a neighbouring tree. When the shepherdesses came out of the water and could not find their
clothes on the bank they did not know where to turn, and their trouble was increased when they
noticed Krishna in the tree looking and laughing at them. Going back into the water they begged
him to have pity on them, but he would not return their clothes except on the condition that they
came to look for them one by one, with their hands folded in the attitude of prayer.
This incident is merely an introduction to many others like it. The herdsmen's wives and
daughters, forgetting their customary reserve and modesty, left their work and their houses to
follow Krishna into the forest, as soon as they heard the sound of his flute. The Bhagavata
sometimes gently scolded them, but he also told them that through him they would obtain
salvation. However Krishna is approached he gives liberation. Some knew and sought him as a
son, some as a friend, some as a lover, or even as an enemy, but all received his blessing and
The shepherdesses in love with Krishna became so numerous that they could not all hold his hand
when he danced with them, so he multiplied himself into many forms, and each girl had the
illusion that she was holding Krishna's hand in hers.
The erotic mysticism of the Hindu 'Song of Songs', the Gila-Govinda, was the delight of
'Krishna enchanted the women by the pleasures he lavished on them. The contact of his limbs, soft
and dark as a garland of lotus flowers, created amorous delight in them, while the women of the
heifer-park kissed him as much as they desired. . .
'May those learned spirits who seek ecstasy in Vishnu derive from the song of Govinda the
essence of love!"
When he was adult Krishna left the herdsmen and returned to Mathura. He killed Kamsa and a
certain number of other evil-doers.
And then the Mahabharata allots him an important part in the famous war launched by the five
sons of Pandu against their hundred cousins, the Kurus. Krishna was the friend and adviser of the
Pandavas, and even became Arjuna's divine charioteer.
Arjuna hesitated to take part in the war, deploring the useless slaughter. Why kill one's friends
and relations? Krishna, however, reminds him that he belongs to the caste of the warriors. He
cannot go to heaven if he displays such cowardice. Besides they only kill and are killed in
appearance. In reality the soul is eternal. All those on the battlefield nave always existed and will
never cease to exist.
These remarks induce Arjuna to ask Krishna a number of questions, and their dialogue forms the
splendid philosophical poem, the Bhaguvad-Giia.
After many hard fights the war ends with the total destruction of both armies. There are four
survivors of the Kurus, and seven of the Pandavas including the god Krishna.
Soon after, Krishna himself accidentally dies, although he had
foreseen his fate. Seated in the forest, in meditation, with his legs crossed, he exposed the soles of
his feet. And the wise Durvasas had once cursed him in a moment of anger, saying that he would
die from a wound in his foot. A hunter at a distance mistook Krishna for a deer he was following,
and let fly a shaft which hit him in his one vulnerable place, the god's left heel. The hunter came
up and was in despair at his mistake, but Krishna told him to fear nothing and not to grieve. These
words of consolation were the last he spoke on this earth. Then, all radiant, he rose up into
heaven, and the gods greeted him. Shadow then fell upon the earth.
Rama. 'The hero created by Valmiki', says Sylvain Levi, 'still remains for contemporary India the
most perfect model of humanity. Rama's peaceable courage, always at the service of virtue, his
passionate devotion to duty, his fine delicate sensibility, his filial piety, his conjugal tenderness,
the communion of his spirit with all Nature, are traits of eternal beauty which time can neither
Rama was the son of king Dasaratha of Ayodhya, but was forced to renounce the throne and to go
into exile by the intrigues of his step-mother. When he is leaving he advises his wife, the beautiful
Sita, to stay in the palace. The life of the forest would be too rough and dangerous for her:
'You hear the dreadful roaring oflions mingled with the rushing of cataracts. There is not enough
water, you walk along very difficult paths tangled with lianas and undergrowth, you sleep on
beds of dead leaves, or on the bare earth, night after night, when you are worn out with fatigue.
You have to be satisfied with fallen fruits, and sometimes to fast to the verge of extinction. Snakes
with winding coils, like the streams in which they hide, boldly traverse the paths. It is the realm of
wind, darkness, hunger, and the great terrors.'
But Sita insisted. She knew she had the right, for a wife's first duty is to share her husband's lot.
'Whether it is in asceticism, a hermitage, or in'heaven, I want
nor weaken.' (From Abbe Roussel's translation of the Ramayana.) to be with you.
as Skanda. Chola style bronze, sixteenth century A.D.
'I can never be tired walking after you. The reeds, the grass, the thorny bushes on the way will
seem to me in your company as soft to the touch as a lawn or the skin of an antelope.
'The dust thrown up by the wind to cover me will seem, dear husband, rich sandal-wood powder.
'With you it is heaven, away from you hell. So it is. Be certain of it, O Rama, and be perfectly
happy with me.'
Rama let himself be moved, and Sita followed him into exile along with his brother Lakshmana.
But Ravana, the king of the Rakshasas, desires Sita. He succeeds in drawing Rama away in pursuit
of a magical gazelle, and carries off Sita by force in his aerial chariot. He keeps her a captive
among his women in the kingdom of Lanka (Ceylon).
Rama, wild with despair and grief, looks madly for his wife, and vows to annihilate her abductor.
An eagle among his friends indicates the trail, and a whole nation of monkeys put themselves at
his service. Hanuman, one of the monkeys, is agile enough to clear the wall by an immense leap,
and brings the hero back news of Sita whom he has cheered. Rama is sure of winning, but how can
he take his army over the sea? He decides to ask the help of Ocean.
So, having formed a bed of the plant Kusa, Rama lay down on it, face to the East, and lifted his
clasped hands to the sea, saying: The Ocean will yield, or I shall die.' Rama then remained there
silent for three days with his spirit concentrated on the Ocean, but
it made no answer. Then the hero became angry. He stood up, grasped his bow, tried to dry up the
sea. He shot terrible arrows which pierced the waves, stirred up powerful storms and frightened
the snakes and dolphins of the sea - and the gods shouted from heaven: 'Alas!' and 'Enough!'
But Ocean did not appear. Then having threatened him Rama fitted to his bow-string an arrow
tipped with a charm given by Brahma, and shot. Darkness fell on heaven and earth, all creatures
were seized with terror, the mountains trembled, and the depths of the sea were violently
troubled. Then Ocean himself emerged from the waters, as the sun rises over mount Meru.
Wearing a crown and spangled with glittering gems he was followed by the great rivers, the
Ganga, the Sindhu, and others. He came to Rama with clasped hands, saying:
'O Rama, you know that each element possesses its own qualities. Mine are to be without bottom
and difficult to cross. Neither love nor fear can give me the power to stay the eternal movement of
the waters. But you can cross me, thanks to a bridge which I promise to uphold firmly. Secure the
help of Nala, the son of Visvakarma (the smith of the gods). He is full of energy and as skilful as
his father.' Having spoken, Ocean returned beneath his waves.
Thereupon, obeying Nala's orders, all the monkeys collected trees and rocks, carried them from
the forest to the shore, and placed them on the sea. Some carried beams, some measured them,
others rolled along enormous boulders. The rocks as they leaped into the
sea made a noise like thunder. And at the end of five days a wide strong bridge was built. From a
distance it looked on Ocean's head like the parting which divides the hair on a woman's head.
Rama and Lakshmana then started to cross the bridge with the army of monkeys. Other monkeys
came swimming, and still others bounded through the air. The noise of this army overbore that of
the waves and of Ocean.
Rama with his army soon reached the walls of Lanka, and a terrible battle began. It was at the
expense of prodigies of valour that the hero's troops gradually overcame Ravana's.
After purification, and singing the hymn to the Sun, Rama in person had to fight, for Ravana came
to attack him. They were like two fiery lions. One by one Rama with his arrows cut down the
monster's ten heads, but fresh ones always sprang up. He then took a weapon which Agastya had
given him - its wings were moved by the wind, its point was made of sunlight and fire, and it was
as heavy as the mountains Meru and Mandara. After blessing this shaft with Vedic 'mantras'
(sacred formulas) Rama fitted it to his bow and shot it. The shaft flew straight to its aim, pierced
Ravana's chest and then, covered with blood, returned humbly to the hero's quiver.
Thus died the king of the Rakshasas. The gods rained down flowers on Rama's chariot, and sang
hymns of praise, for the purpose which had caused Vishnu to assume human form was now
Rama at first refused to receive the liberated Sita, for he wished to prove to everyone that in spite
of her sojourn with Ravana his wife had remained unsullied. In despair at this repudiation Sita
longed only for death, and had a funeral pyre built. She mounted it, and approaching the fire with
clasped hands exclaimed: 'As my heart was never taken from Rama, so you, O Fire, the universal
witness, will never take from me your protection!' Then she bravely entered the flames. While all
the onlookers were uttering cries and lamentations, the fire was seen to rise up holding on its
knees Sita who looked radiant as the morning sun. They cried out that it was a miracle, and Rama
opened his arms to the Irreproachable, saying: 'I knew Sita's virtue, but I wished it to be justified
before all the people. Without this test they would have said that Dasarath's son has yielded to
desire and despises the traditional laws. But now all will know that she is truly mine, as the rays
of the sun belong to their source.'
Rama then asked Indra to resurrect all his companions who had fallen on the battlefield, and then
returned to Ayodhya, where he took in hand the government of the kingdom.
To close this series of Vishnu's avatars, let us mention Kalkin who, like Maitreya the future
Buddha, has not yet appeared. The Kalki-Purana tells us what to expect from his beneficent
intervention when his hour arrives. He will close the iron age, and annihilate the wicked. He will
appear in the form of a giant with a horse's head. When his work is finished he will be re-absorbed
in Vishnu until creation starts again, this time with a development opposite to the degeneration
we now witness.
The elasticity of the 'avatar' system may be judged by the fact that Buddha himself was considered
to be a form of Vishnu. Obviously it is an artificial interpretation, and yet contains a profound
truth, since - as Senart has definitely proved - Sakyamuni belongs to the same solar myth which is
implicit in all Vishnu's incarnations.
RELIGION OF SIVA
Vishnu is characterised by a tender devotion, and the religion of Siva is founded rather on
asceticism. The god Siva is not a Bhagavat, but an Isvara, a Lord and Master. Although he wears
the Brahman cord, he is the head of people without status like vampires and demons, as he is the
head of those who have repudiated society, the ascetics. He is referred to by the same epithet as
one of the Jam sects, 'digambara', naked 'clothed with space'. His chest is sometimes decked with a
necklace of skulls. The question of his origin and his relations with the god Rudra have already
been discussed (page 356).
Hindu art represents Siva in many very different forms. In his anthropomorphic aspect he usually
has four arms - the two upper hands hold a drum and a doe, and the two others respectively make
the gestures of giving and of reassuring. His forehead is sometimes marked by three horizontal
stripes, and in the centre is a third eye.
The god is dressed in a tiger-skin, with a snake for throat ornament, another for the sacred cord,
while still others are coiled round his arms as bracelets. His hair is either tangled or braided and
often stands erect with the high knot of the ascetic, decorated with a crescent moon and a trident.
Sometimes amid the god's hair one can see the fifth head of Brahma or the goddess Ganga
(Ganges). These different attributes correspond to episodes in his legend. He rides on the bull
Nandi. Siva's personality swarms with contrasts. He destroys like time itself, and is also merciful.
He is indifferent to pleasures, yet everywhere worshipped as the principle of generation under the
symbol of the lingam (phallus). His whole activity points to the conviction, common to both
Hinduism and Buddhism, that the same principle must be at the origin of good and of evil, of
wretchedness and of salvation.
The philosophy of Sivaism is destructive of illusions, but leads neither to inaction nor to
pessimism. On the contrary, its wisdom allows it to enter harmoniously into the great 'game', lila,
of life, to take part in it by dancing with all one's heart and all one's joy.
Siva indeed is often represented under the form of Nataraja, the king of dancing. The halo fringed
with fire which surrounds him then symbolises the whole cosmos.
A legend tells us that the god paid a visit to ten thousand Rishis who were heretics, in order to
teach them the truth. But the Rishis received him with curses. As these had no effect they called up
a terrible tiger which rushed at Siva to devour him. The smiling god took the skin off the tiger
with the nail of his little finger, and hung it round himself like a shawl. Then the Rishis brought
forth a horrible snake, and Siva hung it round his neck like a garland. Then appeared a demon
dwarf, entirely black, armed with a mace. Siva set foot on his back and began to dance. Wearied
by their efforts the hermits gazed at him in silence, captivated by the rapidity and dazzling
splendour of the marvellous rhythm. Suddenly the heretics saw the heavens opened and the gods
assembled to watch the dancer, and threw themselves at Siva's feet to worship him.
There are many other legends of Siva's dancing. The god destroys and creates in the dance
'Tandava', by which at the end of a cosmic period the world of appearances disappears but
actually is reintegrated in the absolute. Siva has the genial intoxication and mystic fervour of
Dionysus, with whom the Indo-Greeks confused him.
Siva's dance symbolises divine activity as the source of movement in the universe, particularly
under the aspect of the cosmic functions of creation - conservation, destruction, incarnation and
liberation. Its object is to rid men of illusion. When the god dances in cremation places, which are
impure and full of fearful monsters, he is terrifying, the destroyer, and doubtless represents some
pre-Aryan demon. It is also a way of showing that the demons are drawn into the dance of this
universal god, and that in this way their evil powers are neutralised.
The place of cremation also symbolises the disciple's heart, where the self and its deeds are
consumed, where everything has to disappear except the divine Dancer himself with whom the
soul at last is identified. The supreme and perfect rhythm of this dynamic and triumphant joy is
better expressed by dancing than by words. 'Ho whom no sign can describe is made known to us
by his mystic dance,' says a poet of Southern India, a disciple of Siva.
Sivaism provides us with a magnificent cosmic synthesis where life and death continually give
birth to one another, but where both are constantly dominated by a clear serene vision.
Siva Episodes. Siva's life abounds in instances of devotion and in earlier pages we saw how he
swallowed the poison which threatened to destroy the world during the churning of the sea (page
When the gods consented to the descent of Ganga (the Ganges), the heavenly river, the weight of
this mass of water would have engulfed the earth, if the god with the trident had not offered
himself to lessen the shock. Falling into his tangled hair, the heavenly Ganga wandered about the
god's head for several years without finding an outlet. Finally Siva had to divide her into seven
streams so that she could descend on earth without causing a catastrophe.
As they fell the waters made a noise like thunder, while fish and turtles fell with them. The Devas,
the Rishis, the Gandharvas and the Yakshas, seated on their elephants or their horses or their
chariots were amazed at the sight. All creatures rejoiced. The shining of the Devas and their jewels
lighted up the whole sky like a hundred suns, the turtles and fish crossing it looked like flashes
of lightning, and the pale foam flakes flew away like white birds. The waters poured on
inexhaustibly, from heaven on to Siva's head and from Siva's head on to the earth; and there they
split up into brooks and streams, climbing mountains and falling back into the valleys.
Parvati. The feminine divinity which personifies the 'power' (Sakti) of Siva is Parvati, daughter of
the Himalayas, also named Uma, the gracious, and Bhairavi, the terrible, Ambika the generatrix,
Sati the good wif?, Gauri the brilliant, Kali the black, Durga the inaccessible. We have already had
glimpses of this goddess's terrible aspects in dealing with her battles against demons.
According to the legend the appearance of Siva's third eye was caused by a frolic of his wife's.
While he was meditating on the mountain, Uma imitating her husband observed a similar
discipline, but one day she stole up mischievously behind her husband and covered his eyes with
her lovely hands. Immediately the light of
the world went out, the sun grew pallid and every creature trembled with fear. And then
suddenly the darkness was dispelled, for a flaming eye had opened on Siva's forehead, a third eye
like the sun, from which sprang flames which kindled all the Himalayas. The daughter of the
mountain, grief-stricken and supplicating, displayed so much pain that with a kindly thought the
god restored the mountains in all their splendour with their exuberant animals and plants.
Parvati often wearied of her husband's perpetual asceticism. In vain she waited patiently beside
him in adoration; plunged in his meditations he did not even notice her presence.
To tear Siva away from his contemplations the gods one spring day sent him Love (Kamadeva)
and his wife, Pleasure. Choosing the moment when Parvati was approaching her husband to
worship him, Love drew his bow, but at the very moment when he was about to loose the shaft
Siva saw him. and with a burning flash of his third eye consumed Love, who thereafter bore the
name of Ananga, deprived of his limbs. While Pleasure mourned over him who, as
she believed, was for ever lost, a voice spoke to her saying: 'Your husband will return. When Siva
weds Parvati he will give back Love's body to his soul.'
Parvati, weary of the god's indifference, had entered upon the life of a hermit. One day she was
visited by a young Brahman who praised her for her faithful devotion, but tried to persuade her to
return to the world. As she became angry the young man revealed that he was Siva himself. He
promised her his love, but Parvati asked that first he should return the body of Kamadeva to his
wife Pleasure. Siva agreed, and having taken Parvati to mount Kailasa at last consented to yield to
her desire. Their embrace made the whole world tremble.
THE DESCENDANTS OF SIVA AND PARVATI
Ganesa. Ganesa is one of the most popular Hindu divinities. He was made by Parvati from the
dew of her body mingled with dust, and acts as guardian to the goddess's gate. One day in an
excess of zeal he tried to prevent Siva from entering, and for this he had his head cut off. But the
indulgent Siva ordered that he should be brought the. head of the first animal which happened to
come along. Chance brought an elephant, and the resurrected son of Parvati received a new
Small and stocky with a fat stomach he has four arms, and carries in his hands an elephant-goad, a
rosary, and an alms-bowl. His steed is nothing but a rat, a contemptuous form bestowed by him
on a demon he had vanquished.
Ganesa's fat belly is the sign of his insatiable gluttony. They relate that one day after gorging
himself with offerings he decided to take a ride to stir up his digestion. Mounted on his rat he was
ambling along in the moonlight when a huge snake barred his way. The rat was frightened and
leaped to one side, and Ganesa rebounded from earth so violently that he burst his belly!
To compel the snake to repair the damage he had caused, Ganesa took hold of him and rolled him
round his damaged stomach. Recovering from the emotions of his accident the god was preparing
to continue on his way when suddenly he heard great shouts of laughter ringing across the sky. It
was the moon jeering at him! In a rage Ganesa broke off one his tusks and threw it in the mocker's
face with a curse which periodically deprived the moon of his light, and lasts to this day.
Another version says that Ganesa tore out his tusk in a burst of enthusiasm to write down the
Mahabharata from the dictation of the wise Vyasa. And in fact, despite the grotesque features of
his legend, the elephant-headed god is the patron of literature. This should not surprise us, for
Ganesa partakes of the natures of the two most intelligent beings, man and the elephant.
However he is above all a popular deity. Gentle, calm, propitious, he loves men and is loved by
them. His good sense and friendliness are equally famous. He bestows riches, and assures the
success of every undertaking. Nothing should be begun, not even the worship of another god,
without first honouring Ganesa. He is particularly revered by the shop-keeping class. Even today
if a bank fails the statues of Ganesa in the offices are turned round.
Karrtikeya or Skanda. He is a war-god and was created by Siva at the request of the other gods to
rid them of a demon. Siva directed the fire of his third eye on a lake, and instantly there emerged
six children, who were suckled by the wives of Rishis. But one day when Parvati was cuddling
them she squeezed so hard that they formed a single body. However, the six heads remained, and
are figured in most statues of Karttikeya. This war god rides on a peacock, and carries a cock as his
Kubera or Kuvera. He is a god of wealth, and also Siva's son. He hides, like his treasures, in the
depths of the earth, listening to the music of artistic and horse-riding genii, like the Gandharvas
The Trimurti. Ingenious attempts were made to identify the two great sectarian gods, Vishnu and
Siva, in the name of the idea that terror and love must have the same principle and the same end.
For its part the Brahman caste altered its prototype of the absolute, brahman (neuter), a ritual
formula, into a personal god, Brahma, masculine, who could be the equivalent of either Vishnu or
and consequently bring them together. The representation of this Trimurti, triple aspect, is rather
rare in sculpture.
Hinduism moreover has given birth to other composite deities. Hari-Hara is partly Vishnu and
partly Siva, and is represented as divided into two halves by a vertical line, the right side bearing
the attributes of Siva - the ascetic's hair-knot, the trident, the tiger-skin - and on the left Vishnu's
tiara, disk and draped garment.
A curious figure is Ardhanarisvara (the god one half woman) considered however as solely an
aspect of Siva - one half the statue represents the god, and the other half his 'Sakti', the
manifestation of his energy in the feminine mode.
Far too often the Trimurti is used to suggest that India possessed a sort of Trinity with three equal
figures. There is really only a rather artificial syncretism. Brahma, who personifies an abstraction,
plays a very humble religious part in comparison with Vishnu and Siva, who for more than two
thousand years have ruled the souls of Indians. However, the orthodoxy which was a possession
of the priestly caste was preserved, thanks to the wholesale annexation of the sectarian cults. Once
the Trimurti was formed, it received an adequate interpretation in each sect. Here is how Sivaism
accepted it - the story is told by Brahma to the gods Rishis:
'In the night of Brahma when all beings were confounded in the same silent immobility, I
observed the great Narayana, the soul of the universe with a thousand omniscient eyes, at once
being and not-being, brooding over the waters without form, supported by the thousand-headed
snake of the Infinite. Blinded by the shining I touched the eternal being and asked: "Who are you?
Speak." Then lifting towards me his eyes like still sleepy lotus flowers he stood up, smiled, and
said: "Welcome, my child, splendid Lord!" I was offended and replied: "How can you, a sinless
god, treat me as a master treats a pupil, and call me child, I who am the cause of creation and of
destruction, the creator of a thousand universes, the source of all that exists?" Vishnu replied: "Do
you not know that I am Narayana, creator, preserver and destroyer of worlds, the eternal male,
immortal source and centre of the universe? Even you were born from my imperishable body."
'And we argued together sharply over the sea without form, when to our eyes there appeared a
glorious shining lingam, a pillar flaming with the light of a hundred fires able to destroy the
universe, without beginning, without middle, without end, incomparable, indescribable. The great
Vishnu was disturbed by these thousands of flames as I was, and said: "We must seek the source
of this fire. I will descend, and you will ascend with all your strength." Then he took the form of a
wild boar, like a mountain of blue collyrium, with sharp tusks, a long snout, a deep grunt, short
strong feet, vigorous, irresistible. He descended for a thousand years but could not reach the base
of the lingam. Meanwhile I had changed into a swan, entirely white, with burning eyes, wide
wings, and my flight was as swift as the wind and thought itself. For a thousand years I flew up
trying to reach the top of the pillar, but I could not reach it. When I returned I found the Vishnu
had already returned weary.
'Then Siva appeared before us, and tamed by his magic we bowed before him. On all sides rose up
his Om, eternal and clear. Vishnu said to him: "Our discussion has been fortunate, O god of gods,
since you have appeared to put an end to it." And Siva replied: "In truth you are the creator, the
preserver and the destroyer of worlds. My child, maintain both inertia and movement in the
world. For I, the supreme indivisible Lord am three - Brahma, Vishnu and Siva; I create, I
maintain, I destroy."'
The very variety of these combinations, their almost interchangeable character, show that in the
end the gods are reducible to one another, according to the point of view adopted by the
Under the swarming polytheism which animates Hindu mythology is hidden a profound doctrine
of unity. 'God is One', says the Rig-Veda, 'but the sages, vipra, give him many names.'
EXPANSION OF HINDU MYTHOLOGY
While the mythology of the Little Vehicle conquered Indo-China, and that of the Great Vehicle
Tibet, China, Japan, and the Indonesian archipelago, the mythology of Hinduism was exported to
Cambodia and Java. Angkor-Wat, for instance, bears magnificent witness to it. There would
scarcely exist an Indian statuary, either in the metropolis or the colonies, if mythology had not
made the towering flight which we have tried to sketch the main lines.
Constitutive elements of Chinese mythology
It is well known that in China three different religions co-exist - Buddhism, Taoism and
Confucianism, the two first of which have their own temples and priests: the Bonzes and Tao-shih,
while the last has temples without priests. Chinese mythology has been formed from a mixture of
elements belonging to these three religions, but these elements were not taken over intact. They
suffered changes, sometimes rather profound changes, especially through the influence of plays
From early times and in the first years even of the Chinese Republic the official religion remained
Confucianism. Every year the Emperor, followed by his courtiers, in spring and autumn made
sacrifices to Heaven, the Sun, the Moon, the Soil, the god of War, Confucius, and the Ancestors, in
each of their respective temples. Apart from that there was no special religious cult, except
perhaps of Confucius himself. Some of these divinities were retained by the people in their
mythology, but entirely changed their personality.
The same thing happened with the two other religions. Thus, certain Buddhist divinities may
often be found under other names in mythology, while Taoism, to which Chinese mythology owes
the greatest debt, was completely overturned and changed even to the personality of Lao-tzu, who
is called its founder. In reality Lao-tzu was nearly a contemporary of Confucius (he is said to have
lived in the sixth century B.C.) and like him was a philosopher. But popular legends endowed him
with immortality and the power of conquering demons, claiming that he was the incarnation of
the Celestial Master of the First Origin, one of the members of the Taoist supreme triad. After
having spread his teaching and bestowed on his disciple, Yin Hsi, the Tao-te Ching or 'Book of the
First Principle and its Virtue' he mounted a green ox and disappeared towards the West. He was
never seen again.
The true founder of existing Taoism, which we shall call popular Taoism, was Chang Tao-ling
who lived in the second century of our era and was deified in the eighth century. He received
various revelations and, it seems, succeeded in preparing the drug of immortality. He fought with
eight King-demons and conquered them thanks to his magic powers and his talismans; and finally
after numerous exploits he ascended into heaven with his wife and two disciples, but not until he
had passed on his various secret powers to his son.
Chang Tao-ling had bestowed on himself the title of Celestial-Master (T'ien-shih). His title passed
from generation to generation of his descendants, and the writer recollects that at the beginning of
the Republic the Celestial-Master of the epoch, a boy of about twelve, came to Peking to seek an
audience of the president of the Republic, Yuan Shih-k'ai, who received him with great ceremony
and confirmed him in his title.
Most of the divinities of Chinese mythology are of Taoist origin, and it should be added that many
of them were made popular by two novels - Travels in the West, and Romance of the Investiture
.of the Gods, both dating from the Ming epoch, about the fifteenth century.
Characteristics of the Chinese Pantheon
Perhaps the most curious fact about the Chinese Pantheon is that it is arranged in imitation of
earthly organisation. It appears as a vast government administration, or, still more precisely, as a
series of government departments, each one with its Minister and its personnel. The different gods
are positive bureaucrats with a strict hierarchy of rank and with clearly defined powers. They
keep registers, make reports, issue directives, with a regard for formalities and a superabundance
of papers which the most pedantic administration on earth might well envy.
Every month they furnish a detailed report to their immediate superiors, and they every year give
an account of their administration to the sovereign god, the August Personage of Jade, who then
distributes his praise and his censure. The gods, according to circumstances, are then promoted or
lowered in rank, and they may even be dismissed.
This is one of the most original characteristics of all Chinese
mythology, for the gods are not immutable. Only function persists -the functionary changes. New
gods take the place of the old. And these changes do not only occur in time, but in space. By that
we must understand that in different regions the same powers are in many instances allotted to
quite a varying number of different personages.
The explanation is that most Chinese gods are not in origin divine, but human; they are men who
have been deified after their death.
These different facts explain the large number of divinities which inhabit Chinese mythology. It
would be too long and too tedious to look over all of them in these pages and we shall deal only
with the most important or most popular gods, referring those interested to Father Dore's
Recherches sur les Superstitions en Chine, and to the chapter devoted to Chinese mythology by H.
Maspero in the Mythologie asiatique illustree. I make a point of stressing how much the present
study owes to that work.
HEAVEN AND ITS GODS
Heaven is the dwelling of sidereal divinities, but they do not live together. Each god has his own
palace, and moreover Heaven is divided into different levels, some say nine and others thirtythree.
The gods with the highest seniority in office are the most important and live on the top
The August Personage of Jade
On the topmost level surrounded with his Court lives the August Personage of Jade (Yu-ti) also
known as the August Supreme Emperor of Jade (Yu-huang-shang- ti) or again and most usually
Father-Heaven (Lao-tien-yeh). They say he was one of the first gods who existed and that he
created human beings - such at least is the tradition in Northern China. They add that Father-
Heaven made human beings by modelling them in clay, and when his task was ended he put his
statuettes to dry in the sun. At this moment a heavy shower of rain fell and
Father-Heaven hastened to put his statuettes in shelter. But some of them were damaged by the
rain, and they constitute the sick living on earth, while the healthy whose limbs are whole and
complete are the statuettes which were not damaged.
Although recognised as the greatest of the gods, the August Personage of Jade is only the second
person of the supreme triad, which includes the Heavenly Master of the First Origin, who
preceded the August Personage of Jade, and the Heavenly Master of the Dawn of Jade of the
Golden Door, who one day will succeed him.
The August Personage of Jade lives in a palace exactly similar to that of the Emperor who reigns
over human beings. The doorway of this palace is guarded by Wang, a transcendental bureaucrat,
who is armed with a stick and clad in armour and does duty as door-keeper. There the August
Personage of Jade grants many audiences, for his Court is exactly like that of the human Emperor -
he has his Ministers and his officers, represented by secondary
gods, and he has an army of heavenly soldiers to fight the rebel Spirits when necessary. He has a
family - a wife, sisters, daughters, nephews. Among the last-named we must note the Second Lord
(Erh-lang) who drives away evil spirits, helped by the Celestial Dog (T'ien-kou). He is a god said
to know seventy-two ways of transforming himself. He is much respected, and has numerous
temples dedicated to him.
The wife of the August Personage of Jade, the Queen Mother Wang (Wang-mu niang-niang), is no
doubt a popular corruption of the elderly character, the Lady-Queen of the West, who is spoken of
in the Romance of the Emperor Mu (found in a tomb and dating from the fourth century). The
ancient legends represent her as wife of the Lord-King of the East, dwelling on the K'un-lun
mountains, which is the abode of the Immortals; the popular legends present her as the wife of the
August Personage of Jade, living on the highest level of Heaven with her attendants. However, in
spite of this transformation, she keeps her ancient attributes. She presides over the banquets of
immortality which she gives to the gods, banquets mainly furnished with the peaches of
immortality, P'an-t'ao, which ripen once every three thousand years on the peach-trees of the
imperial orchard - which is why in China the peach is the symbol of longevity.
The August Personage of Jade is always represented wearing the high ceremonial costume,
Chinese style, of the Emperor (note that the gods are always represented in Chinese and never in
Manchu costume), with embroidered dragons on his robe. He wears on his head the headdress of
the Emperors, formed by a flat board from which hang, in front and behind, thirteen pendants of
coloured pearls on red strings, and his crossed hands hold the Imperial book of etiquette. He is
seated on a throne, sometimes with secondary
gods, his attendants, beside him, but more often alone. And like all gods who are supposed to
have reached middle age, he wears long whiskers and a tuft of beard.
As to the Queen Mother Wang, she is usually represented as a beautiful young woman also in
ceremonial dress, sometimes alone but sometimes with a peacock or surrounded by her ladies in
During the monarchy the Emperor every year made two solemn sacrifices to the August
Personage of Jade, one in the winter solstice and one in spring. They were both celebrated in the
huge Temple of Heaven situated in the south suburb of Peking. The Emperor was carried to the
Temple in a monumental chair, accompanied by an imposing procession of princes, dignitaries,
soldiers, and imposing procession of princes, dignitaries, soldiers, and dancers. He went up the
three stages of the altar of Heaven, an enormous mound encircled with marble balustrades, bowed
to the ground before the fire lighted in the god's honour, and made his offerings, which consisted
of rolls of silk, disks of jade, various meats and many other libations.
NATURE DIVINITIES AND SIDEREAL GODS
Sun and Moon. We have already noted that the Sun and Moon were the objects of an official cult,
but the people's worship was quite different. For them the Sun is a god who originally lived in the
form of a cock but by following the Path obtained a human face. In the ordinary way he was only
offered one sacrifice at the beginning of the year and another on his birthday, and that was all.
There were very few Temples dedicated to him. The same is true of the Moon, except that it
received more sacrifices. The festival
of the Moon is one of the three great annual Chinese feasts, and takes place on the fifteenth day of
the eighth month, at the full moon of the autumn equinox. It is especially a festival for women and
children, who buy little figures representing either a white rabbit or a helmeted soldier dressed in
his armour with a face like a hare, and make them a sacrifice consisting chiefly of fruit. They offer
a sacrifice directly to the Moon when it has risen a little above the house-tops. In some families the
sacrifice is made before a large paper panel with a representation of the Moon's palace with its
inhabitant the Hare who makes the drug of immortality. The sacrifice consists of fruit, sweet cakes
which are specially made and sold for the occasion, and a sprig of red amaranth. Men never take
part in this ceremony, for in the popular mind the hare is the symbol of inverts - nobody knows
why - and is considered their patron.
The Moon is also inhabited by a personage who is considered the Moon goddess, Ch'ang-o or
Heng-o. She is the wife of I, the Excellent Archer, a mythological personage who brought down
nine suns with his arrows, one day when the ten suns of primitive times took it into their heads to
rise together and threatened to shrivel up the world. The gods had given him the drug of
immortality and one day he returned home to find that she had drunk it. He was so angry she fled
to the Moon, her husband in hot pursuit. She asked protection of the Hare, who fought with I and
made him give up his intention of punishing his wife, who henceforth has lived in the Moon. She
is represented as a very beautiful young woman, and her name is often mentioned in novels and
poems for it is said currently of a pretty woman that she is as 'beautiful, as if Ch'ang-o had come
down from the Moon'.
Rain, Thunder, Wind. Although Taoist religion includes a whole Ministry of Thunder made up of
several divinities, the people recognise only one Thunder god called My Lord Thunder, Lei-kung.
He is represented as a man of repulsive ugliness, with a body blue all over, furnished with wings
and claws. He wears nothing but a loin-cloth, with one or more drums hanging at his side, and his
hands hold a mallet and a chisel. There is general agreement that the chisel is used to strike the
guilty whom the Thunder is ordered to punish, but there is less agreement about the uses of the
mallet. Some say it is used to strike the drums to produce the rolls of thunder, but others think it is
used to drive in the chisel.
By orders of Heaven, the Thunder punishes human beings guilty of some great crime which has
remained undetected or which human laws do not touch (usually some act which has directly or
indirectly caused somebody's death); it also punishes evil spirits who by practising Tao doctrine
have succeeded in gaining personality and make use of it to harm mankind, etc. However, he is
not always able to achieve this by himself, and he sometimes needs human help.
One day a hunter in pursuit of game had ventured far into a thick forest and was surprised by a
violent storm. Flashes of lightning and thunder were continuous, and seemed to hover over a tree
which lifted its tall branches not far from where the hunter stood. Looking up he saw a child
holding in its hands a flag roughly made from a piece of cloth tied to a bit of wood. When the
Thunder approached the child waved its flag, and the Thunder immediately retreated. It is well
known that Thunder, like all the gods, dislikes unclean things and especially the blood of black
dogs, and the hunter at once realised that the child was an evil spirit pursued by the Thunder and
that his flag was made of some unclean material. By way of helping on the divine work, he loaded
his gun and shot down the flag. The Thunder at once struck the tree, but the hunter who was too
close to it was also touched and fainted away. When he recovered he found a little roll of paper on
his body containing the words: 'Life prolonged for twelve years, for helping on the work of
Heaven', while at the foot of the shattered tree he found the corpse of a huge lizard, the real form
of the child with the flag.
Thunder has no Temple of his own - at least, it is very rare to meet with one. Moreover the most
worshipped gods are those who can give something, such as happiness, wealth, children, etc., so it
is not surprising that nobody comes to ask anything from a god who can give nothing but a death
entailing infamy; and yet there are some people who apply to him. Usually they are persons who
have to complain of somebody else, and not being able to revenge themselves entrust their
vengeance to the god. begging him to strike their enemies dead.
During storms, Thunder, who can only make a noise, is helped by several other divinities. The
flashes of lightning are produced by Mother-Lightning (Tien Mu) with the help of the mirrors she
holds in her hands; the rain is produced by the Master of Rain (Yu-tzu) who with his sword
sprinkles water from the pot he holds; the clouds are piled up by the Little Boy of the Clouds
(Yun-t'ung); and the wind comes out of a kind of goatskin bottle carried by the Earl of Wind
(Feng-po). Later on this last god was replaced by a goddess, an old woman named Mrs Wind
(Feng-p'o-p'o). She may sometimes be seen moving among the clouds, riding on a tiger.
The Dragon-Kings: Lung-Wang. However, for the people these divinities are subordinate to the
Dragon-Kings who depend directly on the August Personage of Jade, from whom they receive the
order to distribute a certain amount of rain to a given region. There are four Dragon-Kings of
importance, each of whom rules one of the four seas of which the earth is the centre, and they are
known to the people as four brothers under the names they have in Travels in the West, which
differ from those given them by the Taoists. They are Ao Kuang, Ao Jun, Ao Shun and Ao Ch'in.
Each lives in a palace called the Crystal Palace, and has his Ministers, his army consisting offish,
crabs and crayfish, and watchmen who see to the policing of the sea-bottom. These four Dragon-
Kings are not much worshipped, although they have quite a lot of temples, because the local
Dragon-Kings are much more respected. Indeed, every watercourse and every well has its
Dragon-King. In northern China beside every well there is a tiny temple with the statue of its god,
represented as a mandarin in ceremonial costume, and on the first and fifteenth of each month the
owner of the well makes it a rudimentary sacrifice of three joss-sticks.
The Dragon-Kings bring rain, and so are resorted to in droughts. The ceremonies vary with the
locality. In the big towns a procession is often organised, with the effigy of a dragon in cloth which
serves specially for this event. The effigy is taken through the main streets
of the town, preceded by a band and persons dancing. In the villages they don't do this. During
bad droughts the village people go and ask for rain from the Dragon-Kings in the most important
temple and offer an ample sacrifice. If at the end of a few days their prayers are not answered, the
god's statue is taken out of the temple and left beside the road, for they rightly suppose that this
treatment will cause suffering to a god who lives in the depths of waters, and that he will hasten to
ask the August Personage of Jade for permission to send rain. On the other hand if after the
sacrifice or the exposure of the stature it happens that enough rain falls to save the crops, the
rejoicing is universal. A new sacrifice is made by the whole village, and important places may
honour the god by giving a theatrical performance which lasts three days. Sometimes a number of
neighbouring villages will club together to do the thing more handsomely. Naturally, if it rains too
much or there is a threat ui rtoods, the Dragon-Kings are again approached, but this time with a
view to stopping the rain.
The God of Literature, Wen Ch'ang, and the God of Examinations, K'uei-hsing. The god of
Examinations is the god of the four stars which form the waggon of Charles's Wain. He is a
follower of the god of Literature, Wen Ch'ang. Only after he had lived through seventeen
successive lives, filled with prodigious events, was Wen Ch'ang invested by the August Personage
of Jade with the functions of Grand Emperor of Literature. He is usually represented sitting down,
dressed as a mandarin, and holding a sceptre. Although his cult goes back to a very ancient epoch,
Wen Ch'ang is less popular than his assistant, K'uei-hsing. Before the 1912 revolution, when the
Imperial examinations took place regularly, there was a tablet or image of K'uei-hsing in every
literary family. In some wealthy families it was not uncommon to see a little kiosk especially
devoted to his cult, for he presides over examinations and chooses the person who is to come out
Like the god of Thunder, the god of Examinations is one of the ugliest in existence. He is usually
represented making a grimace, standing on the head of a turtle Ao (which many people think is a
fish) in an attitude resembling that of the genius of the Bastille, bending forward, with his left leg
raised behind as if he is running. In his left hand he holds a bushel-basket and in his right a
paintbrush. When the list of candidates is placed before the August Personage of Jade he indicates
the name of the first successful candidate. He uses his brush to put a mark under the name of the
lucky candidate, and uses his bushel to measure the talents of them all. They say also that the
bushel is the distinctive sign of the god, since in China Charles's Wain or the Great Bear is called
The Northern Bushel. There are two explanations of the turtle's head which he tramples under his
foot. Some say that during his life on earth he came out first in the examination for his doctorate,
but that when the reigning Emperor saw how ugly he was he refused to ratify the choice of the
examiners. In his despair he tried to drown himself, but when he threw himself into the water, the
turtle Ao received him on its head and took him back to land. The other explanation is less
miraculous. The stairways of the imperial palace are all divided down the centre by a paved space
on which is carved the head of the turtle Ao emerging from the water. When the Emperor gave an
audience to the scholars who had passed their doctorate examinations the first was naturally
placed jiM above this piece of carving. Hence it happened that each candidate received the wish
'may you alone stand on the head of Ao', and that is why the god of examinations was represented
in this posture, as an omen of good luck.
Another of Wen Ch'ang's assistants is 'Red Jacket' who protects candidates who are not very well
prepared. Thanks to him some of them sometimes succeed; but in spite of his goodwill, it is better
to work hard and thus obtain the favour of K'uei-hsing or Wen Ch'ang, who never fail a deserving
A young student who had worked conscientiously returned home after the examination,
dissatisfied with his essay. Fearing failure, he invoked Wen Ch'ang and begged him to intervene.
While he was asleep the god appeared to him. The student saw him throwing a number of essays
into a stove, and among them the candidate recognised his own. The god crumbled them to pieces
and then took them out entirely altered. Wen Ch'ang handed the young man the corrected essay,
and he learnt it by heart. When he awoke the candidate heard that during the night a fire had
destroyed the building where the essays had been stored, so that the examinations had to be
repeated. He did the work again, taking care to make use of the god's advice, and of course
Gods of Happiness. The first of these gods is the god of Long Life, Shou-hsing. He is the star
Canopus in the ship Argo. He is one of the easiest gods to recognise, for he has the face of an old
man with pure white beard and eyebrows, and is especially noteworthy for an enormous bald
head. He is usual'y represented standing, leaning on a large rough stick, with the peach of
Immortality in one hand. He is often accompanied by a stork or a turtle, animals which were
supposed to live to a great age, and thus became symbols of longevity. In China, as is well known,
old age is considered a great blessing. So, although there is no regular worship of this god, who
indeed has no temples, he is very much honoured. When there is a birthday celebration for an
aged person (someone at least fifty) the image of the god, usually embroidered in silk, is hung up
in a place of honour. Food and fruit are placed in front of it
with two large red lighted candles. The person whose birthday it is salutes the image by bowing
low thrice before it, and throughout the day visitors first address their congratulations to the god's
Shou-hsing decides the date of everyone's death. He writes it beforehand on his tablets, and from
that moment fate is unchangeable. And yet the god can change his mind, by juggling with the
writing. Thus the death of a certain young man had been fixed for the age of nineteen. But then
Shou-hsing, wanting to thank him for the gift of a jar of wine he had offered, just reversed the
numbers one and nine, so that instead of 19 years he had 91 - which is what the change makes in
The god of Long Life is one of a triad, which also includes the god of Happiness, Fu-hsing, and the
god of Salaries, Lu-hsing. Both are historical persons divinised after their death. It seems that the
god of Happiness in his life-time was a mandarin who lived at Tao-chou in the sixth century,
though others see in him a general who saved the T'ang dynasty in the eighth century. The god of
Salaries, or god of Functionaries, was a person who served the founder of the Han dynasty, in the
third century before our era. Space is lacking to describe these divinities in more detail. We must
limit ourselves to saying that these three gods often represented together either in human form -
the gods of Happiness and of Salaries dressed in the robes of a mandarin - or in the form of
symbols - bats for Happiness (in Chinese the word for bat is pronounced 'Fu', like happiness), a
deer, called Lu, for the god of Salaries, and a stork or a peach or sometimes a pine for the god of
The Heavenly Spinster, Chih-nii
Although she is a divinity and a daughter of the August Personage of Jade, so they say, there is no
worship of the Heavenly Spinster, the goddess of the star Alpha in the Lyre. But she is the heroine
of a pretty popular legend, and her name is often mentioned in Chinese folklore.
The goddess was continually spinning robes for the August Personage of Jade, robes of brocade
and clouds which have no seams. To reward her for this work her father, taking pity on her
loneliness, married her to the Heavenly Cow-herd (the Beta and Gamma stars in Aquila) but after
her marriage the Spinster was so much absorbed in her love that she neglected her work. The
August Personage of Jade lost his temper, and separated the couple by putting one of them to the
right and the other to the left of the Heavenly River (the Milky Way) with permission to see each
other once a year.
That, so to speak, is the goddess's official history. The people took it up and enlivened it, and this
is what they relate.
The Cow-herd was a mere mortal, a little simple minded, whose father had bequeathed him a little
bit of land and an ox to plough it. When he had reached a marriageable age his ox (who was a
genius in disguise) said to him: 'Master, if you want a pretty wife without having to spend
anything, go on a certain day to the river, and you will see all the girls bathing. Their clothes will
be on the bank. Pick up a bundle and come back quickly. Hide them somewhere, and I promise
you shall have a pretty wife.' The Cow-herd did as the ox suggested, and when he got home threw
the clothes down an old well behind the house, and waited. Very soon their owner came along to
ask for them. It was the Heavenly Spinster who for amusement had come down to earth with a
few friends and had wanted to bathe, but now could not return to Heaven without her clothes.
The Cow-herd therefore detained and married her. After several years he had a son by her and
then a daughter, and one day his wife said to him: 'Now that we have been married so long and
have children, tell me where you hid my heavenly clothes.' The unsuspicious Cow-herd showed
her the hiding place. The Spinster hastened to take them out, dressed in them, and and returned to
Heaven. The Cow-herd was in despair, especially as the children cried aloud for their mother; so
he went and asked the advice of his ox. And the ox said: 'Master, put each of your children in a
basket, and tie them to the ends of a pole which you can balance on your shoulders. Then lake
hold of my tail, shut your eyes, and I will take you to Heaven to rejoin your wife.' And this was
done. When they got to Heaven, the Cow-herd requested an audience of the August Personage of
Jade and demanded his wife. The August Personage of Jade sent for the Spinster, and having
discovered that the facts alleged by the Cow-herd were true, he made him immortal, and
appointed him to be god of a star to the west of the River, while the Spinster was to the East, with
permission to meet once every seven days. But the couple misunderstood him, and thought they
could meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month, and that is what they have
done ever since. As they cannot cross the River without a bridge, on that day all the magpies fly
up to Heaven with the twig of a tree and make a foot-bridge for them to be able to meet.
This legend is spread all over China, and many poetic works refer to it. Moreover in northern
China they say that on the seventh day of the seventh month it is bound to rain, at least in the
morning (it falls by the way in the middle of the rainy season) because the Cowherd and the
Spinster weep for joy at seeing each other again, and their tears fall down on the earth.
GODS WHO TAKE CARE OF MANKIND
The Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak, T'ai-yueh-ta-ti or Tung-yueh-ta-ti
Although the August Personage of Jade is interested in everything that goes on in heaven and
earth, he can't look after it all himself. So he detailed a god to look after mankind - he is the Great
Emperor of the Eastern Peak, the god of the mountain T'ai-shan, in Shantung. This divinity is
directly responsible to the August Personage of Jade, and has a large staff under his orders, for he
presides over the life of men from their birth to their death, arranging their fate and determining
their fortunes, honours, posterity, etc. Even the animals come under his jurisdiction. So he is
widely worshipped. There is always a crowd in all his sanctuaries, and his temple in Peking,
Tung-yueh-miao, was one of the richest. It is also one of the largest, for there are represented
in it over eighty offices dependent on the god - offices of birth, of death, offices for the
determination of social position, of wealth, of the number of children. There are also offices which
keep registers of good and bad actions, and those for the retribution of these actions, etc. The
personnel of the offices is recruited from the souls of the dead. In his temple the Emperor of the
Eastern Peak is represented sitting down, wearing the costume of an Emperor, in a shape similar
to that of the August Personage of Jade. Indeed, it would be very difficult to distinguish one from
the other, if they were taken out of their surroundings. He is too important a god for his statue or
picture to appear in family households. His devotees go to the temple to pay him their respects,
and they go there when they have any request to make to the god.
The Emperor of the Eastern Peak has a daughter, the Princess of streaked Clouds, Pi-hsia-yuanchun,
also known as the Holy-Mother, Sheng-mu. She protects women and children, and usually
presides over births. According to tradition, her husband is either the son of the western sea, or
Mao Ying, who anciently attained immortality. The goddess, greatly venerated throughout China,
is usually represented sitting, and with a headdress of three birds with outstretched wings. Her
assistants are the Eady of Good Sight, who preserves children from eye maladies, and the Eady
whose function it is to bring children.
The Princess of streaked Clouds has a Buddhist double in the person of the goddess Kuan-yin,
who has in addition the surname of Sung-tzu niang-niang, the Eady who brings children. Draped
in a large white veil, she sits on a lotus flower, and holds a child in her arms. Kuan-yin, goddess of
fecundity, is equally expert in treating all sicknesses. So she is very popular, and her image is to be
found in nearly every home. Every year long lines of pilgrims visit her Temple of Miao Feng Shan
(the Mountain of the Wondrous Peak), situated about forty miles from Peking. Sick persons of all
kinds come to implore the goddess to heal them, among the smoke of joss-sticks, the popping of
crackers, and the creaking of rattles, which are supposed to win the favour of Kuan-yin.
Gods of Walls and Ditches, Ch'eng-huang and Gods of the Locality, T'u-ti. Every administrative
area, town, or large village, has a god who protects it and takes care of the inhabitants, called the
God of Walls and Ditches; and these gods are appointed by the August Personage of Jade. They
are invariably divinised human beings, either heroes or mandarins of integrity, generally speaking
persons who in their lifetime served and protected the people. After their death they are not
reincarnated but are nominated as Ch'eng-huang of such and such a place, so that they can
continue to protect the people. Chinese folklore contains a great many legends about these gods.
The main outline changes very little. The inhabitants of a place are warned in a dream that on a
certain date a person named Ch'eng-huang of the town will come to occupy his post; and on the
date specified the noise of a procession and band is heard in the streets - the new god has arrived.
Next day the inhabitants hasten to offer him a big arrival sacrifice. Very often, if the god is
someone well known, they recast the statue in the temple consecrated to him and give it this
person's head. Some legends say that when there is a vacancy for the post of god of Walls and
Ditches, the gods arrange a competition for the candidates who are chosen from among living
scholars. Such is the story of 'The Examination for God of Walls and Ditches' contained in the
famous collection, Tales of the Studio of Joy.
In the popular mind the Ch'eng-huang plays the part of protector and governor to the place of
which he is the god. His rank varies in accordance with the importance of the place he governs.
Sometimes he corresponds only to a sub-prefect among human beings, sometimes to a prefect,
while the Ch'eng-huang of Peking was the equal of the governor of the town. Human magistrates
were far from disdaining them, and during the Empire sub-prefects were known to have asked
their advice and help when a crime had been committed on their territory. With this in view they
fasted for at least a day, offered a sacrifice to the god, and then slept that night in the temple. In
their dreams the god pointed out the guilty party, usually by means of Sybilline poems. Needless
to say, this custom has long since disappeared.
In the times before the Republic the festival of Ch'eng-huang took place in the spring of every
year. The god's statue was carried round the town with great pomp, and this was called 'My Eord
Ch'eng-huang's tour of inspection'. At the head of the procession went the God of the Place,
represented either by his statue or by a notable in disguise. Following in his tracks they purified
the streets with vinegar, and then came Ch'eng-huang's assistants, among them Mr White and Mr
Black, who watch over the town, one by day and one by night; and Ox-Head and Horse-Face, who
carry out the god's orders. Around these divinities marched groups of demons with hideous
masks and penitents in the red robes of those to be tortured, amid a great waving of banners and a
deafening noise of gongs. Finally came the statue of Ch'eng-huang carried in a rich palanquin and
religiously escorted by the city dignitaries. As may be guessed, this ceremony occasioned great
The gods of Walls and Ditches only exist in administrative areas, in towns surrounded by walls
(whence the name). This is not the case with the gods of Place (T'u-ti), who are less important gods
but more popular. Each town, whether fortified or not, and every village, has one. There is a Place
god for every street, every temple; every public building has one, and so it is with every dwelling.
According to the legends they are sometimes famous persons who have been appointed to this
work after their death, but as a rule they are anonymous. They are represented in the form of an
old man with white beard, in ordinary clothes, carrying a long knotty stick, while his wife - who is
always shown with him - is represented as a kindly old woman. Naturally the personality of the
gods varies with the kind of place they look after. In the towns the Place god is a citizen, but in the
country a peasant.
The Place god has very modest functions. He acts as a sort of
policeman to his territory, and in the country he has to scare off robbers and animals which raid
the poultry yard, etc; but in recompense his cult is very wide-spread, and every family has a statue
of him before which three joss-sticks are burned every morning and evening.
The Hearth god, Tsao-wang. The Hearth god is obviously domestic. He witnesses the acts and
even words of every member of the family with which he lives, and keeps a record of them. Every
year, on the twenty-third day of the twelfth month, he ascends into heaven to make his report to
the August Personage of Jade, who on the basis of this report allots the family happiness or
misfortune during the coming year.
The Hearth god is not represented by a statue but by a picture on paper - it will be seen why, later
on. This image, coarsely printed and coloured, is placed in a sort of little wooden temple just over
the hearth, or in some other part of the kitchen. It is essential that the image should face south. In
the picture the god's wife, Tsao-wang nai-nai, is beside him, for she aids him in his duties by also
keeping a record of the women's sayings and doings.
Apart from the three joss-sticks every morning, the family makes only two sacrifices a year to this
god. The first takes place on the twenty-fourth day of the twelfth month when he has gone up to
heaven to make his report to the August Personage of Jade. Among other offerings this sacrifice
includes sweets which are specially made for the purpose and only sold at this time, as well as
straw for the god's horse. After the sacrifice his picture is taken down from its niche and burned
over a little fire of pine twigs to the noise of fire-crackers, but before starting the fire they are
careful to put a bit of a sweet on his mouth so that he will 'speak sweet words' to the August
Personage of Jade about the family he has just left. The Hearth god returns from Heaven on the
first day of the new year. Another sacrifice is then offered up, always with firecrackers,
and they hang up his picture in the kitchen, in the place it will occupy throughout the year.
There is an explanation of the fire-crackers set off during these sacrifices. They are special firecrackers
which bang off high in the air, and they say that this is to help the god up during his
ascension, while on his return the fire-crackers show the god which house he must re-enter. Then,
there is another custom, which is not to light a fire in the kitchen while the Hearth god is absent in
Heaven, but this is observed less and less. During the god's absence, you can do anything you like,
for the god is not there to record bad actions. But then it is also a time when the house, lacking its
protector, is liable to all kinds of woes and calamities.
Door gods, Men-shen. On the outer doors of Chinese houses, which have two leaves, you often see
represented two armed soldiers, stuck or painted on each of the leaves. One of them has a red or
black face, and the other a white face - they are the Door gods. Originally these duties were
entrusted to two mythical beings, Shen-t'u and Yu-lu, who in ancient mythology were supposed to
prevent the spirits of the dead from escaping out of hell to disturb the peace of the living. The
Ghosts' Door was placed between the branches of an enormous peach-tree planted on the top of a
mountain. As soon as a malevolent soul appeared the two guards seized on him and threw him as
food to the tigers. The figures of Shen-t'u and Yu-lu were later reproduced on the doors of houses
to keep away evil spirits.
Later on, these two divinities were replaced by historical personages who had been promoted to
the rank of gods - Yu-ch'ih Ching-te, and Ch'in Shu-pao. They had both been generals of the
Emperor T'ai-tsung of the T'ang dynasty, and lived at the beginning of the seventh century. The
explanation of why they were chosen as Door gods is to be fund in the Travels in the Wesi. In the
sixth chapter of that novel we are told that the Emperor T'ai-tsung, in spite of
A figure from Te-hua, Fukien, depicting a Lo-han with a tiger seated beside him in a peaceful
attitude. The original disciples of Buddha were called Lo-hans by the Chinese, who received the
doctrines in the first century A. D. However, the Chinese modified the teachings to such a degree
that a different form was created. Late seventeenth century porcelain. Victoria and Albert
his promise, was unable to save a Dragon-King who had made a mistake in distributing rain and
was condemned to have his head cut off by the August Personage of Jade. The spirit of this
Dragon-King held that the Emperor was responsible for his death, and every night came and
created a disturbance at the palace door. In consequence the Emperor fell sick, and his two
generals, Yu-ch'ih Ching-te and Ch'in Shupao, suggested that they should keep guard over the
palace door. The spirit of the Dragon-King was thus driven away, but he went off and created a
disturbance at the back door, a door with only one leaf, and was driven away by T'ai-tsung's
Minister, Wei Cheng. The Emperor therefore had these three personages painted on all doors, and
the tradition lasted until our own time, although it is rather uncommon to see a painting of Wei
Cheng, but then doors with one leaf are not very numerous in China.
The Door gods are painted directly on to the doors of great houses, whereas humbler houses and
those in the country simply have their printed and coloured images stuck on. They are
represented in military dress, holding in one hand a long-handled mace, with a bow and arrows
slung at their side. They keep away evil spirits and prevent them from entering the house they are
guarding, and there are quantities of legends about their good services. In spite of which
absolutely nothing is done in their worship.
And then it must be noted that in recent times they lost a great deal of their religious character.
Except among the people, usually extremely superstitious, they had come to be considered rather
as themes for decoration than as divinities, and they are on the way to disappearing completely.
None are to be seen, for instance, on the doors of houses in Peking.
In Buddhist Temples, the Door gods are not Ch'in Shu-pao and Yu-ch'ih Ching-te, but are
represented by different persons -the Sniffing General and the Puffing General (Heng-Ha-erh-
Chiang) or else by the Heavenly Kings (T'ien Wang), the four brothers Mo-li. They are all
represented by colossal grimacing figures placed in the first building of the temples. At first there
were only the two generals, Sniffer and Puffer, one of whom has his mouth shut while the other
has his mouth open. They are so called because during their lifetime it appears that one of them
had the power of emitting from his nostrils jets of white light which mortals breathed in, while the
other puffed fatal gases out of his mouth. Little by little in the course of ages these two personages
have been replaced by the Celestial Kings.
When you enter a Buddhist temple you come into the inner hall, a kind of vestibule divided by a
courtyard from the great hall, and there you see four enormous statues ranged along the walls.
They represent soldiers with grimacing countenances, respectively holding a sword, an umbrella,
a guitar and a striped marten - sometimes replaced by a snake. They are the Celestial Kings,
guardians of the four directions.
Originally these personages were Buddhist divinities, named Vaisravana, Dhrtarastra, Virudhaka
and Virupaksa. In course of time their personality changed under the influence of the novel, Royal
Investiture. They are now considered to be the four brothers Mo-li, who were once generals
famous for their deeds. The attributes they hold in their hands are simply the talismans by means
of which they conquered their enemies during their mortal life. When the first flourished his
sword he raised terrific whirlwinds which swept everything before them. The second merely had
to open his umbrella and the sun was obscured, plunging the earth into deepest darkness while it
poured with rain. The third controlled the direction of the winds by playing on his guitar. And the
last annihilated his enemies by loosing his striped marten, who ate them up.
Like the Celestial Kings, the Sniffing and Puffing Generals were also once Buddhist divinities.
In these same outer halls may also be seen the statue of a young soldier, clad in shining armour
and holding a knotty stick in his hands. This is Wei-t'o, chief of the thirty-two heavenly generals,
and also assigned to guard doors.
The God of Wealth, Ts'ai-shen
This god has certainly had more success than any of them. Not only do the people never fail to
offer up a sacrifice to him on his birthday, but even persons who
claim to be unbelievers and pay no sort of cult to other gods, salute this god with great respect on
the appointed day.
The God of Wealth's anniversary is on the fifth day of the first month. On New Year's Day in
Peking, the day on which all the gods descend on earth to make a tour of general inspection, the
children run about the streets at night, shouting: 'We come to bring you the God of Wealth!' Each
person hastens to buy one, and when other sellers appear the answer is: 'We already have one,' for
it would not be in good taste to say: 'We don't want any more/ After it is purchased the image is
placed beside that of other gods (the Star gods, the Hearth gods, etc.) and then they wait for the
fifth day of the following month. On this day they sacrifice to the god a cock and a living carp
specially reserved for this occasion, and then the image is burned on a fire of pine twigs
accompanied by many fire-crackers, while the master of the house and all who live in it, without
distinction of age or sex, come in succession to bow before the little fire.
The Taoists made the god of Wealth the head of a Ministry of Wealth with offices and a string of
subordinates, such as the Celestial and Venerable Discoverer of Treasures, the Celestial and
Venerable Bringer of Treasures, the Immortal of commercial profits, etc. But the people like to
simplify, and usually they take one of these gods - in Peking the best known is the god of Wealth
who increases Happiness, Tseng-fu-ts'ai-shen. The novel, the Investiture of the Gods, identified
him with the wise man, Pi Kan, who lived towards the end of the Yin dynasty, and was put to
death by order of the Emperor who wanted to find out if it is true, as people say, that the heart of a
wise man is pierced with seven openings. Elsewhere general Chao of the dark Terrace is revered
as the god of Wealth.
The Agent of Heaven, T'ien-Kuan, is another god who bestows happiness, and is one of a triad
made up in addition to the Agent of the Earth, Ti-Kuan, who grants remission of sins and the
Agent of Water, Shui-kuan, who averts evil. As M. Maspero has rightly pointed out, these three
gods are the personification of the ancient Taoist ritual which insisted on a confession of sins
written in triplicate, of which one was burned for Heaven, one buried for Earth, and the third sunk
for Water. These three gods received twice a month an offering of cakes in the form of tortoises
and chain-links, but the only one at all well known in our time is the Agent of Heaven, and that
mainly thanks to the theatre, for it is the custom to begin every theatrical performance with a
pantomime called 'the Agent of Heaven brings happiness', T'ien-kuan-ssu-fu. He appears in the
form of a mandarin wearing ceremonial costume, with a smiling mask fringed with whiskers and
a beard-tuft, does a sort of dance on the stage, carries rolled-up wishes for happiness which he
unrolls as he presents them to the spectators. It is to be noted that this is one of the very rare
occasions when a mask is used on the Chinese stage. The pantomime is also called 'the dance of
the Agent who confers promotion', T'iao-chia-kuan; and formerly in public theatres, and still to
this day in private performances given for some family rejoicing (birthday, birth of a child, etc.),
the play is stopped and this pantomime is repeated as a sign of welcome to each distinguished
guest as he arrives.
The Emperor Kuan, Kuan-ti. The worship of this god does not date from very far back. He
receives two sorts of cult, one from official religion and the other from the people. For scholars
Kuan-ti is god of War, in opposition to Confucius, the god of Literature, and as such he receives
two sacrifices, in the spring and autumn of each year. This tradition was maintained even by the
Republic, at least until the time of the nationalist government of Nanking; and the successive
presidents as well as the last dictator, Chang-Tso-lin, officially offered sacrifices to him with great
pomp. For the crowd Kuan-ti is a Taoist god, governor and protector of the people, mainly playing
the part of judge. So the people appeal to him every time they have something to complain of,
whether it is spirits (demons, illness, etc.) or human beings (unfriendly bureaucrats, brigands,
cheats, etc.) and Kuan-ti sends his equerry Shou-ts'ang to punish them, or makes an appeal to the
Thunder god or some other god to do it.
Kuan-ti is also famous for predicting the future. In most of the temples consecrated to him the
necessary equipment may be found, consisting of eighty-one or sixty-four numbered slips, placed
in a holder made from a hollow bamboo with a plug at one end. The suppliant wishing to know
the future - the result of a relative's
illness, success of a journey, a marriage, a birth, or anything else, bows down before the god's
statue, and then taking the holder in his hand shakes it until one of the slips falls out. There is also
a register where against each number of the slips stands the prediction, usually written in rude
poetry of the Sybilline style, and this register is consulted under the number of the fallen slip to
find out the god's opinion. In some temples the predictions are printed on separate sheets of
paper, and the priest in charge hands the suppliant the sheet corresponding to his number.
Needless to say all this involves the payment of a small sum of money, euphemistically called
Hsiang-huo-ch'ien, 'money to keep the incense burning'.
Kuan-ti was a general of the Han country in the epoch of the Three Kingdoms, renowned for his
integrity and fidelity, and his real name was Kuan Yu. He died in 220, having been taken prisoner
and beheaded by the rival country of Wu. He became famous mainly through the Romance of the
Three Kingdoms, which relates his wonderful adventures, and through the plays derived from the
novel. He is always presented as he is described there - dressed in green with a face as red as a
jujube fruit. Almost invariably he is accompanied by his equerry, Shou-ts'ang, and his son Kuan
P'ing, who stand beside him, and very often in the Temples the statue of his horse is to be seen too.
Another exorcist of demons and evil spirits is the Supreme Lord of the Dark Heaven (Hsuan-t'ien
Shang-ti) who is also the Regent of Water. He appeared once to the Emperor Hui-tsung in the
aspect of a man of colossal height, with loose hair, dressed in a black robe and a golden breastplate.
His naked feet rested on a turtle encircled by a snake. He is still represented with these
The Eight Immortals, Pa-hsien. The eight Immortals are not, strictly speaking, gods. They are
legendary personages who became immortal through the practice of Taoist doctrine, and who
have the right to be present at the banquets given by the Lady Wang, wife of the August
Personage of Jade.
These eight characters have nothing in common, and it is hard to say how the Taoists came to
make them into an almost inseparable group. Their name does not appear in folklore until the
Yuan dynasty, also called the Mongol dynasty, about the 13th or 14th century, and it was spread,
we believe, thanks to the stage. The eight Immortals often accompany the effigy of the god of Long
Life. They are:
Han Chung-li, usually represented as a man of ripe age with a slight corporation and a careless
air. His name is supposed to have been Chung-li and he was believed to have lived in the time of
the Han dynasty. His present name is made up of these different elements.
Chang-kuo Lao, an old man, known only by his miraculous donkey which could travel several
dozens of thousands of leagues in a day, and when at rest could be folded up like a piece of paper.
Lan Ts'ai-ho, a street-singer, who, dressed in rags, with one foot bare and the other shod, goes
round the streets singing. One day he was carried up to heaven by a stork.
T'ieh-kuai Li (Li with the Iron Crutch) was an ascetic instructed by Lao-tzu and another immortal,
Master Wang-kiu. One day when he should have gone to Lao-tzu, only his soul went, after he had
warned his disciple to watch over his body for seven days, and then to burn it if he did not return.
*>/n the sixth day the disciple's mother fell ill, and in his haste to go to her the disciple burnt his
master's body. When Li's soul returned there was no longer a body for it to dwell in, so it entered
the body of a beggar who had died of hunger. The God is represented as a beggar carrying a large
calabash on his back and leaning on an iron crutch.
Han Hsiang-tzu was initiated into the doctrine by Lu Tung-pin who is mentioned below. Ts'ao
Kuo-chiu converted by Han Chung-li and Lu Tung-pin, Ho Hsien-ku the Immortal Damsel Ho,
who went to heaven in full daylight, are represented respectively as a young man in rich clothes
with the little headdress of young lords, a man in the costume of a mandarin, and a girl wearing a
lotus flower on her shoulder.
The last of the eight Immortals, Lu Tung-pin has the greatest number of legends attached to him.
They say he likes to walk about among men looking like some ordinary person, and takes the
opportunity to punish the wicked and reward the good. Among legends about him the bestknown
is that of his conversion.
Huang-liangmeng, meaning the Dream of the Yellow Sorghum, which also furnished the plot for a
play. When he was still only a student Lu Tung-pin stopped at an inn and met an Immortal in
disguise with whom he talked for a moment. Then he went to sleep and saw the whole of his
future life in a dream. At first he had numerous successes and was loaded with honours, but in the
end he endured the worst misfortunes and perished miserably, killed by a brigand. When he
awoke Lu Tung-pin decided to renounce the world.
Another equally well-known legend tells how he converted the girl-singer, White Peony, after
three successive attempts in each of which he came to her in a different form. This Immortal is
represented in the dress of a man of letters, carrying a fly-chaser and a sword, the Flying Sword,
used by him to kill the Yellow Dragon which he carries on his back.
GODS OF THE PROFESSIONS
In addition to the gods we have been studying which are the objects of general worship, the
Chinese pantheon also included a large number of divinities peculiar to each social class and to
each profession. They are innumerable, and it is impossible to mention them all. Following M.
Maspero, let us limit ourselves to mentioning a few.
Divinities of artisans. Artisans usually choose as their patrons those who are supposed to have
been inventors in the different industries. Thus, general Sun Pin, who lived in the fourth century
B.C., had his toes cut off, and to hide this deformity hid his feet in sheaths of leather, and thereby
became the god of cobblers. Ts'ai Lun, who is supposed to have invented paper in the first century
of our era is the god of stationers. A similar honour fell to I-ti who was the first maker of wine, to
general Meng T'ien who invented the paint-brush, and to Ts'ang Chieh, who invented writing and
is therefore adopted by the public tale-tellers.
Others are chosen because they distinguished themselves in their profession, or simply because
they practised it. Thus Fan K'uei, who practised the humble occupation of a dog-skinner before he
became the right arm of the founder of the Han dynasty, was adopted as their patron by the
butchers. The carpenters have a cult for Lu Pan who, so they say, made a marvellous falcon which
was able to fly. The thieves chose Sung Chiang, a famous brigand of the twelfth century. Even the
prostitutes took it into their heads to look for a patron. And in some parts of China they found one
in the person of P'an Chin-lien, a dissipated widow whose father-in-law murdered her in order to
end her disorderly behaviour.
And then very often artisans content themselves with an anonymous deity, such as the god of the
Shuttle for weavers, and the god of Garden Trees for gardeners.
Sea gods. Like the rest of the universe, the sea is subject to the supreme authority of the August
Personage of Jade, but the Chinese did not make it a divinity, any more than the other elements of
Nature. However, they do recognise tutelary gods who protect navigators. The most popular as
well as the highest in dignity is the Empress of Heaven, T'ien Hou, who must not be confused
with the Queen-Mother Wang, wife of the August Personage of Jade.
Before she was promoted to her immortal destiny T'ien Hou was a girl in the island of Mei-chou
which was famous for its piety. She had four brothers, all sailors, who sailed on different ships.
One day when they were absent at sea the girl fainted and remained a long time unconscious. It
was thought she was dead. With the aid of powerful stimulants she was brought back to life, but
as soon as she emerged from her lethargy she complained that she had been awakened too soon.
A little later three of her brothers returned, and related that they had been attacked by a violent
storm during their voyage, and had been saved by their sister who appeared to them during the
tempest and saved them from the danger. Only the fourth brother never came home - the girl had
been revived before she had time to go to his aid.
After her death, which occurred very soon after this miracle, the girl of Mei-chou frequently
showed the value of her intervention, either by helping sailors in peril or by helping to capture
or even by ending dangerous droughts. For which reason her cult continued to spread. She was
first promoted to the title of Princess of Supernatural Favour, then in the sixteenth century was
raised to the dignity of Queen, and in the eighteenth century received her definite title of Empress
She is represented as a woman sometimes seated on a lotus and sometimes on a throne. She wears
the Imperial head dress, and holds either a sceptre or a tablet.
Country gods. According to the rites of Confucius, the Chinese recognise a god of the Soil, with
whom they associate a god of Ploughing and a god of Harvests. They are impersonal deities, and
have no mythic character. Formerly they were solemnly invoked at different periods of the year.
The sacrifice which the Emperor offered up to the god of the Soil in spring and autumn was
marked by the same pomp as that devoted to the god of Heaven. During the festival of the god of
Ploughing the Emperor himself set his hand to the plough, and drew the first furrow.
Side by side with these official gods, the peasants venerate other deities of a more popular kind.
Prince Millet, Hou Chi, the old god of cereals, has been supplanted by the Celestial Prince Liu,
appointed to the functions of superintendent of the Five Cereals. The god Hu-shen is invoked as a
protection against hail, since as he wishes he can send or withhold the disaster. Against locusts
they call on the Great General Pa-cha, who is represented as a man with a bird's beak and feet,
while his hands are tipped with claws and he wears a petticoat. Cattle are under the protection of
the god of Cattle-breeding, aided by the King-of-Oxen and the Transcendent Pig. During their
lifetime they were both dangerous giants. The King-of-Oxen, who terrified his enemies by his
enormous horns and buffalo ears, was yet tamed by the lady Nu-kua, who threaded a miraculous
rope through his nose. Equally ferocious and hideous, with his black face, the Transcendent Pig
had the impudence to swallow Erh-lang, the nephew of the August Personage of Jade himself, but
he regretted it, for Erh-lang slew him. The breeding of silk-worms is under the protection of Lady
Horse-head about whom there is a curious legend. Her father was kidnapped by pirates, which
grieved her so much she refused to eat. Seeing the girl was in a decline, her mother vowed to
marry her to the man who would bring back her husband. She spoke the vow aloud, and it was
heard by the horse who was in love with his young mistress. The horse thereupon went off to look
for the missing man, found him at last, and brought him home on his back. When he demanded
his reward, the father flew into a violent rage, slew the poor animal, skinned him and put the skin
to dry in the sun. A few days later as the girl passed it the skin leaped at her and carried her off.
But the August Personage of Jade was on the watch. He changed the girl into a silk-worm and
soon after took her up to Heaven. Since then the Lady Horse-head ranks among the Sovereign
Like all Chinese mythology, Hell is due to a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism, with a special
preponderance given to the peculiarities of the Buddhist Hell.
The notion of Hell as it exists to-day among the people was, we believe, mainly disseminated by
certain passages in novels, among them the Travels in the West, and the Life of Yueh Fei, a general
of the Sung epoch, who was assassinated by order of the prime minister, Ch'in Kuei. In the first of
these books, the Emperor T'ai-tsung of the T'ang dynasty was wrongly accused of killing the
Dragon-King, descended into Hell, and before returning to life on earth passed through certain
parts of the dark empire. In the
other book a young scholar addresses a complaint to the gods, accusing them of lacking justice
because of the death of Yueh Fei. He was summoned before the King of Hell, who showed him
round his dominions to prove that there the wicked are punished and the good rewarded.
The Yama-Kings, Yen-wang. According to the most wide-spread version there are eighteen Hells,
distributed among ten law-courts to which they are attached. These courts are presided over by
the Shih-tien Yen-wang, the Kings of the Ten Law-Courts (the word Yen comes from Yama, the
Indo-Iranian god of Death), while each Hell is reserved for the tortures which punish well-defined
The first of the Yama-Kings is the supreme master of the world of Hell as well as head of the first
Law-Court. He is directly under the August Personage of Jade and the Great Emperor of the
Southern Peak. He is popularly known as Yen-wang-yeh (the Lord Yama-King) although in reality
the real Yama-King was dismissed by the August Personage of Jade for being too charitable and
merciful, and was sent down to head the Fifth Law-Court. The first Yama-King receives the souls
of the dead, investigates their actions during their past life, and if necessary sends them to other
Kings to be punished. As to the nine others, eight of them are commissioned to punish criminal
souls - thus the second King punishes dishonest male and female intermediaries and ignorant
doctors, the third punishes bad mandarins, forgers, and back-biters, the fourth punishes misers,
coiners, dishonest tradesmen and blasphemers, the fifth punishes murderers, unbelievers and the
lustful, the sixth punishes sacrilege, the seventh is reserved for those who violated graves and sold
or ate human flesh, the eighth punishes those who were lacking in filial piety, the ninth punishes
arson and has for an annexe the Town of those Dying in Accidents, and finally the tenth King is
entrusted with the Wheel of Transmigration, and takes care that the soul about to be reincarnated
fits properly into the body assigned.
Another version says that each of the kings in turn judges the souls which go before each Law-
Court, while the King of the Wheel of Transmigration decides on the form in which the soul just
judged shall be re-born.
Naturally the tortures used in Hell are many and varied, so that each crime has its appropriate
punishment, sometimes in a very logical way. Thus, blasphemers have their tongues torn out;
misers and lying mandarins are compelled to swallow melted gold and silver, while still more
guilty souls are flung on to mountains bristling with swords or plunged into boiling oil, or bound
to a large red-hot hollow iron beam, or ground in mills or sawed in halves or cut into little pieces,
The Kings of Hell have crowds of satellites to carry out their orders. These satellites are
represented as stripped to the waist, with two lumps on their foreheads (which lumps are really
meant for horns) and armed with a mace bearing iron spikes or with a trident. The Yama-Kings
are represented in the dress of the Emperors, just like the August Personage of Jade and the
Emperor of the Eastern Peak. On the images in books of piety they can only be distinguished by
the inscription under each of them.
The Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha: Ti-tsang Wang-p'u-sa. In this Hell which is peopled by implacable
ministers of justice, is there room for mercy? Yes, for the various regions of hell are continually
visited by a compassionate and merciful deity, the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha (in Chinese, Ti-tsang
Wang-p'u-sa) whose occupation is to save the souls which come to him. In his human life Ti-tsang
was a young Brahman who made a vow to save all souls engulfed in sin. To this end he devoted
his successive existences, which were innumerable, and acquired such merit by his spirit of selfsacrifice
that in the end Buddha entrusted to him the masses of gods and men 'so that he would
not allow them for one day or one night to fall into evil birth'. In China this god is always invoked
when somebody dies, so that he can come to the help of the dead person. His name Ti-tsang is a
translation of the Sanskrit Ksitigarbha. The images of him show him as a bonze, sometimes with a
shaved head like the Hindu bonzes, and sometimes wearing a ceremonial wreath such as is worn
by Chinese bonzes. He holds in his right hand the metal wand hung with musical rings such as
Chinese monks carry, and his left hand holds the precious pearl which lights the paths of Hell
with its glow.
Life of the dead in Hell. When the registers of Death and Life kept by the Yama-King show that a
man has reached the end of his earthly existence, the Yama-King sends two of his satellites to seize
the man's soul and bring it before the infernal Law Courts. These satellites are named Ox-Head
and Horse-Face, Niu-t'ou and Ma-mien, and they are represented with the head of the animal
whose name they bear. They make their way to the man's house and take him off. And here comes
out the value of the Door gods, for it is their duty to see that the warrant of arrest is authentic, and
not until that is done will they allow Ox-Head and Horse-Face to enter.
They also say that these two satellites are not sent by the Yama-King but by the god of Walls and
Ditches, who keeps a register of all the inhabitants in his area. And then again they say, for all the
mythology of Hell is rather confused, that the persons charged to bring in the dead are the two
Without-Duration, Wu-ch'ang, one of whom is white and the other black, who are called 'the
Messengers who seize souls', Kou-hun-shih-che. Their statues are
MYTHOLOGY — 399
sometimes to be seen in the temples, and these two personages are represented wearing a long
black or white robe which reaches to their feet, a tall pointed hat, a rope round their necks, and
their tongues hanging out.
But whoever comes for them the souls (which retain their appearance for some time after leaving
their robe of flesh) are taken first before the god of Walls and Ditches who puts them through a
first series of questions and holds them for forty-nine days, either at liberty, or punishing them
with the pillory or beating, according to what the dead person did in his lifetime. Sometimes it
happens that owing to a similarity of name or some other error, the wrong soul is brought along;
in which case the god allows it to return to earth and to re-enter the body in which it lived. This is
perhaps the reason why the Chinese keep the bodies of the dead for several days before they are
buried - at least seven, with a maximum of forty-nine.
After forty-nine days the god of Walls and Ditches hands over the soul to the Yama-King. He acts
as judge, by consulting the
register which records all the good or evil actions of this soul, and if necessary sends it before
whichever of the Yama-Kings is appointed to punish the crime of which the soul is guilty. As to
those souls which have done good deeds, such as those of good sons, of good subjects, believers,
and charitable persons etc., they either go to Buddha in the Land of Extreme Felicity in the West,
or to the Mountain K'un-lun, the dwelling-place of the Immortals, or else they go straight to the
tenth Yama-King to be re-born to another existence.
But let us return to the souls of sinners. They go before each of the Yama-Kings in turn, who
punishes them for the crime under his jurisdiction. The people believe that persons who have
committed very great crimes find that their souls must endure all the tortures of hell without
distinction. Such, they say, was the case with the Minister Ch'in Kuei, already mentioned, and
doubtless in this way the people work off the hatred they feel for some especially detested
personage. After each torture the soul returns to its original form to undergo another. Thus, if it
has been cut into little pieces, the pieces all join up again; and if it has been thrown in a cauldron
of boiling oil, it becomes living as soon as it is taken out. When the soul has suffered all the
punishments due for its sins, it finally goes before the tenth Yama-King who decides in what form,
human or animal, it shall be re-born. The Buddhists believe there are six ways of re-birth - three of
them are good, birth as a god, as a human being, or as an asura (a kind of demon); and three are
bad, birth in hell, birth as a starving demon, birth as an animal. But people believe that birth as a
human being is not necessarily a reward, for a man's soul may be condemned to re-birth in the
body of a woman (in ancient times women were considered less honourable than men) or in the
body of an invalid or a beggar, etc., while at other times a soul may be re-born an animal without
having sinned. There are numerous tales on this theme. One of them relates that a man who had
borrowed money from someone, died before he could pay his debt. After his death he asked
permission of the Yama-King to be re-born as a colt in his creditor's family. Soon after his birth his
master sold him for exactly the sum which was owing. The colt died soon after he was sold, and
the soul which occupied it returned again to the Law-Courts of Hell to be judged. Another tale,
which resembles the 'Dream of the Yellow Sorghum' mentioned in connection with the Immortal
Lu Tung-pin, relates that a scholar who had just passed the Imperial examinations was walking in
a Temple, and went into the room of a bonze to rest. There he fell asleep, and dreamed that he
became a high dignitary and grew rich through telling lies. He then dreamed that he died, and
was condemned to drink a quantity of molten gold equivalent to that which he had got unjustly.
After this he dreamed that he was re-born in a family of beggars as a girl, and as she grew up was
sold to be a scholar's concubine. He did not awake until he had dreamed that he had died a second
time. Realising the vanity of this world's honours he retired to the mountain to seek the Path.
Souls re-incarnated in an animal do not thereby lose their human feelings. Whether born in the
form of a cock or a pig, the soul will feel with human sensibilities all the suffering the animal feels
when its throat is cut, and will even suffer from every slice of the knife which cuts it up. But it
cannot express its anguish in human language, of which it has lost the use thanks to the Broth of
Oblivion, Mi-hun-t'ang. This broth is compounded by the Lady Meng, who lives in a house built
just inside the exit from Hell. All souls which pass her door on their way to the Wheel of
Transmigration have to drink it willy-nilly. Under its influence the souls forget their former life,
their existence in Hell and even their speech. There are legends relating to miraculous births - a
child is able to speak as soon as born because the soul inhabiting its body had been successful in
escaping the vigilance of the guardians of Hell, and had avoided drinking the Broth of Oblivion.
If after drinking this broth a soul is to be re-born in the form of an animal, the satellites of the Law
Courts throw on his shoulders
402 — CHINESE MYTHOLOGY
the skin of the species of animal to which he will belong, and he is then taken to the Bridge of Pain,
K'u-ch'u-ch'iao, which crosses a river of red water. He is thrown off the bridge into the water, and
it carries him to his new destiny. They say also that the soul climbs on to the Wheel of Life and
Death, which as it turns sends him down to earth. The tale just mentioned says: 'After walking a
few paces he saw on a stand a beam of iron several feet in circumference, supporting a great wheel
whose dimensions were an unknown number of leagues. Flames of five colours sprang from it,
and their glow lit up heaven. He was struck by demons who compelled him to get on the wheel.
He had scarcely jumped on it with his eyes shut when the wheel turned under his feet and he felt
as if he were falling; he felt coolness all over his body, and opening his eyes he saw that he already
had the body of a baby.
Another tale, translated by Father Wieger, mentions another case: 'Everything was a confusion to
him. His body was buffeted by the wind. Suddenly as he crossed a red bridge he dropped into a
lake ten thousand fathoms deep. He felt no pain, but his body became narrow and small and was
no longer the same. When he stopped falling his eyes were closed and would not open, and in his
ears he heard what seemed to be the sound of the voices of his father and mother. He seemed to be
the plaything of a dream.' In this case, as in the tale before, the soul is being born in the body of a
child; but of course the impression is quite different and much more unpleasant if it is the body of
Some details of Hell. Hell is a world on its own, with its own towns and country-side. The chief
town is Feng-tu, which is entered by the souls of the dead through a big gate called the Gate of
Demons, Kuei-men-kuan. The town contains the palaces of the Yama-Kings, the Law Courts, the
places set aside for torture as well as the dwellings of the functionaries, the infernal satellites, and
the souls waiting to be re-born. On the side opposite the Gate of Demons the town abuts on a river
called the River How Nai-ho, crossed by three bridges. One bridge is in gold for the gods, one in
silver for the souls of virtuous men, and the last for undeserving or criminal souls. This bridge is
several leagues long, but has only three spans, and no rails. Criminal souls of certain categories,
such as those who during their life-time profaned clothes of a purple colour, or women who lived
dissipated lives, on trying to cross the bridge inevitably fall into the water rushing beneath. They
then are preyed upon by bronze snakes and iron dogs who bite them and tear them to pieces.
The souls of the dead are not only responsible for their actions in the life they have just left, but
also for those of their life before that, if for some reason they have not received punishment for
them. Since these souls cannot remember their actions, owing to the Broth of Oblivion which they
all drink on passing through Hell, they are when necessary placed in front of a huge mirror, the
Mirror of the Wicked, Nieh-ching-t'ai, set up in the Court of the first Yama-King. In this mirror the
souls see themselves with the appearance they had in their former life, and so perceive the crime
they committed. The Yama-King bases the judgment he gives on this appearance.
Not far from the town of Feng-tu is the town of Those who Died in Accidents, Wang-ssu-ch'eng. It
is under the ninth Yama-King. Everyone is sent there who dies before the date set down in the
Registers of Life and Death, no matter whether they committed
suicide or died by accident. The souls of these dead are condemned to live here like starving
demons, with no hope of being re-born unless they can find someone to replace them. Thus the
soul of a hanged man must bring the soul of another hanged man, and so with a drowned man. To
allow them to find a replacement, these souls after three years in Hell are allowed to return freely
to earth, to the place where they left their mortal bodies, and there they do all they can to arrange
that men passing near the place shall die in the same way. For this reason the Chinese carefully
avoid places where there has been a murder, a suicide, or an accident causing a human death, for
fear of being made use of by the soul of the dead person.
The Chinese Paradise. As we have seen, when the souls of the just are not sent back immediately
to a new life by the tenth Yama-King, they go either to the K'un-lun Mountain, the dwelling place
of the Immortals, or to the Amitabha Buddha in the Land of Extreme Felicity in the West.
The K'un-lun Mountain has a close resemblance to the Olympus of the Greeks, but while the latter
situated the dwelling place of their gods in a mountain of their own country, the Chinese placed
theirs on a fabulous mountain far away from their land and at the earth's centre.
The ruler of this region is no other than the Lady Queen of the West, the Queen-Mother Wang,
wife of the August Personage of Jade. The palace is built on the top of the mountain, it has nine
storeys and is built entirely of jade. Around the palace are magnificent gardens in which grows the
Peach-tree of Immortality. The Immortals live there, in an endless series of amusements and
banquets. The only human beings allowed there are those permitted by the gods, as a reward for
their virtues, to eat the marvellous fruit of the Peach-tree of Immortality during their earthly life.
The other just men admitted to the felicities of eternal life go to the Land of Extreme Felicity in the
West. This land, which lies in the fathest west portion of the universe is separated from us by an
infinity of worlds like our own. It is a place of all delights, closed in on all sides and embellished
by seven rows of terraces with seven rows of trees whose branches are formed of precious stones
sounding musically when the wind stirs them. There may be found lakes flowering with lotuses,
with a floor of gold sand and banks paved with seven precious stones. Birds with many-coloured
plumage and divine voices praise in their songs the five Virtues and the excellent Doctrines.
Showers of blossom fall on the ground. In this Eden the righteous pass a life which is piously
ordered: 'Every morning at dawn they go to offer flowers to all the Buddhas of other worlds, and
they return to their world for meals.' Everything they hear - the song of the birds, the music of the
wind in the trees of precious stones - makes them think of Buddha, the Law, and the Community.
Their perilous transmigrations are over.
Happy are they, who in their life-time fervently called upon Amitabha. At the hour of their death
their hearts will not be troubled, for Buddha himself will appear to them. He will receive their
souls and place them in the lotuses of the lakes, in which they will remain enclosed until the day
comes when, being cleansed from all impurities, they will escape from the opening flower and will
go to mingle with the just who inhabit the Land of Extreme Felicity in the West.
Sources of Japanese Mythology
When the ancestors of the Japanese, coming probably from Korea, settled in Japan, they met and
made war upon the Ainus whom they drove into the north, while in the southern islands,
especially Kyushu, they came upon various tribes whom they subdued and assimilated. They
lived in tribes, each one of which had a chief, who, as we shall see later, was often a woman—a
characteristic which struck the Chinese when they came into contact with the Japanese, probably
about the beginning of our era. Besides China, Japan was also in touch with Korea, and these
ancient relations with the Asiatic continent had their influence on the minds of the Japanese
people. They also left distinct traces in their mythological tales. The southern tribes, living their
seafaring life, also had a share in building up Japanese mythology, and so had the local traditions
peculiar to each of the different regions.
The interlacing of local myths with foreign legend constitutes the mythology as it has been
transmitted to us in the texts, and this is what makes the study such a delicate one. The difficulty
is increased by the fact that the mythological tales were closely connected with the origins of the
Japanese royal family, and therefore native scholars must not criticise or explain them in too
rationalist a way. These myths were preserved by oral tradition, thanks to the Katari-be, a
corporation of 'reciters' whose function was to recite these ancient legends during the great Shinto
festivals. Japanese scholars believe that this corporation of reciters was closely linked with the
priests and priestesses who, during the religious service, related ancient legends about the gods,
the tribe or the district.
'The Katari-be seem to have sung their songs at the banquets of the Imperial Court or of the great
families, and no doubt the poems described the origin of the gods and the ancestors.' (p. 5, N.
Matsumoto, Essai sur la Mythologie Japonaise, Paris, 1928). hi the beginning of the eighth century
these tales were used to compile the old histories of Japan, and will be discussed later on. As we
have seen, relations between Japan and China and Korea existed at the beginning of our era, as the
facts of archaeology testify. We also know that Chinese learning and its form of writing were
officially established in the year 405, when the learned Korean Wani arrived.
Buddhism was introduced around 522 and after various vicissitudes became the official religion.
The Emperor Yomei (585—587) was the first sovereign to accept this foreign religion. In 592 the
Empress Suiko came to the throne, and the regent Prince Shotoku was a devout Buddhist. Foreign
customs influenced Japanese life so much that during a Shinto ceremony the descendants of the
Koreans uttered the words in Chinese. It is natural to assume that the scholars who had to
compose the history of Japan and the scribes who had to write it in Chinese must, under the
influence of their Chinese education, have modified and embellished the ancient traditions in
accordance with Chinese ideas.
Written sources. What are these written sources? First of all we have the Kojiki, the book of ancient
things or of ancient words. The Emperor Temmu (672—686) realised that the ancient families in
their contentions were changing the old traditions in order to provide more support for their
rights and privileges. These alterations threatened to harm the reigning family. So in 681 he set up
a Committee to put the old traditions into writing, but his death stopped the work. He had also
given orders to Hieda-no-Are, one of his attendant ladies who had a very good memory, to learn
all the old legends by heart. In 711 the Empress Gemmyo (707—715) ordered O no Yasumaro to
collect the stories of Hieda-no-Are, to make a selection, and to set down the ancient traditions in
the form of a book. In 712 the work was completed and presented to the Empress under the title of
Kojiki. It is curious to find that O no Yasumaro was uncertain how to write the book. He would
not write it entirely in Chinese for fear of distorting the character of the tales. But the Japanese
syllabary was not then in existence, so like a good Japanese he made a compromise, sometimes
writing in Chinese, sometimes using Chinese characters as the phonetic
equivalents of Japanese syllables - which caused difficulties in reading the text. It must not be
forgotten that the Kojiki was composed partly to settle the Imperial genealogy definitively and to
place it above all controversy; and partly to do the same for the Shinto legends, source of the ritual
and foundation of the state. In short, 'it was not so much a matter of writing a history as of
establishing an orthodoxy.' (Cl. Maitre, La Litterature historique du Japan des origines aux
Ashikaga, p. 53, B.E. F.E.O. October — December 1903.)
In 714 the same Empress also ordered a national history. Five years later, during the reign of the
Emperor Gensho (715 — 726) Prince Toneri and O no Yasumaro compiled in Chinese the annals of
Japan, Nihon shoki, (also called Nihongi) and presented them to the Emperor in 720. The first part
of these annals, entitled Jindaiki, 'records of the age of the gods', deals with mythological legends
and gives the different versions which existed at that time.
In 807 Imibe no Hironari wrote and presented to the throne the Kogoshui, 'gleanings of ancient
words', to protest against the injuries caused by the Nakatomi family to the Imibe family in the
protocol of religious services. Hironari relates several myths to show that the ancient traditions
were well kept up in his family which therefore take precedence over the Nakatomi family. These
myths are the same as those in the Nihon shoki and the Kojiki.
Tales and mythological information are also contained in the liturgical prayers, norito, included in
927 in the eighth volume of Ceremonial, Engishiki, which gives a great deal of information about
Shinto matters. Following the Chinese custom, the Japanese government in 713 ordered the local
authorities to draw up descriptions of their areas. These books were called Fudoki, but by far the
greater number of these monographs have disappeared, and there remain only five Fudoki and
fragments of others. They are a valuable source since they give local traditions which are a help to
understanding the ancient myths. Mythological tales are also to be found in the Manyoshu, the
first great anthology of Japanese poetry, compiled in the eighth century. In the Shojiroku, written
in 814, and containing genealogies of the old nobility, there are traces of ancient traditions also.
To these written sources must be added the studies in Japanese folklore which during the past
thirty years have been carried on with great energy. The numerous publications dealing with local
traditions have enabled us to understand the old stories a little better. The studies of folklore in the
Ryukyu islands have done much towards our understanding of the part played by women in the
ancient traditions (N. Matsumoto 'L'etat actuel des etudes de folklore au Japon' p. 228, No 10.
Japan et Extreme Orient, Paris, 1924). These folklore studies are especially interesting for the
primitive religion of Japan, for in the course of history official Shinto has been influenced by
foreign ideas, and has undergone certain modifications in consequence.
THE GREAT LEGENDS
The Kami. The Japanese deified the forces of Nature because they felt they were more powerful
than themselves, and venerated them under the name Kami. High mountains, tall and ancient
trees, rivers, were Kami and so, too, were great men. The word Kami means 'beings more highly
placed', those who are venerated, and does not have the meaning of our word, god. The Japanese
Kami are often characterised by the epithet chihaya-buru, which may be translated 'powerful'. The
gods of Japanese mythology have bodies like those of human beings, and are endowed with all
human qualities and defects. The myths speak perfectly frankly of certain exploits of the gods,
which English translators prefer to give in Latin. Traditions tell us that the gods possessed two
souls, one gentle, nigi-mi-tama, and one violent, ara-mi-tama. The Kami reacted according to the
activity of one or the other. At times this soul can leave the body and manifest itself in an object.
But the Kami of Japan are not omniscient. Those who live in Heaven do not know what is going
on down in the world, and have to send messengers to find out. And they make use of divination
to predict the future. The different gods can do good or do evil, but there are no essentially wicked
Kami among them. True, when the god Izanagi (of whom we shall speak again) returns from Hell
and washes off its impurities, the infernal mud gives birth to Yaso-Maga-Tsu-Bi, the god of
multiple calamities; but then there appears Kamu-Nahobi, the god who puts things right again.
All wicked things live in Hell, which is under the earth and these demons particularly represent
the sicknesses and epidemics and calamities which, afflict the inhabitants of Japan. But they are far
less powerful than the Kami, who by the power of magic can conquer them or prevent them from
coming out from under the earth.
Heaven, Earth, Hell. Japanese mythology divides the Kami into gods of Heaven, Ama-Tsu-Kami,
and gods of Earth, Kuni-Tsu-Kami, the latter of which are more numerous and live in the islands
of Japan. Still, some divinities rise up frorh earth to heaven, and on the other hand others come
down to settle on earth. Heaven, which the Japanese describe by the word Ama, is not a far-off
and inaccessible place. Its landscape is the same as Japan's, and it is crossed by the heavenly river,
Ama no Gawa, which like Japanese rivers has a very wide bed covered with pebbles. Formerly
earth was linked with heaven by a sort of bridge, Ama
no Hashidate, which allowed the gods to go to and fro. According to the Tango-fudoki, one day
when the gods were all asleep this bridge or stairway collapsed into the sea. This formed the
prolonged isthmus situated to the west of Kyoto in the sub-prefecture of Yosa, which is well
known as one of the three most beautiful places in Japan.
Under the earth lies the kingdom of the dead, which is called 'land of darkness', Yomi-tsu-kuni, or
'land of roots', Ne no Kuni, and also 'the deep land', Soko no Kuni. There are two ways of entering
Hell. There is a sloping and very winding road which begins in Izumo province and leads under
ground; and the other is situated on the sea shore. It is a bottomless abyss which engulfs all the
waters of the sea, and here on the day of grand purification all sins and all impurities are swept
down with the waters. Palaces and cottages are built in this subterranean kingdom, the homes of
male and female demons—the females are called shiko-me, ugly women, or hisa-me, frowning
women. This kingdom of the dead is seldom mentioned in myths, but it is named notably when
after the death of his wife Izanagi, the god Izanami goes down under the
earth to try to bring her back. Hell is also mentioned in a myth of Izumo province, where it is told
how the god O-Kuni-Nushi went down there to consult Susanoo.
Japanese mythological traditions have not handed down to us the ancient beliefs about death.
'Probably', says Professor Florenz (Lehrbuch der Religionsgesi'hichte, begrundet von Chantepic de
la Saussaye, Verlag von J. C. B. Mohr, 4th new edition, Vol i. article Die Japaner, p. 267), 'the
Shintoists felt a horror for everything which concerned death and corpses.' The idea of rewards
and punishments after death came into Japan with Buddhist beliefs, but there is no mention of the
topic in the old Shinto texts.
Origin of the gods and of the world. Japanese mythology tells us that 'at the time when heaven
and earth began, three divinities were formed in the plain of high heaven'. They were born of
themselves, and then hid. 'Later, when the earth was young and like floating oil. moving like a
jelly-fish, from something which sprang up like the shoot of a reed there were born two divinities,
and they too hid.' After that came seven generations of gods, and the last couple were called
Izanagi and Izanami.
It is very probable that these beginnings of Japanese mythology, which show the influence of
Chinese ideas, were set down by the compilers to act as an introduction to national traditions.
Izanagi and Izanami. Izanagi and Izanami received the order to consolidate and fertilise the
moving earth. Standing on the 'floating bridge of heaven' they stirred up the waters of the sea with
a lance which the gods had given them. When the water began to coagulate they withdrew the
lance, and the drop which fell from its point formed the island of Onokoro, a word which means
JAPANESE MYTHOLOGY — 407
coagulated'. The two deities then came down on this island, and created a column and a home.
Having looked well at one another Izanagi and Izanami decided to come together in order to
They then walked round the column, Izanagi going round from the left and Izanami from the
right. When they met the goddess Izanami exclaimed: 'What a pleasure to meet such a handsome
young man!' But the god Izanagi was displeased with this exclamation, for the first words should
have been spoken by him since he was the man. From this primordial union there was born 'a
leech-child' whom his parents were unwilling to own. So they put him on a raft of reeds and set
him adrift. Then the island of Awa was born, but they also refused to recognise it as their child.
They went off and consulted the gods, who explained to them that these unfortunate births were
the result of Izanami's mistake in speaking first to her future husband and that they must walk
round the column again and carry out the rite correctly. This the god Izanagi and the goddess
Izanami did, and so gave birth to the many islands which constitute Japan as well as numerous
gods the god of Wind, of Trees, of Mountains etc. The last-born was the god of Fire, whose birth
burned the goddess Izanami and caused her dreadful suffering. From her vomit, her urine, and
her excrement other gods were born; and then she died. Izanagi lamented, and his tears gave birth
to the goddess, Moaning-river. Furious with the baby who had caused the goddess's death,
Izanagi picked up his sword and cut off the child's head. Drops of his blood, trickling down the
blade, fell on the ground, and gave birth to eight different gods; and eight other deities
symbolising different mountains came from various parts of the body.
Izanagi's descent into Hell. Izanagi was inconsolable for his wife's death, and went down to Hell
and his wife came to meet him, but refused to return with him because she had already tasted the
food of Hell. She suggested that she should go and discuss the question with the god of Hell, and
begged her husband not to look inside the house. But the god became impatient and took the risk
of following her. He broke off the 'made tooth' of his comb, that is. one of the two at the end of a
comb, lighted it for a torch, and went into the palace. He found Izanami's body decomposing and
full of worms, and watched over by eight Thunders. He fled in horror. Izanami called after him,
'You have humiliated me!' and set the ugly-girls-of-hell at him. Izanagi defended himself with
various magical methods. So the goddess then sent eight Thunder gods and the soldiers of Hell.
When he reached the end of the slope to Hell, Izanagi picked three peaches and threw them at the
soldiers of Hell, who fled, and then blocked the entrance to Hell with a huge boulder. Izanami had
pursued him, and found herself on the other side of the bouider. The two gods swore they would
divorce, and so parted. The god Izanagi felt sullied by this contact with the world of the dead, and
went off to the island of Tsukiji where he purified himself at the mouth of the little river Tachibana
in Hyuga province. He threw away his stick, and from this stick was born the God-set-up-at-crossroads.
Then he took off his clothes and threw them away, each one of them producing a deity. He
then dived into the river, and the impurities he had brought back from Hell gave birth to two gods
of different ills. To cure these ills Izanagi gave birth to two gods who set the ills right, and to the
'sacred goddess'. Izanagi then dived into the sea, and from this bath arc derived all the various sea
gods. He washed his left eye, and so gave birth to the great goddess Amaterasu, goddess of the
Sun; he then washed his right eye and brought into the world the goddess of the Moon,
Tsukiyomi. Then he washed his nose, and gave birth to the god Susanoo. Izanagi ordered his elder
daughter Amaterasu to rule the plain of Heaven, giving her his necklace of jewels. To the god of
the Moon he entrusted the kingdom of night, and to the god Susanoo the plain of the seas. The
goddess of the Sun and the god of the Moon obeyed the order of their father Izanagi, and took
possession of Heaven and of the kingdom of night. Susanoo alone did not leave, and stayed where
he was, weeping and groaning. Izanagi asked him the reason for these laments, and Susanoo said
he wanted to go to the kingdom of his dead mother. The god Izanagi grew angry and drove him
away, and Susanoo then said he wanted to say farewell to his elder sister before going down to the
Scholars who make a study of mythology have found certain
resemblances between- the myths about Izanagi and Izanami and those of Polynesia, for instance.
Also it is highly probable that the Chinese legend of Pan-Ku, whose left eye became the sun and
his right eye the moon, was grafted on to an ancient tradition by the authors of the Kojiki and the
Nihon shoki. As Mr N. Matsumoto has very rightly pointed out in his Essai sur la Mythologie
Japonaise, the whole collection of these ancient traditions indicates that Susanoo represents the
gods of Izumo province, and Amaterasu those of Yamato. The two tribes of these regions were
enemies. The Imperial family, as we shall see later on, had the Sun goddess as an ancestor, and by
recording the ancient traditions hoped to establish the supremacy of Yamato, which at the time
texts were put down was already a historical fact. By a comparison of ancient texts and from the
study of folklore, not only of Japan proper but of the Ryukyu islands, we observe that although
Amaterasu was the Sun goddess she also has the character of a priestess, which is very
understandable seeing that in ancient Japan 'the notions of god and priest were confounded', and
consequently the lives of priests and priestesses influenced the building up of the myths. We shall
see in myths to follow that Amaterasu, though ; Sun goddess, wove the gods' clothes, and we
know that the Shinto f priestesses were employed in weaving garments before the great
ceremonies. The myths which tell us of the struggle between Amaterasu and her brother Susanoo
probably are a reflection of the
rivalry between a brother and his priestess-queen sister. On this rivalry we have the testimony of
the Chinese historians who, in the annals of the Wei dynasty (220—264), relate that after the death
of the priestess-queen Himeko of the kingdom of Yamato, a younger brother who had helped her
was put on the throne, and that this succession led to civil wars. Peace was not restored until the
eldest daughter of the dead queen ascended the throne.
Susanoo and Amaterasu. Let us return to the mythological stories of the Kojiki and Nihon shoki.
Susanoo went up to Heaven to see his elder sister, but he made such a noise, shaking the
mountains and rivers and making the earth quake, that the goddess thought it as well to take
precautions in meeting him. So she slung a quiver on her back, and placed before her a bow whose
string she vibrated. When she asked him why he had come, he said he had no evil intent, and had
come simply to say good-bye to her before going to the distant land where his mother was.
The Sun goddess asked her brother for proofs of his goodwill. Susanoo proposed that each of
them should create children — his would be boys and that would prove the sincerity of his
intentions. Amaterasu took her brother's sword, broke it in three pieces and, after having chewed
them, blew a light mist from her mouth which gave birth to three goddesses. Susanoo asked his
sister for the five strings of jewels she was wearing and, after cracking them between his teeth,
blew a light mist from his mouth and gave birth to five masculine deities. Amaterasu declared
they were her children because they had been created from jewels which belonged to her.
It is interesting to note that in the historic epoch the eight children of Amaterasu and Susanoo
were venerated as the eight 'princes' and considered as ancestors. The eldest male was the
ancestor of the Emperors, and the others of the great families.
Susanoo was so pleased with his success that he lost all self-control. In the impetuosity of his
victory he destroyed the rice-fields prepared by Amaterasu, filled in the irrigation ditches, and
deposited excrement in the Temples built for the festival of First-fruits. The Sun goddess made
excuses for her brother's misdeeds, but he continued them. One day when the goddess Amaterasu
was weaving the gods' clothes in the sacred house Susanoo made a hole in the roof of the house,
and threw down a piebald horse which he had already flayed. This terrible and unexpected
apparition caused such a disturbance that one of the weaving women pricked herself with the
shuttle and fell dead. The goddess Amaterasu was terrified and hid in a rocky cave of Heaven,
blocking the entrance with a boulder. The world was plunged into darkness.
Some scholars have interpreted this disappearance of the sun as an allusion to an eclipse, but we
are in agreement with Mr N. Matsumoto in his interpretation of the myth as the beginning of
winter, since that event takes place after the festival of First-fruits.
Amaterasu's return. The darkness which covered the world greatly aided the wicked gods in their
doings, and caused consternation among the good gods. The eight hundred myriads of gods all
assembled in the dry bed of a river, to decide on what measures should be taken to bring back the
Sun goddess. They approached the god 'Hoard-thoughts', and in accordance with his advice they
collected cocks whose crow precedes the dawn. They gave orders for the making of a mirror and
strings of jewels, which they hung on the branches of the Sakaki tree (Cleyera japonica) which
they also decorated with cloth streamers. They uttered the ritual words. The goddess Ama no
Uzume decked herself out with different plants, gathered some bamboo leaves, and then mounted
a tub turned upside down which was placed outside the entrance to the cave. She then began to
dance, drumming with her feet on the sounding tub. Carried away by divine ecstasy she took off
all her clothes, and the eight hundred myriads of gods all roared with laughter. The Sun goddess
hearing the crowing of the cocks, then the noise of Ama no Uzume dancing, and then the burst of
laughter from the gods, was puzzled and asked the reason for all these noises. Ama no Uzume
replied that the gods were rejoicing because they now had a better goddess than Amaterasu.
Urged by her curiosity the Sun goddess looked out and saw the mirror which they had set up,
and, much interested by its reflection, she came a little way out of the cave. The god of Force who
had hidden himself close by seized her hand and forced her to come out completely. Then a rope
was stretched in front of the cave to prevent Amaterasu from going back
into it, and once more the world was lit up by the rays of the Sun goddess. The gods decided to
punish Susanoo and forced him to pay a heavy fine. Then they cut off his beard and moustache,
tore off the nails from his fingers and toes, and kicked him out of heaven. We have already
stressed the particular character of the Sun goddess's retreat after the festival of First-fruits. The
obscene dance of the goddess Ama no Uzume is another sign that these traditions have an
agricultural significance, for 'in primitive religion obscenity has always an agricultural
significance, looking to the fertility of the fields', and the gods' laughter means that the life which
had seemed extinct is about to be re-born. (P. L. Couchoud, Le mythe de la danseuse obscene.
Mercure de France, 15 August 1929.)
Susanoo's exploits. When the god Susanoo was driven out of heaven, ne came down to Izumo
province. We have already said that the myths connected with this god come from that region. It
must be also noted that Susanoo was not an essentially evil god. His character was such that it
displayed itself in wicked deeds when he was controlled by his wicked soul, Ara-mi-tama, and in
good deeds when .his peaceful soul, Nigi-mi-tama, was in the ascendant. He was a fertility god,
closely linked with agricultural beliefs. At one and the same time he is a god of Thunder, Storm
and Rain. For this reason he is associated with snakes, for in ancient Japan the snake was
considered as the god of Thunder. Mr N. Matsumoto points out that the main descendants of the
god Susanoo are related either to water, thunder or the snake. The following pages from the
Nihon shoki and the Kojiki relate myths about the god Susanoo.
When he came down to Izumo he met an old man and an old woman who were crying beside a
girl. Susanoo asked the reason for these tears. The old man told him that he had had eight
daughters and that every year a snake with eight heads from the Koshi district had come and
devoured one of his daughters. Seven already had been eaten, and now the snake was coming to
devour the last. Susanoo told them he was the brother of Amaterasu, and asked them to give him
the girl. The old parents gladly agreed. Susanoo changed the girl into a comb which he stuck in his
hair. Then he had eight bowls prepared and filled them with rice wine. When the terrible snake
appeared it was attracted by the scent of the wine, and each head made for one of the bowls. The
snake got drunk and went to sleep. Susanoo drew his sword, and cut the monster to pieces. In the
middle of the snake's tail he found a wonderful sword which he presented to his sister the Sun
goddess. In later stories this sword is given the name Kusanagi, and was transmitted to our own
times as one of the three emblems of Imperial power It is kept in the Temple of Atsuta, near the
town of Nagoya.
Once he had got rid of the Snake, Susanoo built himself a palace at Suga, and lived there with his
new wife. From this union was born the god O-Kuni-Nushi, who afterwards became Lord of
Adventure of O-Kuni-Nushi. According to ancient traditions, O-Kuni-Nushi was a god of
medicine connected with sorcery. The invention of therapeutic methods was attributed to him.
The legend of the white hare of Inaba tells us that a skinned hare appealed to the eighty gods,
brothers of O-Kuni-Nushi, and they advised it to bathe in the sea and then dry itself in the wind.
The poor animal suffered dreadfully. It then met O-Kuni-Nushi, who felt sorry for its sufferings,
and told it to wash in fresh water and then to roll in the pollen of sedges spread on the ground.
The hare was completely cured, and when returning thanks declared that the princess Yakami
would go to O-Kuni-Nushi, and not to his brothers. O-Kuni-Nushi's brothers were very angry at
this, and by various subterfuges they managed to kill him, but he was resurrected through the
intercession of his mother with the goddess Kami-Musubi. O-Kuni-Nushi once more became a
strong young man. To save him from the rage of his brothers, his mother sent him to the
underworld, to the god Susanoo. There he met Suseri-Hime, the god's daughter. She fell in love
with him, and they were united. Susanoo received him, but put him to sleep in a room full of
snakes. O-Kuni-Nushi was saved by a scarf which had been given him by Suseri-Hime. The next
night he was sent to sleep in a room full of centipedes and wasps, but Suseri-Hime had given
another scarf which protected him from the centipedes and wasps, and O-Kuni-Nushi came
through that test unscathed. Then Susanoo shot a hissing arrow into the middle of a vast meadow
412 — JAPANESE MYTHOLOGY
O-Kuni-Nushi to look for it. When O-Kuni-Nushi was in the middle of the meadow Susanoo set
fire to the grass, but O-Kuni-Nushi was saved by a mouse which showed him an underground
room in which to shelter, and brought him the arrow. The god Susanoo then felt some confidence
in him and, after asking-O-Kuni-Nushi to wash his hair, went to sleep. O-Kuni-Nushi took
advantage of Susanoo's sleep to tie the god's hair to the rafters of the house, then put his wife
Suseri-Hime on his back and fled, taking also the great god's sword, bow, arrows, and his harp,
Koto. But the Koto brushed against a tree and awoke Susanoo, who started up and so pulled down
the house. While Susanoo was freeing his hair O-Kuni-Nushi made good use of the time and had
got far away when the god started in pursuit. On the slope of Hell Susanoo saw the abductor of
his daughter in the distance, and advised him to fight his brothers with the sword and bow and
shatts he had taken. In this way, he asserted, O-Kuni-Nushi would conquer them and reign over
the world. He then asked him to make Suseri-Hime his chief wife, and to build his palace at the
foot of mount Uka.
The myths about O-Kuni-Nushi then speak of a god who arrived in a drifting boat. This was
Sukuna-Bikona, the son of the goddess Kami-Musubi, who was well received by O-Kuni-Nushi,
and together they fortified the region. One day the god Sukuna-Bikona went to cape Kumanu, and
disappeared in the direction of the region of Tokyo. O-Kuni-Nushi was in consternation when he
found he was alone, and said to himself: 'Now I am quite alone to keep order in this land. Is there
nobody to help me?' At that moment the sea was lit up with a divine light, and a god said: 'How
could you rule this country if I were not at your side?' O-Kuni-Nushi asked the god who he was. 'I
am your protecting deity, and I wish to be worshipped on mount Mimoro, where I live.' O-Kuni-
Nushi worshipped this god, whose name is Omiwa.
The first part of official history related in the Nihon shoki ends with these legends of O-Kuni-
Nushi. The narrative then comes back to the Sun goddess and her grandson, the ancestor of the
Emperors of Japan. The events told in this second part all took place on earth or in the kingdom of
the Sea god.
Amaterasu and Ninigi. Amaterasu decided to send her son Ame-no-Oshido-Mimi down to earth
to reign over it as sovereign. But before leaving, the god looked at the earth from the floating
bridge of Heaven, saw it was full of disturbances, and refused to go. The eight hundred myriads
of gods were then ordered to meet, and the god-who-hoards-thoughts was told to work out a
plan. After consultation the gods decided to send down the god Ame-no-Hohi to find out what
was happening in the 'middle country of the land of reeds'. Three years passed without any news
from him, so the gods sent down his son, with the same result. At last they chose Ame-no-
Wakahiko, renowned for his courage, and gave him a divine bow and divine arrows. When he got
down to earth the young god married O-Kuni-Nushi's daughter, Shitateru-Hime, and began to
reign over the land. Eight years passed without any news of him reaching the gods. So the gods
sent down to earth a pheasant to ask Ame-no-Wakahiko what he had been doing all this time. The
pheasant settled on a tree opposite the door of the god's house, and one of the women said it was a
bird of evil omen. So Ame-no-Wakahiko shot a divine arrow which pierced the bird, made a hole
in heaven, and fell at the feet of Amaterasu and Taka-Mi-Musubi. Seeing the blood-stained arrow
and recognising it as one he had given to Ame-no-Wakahiko, the god cursed it and flung it back.
The arrow, hurled across the heavens, struck Ame-no-Wakahiko in the heart and killed him. The
widow lamented and wept so bitterly that the gods of heaven heard her, and Ame-no-Wakahiko's
parents came down to be present at his funeral. Ame-no-Wakahiko's funeral rites are described in
great detail and are of much interest since this is the oldest document we possess about Shinto
rites. The gods then sent to Izumo two gods who informed O-Kuni-Nushi that the Sun goddess
had sent them to subjugate the land. O-Kuni-Nushi consulted his two sons. The elder accepted
Amaterasu's suzerainty. The younger tried to resist, but was conquered by the power of the
heavenly envoys and fled, promising however that he would not undertake anything against the
Sun goddess. The gods returned to heaven to announce Izumo's submission. Meanwhile
Amaterasu had a grandson, the god Ninigi, and decided to send him to earth. Ninigi received the
sword Kusanagi which Susanoo had found in the tail of the eight-headed snake, the heavenly
jewels, and the mirror which had caused Amaterasu to leave the cave, and as companions
several deities, among them the goddess Ama-no-Uzume. When giving Ninigi the mirror, his
grandmother Amaterasu said: 'Adore this mirror as our souls, adore it as you adore us.' The
jewels, the sword Kusanagi and the mirror became the three emblems of the Imperial power.
The god Ninigi and his suite descended on mount Takachiho in the province of Hyuga, and built a
palace on cape Kasasa. Japanese and Western scholars have had much discussion about this
passage in the Japanese texts. Why should the grandson of the Sun goddess arrive at the island of
Kyushu instead of at Izumo? Mr N. Matsumoto (op. cit. p. 104) quotes the opinion of a Japanese
scholar, Professor K. Shiratori, who thinks the choice of the place may be explained by 'the
political object of the compilers of these myths, who wanted to bring the hostile tribes of the island
of Kyushu under the Imperial power'. That is perfectly comprehensible, given the state of mind in
which the compilation of the Kojiki and Nihon shoki was undertaken.
Ninigi's sons. The god Ninigi married Kono-Hana-Sakuya-Hime, daughter of the Mountain god,
but as she conceived on the first night he doubted her fidelity. The princess Kono-Hana-Sakuya
was angry at this attitude. She built a doorless house and at the moment of birth set fire to the
house, swearing that the child would perish if it were not Ninigi's. She brought forth three sons:
Hoderi, Hosuseri and Hikohohodemi. Afterwards the texts speak of only two brothers. Hosuseri
specialised ih fishing, while Hikohohodemi became a clever hunter. One day the brothers tried to
change over their occupations, but perceived that the results were bad. Hosuseri returned the bow
and arrows to his younger brother, and asked for his fish-hook, but Hikohohodemi had lost the
real fish-hook and gave him another one. Hosuseri refused to take it, as well as other hooks
Hikohohodemi offered him. Hikohohodemi was grieved at the loss, and went down into the
depths of the Ocean to visit the palace of the Sea god. He attracted the attention of the god's
daughter, who presented him, and became his wife. He told his story to the Sea god, and the hook
was found in the mouth of a red fish. Although life in the palace of the Sea god was very pleasant,
Hikohohodemi persisted in wishing to return home. The sea god gave him two jewels, one which
makes the tide rise, and another which makes it fall. His wife promised to rejoin him after a
certain time. When Hikohohodemi got back he returned the fishhook to his brother, but as he
continued to be a nuisance Hikohohodemi made use of the jewel which brings the high tide. The
elder brother, finding himself covered with the sea, begged his pardon and promised to serve him.
Hikohohodemi then threw into the sea the jewel which causes the low tide, and set his elder
The Sea god's daughter kept her word and rejoined Hikohohodemi. She told him she was about to
have a child, but added that he must not be present at the birth nor try to watch her. Urged by
curiosity Hikohohodemi looked between the walls of the hut, and saw his wife take the form of a
dragon. She left the child with her husband and returned to her father the Sea god, but sent her
sister to look after the child. This sister became the child's wife, and one of their sons, who
received the names of Toyo-Mike-Nu and Kamu-Yamato-Iware-Hiko, is famous in history under
his posthumous name of Jimmu-Tenno — he was the founder of the Imperial line of Japan. From
this time the history of Japan officially began, but for a long time it was sown with ancient
legends—the rivalry between Yamato and Izumo continued, and the wives of several Emperors
were princesses of Izumo.
Ancient Japanese texts often speak of 'the eight hundred myriads of gods', a scarcely exaggerated
number when you remember that every region, every town, every village and the most humble
inhabitant possessed a local Kami and his attendants. In addition, as we have seen, every object
whose shape or size differed from the normal — such as rocks, old trees etc. — was venerated as a
Kami. Even in modern Japan we see not only the great Temples and Shinto shrines with torii,
typical entrances, before the sanctuaries, but in the forests and on the mountains the traveller often
small sanctuaries, hokora, dedicated to a local Kami or to a large rock or a very old tree.
The Sun goddess, Amaterasu. With so many deities, the established mythology is dominated by
the Sun goddess, Amaterasu, who is worshipped not only as a heavenly body but as a spiritual
divinity and the ancestor of the Imperial family. The Japanese people also venerate the sun which
brings warmth and the harvest; and salute it in the morning by clapping hands. Amaterasu's chief
shrine is at Ise. At first the goddess was worshipped in the Imperial palace itself. But, with the
evolution of the Imperial power this proximity threatened difficulties, for the influence of the
priestesses exercised through oracles deprived the Emperor of complete liberty. The Emperor
Sujin (97—30 B.C.) decided to build a special sanctuary for the solar emblems, and appointed his
own daughter to their worship. A little later the Emperor Suinin (29 B.C. to A.D. 70) handed over
the cult of the goddess to his daughter Yamato-Hime. Looking for a suitable site she came to Ise
province, and there, in accordance with an oracle of Amaterasu she built the sanctuary. Since that
remote date the Shrine of Amaterasu has always been at Ise, where it is periodically restored but
always By exactly copying the ancient shrine; and thanks to this, the style of the ancient
architecture has remained until our own times.
This shrine houses the sacred mirror which is the Shintai of the deity, that is to say the object into
which the goddess's spirit enters to be present at the ceremonies and to listen to the prayers
addressed to her.lt is the octagonalmirror which was made to bring Amaterasu out of the cave in
which she was hiding. In the grounds attached to the Shrine at Ise are a large number of cocks
which are considered as birds sacred to the sun because they salute the dawn. In ancient times a
crow with several feet, Yata-Garasu, was also venerated as the messenger of Amaterasu. Very
probably this belief was of foreign origin. The kite and the heavenly arrows are also considered to
be emblems of the sun by the Shintoists.
Takami-Musubi. Although the Sun goddess occupied the first place in the official mythology she
was not considered as an omnipotent deity. Thus, when Amaterasu called an assembly of the gods
to appoint messengers to Izumo, the god Takami-Musubi was named with her; and legend also
mentions him as being beside the goddess when Ninigi was sent down to earth. The Sun goddess
does not act on her own will and pleasure, but asks advice of the other deities. She reigns over the
high heavenly plain, but has to obtain her information about the earth from intermediaries. The
seas and the world underground are not subject to her. We have already seen that the legends
about the Sun contain traces of the lives of Shinto priestesses and their occupations. Amaterasu
herself officiated in heaven, and carried out the ceremony of the new harvest, while she also wove
divine garments. Up till our own times, in April and September, the festivals of divine garments
were celebrated in the great Ise Shrine. Before dawn the pilgrims make their way to the sea-shore
of Futami at Ise where two rocks, one large and one small, stand out of the sea, and are called 'the
Wedded Rocks', Myoto-Ga-Seki. There is a place on this beach where the sun may be seen rising
between these two rocks. The pilgrims adore the rising Sun by clapping their hands and piously
Wakahiru-Me. Amaterasu is far from being the only deity. The ancient texts mention others.
Wakahiru-Me, Amaterasu's younger sister, according to the Nihon shoki, was weaving divine
garments with her when Susanoo threw down the flayed horse into the room where they were
sitting, and thus she is probably also a solar deity. Motoori Norinaga (1730—1801), the learned
commentator of the Kojiki, interprets the name Waka, young, hiru, sun, and me, a woman, as
meaning that this young sister of Amaterasu was a personification of the rising or morning sun.
Hiruko. According to a variant reading quoted in the Nihon shoki, the god Hiruko was born after
the sun and moon, and his name is interpreted as 'the childleech'. Professor Florenz (op. cit. p. 286)
considers this etymological explanation defective, and thinks that Hiruko was most probably a
male solar deity thrown into the background by the cult of Amaterasu, the protecting divinity of
the conquering Yamato tribe. In other texts we come upon a god whose name may be abridged to
Nigihaya-hi, meaning 'swift-and-gentlesun',
that is the early morning sun. By a comparison of the texts we can determine that this solar
god was the brother of Ninigi, the grandson of Amaterasu.
The numerous compilations of the ancient texts were an attempt to build up a mythological whole
from the ancient traditions and names of gods which had been preserved; and in so doing have
greatly confused the origins of Japanese beliefs. Professor G. Kato, in his book on Shinto (Annales
du Musee Guimet, vol. L, p. 135, 1931), quotes a typical case where four divinities have been
arbitrarily amalgamated into one. It must also be remembered that the compilers of the Nihon
shoki and Kojiki in building up an orthodoxy coolly dethroned or debased many divinities and
tended to simplify greatly the original complicated structure according to their own personal
beliefs and preferences.
Tsuki-Yomi, god of the Moon. The cult of the moon has been greatly modified in the course of
ages. The ancient texts inform us that Izanagi gave birth to the moon by washing his right eye. His
Japanese name, Tsuki, moon, and Yomi, counter, that is to say, 'counter-of-the-months,' links him
with the primitive calendar (N. Matsumoto, op. cit. p. 16, note i). In Japan the lunar divinity is
masculine, and in the ancient poems of the Manyoshu anthology his name is followed by the word
Otoko, man, to stress his masculine character. This god has a shrine at Ise as well as at Kadono,
and in both these sanctuaries is a mirror in which the god may manifest himself. It is curious to
note that the Chinese picture of the hare in the moon preparing the drug of immortality has
passed into the iconography of modern Japanese with certain modifications. The Japanese
represent the white disk of the moon with a rabbit or a hare pounding rice in a mortar. This
symbol is based on a pun. In Japanese, Mochi-zuki means to pound rice for cakes, and Mochi-zuki
also means the full moon. Although the ideograms with which the two words are written are
entirely different, the identity of the consonants was enough to produce the image.
The stars. As to the stars Mr G. KLato says: 'They never had a prominent place in early Shinto
beliefs, although they included the god of evil, Amatsu-Mikaboshi, "the-august-star-of-heaven", in
other terms Ama-no-Kagaseo, "the-brilliant-male".' Later on, due to the influence of Chinese and
Buddhist beliefs, the Japanese god of stars was identified with the Pole Star, Myo-ken (in Sanskrit,
Sudarsana), and finally with Ama-no-Minakanushi-no-kami, the-Divine-Lord-of-the-middleheavens,
the supreme heavenly deity (G. Kato, op. cit. p. 23 — 24). The legend of the annual
meeting of the star of the Cowherd and the star of the Spinning Maiden over the Milky Way was
brought to Japan during the reign of the Empress Koken (749—759) and utilised to found the
festival of Tanabata, celebrated on the seventh evening of the seventh moon-whence the name
Tanabata, which means seventh evening. (M.G. Cesselin, les 'Sekku' ou quelques fetes populaires,
IV. Tanabata no Sekku, p. 194, No 10, April 1906. Melanges japonais, Tokyo.)
Storm and thunder deities. It is curious to note that in later belief the god Susanoo was linked with
the lunar cult, whereas in the myths generally he is rather the Storm or Thunder god and seems
closely associated with agricultural rites. Mr N. Matsumoto (op. cit. p. 37 and following) has
devoted to him a most interesting study, where he points out that the relationship between the
ceremonies of expulsion and purification led, in the Middle Ages, to the god Susanoo being
considered as the god of plague, and confused with a god of foreign origin, Gozu-Tenno, the Oxheaded-
heavenly-King. The ancient texts also speak of the Thunder deities at the death of Izanami,
whose body was guarded by eight Thunders who afterwards went in pursuit of Izanagi. But these
thunders do not so much represent heavenly thunder, as the underground thunders which are so
common in a volcanic country like Japan. The god Take-Mika-zuchi, who was sent by the other
gods to subjugate Izumo province, is also considered a god of Thunder, who pursued the son of
O-Kuni-Nushi to lake Suwa and conquered him. Aji-suki-takahikone, another son of the same
god, is also a Thunder god. At his birth he cried and screamed, and they calmed him by carrying
him to the top and then to the bottom of a ladder. 'In the Japanese mind the ladder is used to get to
heaven, so this episode seems to allude to one of the characteristics of the Thunder, which is to
come and go between heaven and earth. He was also placed in a boat which sailed between the
eighty islands. The boat was the means by which the Thunder god connected heaven and earth
(N. Matsumoto, op. cit. p. 57—58). Kami-Nari, the god of Rolling-Thunder, is greatly venerated,
and many sanctuaries are devoted to him. Trees split by lightning, Kantoki no ki, are considered
as sacred, and it is forbidden to cut them down. In the Annals of Japan for the year 618 of our era
may be read the story of the official, Kawabe-no-Omi, who was ordered by the Emperor to cut
down trees for the construction of ships. Among the trees was one which had been hit by
lightning. The official made offerings to it and then gave orders for it to be cut down, but scarcely
had the wood-cutters approached the tree when a terrible storm, with rain and thunder, broke
over the forest. A sword plays the part of Shintai in the shrines which
416 — JAPANESE MYTHOLOGY
are consecrated to Kami-Nari, and is probably a symbol of lightning. The most venerated of the
sanctuaries of Kami-Nari is situated at Kashima.
Rain gods. Rain also had its special gods, such as the god Taka-Okami who lives on mountains,
and Kura-Okami who dwells in valleys and can cause snow as well as rain. Fujiwara-no-Kisaki, a
concubine of the Emperor Temmu, says in effect in her poems that she has offered prayers to the
god Kura-Okami so that he will send down snow-flakes on the Imperial palace (Manyoshu,
volume n, poem 19).
In the description of Izumo province, it is stated that to the west of mount Kaminabi the wife of
the god Aji-Suki-Taka-Hikone gave birth to the god Taki-Tsu-Hiko (Prince-cataract), and advised
him to build a temple there. The god is a rock, and if prayers are said to it during a drought it
The ceremonial of the Engi period (901—922) enumerates the ninety-five shrines to which in case
of drought the Emperor sent messengers to ask the gods for rain.
But Japanese fanners have forgotten the old gods, and when there is a drought they get up a
procession preceded by a Shintoist priest carrying the Gohei, the symbol of divinity. The priest is
followed by a peasant blowing in a conch, and then comes a dragon made of bamboo and plaited
straw. The procession is closed by peasants carrying banners on which are written prayers to bring
rain. The peasants follow in a crowd, beating drums and making a noise. The procession makes its
way to a lake or a river, where the image of the dragon is dipped in the water.
Gods of wind. The Wind gods appear at the beginning of the mythological narrative of Nihon
shoki. From the breath of the god Izanagi came the Wind god, Shina-Tsu-Hiko, and to blow away
the mist which covered the land the same god created the goddess, Shina-to-Be. This god and
goddess are also mentioned in an incantation, Norito, in which it is said that the Wind god fills the
void between heaven and earth, and bears up the earth. Besides these two chief deities, there is
another couple of Wind gods—the god Tatsuta-Hiko and the goddess Tatsuta-Hime. They are
named from Tatsuta, the place where their sanctuary is built. They are prayed to for good
harvests. Fishermen and sailors were among their fervent worshippers, and wore their amulets to
protect themselves against storms.
In one of the variants of the Nihon shoki it is said that the body of Ame-no-Wakahiko was brought
down to earth from the plain of heaven by the Whirlwind god, who is named Haya-ji or Haya-
Tsu-muji-no-Kami. Ryobu-Shinto (that is to say, the Japanese form of Buddhism which considered
that all the gods of the Japanese pantheon were merely local manifestations of Buddhist divinities)
has pictorially represented the Wind god in a terrible shape, carrying on his back a great bag from
which he released the wind. The Thunder god was depicted among drums.
Earthquake gods. Among the scourges of Nature, earthquakes could not fail to impress the
Japanese, but we find no mention of an Earthquake god. Not until the year 599 of our era, after an
earthquake which no doubt was particularly violent, was there instituted a cult of the Earthquake
god, Nai-no-Kami; and rather more than a century later several sanctuaries were dedicated to this
Mountain gods. In a volcanic country like Japan it was natural that the mountains should become
gods. The extinct volcano Fujiyama is the most revered, and the sanctuary of the goddess Sengen-
Sama is built on its peak. During the summer numbers of pilgrims climb the sacred mountain to
worship the rising sun. At one time women were forbidden to go to the top, because they were
then considered impure, but this restriction no longer exists. In addition to mount Fuji there are
many other sacred mountains with shrines dedicated to different gods. In Shinano province there
are Ontake-San and mount Nantai near lake Chuzenji; and in southern Japan, in Higo province,
there is mount Aso, etc. In Japanese mythology we find the name of a deity O-Yama-Tsu-Mi, chief
go'd and lord of mountains. He was born when Izanagi cut the Fire god into five pieces. The
second god was Naka-Yama-Tsu-Mi, that is, the god of mountain slopes. The third was Ha-Yama-
Tsu-Mi, the god of the lower
mountain slopes; the fourth, Masaka-Yama-Tsu-Mi, the god of the steep slope; and the fifth Shigi-
Yama-Tsu-Mi, the god of the mountain foot. In the Kojiki there are mentioned the god of
mountain slopes, Saka-no-Mi-Wo-no-Kami, and a couple of gods of mountain minerals, Kana-
Yama-Hiko and Kana-Yama-Hime
River gods. Rivers also had their gods called by the generic name Kawa-no-Kami (Kawa, river;
Kami, god; no, of) and well-known rivers each had in addition their own god, greatly venerated
on account of the frequent floods. In the year A.D. 22, the river Yamato was in flood and burst its
banks; in a dream the Emperor saw a god who told him that the River god demanded a sacrifice of
two men. A man was sacrificed and the banks repaired, while the second victim escaped by a
subterfuge. The considerable number of persons drowned in Japanese rivers gave birth to the
dwarf Kappa, who by his magic power draws people down into the water. The only way to avoid
his clutch is to bow low to him, then he bows and pours all the water there is from a hole in his
skull. Deprived of this water the Kappa can do no harm. There is also a god of river-mouths,
Springs and wells also have their gods. The god of wells is named Mii-no-Kami, he who causes
water to flow from the earth. In the Kojiki we read that Yakami, one of the wives of O-Kuni-Nushi,
gave birth to a son, and from fear of the chief wife hid the child in the fork of a tree, whence his
other name: Ki-no-Mata-No-Kami. When a new well is begun there is a special ceremony of
purification, and when the well is finished a little salt is thrown in as purification offering.
Sea gods. The sea has several gods. The greatest is O-Wata-Tsu-Mi, also known as the Old Man of
the Tide, Shio-Zuchi. When Izanagi washed off the impurities of Hell in the waters of the sea, he
made several gods—the god of the sea bottom, god of the middle waters, and god of the surface.
In the Engi epoch (901 — 922) the ceremonial mentions a shrine of the Sea god in Harima
province, and the shrine of another Sea god in Chikuzen province. Fish and all sea creatures are
ruled by the Sea god, and his messenger is the sea-monster which the ancient texts call Wani. We
have already noted that the god Hikohohodemi went to the bottom of the sea to look for his
brother's fish-hook, and lived in the palace of the Sea god who gave him the two jewels of the
tides. At the time of the spread of Ryobu-Shinto, the Sea god had a sanctuary at Sumiyoshi, but
became amalgamated with the Hindu god Varuna and thus developed into the very popular god,
Suitengu, a great protector of sailors, with t sanctuaries in almost all the big towns. On top of this
mingling of personalities was engrafted the child Emperor, Antoku, who with his nurse died at
sea during the battle of Dan-No-Ura. Thus grew up the belief that the god Suitengu, being a child
himself, protects and comforts sick children.
The Fire god. The Fire god caused his mother's death when coming into the world and was killed
by his father—on this occasion the god was called Kagu-Zuchi. In incantations he is always
evoked under his other name of Ho-Masubi, the causer of fire, and in Ryobu-Shinto he becomes
the god of mount Atago near Kyoto. He is supposed to be a protection against fire, so he is visited
by many pilgrims who bring back amulets bearing the figure of a wild boar. The Fire god was
greatly feared by the Japanese, for during L the season of high winds their wooden houses were
easily destroyed w by fires. Twice a year the priests carried out at the Imperial palace a ritual
intended to placate fire, and also to drive away all risk of ' burning from the Sovereign's dwelling.
During this complicated ceremony some of the priests lighted fires by different methods in the
four corners of the palace. Others read an incantation which related the myth of the god's birth,
and enumerated the four ways to control him—with the help of the water-goddess, the gourd,
river weed, and the clay-goddess, in accordance with the instructions given by Izanami. After that
the priests read a list of the offerings which must be given to the Fire god to persuade him to spare
His Majesty's palace.
The ritual customs of the shines demanded a pure fire which J the priests made either by the
friction of pieces of Hinoki wood I (this is the Kiri-Bi fire) or by striking a hard stone with steel,
which * gives Uchi-bi fire. The priests of Shinto use it in their houses, and | the Emperor's food is
prepared over it. On New Year's Day at [
Kyoto the faithful make their way to the Temple of Gion, and there receive from the priest's hands
the pure fire, which they take home carefully to light the fire of their own hearths, and thus
receive protection throughout the year. The matron overseers strike pure fire above the heads of
geishas and courtesans to give them magical protection when they go out to clients.
Gods of the Road. The ancient texts mention several Road gods. Chimata-No-Kami is the god of
crossroads and is mentioned in one of the norito. We must also note the god of innumerable roads,
Yachimata-hiko, with whom goes a goddess of innumerable roads, Yachimato-hime; the god-ofthe-
place-not-to-be-visited, Kunado; and also the-god-of-the-place-not-to-be-violated, Funado.
These gods are named also Sae-no-Kami, gods-who-ward-off (misfortunes), or the-ancestors-ofroads,
Dosojin. They protect mankind against the wicked gods of Hell. It is to be noted that they
have no sanctuaries, but twice a year ceremonies were celebrated in their honour at the entrance to
a town or at a cross-roads, offerings were made them, and the ritual texts were read. To protect
themselves against misfortunes and diseases which might be brought them by foreigners, the
ancient Japanese celebrated ceremonies to the honour of the Sae-no-Kami two days before the
arrival of an embassy. These protector gods are phallic gods, and their Shintai is a stick. When
they are represented in human form, in stone or wood, their sex is always clearly indicated. Some
Japanese scholars think the Road gods and the phallic gods were originally distinct, and only later
were blended. However that may be, these gods were very popular in ancient Shinto, and as lords
of procreation they were considered to be powerful protectors. In the Kogoshui we read that a
phallus was set up in the middle of a field to protect the rice from i locusts. In ancient times large
stone phalluses were often placed at cross-roads, but the Buddhist priests opposed this belief, and
replaced the ancient phallic emblems by wooden images of Mikado-Daimyojin (G. Kato, op. cit. p.
177). Then the Imperial government gave orders to take down the emblems of the cult and to
remove them to unfrequented places. But the cult persists in popular belief, and there are still
shrines where the god is venerated. The emblems are often to be found in the small domestic
altars in courtesans' houses. Near forked trees in the mountains, little chapels containing a phallus
are often found. Mr G. Kato has devoted a study of Japanese forms of phallic cult. (A Study of the
development of Religious Ideas among the Japanese People as illustrated by Japanese Phallicism.
Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol I, suppl. 1924).
Rustic gods. We have already said that the ancient Japanese conceived that all aspects and
phenomena of Nature were manifestations of different divinities. For this reason the Kojiki
mentions among the gods derived from Izanagi and Izanami, the Princess-of-Grass, Kaya-Nuhime,
who is the goddess of fields and meadows, and is named Nu-Zuchi. Other texts mention
gods of the tree trunks, Kuku-no-chi, and a god-who-protects-leaves, Hamori. In addition to the
generalised divinities, each species of tree has a special god— oaks, for instance, are protected by
Kashiwa-no-Kami. Large and beautiful trees are venerated, and often hung with a rope of plaited
straw from which hang little pieces of paper called Shime-nawa, telling the passer-by of the tree's
divine quality. In a hollow of the tree or in front of it there is made a tiny chapel where the faithful
leave offerings. The tree Sakaki (Cleyera japonica) is particularly venerated, because it was the tree
chosen by the gods on which to hang the mirror during the ceremony carried out to tempt the Sun
goddess from her cave. In all Shinto shrines there are plantations of sakaki, and branches of the
tree are laid before the altars. The big Japanese cedar called the tree of fire, Hinoki, is also
considered as sacred, and is therefore planted round sanctuaries. Mr G. Kato (op. cit., p. 21) says:
'It seems to me that, from Saka Shibutsu's Daijingu Sankeiki or Journal of Pilgrimages to the Ise
Shrines, we may infer that so late as the fourteenth century there existed at Ise a Nature-cult which
took the form of tree-worship. A cherry-tree called Sakura no miya was worshipped within the
precincts of the great Shrine at Ise.'
Gods of Stones and Rocks. Stones and Rocks are also objects of veneration in Shinto. There existed
an important god of rock, Oiwa Daimyojin, while in the Izushi Shrine stones are worshipped.
JAPANESE MYTHOLOGY — 417
We must not forget the stone which, according to the legend, the Empress Jingo (170—269 A.D.)
carried on her belly in order to delay the birth of her child, because she was in command of a
military expedition against Korea. This stone is now venerated, and is supposed to help women in
childbirth. In Hizen province, a sanctuary is dedicated to a similar stone and bears the name
Shrine-of-the-stone-helping-childbirth, Chinkai-Seki-no-Yashiro. Clay or earth, as matter, has a
goddess called Hani-Yasu-no-Kami.
The goddess of Food. In the ancient texts the goddess of food is given different names—Uke-
Mochi-No-Kami, she-who-possesses (Mochi), food (uke); Waka-Uke-Nome, the-young-womanwith-
food; and Toyo-Uke-Bime, the princess-of-rich-food, etc. In the Nihon shoki we learn that
Amaterasu sent her brother Tsuki-Yomi, the Food goddess. She invited him to a meal, and
produced rice and other dishes from her mouth to set out several tables. Tsuki-Yomi was annoyed
by such a meal, and killed the goddess Uke-Mochi. Amaterasu was angry at this murder, and
separated from her brother. Uke-Mochi-No-Kami is worshipped in the Geku Shrine, which after
that of the Sun goddess, is the most important of the Ise sanctuaries.
The Rice god. Inari, the Rice god, is closely related to the Food goddess, but his cult is far more
extended and he has shrines with many red Torii, perhaps in greater number than any sanctuaries
in Japan. In popular belief the god Inari is represented as a bearded old man sitting on a sack of
rice, flanked by two foxes, who are his messengers. The people confuse Inari with his messengers,
and worship the fox as the god of Rice. He is now considered as the god of Prosperity in all his
forms, and is especially worshipped by tradesmen. In old Japan he was known as the patron of the
smiths who forged swords.
Hearth gods. The hearth is protected by several deities. There are gods of the entrance and a
couple of Kitchen gods named Oki-Tsu-Hiko and Oki-Tsu-Hime. There is a special god for the
Imperial kitchen. The Emperor Keiko (A.D. 71 — 188) wished to reward the culinary talents of a
deceased Imperial Prince, so dedicated a shrine to him, and promoted him to the rank of tutelary
divinity of the Imperial kitchen (G. Kato, op. cit. p. 62). The god of the kitchen range, Kamado-no-
Kami, is a greatly venerated deity in all houses. in old Japan special festivals were dedicated to the
god of Pots, and all artisans who used pots in their occupation took part in them. During the
ceremony of good wishes for the Palace, known as Otono-no-hogai, the procession visited the
bathroom and the closets, where offerings were made of a few grains of rice and a few drops of
rice-wine. The god of Closets was respected and feared because, according to the Japanese, evil
gods always settle in unclean places, and from there afterwards send dangerous diseases.
Deified heroes. The pantheon of Shinto gods was always increasing. In addition to the
mythological gods, historical personages were and are considered as Kami, but this is not a very
ancient tendency. In the ninth century there is a mention of prayers addressed to a deceased
Emperor to ootain rain or avoid a misfortune. Towards the beginning of the tenth century we find
a written order to make offerings to the deceased sovereign as if he were a Kami. Among the
deified sovereigns we must put to one side those to whom shrines were erected in order to calm
their anger, or the desire for vengeance, which they might have felt from the suffering of their
lifetime. Such was the Emperor Junnin (750 — 764) who was banished to Awaji island and then
assassinated; such too Sutoku (1124—1141) who died in exile in Sanuki; Go-Toba (1184—1198),
Tsuchi-Mikado (1199-1210) and Juntoku (1211-1221) who were exiled to different places after the
defeat of their troops by the army of the military Government of Kama Kura; the Emperor Go-
Uaigo (1319 — 1338) who also tried to free himself from the control of the military Government of
Kama Kura. He was banished to the island of Chiburi, succeeded in escaping and in re-assuming
power, but had finally to abdicate after several years of hard struggle. And then there was the
child Emperor Antoku, already mentioned, who died in 1185 in the naval battle of Danno-ura.
The sovereigns Chuai and Ojm, as well as the Empress Jingo, were deified for their military
exploits. The last-named is venerated in the Shrine of Sumiyoshi for her expedition to Korea,
probably occurred about the fourth century of our era. The Emperor Chuai fought the rebel tribes
of Kyushu island, and died just before the expedition to Korea.
The Emperor Ojin, son of Chuai and Jingo, had a shrine at Usa, built in 712 by the Empress
Gemmyo (708 — 714), and he became the god of War under the popular name of Hachiman. In the
ninth century the Emperor Seiwa (died 876) built another shrine to him at Iwashimizu. The
Ryobu-Shinto doctrines introduced Buddhist elements into his cult, and added on to his name a
Buddhist epithet, Hachiman Daibosatsu. After the Imperial restoration of 1868 he once more
became a purely Shinto deity. His shrines are still numerous, and always thronged with the
pigeons who are his messengers. The Imperial government deified the legendary founder of the
dynasty, the Emperor Jimmu, as well as the great reforming Emperor Kammu (719—781) and put
up shrines to them. The Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912, and his wife, have been deified and
have a sanctuary.
Statesmen also have become gods, and shrines have been built to them. The Minister Fujiwara
Kamatari (614 — 669) has a shrine and receives offerings. Sugawara Michizane (845—903) is a
Minister who died in exile. After his death his spirit brought misfortune to those who had
calumniated him to the Emperor, and a small shrine was erected to him in 907, and a larger one in
947. He is considered as the protector of scholars, and the god of Calligraphy. He is called Tenjin,
and his shrines are numerous.
The great military dictator Oda Nobunaga (1534—1582) is venerated in a Shinto shrine, and so is
his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1530— 1598), leyasu (1524— 1616), founder of the house of
Tokugawa, which governed Japan for nearly three centuries, has sanctuaries where he is
worshipped under the name of Tosho-Dai-gongen. Other examples might be quoted.
There were even persons to whom shrines were erected in their lifetime, and who were venerated
as Kami before their death. Mr G. Kato has paid special attention to this question, and has devoted
to it a volume of over four hundred pages, Hompo Seishi no Kenkyu, with an appendix in
English: Shinto worship of living human gods in the religious history of Japan, 1932, Tokyo, as
well as several articles in the Transactions of the Meiji Japan Society. He mentions the case of
Honda Tadakazu (vol. XL, 1933), and that of Matsudaira Sadanobu (1758—1829) chief Minister of
the Tokugawa and man of letters (vol. XXXIII, 1930). We will limit ourselves to these two
BUDDHISM IN JAPAN
Japanese Buddhist sects. It is probable that about the fourth century of our era certain elements of
Buddhism (following the doctrines of the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle) entered Japan from China
by way of Korea. However, it has been agreed to accept the year 522 as the official date of the
introduction of Buddhism into Japan, since in that year the Korean kingdom of Paikche sent the
Emperor of Japan a gilded bronze statue of Buddha and some volumes of Buddhist Sutras. The
Emperor was not converted, but he allowed the great Soga family to adopt the new religion. After
violent conflicts between the Buddhists and the old nationalist families, the new religion was
proclaimed the religion of the state by the Prince Regent Shotoku in 592.
During the whole of the seventh and eighth centuries, in the course of the period called 'Nara'
from the name of the temporary capital, Buddhism developed rapidly in Japan. There were then
six main sects, the chief of which are the Sanron sect, the doctrine of the three books, founded by a
Korean monk in 625; the Hosso sect, of Indian origin, introduced to Japan in 653; the Kegon sect
introduced in 736 and based on the Avatamsaka sutra. The number of Buddhist divinities then
introduced into Japan was still limited.
Towards the end of the eighth century the Buddhist clergy became a formidable power. To escape
it the Emperor Kammu (783— 805) decided to transfer the capital from Nara to Heian-kyo or
Kyoto (794). It was the beginning of a new period, during which important religious reforms were
carried out. Towards the year 804 the monks Dengyo Daishi and then Kobo Daishi came back
from China, and taught the Tendai and Shingon doctrines. These
were in opposition to the ancient Nara sects, not only from their mystical and secret aspect and
from the pomp of their ceremonies, but also from their new doctrine of salvation made accessible
to all human beings. Moreover, these new sects introduced a very large number of Buddhist
divinities into Japan. Among these divinities the Dhyani Buddha, Vairocana, was the centre of a
spiritual world which was represented by the aid of a drawing or Mandala. The world of ideas
(Kongokai) must be distinguished from the world of forms (Taizokai). In each of these Mandalas
the centre of the composition is occupied by Vairocana.
To the monk Dobo Daishi is also attributed the creation of Ryobu-Shinto or Shinto with two faces,
whose doctrines unite the gods of Shinto with Buddhist divinities by identifying the one with the
other. Thus Amaterasu, the Sun goddess, became a temporal manifestation of Vairocana.
In the twelfth century new Buddhist sects were introduced into Japan, notably the Jodo-Shu (Pure
Land sect) which profoundly altered the preceding doctrines. Salvation for human beings is a
Paradise which to some extent takes the place of the notion of Nirvana. It is governed by Amida
Buddha. Corresponding to the existence of a Paradise there was a Hell, Jigoku, situated
In the thirteenth century the monk Shinran Shonin reformed the sect, which then became 'the True
Pure Land sect', Jodo-Shinshu. For the believers in this doctrine there was only one Buddha,
Amida. His image only is allowed in Shinshu Temples. At the same period the monk Nichiren
founded a sect based on the Sutra of the Lotus of Good Law, Saddharma pundarika sutra.
Limited by the space at our disposal and also by the impossibility of reviewing all the
innumerable figures of the Buddhist pantheon, we shall limit ourselves to the most important,
especially stressing the iconographic features which distinguish one from another.
BUDDHAS AND BODHISATTVAS
Amida. He is the most famous of the Dhyani Buddhas. He is especially favoured by the Shinshu
and Jodo-Shu sects. He is the great protector of mankind, he comforts all who call upon his name,
his Paradise in the West is open to all human beings. Standing with uncovered head in Indian
dress he calls heaven and earth to witness that he will not enter Nirvana until he has saved all
mankind. Many images represent him enthroned in the centre of the Sukhavati Paradise, or
appearing behind the mountains, Yamagoshi no Amida, or coloured red and with his legs crossed,
Kuharishiki no Amida. The esoteric sects recognise three Amidas—Muryoju (Amitayus), Muryoko
(Amitabha) and Kanroo (Amrita).
Ashuku Nyorai. The cult of this Buddha does not exist in Japan. Yet his form will be found in
Mandalas, either alone or joined with a group of divinities. He sits with crossed legs on a lotus. He
has no head-dress. His outstretched right hand has the fingers pointing to earth, and his left first is
Dainichi Nyorai. Dainichi Nyorai, Maha-Vairocana tathagata, is the essential divinity of the
Tendai, Shingon, and Kegon esoteric sects, and is the central figure of the Taizokai and Kongokai
Fugen Bosatsu. Fugen Bosatsu, Samantabhadra, is one of the most important Bodhisattvas. He
represents wisdom, intelligence, understanding. He sits at the end of the Path of the extinction of
errors. Thanks to his deep intuition and to his infinite kindness he understands the motives of all
human actions. The uniformity of his compassion corresponds to the constancy of his
contemplation. He is able to prolong human life. He is often depicted seated on a lotus supported
by one or more white elephants. He may have two or twenty arms.
Hosho Nyorai. Hosho Nyorai, Ratnasambhava. He is the thrid Tathagata of the Kongokai
Mandala. He looks after all treasures.
Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara, Kuan-yin). The cult of this Bodhisattva is one of the most
venerated in Japan. It was practised from the first introduction of Buddhism, and the Horyuji
monastery still preserves a beautiful bronze statue of Kannon dating from 651.
His mercy is infinite, he comes to the help of all men. All Buddhist sects without exception
worship him, and have put up innumerable sanctuaries to him. On the top of his head there is
always placed a little image of Amida, recalling that Kannon Bosatsu is one of the two companions
(disciple or manifestation, according to whether the sect is exoteric or esoteric) of this Buddha.
There are seven forms of Kannon which are said to be the most widespread in Japan:
Senju Kannon (Kannon with the thousand arms or Sahasrabhuja sahasranetra) is figured in the
centre of a vast halo formed out of a thousand hands, and in the palm of each is a human eye
which symbolises his ever-vigilant compassion. Forty arms are attached to his body, and each
holds an attribute or makes a mudra. Sometimes the centre head of this divinity is surmounted by
twenty seven heads.
Nyo-i-rin Kannon (Cintamaricakra) usually has six arms, and each of the hands protects one of the
six conditions. One holds a cintamani, the symbol of the satisfaction of vows; one a rosary, one a
lotus or a wheel, the two others support his chin and rest on the lotus where the divinity is seated.
Ju-ichimen Kannon (Ekadasamukha) has eleven heads which the different sects group according
to different combinations. 'Following the instructions of the Sutras, three faces—those in the centre
and those in front—should have the expression of a Bodhisattva; the three faces to the left, an
angry expression; and the three faces to the right should have the expression of a Bodhisattva but
the canine teeth should project from the mouth. The face situated behind the head of the
Bodhisattva laughs. The face at the top is either that of a Buddha or of a Nyorai and each of these
heads carries the image of Amida on its diadem.'
Sho Kannon (Avalokitesvara). The All-Merciful comes to the aid of those who implore him. The
Taizokai Mandala, which groups deities in the order of their power and the intentions they
incarnate, places him to the right of Dainichi.
Bato Kannon (Hayagriva, the horse-headed Kannon). He is a manifestation of Amida. He has no
crown. A horse's head placed on his hair recalls the charger of Cakravartiraja, which galloped
tirelessly to the four points of the compass. He symbolises the Bod-hisattva's universal activity in
assisting the unfortunate and fighting demons. He protects the souls which destiny brings to the
state of animals. His terrible face has a third eye and fangs. He sits on a lotus, and his hands form
a mudra at the height of his breast.
Jundei Kannon (Sunde) uses his infinite virtues for the salvation of mankind. He has three eyes
and eighteen arms. He is less often represented than the other forms of Kannon.
Fuku-kensaku Kannon (Amoghapasa) is a divinity of the Taizokai, World of Forms.
Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya). The future Buddha. He dwells in the Tushita heaven and will come
down on earth five thousand six hundred and seventy million years after the entry of Buddha into
Nirvana. He revealed to Asanga the secret doctrines of the Maha-yana, which explains his
popularity among the esoteric sects. Ancient sculpture represents him sitting down, with his left
foot on the ground, his right foot on his left knee, his right elbow on his right knee, and his left
hand on his right ankle. His head is slightly bent, his right hand supports his chin, and there is a
little Stupa on his crown. But sometimes he is to be met with having his legs crossed or standing
on a lotus.
Among the ten names of Buddha is the name Nyorai, (Tathagata). This term corresponds with one
of the forms under which Buddha manifests himself for the salvation of mankind.
Myoo. A great Myoo corresponds to each of the five great Buddhas. Dainichi (Mahavairocana),
Ashuku (Akshobhya), Hosho (Rat- ] nasambhava), Mida (Amithabha) and Fuku
(Amonghavajra). ' These are terrible manifestations of the Buddhas, and are those ] who carry out
[onju Bosatsu, the Japanese form of the Buddhist god of wisdom and n), Jikoku Ten, who watches
over the region of the east.
Dai-itoku-Myoo (Yamantaka) is the terrible manifestation of Amida, and lives in the region of the
West. More powerful than the dragon, he does battle with evils and poisons. He is surrounded
with flames and sits on a white ox or a rock. He has six heads with terrible faces, and also six arms
and six legs. He conquered Emma-hoo, the king of Hell, whence his second name, Goemmason.
Fudo-Myoo (Arya acalanatha). The most important of the five great Myoo, one of the
manifestations of Dainichi nyorai (Vairo-cana). He is surrounded by flames, the symbols of his
virtues. His ferocious face is half hidden by his long hair. With his sword, which is the symbol of
wisdom and mercy, he battles with the three poisons
— avarice, anger and folly. He binds with his rope those who oppose the Buddha.
Gozanze-Myoo. He is the terrible manifestation of Ashuku, and lives in the region of the East.
Each of his four faces bears a ferocious expression and has a third eye in the forehead. His eight
hands hold different attributes. His left foot treads on Jizaiten (Mahesvara). His right foot presses
the hand of Umahi (Uma), Jizaiten's wife.
Gundari-Myoo is the terrible manifestation of Hosho. He is represented standing on a lotus. His
terrible face has three eyes, and fangs protrude from his mouth. A human skull is placed on his
hair, and his red body has eight arms. Snakes are coiled round his wrists and ankles. This divinity
is also called Nampo Gundari Yasha, because he lives to the south of mount Sumeru, and also
Kanro (Amrita), because he gives heavenly nectar to poor human beings.
Kongo-yasha-Myoo (Vajrayaksha) is the terrible manifestation of Fuku. He protects the region of
the North. He is surrounded by flames, poses on two lotus flowers, and lifts his left leg. He may
have three heads and six arms, or one head and four arms. The front face has five eyes.
Kujaku-Myoo does not belong to the series of five Great Myoo. His looks are not terrible, and he is
represented with the features of a Bodhisattva. He is always seated on a peacock. The esoteric
sects consider him a manifestation of Sakyamuni. He gives pro-protection against calamities, and
is particularly resorted to for
•rain during periods of droughts.
Aizen-Myoo is a divinity who, under his terrible appearance, is full of compassion for mankind.
His ferocious face with three eyes is topped by a lion's head with a bristling mane surmounted by
a Vajra (thunder-bolt) which calms evil passions and guilty desires. He has six arms holding
different attributes. In the secret Shingon sect Aizen-Myoo is in the centre of a Mandala.
Jizo Bosatsu (Kshitigarbha). The cult of this Bodhisattva, very little spread in India, had much
popularity in central Asia, China, and especially Japan from the twelfth century. He is the great
protector of all suffering humanity. Many sanctuaries are dedicated to him. His image has
inspired sculptors and painters with masterpieces, and yet may be seen roughly carved alongside
the roads of Japan. His considerable power is exercised in very different cases, whence the large
number of different aspects in which he appears, fhere are six Jizo protectors of the six Paths or
good and bad conditions which souls must undergo after judgment: that of Hell, that of the
starving Demons, that of the world of animals, that of the demon Asuras, that of Men, that of the
Devas. There are many tales displaying his infinite kindness —he saves the life of the warrior
foshihira, he averts fires, facilitates childbirth etc. One of the main devotions offered to him is as
the pitying protector of children.
In the seventeenth century his power was increased and with it his popularity- he is able to
redeem sinful souls from Hell and to bring them to Paradise. His most usual appearance is that of
a Buddhist monk, seated or standing, holding a crozier (Khakkhara) in his right hand, and a
precious pearl in the left. There is often a halo round his head.
f he Jizo of the victorious army (Shogun Jizo) was associated with the divinity of mount Atago
when Ryobu-Shinto was formed. In this particular form he has the appearance of a Chinese soldier
on horseback, holding the crozier in one hand and the pearl in the other.
JAPANESE MYTHOLOGY — 421
Kozuko Bosatsu. He lives in the koju world. The many images of him preserved in the Temples
show him seated with crossed legs on a lotus supported by a lion.
Monju Bosatsu (Manjusri) was extremely popular in the ninth century and personifies intelligence,
compassion, and contemplation. He is often associated with Fugen Bosatsu in the Shaka Nyorai
trinity. This Bodhisattva is always accompanied by a lion. He is generally seated, holds in his
hands the sword of intelligence which cuts thedarkness of ignorance, and a book.
Yakushi Nyorai. Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaishajyaguru) is a divinity very popular in Japan from the
eighth century, sometimes identified with Ashuku Nyorai or with Dainichi Nyorai. He is the
divine healer who stops epidemics, whose knowledge can overcome every disease. He is usually
represented under the aspect of a Buddha holding in his hand a little flask containing medicines.
Sometimes he is accompanied by two other deities, the Bodhisattvas, Gakko, image of the Moon,
and Nikko, image of the Sun.
HELL AND DEMONS
Emma-hoo (Yama-raja). Hell, Jigoku, is underground. It is made up of eight regions of fire and
eight of ice. There are also subsidiary hells. The ruler of this infernal world is Emma-hoo (Yamaraja)
who is also the supreme judge of Hell. Under his orders are eighteen generals and eighty
thousand men. He is represented in the dress of a Chinese judge wearing a cap inscribed with the
name Emma. The expression of his face is ferocious.
Emma-hoo only judges men, and leaves the task of deciding the fate of women to his sister. The
sinner is taken before this formidable judge, who sits between the decapitated heads of Miru-me
and Kagu-hana, from whom nothing can be hidden. All his past sins are reflected into the sinner's
eyes by a huge mirror. His sins are weighed, and then Emma-hoo gives judgment. The sinner
must stay in such-and-such a region of Hell according to the extent of his sins, unless his soul is
saved by the prayers of the living. In this case a Bodhisattva rescues him from torture, and the
sinner is reborn either on earth or in a Paradise.
Oni (devil-demons). The idea of ill-omened forces was introduced into Japan relatively late. Indian
ideas and the Chinese doctrines of Yang and Yin were altered there and ended up in the creation
of demons, Oni, and the birth of a new iconography. The Oni of Hell are distinguished from the
Oni on earth. The former have red or green bodies, with the heads of oxen or horses. Their
occupation consists in hunting for the sinner and taking him in a chariot of fire to Emma-hoo, god
of Hell. The gaki demons are eternally tormented by thirst or hunger, and their bellies are
enormous. The latter are maleficent demons who can assume the shape of a living being or of an
inanimate object. There are invisible demons, but their presence may be detected because they
sing, whistle, or talk. In the ninth century it was believed that very virtuous people only might
sometimes witness their processions, invisible to all other mortals. They have the power to seize
on a dead man's soul, and to appear to his relatives in his form.
We must also mention the Oni who are responsible for diseases and epidemics (they are dressed
in red) and the Oni who are women changed into demons under the stress of jealousy or violent
grief. Although they are maleficent spirits, the Oni in general are not very dangerous, and they
may even be converted to Buddhism.
Nio. The name of Nio is given to the two protectors of Buddhism who correspond to Vajrapani.
Eukaotsu and Soko are placed on either side of the entry to Shrines.
Ida-ten, the Chinese Wei-t'o. Although of subsidiary importance this deity became very popular in
China and still more in Japan from the seventh century onward. He guards the law, and watches
over the discipline of monasteries and the good conduct of the monks. Ida-ten (General Wei)
appeared in a dream to the Chinese monk Tao Hsuan (596 — 667). 'He is the first of the thirty-four
generals of the four devaraja, placed directly under the orders of Him of the
A'false face' mask of painted wood with human hair. These masks were worn by the Iroquois
tribes of the east during rituals which celebrated the spirits of nature and drove away harmful
ones. The occasions were primarily religious but there was a great deal of horseplay and some of
the masks had a i distinctly humorous aspect. British Museum.
South, Virudhaka, the protector of Buddhism and especially of mohks and monasteries in the
three regions of the South, the East, and the West gifted with absolute purity and free from all
passion.' In Japan the familiar expression 'running like Ida-ten', which means to run very fast, is
derived from the following legend. When Buddha was dead but before they had closed the gold
coffin, a demon named Sokushikki stole one of the sacred teeth and made off with it. The
disciples, thunderstruck with surprise, were unable to stop him, and with one leap he went forty
thousand yojana. Ida-ten alone pursued him, and regained the precious relic. In statues he is
represented as a young man in the dress of a Chinese general, with his two hands resting on a
weapon or holding it across his arms.
Buddha's disciples. Among the sixteen Rakan (Arhat) or disciples of Buddha we shall mention
only Binzuru, the first among them. He aids human beings, and soothes the sick. However,
entrance to Nirvana was refused him by Buddha because in his youth he broke the vow of
chastity. He dwelt on mount Marishi. He is represented usually as an extremely old man with
pure white hair and thick eyebrows.
Atago-Gongen. Atago-Gongen was a deity of Ryobu-Shinto who emigrated from the sanctuary of
mount Atago at the beginning of the Meiji epoch, when the government expelled the Buddhist
divinities from the Shinto sanctuaries. There he was confused with a deity of Thunder and Fire. In
the eighth century the bronze Keishun built on top of mount Atago a Buddhist shrine consecrated
to the Jizo of the victorious army. The iconography of Atago-Gongen was influenced by this
proximity. The deity took on the appearance of a Chinese cavalry soldier carrying the emblems of
Jizo, the precious pearl and the crozier. Today the mount Atago sanctuary is a Shinto shrine where
a Fire god is worshipped.
Nijuhachi Bushu is the general name for the twenty-eight deities symbolising the constellations.
They are sometimes considered as servants of Kannon.
Marishi-ten. Marici-deva is an all-powerful deva. He precedes the Sun. He is invisible, but the
Japanese represent him in the costume of a Chinese lady, to indicate his Continental origin. He
protects soldiers, and averts the danger of fires.
Shitenno. The Shitenno are four kings, heavenly guards, Lokapala. They are five hundred years
old and live in the slopes of mount Sumeru, on the top of which dwells Taishaku-ten, whose
vassals they are. They wear a ferocious expression, are dressed as Chinese
soldiers, and trample on demons. They may be distinguished by their attributes. Jikoku
(Dhritarashtra) protects the region of the East, he holds a sword and a little ossuary. Zocho
(Virudhaka) protects the region of the South, he fights evil and does good, and holds a sword and
shield. Komoku (Virupaksha) protects the region of the West, he holds a paint-brush or a spear in
his hand, while the other hand is on his hip or holds the sheath of his sword. Tamon (Vaisramana)
or Bishamon holds a sceptre and a little ossuary shaped like a pagoda. He protects the region of
Kishimojin (Hariti) is a female divinity dwelling in China. At first she was a demon-woman who
devoured children, but, after her conversion by Buddha, became their protector and also of
women in childbirth. Mothers implore her to heal their sick children. The Shingon sect who
brought her into Japan have kept her original name, Kariteimo. Many shrines were consecrated to
her by the Nichiren sect. She is represented either standing with a baby to her breast and holding
the flower of happiness, or sitting down in the Western fashion, surrounded with children.
Kompira (Kuvera) is a popular deity in Japan, the protector of sailors and bringer of prosperity. A
large shrine is consecrated to him in the village of Kotohira on Shikoku island. The numerous
pilgrims there receive a little slab of wood as an amulet, with the Chinese character for 'gold'
engraved in a circle. The sailors of the Inland Sea had a special devotion to him in the Tokugawa
period. To calm a storm the sailor cut his hair and threw it into the sea while uttering the name of
the deity. He appears in the shape of a fat man sitting down cross-legged. In one hand he holds a
Shichi Fukujin. The seven gods of happiness have different origins.
Ebisu and Daikoku are probably Shinto Kami. These gods wear Japanese clothes, and the lobes of
their ears are swollen. Ebisu, the patron of work, holds a line in his hands and a big fish on a
string. Daikoku, god of prosperity, holds the hammer of wealth and a big sack on his back, while
he stands on two sacks of rice.
Benzaiten and Bishamonten are of Hindu origin. The first is the deity of love. She rides a dragon
and plays the biwa, and her messenger is the snake. The second is the god of happiness and war.
He is represented as a soldier holding a little pagoda and a lance.
The three other gods are of Chinese origin. Fukurokuju is the god of wisdom and long life, with a
very high skull. He is accompanied by a stork. Jurojin, god of happiness and long life, leans on a
long staff and is accompanied by a stag. Hotei Osho is a Buddhist priest • with a fat stomach and a
bald head, while the lobes of his ears are swollen. He holds a hand-screen and a large sack. He has
been popularised in Europe under the name of Pusa.