Last week, we walked the Labyrinth For the Earth. There is a lovely Japanese myth that celebrates the earth and what comes from it. It links earth and sky together. This is a re-writing of the sketch of the story we read together. It can be found in Sansom’s Japan: A short cultural History.
The Myth of Ameratsu, the Sun Goddess. Japan.
The Goddess Ameratsu was the Shining One. She circled the sky each day bringing light and warmth and nourishment for the crops. In her light, fish swarmed in the waters of the inland sea, great trees covered the mountains and the people were happy and prosperous.
But all was not well among the gods. Ameratsu’s brothers were a troublesome lot, fighting and feuding the length of the land. They refused to listen to her pleas for peace and were particularly rude in the way they replied to her.
Offended, Ameratsu decided to take herself away from the ceaseless din of warfare. She retired into a cave, deep in the earth and stayed there, refusing the other gods’ requests to come back to her place in the heavens. Earth and the heavens grew dark and cold. All life was affected. The crops failed and the fish disappeared into the depths of the sea. The plentiful streams that tumbled from the mountains, froze. People cried to the gods for assistance but to no avail.
At last, the gods made a plan. They assembled outside Ameratsu’s cave. They covered the trees in jewels and lit a great fire that gave light and warmth. Then they joined hands and began to dance. One of the goddesses danced so wildly (and a bit disgracefully) that everyone began to laugh.
Deep in her cave, Ameratsu heard the laughter. She was curious and crept to the mouth of the cave. One of the gods was waiting there at the entrance and, as she peeped out, held up a huge mirror in front of her. Ameratsu saw her own shining beauty (which she had forgotten about in the darkness of the earth). When the mirror drew away, she followed. As she emerged, the earth and heavens were filled once more with her light, gradually at first, like the first dawn, then growing stronger as the Sun at midday. The gods and goddesses celebrated her return; the brothers vowed that they would fight no more and the whole land and the people were at peace.
This week some of us celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first followers of Jesus. The symbols of the feast always show a descent of fire from above. In an extraordinary way the disciples were drawn from their fear-filled hiding place in the upper room, out into the streets where they must have sounded like the fiery prophetic voices of the past. Just as Ameratsu gained courage to emerge from the darkness by seeing her own light reflected back to her
Perhaps one way to think of the Holy Spirit is as a great mirror held up to each of us so that we too can know the hidden light we all hold within ourselves.