Susanoo and the Yamata Orochi

I took a couple of days off from writing because I just wasn’t feeling it, but need to write something before I sleep to get my mind back in the game. Not knowing anything to write, though, I’m just going to share another story.

This one comes from Japanese myth, and should prove a little more upbeat and weird than the rather sad tale of Inana and Dumuzi.

Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the Shinto god of the sea and storms had a sister named Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. Theirs was like any sibling rivalry; always trying to one up eachother or get the best of one another.

After one of their many contests Susanoo, in a fit of rage, destroyed Amaterasu’s rice fields and loom, causing his sister so much grief that she went into a cave to hide for a time and caused the sun itself to stop rising. Though Amaterasu was eventually coaxed back out again, Susanoo was banished from Heaven for his misdeeds.

When he arrived on earth, the storm god came across an elderly couple living in fear of a terrible serpent called the Yamata Orochi. The couple told him that of their eight daughters seven had been eaten by the eight-headed snake and the day appointed for the eigth daughter’s demise was soon at hand.

Moved by their plight, the great storm god promised that he would save them the loss of another child and concocted a plan to defeat the monster once and for all. He had the couple brew up eight large tubs of eight-fold sake and placed them in eight cabinets he laid out in the serpent’s path.

When Yamata Orochi appeared with a body so long it stretched across eight hills and eight valleys and so massive entire forests grew on its back the great serpent came upon the sake and each of its eight heads drank a tub to itself. The heads became drunk and fell asleep.

Then Susanoo drew his ten-span sword and went to the grisly busines of hacking the Yamata Orochi into pieces. He worked his way through the heads and down the length of the body all the way to the eight-forked tail and when he reached the end he discovered a sword lodged in one of the tails. The storm god drew out the blade and named it Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi: The Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven.

The storm god then took that blade back to Heaven and made it a reconciliation gift to his sister Amaterasu, and thus earned her forgiveness. Many years later, the sun goddess bequeathed that blade to her descendent, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, along with a mirror and a jewel that would signify that whoever held them all was the true and rightful Emperor of Japan.

In the reign of the twelfth Emperor, Keiko, the Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven was gifted to the legendary hero Yamato Takeru by his aunt who was a shrine maiden where the sword was kept.

One day Yamato Takeru was lured into battle in an open field by a fierce warlord who set the field ablaze in effort to trap the hero and burn him to death after slaying Takeru’s horse. Frantic to save himself and quell the spreading fire, the great hero drew Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi and began to hack away at the grass to keep it from burning him up. In doing so, however, Takeru discovered that the blade held the power to control the winds themselves and with the help of a second gift from his aunt – a pair of fire strikers – enlarged the blaze and used the wind to drive it back the other way. Obviously, the warlord and his men were burnt to a crisp.

Pleased with his discovery of the magic powers of the sword, Yamato Takeru decided to commemorate his victory by renaming the magic weapon Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi: The Grasscutter Sword.

Eventually, Yamato Takeru fell in battle to a monster after leaving the sword behind against his wife’s warnings, and the Kusanagi was retrieved along with the rest of his possessions and taken to the Atsuta Shrine, where legend says they reside today. The Grasscutter Sword has not actually been seen since, save on special occasions when it is kept from view by a veil during the ceremony to appoint a new Emperor, and lives on to this day as one of the three symbols of the Imperial Regalia.

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