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A Contemporary Myth of Amaterasu in Lieu of Lugh and Campbell’s Cave””

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    I find it so much fun looking for the patterns of the older/ancient myths in new myths created in contemporary culture. Sometimes, some of the older myths shout out to me in such a way that I feel like writing about them. I am posting this short essay I wrote several years back that I once posted/published on an old blog of mine–that blog is no longer published online, but I saved it in my files so here it is. Campbell stated, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” In this case, it is not only the cave you enter but also the cave you fear to exit–when one goes into the cave at times for (self-)exploration/hibernation or even escape and then is so far in that one is afraid to come back out. The first line below is the title of my blog post. I wrote it in August–it is not August at this time I post this here, but I am so happy it is summer and warm again here up north –it warms my bones and my spirit! I did not keep the link in blue with the underline–I am not sure why the video actually posted here, but I meant it to be cut and paste.

    Myths of Lugh and Amaterasu: August Strength, “August Shine!”

    With August upon us, I would like to take time to pay tribute to two of my favorite mythic deities: Lugh the Irish-Celtic sun god and Amaterasu the Japanese sun goddess; Lugh was celebrated at the beginning of August on what was (and by some still is) called Lughnasadh, the pagan celebration of the summer harvest, and Amaterasu was known for her “august shine” in the original meaning of ‘august’ as strength and vitality. Lugh was also known as Lleu in Wales and as Lugos in France.

    Lugh was a fierce warrior known as Lamfhada (“of the long arm”) (Cotterell and Storm, 2009, p. 145) and had a magic slingshot. He was sometimes called “Lugh the Long Arm” and was known for many other skills such as in arts and crafts.  It is not unusual for warriors of strength to be worshiped as deities of the sun, as the sun gives strength and vitality, and in the ancient world the protection of the light of day and what can be seen (perception) was contrasted with the darkness of night which could bring potential, unseen dangers; in this case it seems too that the long arm reaches out like a long ray of the sun. Also, when Lugh struck the fatal blow to Balor (his father) with the slingshot, he went into a “beserk” (as in the “beserkers”) battle frenzy (Cotterell and Storm, 2009, p. 145), in a circular motion as if on one foot–like the Fomorii who were often said to have either a single leg, a single eye, or a single hand. This could be thought to depict the eye of the daytime sun, seeing in all directions, as the rays (arms or legs) extend outward from its center; the legs show the path of the sun’s travels and the arms and long-hand shows light, warmth reaching out to make all things grow, and in August we have the rich summer harvest.

    Most deities of the sun are male, but the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu is an exception. Here in this culture (there are a few others of other cultures), the light, warmth, and strength of the sun can be recognized as feminine qualities.

    Amaterasu’s full name is “Amaterasu-O-Mi-Kami” which means “August Person Who Makes the Heavens Shine” (Cotterell and Storm, 2009, p. 424). She was born as the sun goddess out of the left eye of “the male half of the primal couple” (Cotterell and Storm, 2009, p. 424) while her brother, the moon god Tsukiyomi was born from his right eye. While together they reflect the day and nighttime light to see by, it is more common in more cultural mythologies for the worldly sun to be male and the worldly moon to be female rather than this reversal.

    In one tale, Amaterasu’s other brother Susano-Wo, who was the storm god born of the primal male deity’s nose, jealous of her power of domain over the high plains of the heavens and losing a battle to her he contested in order to win her high reign, drops a young pony he had skinned through the roof of her weaving room where her attendants are weaving fabric (such as the clothing of the gods and the fabric of the universe). With this terrible commotion, one of the maidens died of fright and Amaterasu fills with rage and flees in terror. When she hid in a cave, the world became void of light; all was steeped in darkness. Evil gods were happy at this as it enabled them to do wickedness upon the earth, more easily unseen. Good deities beg Amaterasu to come out, but she refuses; so they find a cock to awaken her at dawn and there outside the cave they also hang a mirror decorated with jewels and ask one of the goddesses to dance on an “upturned tub” (Cotterell and Storm, 2009, p. 425). Between the cock crowing and the drumming sound of the dancer’s feet upon the tub, the dancing goddess gets so entranced in the sound and the movement that she dances herself into a frenzy and removes her clothes, then all the other deities begin to laugh. Amaterasu becomes curious and emerges; in doing so, she sees her reflection in the mirror. Her own beauty reflected back at her lures her out, and then light returns to the world. I have read some versions of this myth that depict the mirror to be decorated as a many-petaled flower such as a daisy representing the rays of the sun–the growth of the flowers at the will and warmth of the sun mirror the sun’s likeness.

    This is a beautiful metaphor for the light and beauty in each person, and the importance of self-love. It is often when we lose touch with our own gifts, our own “august shine” that we hide ourselves in a proverbial cave, unable to feel our own warmth for life.

    A modern myth that reminds me of Amaterasu’s tale is from the movie Across the Universe, a film set to the music of the Beatles that tells new stories about the songs, when Prudence is depressed and hides out to sulk in the closet and her friends try to lure her out to “greet the brand new day,” highlighting the Beatle’s song “Dear Prudence” (first retrieved on a different link than below on August 8, 2015):

    Facing the brand new day is significant to the metaphor of dawn, and in Amaterasu’s tale of facing herself in a new light, it is the dawn goddess Ame-No-Uzume, also called Uzume, who urges the sun-in high-noon-strength aspect, named Amaterasu, out of her cave. This tale then too can depict the sun’s travels from night into day at dawn each day, the sun coming out of the cavern of the night sky. Every day can be seen as a new opportunity for light, for renewed recognition of the beauty of the earth, and our lives within this world.

    We can wonder about what treasures she might have found within herself during her time in the “cave”–we do realize her time in the cave did bring about a new appreciation of herself as her friends appreciate her. Sometimes we see our reflections in each other.

    After the bleakest midnight comes the dawn and from dawn we reach the high point of the sun at noon–in its daily travels; in its yearly travels, the sun is at the height of its strength during the summertime and the hazy crazy days of August. May you enjoy the August shine!

    “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”

    –Joseph Campbell


    I really appreciate your detailed recounting of Amaterasu’s primary myth. Campbell believes her story pre-dates the Bronze Age. Here are some of his thoughts on the subject, excerpted from an interview with Cate Miodini from 1986 in Anima: An Experiential Journal:

    The earlier tradition, so far as my findings go, is the one where the sun is feminine and the moon masculine. The moon is the image of the sacrifice that dies and is resurrected. The moon dies in the light of the sun, and is again born from the light of the sun. And so the sun is the mother of the moon.

    That makes the sun feminine. The fire of the sun and the fire of the womb that converts seed into life are equivalent. Also the fire on the sacrificial altar consumes the victim. These are all associated with a mythic consciousness that dates at least from the early bronze age. Here there is a deep sense of the melancholy and tragic quality in life, since the moon, the symbol of life’s death and resurrection, carries its own shadow within itself, as we all do.⁠

    You can see something of the influence of myth on language when you consider the Indo-European family of languages. Here nouns have genders, but it’s strange how these change. In German they have a masculine moon and a feminine sun: der Mond, die Sonne. This accords with a myth that extends all the way from the River Rhine to the China Sea, where in Japan the goddess Amaterasu is the sun, her brother being the moon god. Then there’s a myth about the moon brother and sun sister that is known to practically all the circumpolar peoples of the North⁠.



    Hi Stephen,

    Thank you, and you are welcome–I am glad you enjoyed my retelling. I love seeing archetypes in the old myths in new myths, their patterns. Thank you for sharing more about sun-goddesses and Amaterasu.

    Mary Ann


      For what it is worth, but this sacrifical and resurrected moon, and the gracious all enlightning sun, bring-st-er of all life, does remind me of Frazers Diana cult at Nemi, a good story told but with serious lack of true proof. (Diana is the immortal goddess, her mortal priest is replacable) Yet, the idea, given Stephen’s lingual sidestep, hints maybe to a more original myth-form, cleansed from cardinal (boreal-oriental-austral-occidental) interpretations, leaping way back to times completely forgotten. Reading now copious amounts of Sumer stories, and there appears no difference in female-male powers, duties and worship. On the brink of stone and bronse, tracks invisible. I’m married with an ‘Amaterasu’, sans the ama.

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