Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mythology Talk: Wrecking Ball God

Question: Can you talk about Takemikazuchi? He seems like an interesting deity...

He is! (Realistically, most deities are interesting. That's one of the reasons we're all in this game. But let's talk about this one today!)

Takemikazuchi-no-Kami translates to Brave-Awful-Possessing Deity, because he is all of those things (brave, awful, and possessing lots of stuff); he also appears as Kashima-no-Kami (Deity of Kashima, where a major shrine to him is located), Takefutsu-no-Kami (Brave Snapping Deity), and Toyofutsu-no-Kami (Luxuriant-Snapping-Deity). He's also referred to in translation as Ikazuchi-no-Kami (Thundering Deity), although it's hard to tell if that's a literal translation, a misunderstanding of the kanji, or an intentional pun where the name was meant to be read more than one way. (Translation: the discipline where no matter how right you are, you're also always wrong.)

These are all active, serious business adjectives in this guy's name, so you know he was out there Doing Stuff.

Takemikazuchi is one of the gods created when Izanagi beheaded Kagutsuchi, the fire god, whose birth had killed his mother and Izanagi's wife, Izanami; he sprang fully formed from the blood that gushed from the wound along with several other deities, ready to get on with affecting the heavenly landscape. Once the gods have decided that the earth, newly discovered/created and full of stuff, needs to be conquered by them, they decide that Takemikazuchi is the man for the job and send him down there to claim the area for them (hilariously, his "father", Izanagi's sword, recommends him for this job, so he gets volunteered by an inanimate object and everyone nods sagely and off he goes). He descends to earth and decides to impress the locals by embedding his sword hilt-first in an ocean-wave, and then sitting happily on its very point in order to start these negotiations.

Okuninushi, the god in charge on earth at the moment (and an illegitimate son of Susano-o-no-Mikoto, one of the heavenly deities), arrives to negotiate and declares that his children, the lesser gods, get to make this decision; one of them agrees to let the heavenly deities be in charge, but the other, Takeminakata, refuses to submit unless Takemikazuchi can prove the heavenly gods are superior by beating him in a physical contest. They participate in the very first recorded sumo wrestling match, with Takemikazuchi barely triumphing after his opponent's arms turn into icicles and then swords when he grabs them, before he is able to exert his divine strength and crush them. Having won the day, he claims the earth for the heavenly deities and then heads home, and the earthly deities retire to their individual shrines to maintain much smaller areas of influence in the future. Later, when Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan who was descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu, begins to conquer his territories, Takemikazuchi refuses to come down to answer his prayer, but he does send down his famous balancing-in-the-ocean sword, which independently vanquishes Jimmu's enemies and, not coincidentally, prevents Takemikazuchi from having to come down himself and leave his cushy heavenly palace.

These are the only specific stories in the official written mythology records of Japan, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, but there are lots of other popular myths about Takemikazuchi, as well. In his guise as Kashima, he is also considered the subduer of the great catfish Namazu, a creature the size of the entire chain of islands whose thrashing underneath them causes earthquakes; if he were not vigilantly on hand to pin the fish down with enormous stones and sometimes bang it in the head a little bit, its struggles to get out from under the islands would destroy the entire country, and even the earthquakes that happen from time to time now are enormously lessened by his efforts to keep the fish pinned. He's also considered a thunder deity, probably because his name lends itself to that reading, although he usually isn't considered the preeminent one with Susano-o and Raijin running around being more prominent.

Takemikazuchi also has some notoriety as a patron of martial arts, especially sumo and aikido, and he often has small shrines in dojos and training studios and receives especial notice when athletic competitions and exhibitions are going on. Given that he won the earth for the heavenly gods through the invention of a sport and the use of unarmed martial fighting techniques, his association with the disciplines certainly makes sense!

Like many of the other Japanese heavenly deities, he isn't particularly "active" in the sense of having ongoing and colorful tales; he has a job to do and he does it, and he established his importance early on in the Kojiki tales and has been comfortably considered a major god ever since. Artwork of him isn't as common as it might be of deities like Amaterasu or Inari, but he's still out there, fighting the good fish-nemesis fight.


  1. Well, Unknown got lucky last time, so I'm going to risk repeating the question :) Off the top of your head, what would the potential future Japanese Devotionals entail?

    1. I assume you mean the Shinto one, since Japanese Buddhist deities and other native pantheons, like the Ainu gods, might not share their same powers! ;)

      As I said, I'd need to do more research and since Japan is not yet on the radar, alas, it won't be today. But I would think the Divinity track would probably have something to so with the obligation of a kami to its area, item, or people that it acts as guardian to, and possibly with the distinction between amatsukami (heavenly deities) and kunitsukami (earthly deities), possibly with a connection to the fact that mortal people, animals, and items can and do become divinities under the right circumstances; Ritual would probably have to do with offerings and temple/shrine practice, and Theology might involve the concept of latent divinity in all things and the connection of musubi, the natural energy of the universe, to both gods and the world.

      So that's my guess for now!

    2. Yes, totally, the Shinto one... My bad :)