First of all before I dive into today’s topic I’d like to thank any people (If there are any) who had been following these articles, if you are new to these then you should check out my first article in this series from my profile. To get started let’s think about what makes a culture, how does it shape our minds and our way of thinking? To best look at these questions in greater depth, we should first explore some mythology of different cultures and think about the way it effected the decisions of their respective civilizations. For starters let’s look at Ancient Greece, the most obvious place to start. Instead of rambling about each deity’s role and power, I’m going to focus on their underworlds, beginnings, and their heroes. To start let’s look at the Greek version of Hell, ruled by Hades, the Greek version of the afterlife was anything but pleasant, no matter who you were you’d be subjected to excruciating pain in the next life, except if you were a hero. In legend, heroes got their own section of the underworld where they’d spend the rest of eternity pleasurably. And remember, to the respective civilization at the time, these weren’t stories, this is how they thought the world worked, so as you may expect, the anxiety surrounding death was kind of high, but it’s this haven for heroes that really hit the people hard, if you die like a hero then your soul will be sparred, otherwise you’d better get really used to unimaginable pain. So everyone and their brother was shipping off to war in hopes of dying with honor, nobody knows if these stories regarding the underworld were made with the intent to bulk up the Greek armies but either way it was working, and those heroes, Achilles, Hercules all of them were glorified and Greece made it very clear that by going to war you could be the one drawn on those vases. Next up is by far my favorite, ancient Japan! Unlike Greece where a handful of deities ran the show Japan had thousands of powerful Gods with powers that held domain over everyday parts of life, and that’s not counting the sheer thousands of Youkai (Japanese monsters) that Japan conjured up! The creation of the world in Japanese legend was done by two Gods; Izanagi and Izanami who were husband and wife (in that order), another thing that sets Japan and Greece apart is that the gods that created the universe weren’t the ones that ran the show, that’s right, the supreme benefactor of the mythical ancient Japan was Amaterasu Okami (forgive me if I misspelled it) the Goddess of the sun whose brilliance shined down onto ancient Japan. The sheer number of god like deities of Japanese lore meant that Japan’s people were already accustom to the worship and following of several different gods, doing so had prepared Japan for the flood of new ideas and cultures that would come in the approaching centuries, the end result being the ever so unique and open minded Japan we know and love today. Now let’s look at the youkai, the Japanese demons, of which three I will discuss, one being very animalistic, one being very demonic, and the last being just plain weird. The first being the Tanuki, a “breed” of Japanese creatures rather than a single infamous/famous monster the Tanuki themselves look like pudgy little raccoons wearing a straw hat while carrying a bottle of Saki (Japanese liquor), the tanuki as a whole represent wealth, stability in the home, and happiness, the Saki represents being a good host as it is formal to serve liquor at parties in any culture while the hat represents protection from wrong doing. There is some really messed up stuff about Tanuki, but I really rather not go into it. The second youkai I’ll discuss is the Gashadokuro-Odokuro, I know a mouthful, but the demon itself is rather simple, the Gashadokuro-Odokuro is a skeleton fifteen times the size of a fully grown man whose bones consist of those who have died of starvation, occasionally it will appear in towns as to swallow someone whole, and is completely invisible until it reaches its target, its arrival can be foreseen by the loud ringing in ones ear, up to a whole day before its arrival. Pretty creepy rights, just proving that youkai aren’t all Tanuki and Neko kitty cat! The last one is just plain weird, it’s called Kappa, yet another name for a “breed” of youkai, the Kappa resembles a human crossed with a turtle with the beak of a sparrow, just think of a teenage mutant ninja turtle, but scrawnier and with a beak. Not too weird yet right? Well it gets worse, the kappa are known for having bowls of water balanced on their head and challenging humans to sumo wrestling fights, after which winning due to the Kappa’s super strength they will proceed to drown you, break into your house, and steal all of your cucumbers! No I’m not making this up, they kill, for cucumbers… there are much weirder things about them, but I think it’s better if you research that on your own time. So what have we learned from the three Japanese youkai I’ve shown you? First off there are lots of good and bad (Mostly bad) youkai, some of which can be warded off with charms, like for a kappa you carve your last name into a cucumber and put it on your doorstep, the kappa will eat the cucumber and accept it in place of your life. Some youkai warding charms are made and used still today. The next is about their afterlife, like with the youkai Gashadokuro-Odokuro, the souls in the underworld rarely stay there and find their ways into our world, creating a deeper bond between the feudal Japanese people and the deceased, though dying wasn’t exactly ideal or pleasant, to them it wasn’t the worst possible event. So there, you’ve learned about the link between ancient civilizations and their cultures, and I too learned quite a lot through my research and I hope to learn and teach more in the next articles.
The world as i know it part four the culture of gods
January 12, 2014