Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Izanagi & Izanami

As promised, here is the text of my Izanagi & Izanami Japanese creation myth, written and performed for The Encyclopedia Show: Creation Myths, April 29, 2011, a special event connected with Great Books Chicago: In the Beginning….

My main source was my beloved Wikipedia, all the clickable and related things there, including links and articles on anime (Japanese animation).  

But see also notes at the end!

Don’t Shtup Your Sister

Once upon a time in Japan, at the beginning of the world,
Izanagi and Izanami, boy & girl twins, took a jeweled

spear to the bridge between heaven and earth, stirred up
the ocean with it & where the spear spilled salty drops

an island formed, called Self-Forming Island, and, voila (!),
they’d created land!  Izanagi and Izanami fell in love

and built a pillar so they could walk around it, which is how
you got married in the olden days in Japan.  “Hello!”

said Izanami when she met Izanagi going around the pillar. 
Izanagi thought he should have said hello first, but they still

got married, and had deformed children, and sent them off
to sea in a boat.  “What did we do wrong?” they asked the gods,

hoping to try again. “Izanami spoke first,” said the gods. 
So round the pillar they went again, and this time Izanagi

spoke first, and they had a bunch of undeformed
children, who were Japanese islands & little gods. 

Then Izanami died giving birth to the spirit of fire!
Right at the end, she pushed out a baby water god,

to douse future fires, but she herself was toast.
Izanagi, who loved his Sister Wife, was so pissed

he chopped his fiery son Kagu-tsuchi into eight
little volcanoes.  Poor Kagu-tsuchi, his nature

was fire, his birth, the beginning of death.
(Somebody has to be blamed first for a last breath.)
Izanagi went down to Yomi, the underworld,
to bring back his love, Izanami, shrouded now

in shadows and dark mists, never clearly seen. 
Izanami even means “she who invites” illusion.

“Come home,” said Izanagi.  “Too late,” said Izanami,
“I already ate a pomegranate.”  Not daunted, Izanagi

waited till she slept, took the comb from his long,
long Japanese hair, lit it like a torch, the comb

not the hair, and, voila (!): he saw his sweet hottie!
Woe to the loss of illusion, for Izanami was a rotting

carcass covered with maggots, so Izanagi yelped
and ran, waking Izanami, who sent the help

after him, her women, in the form of a dozen shitake
mushrooms (possible factual error), but he distracted

them by throwing down his headdress, transformed
into a bunch of grapes, by throwing down his comb,

which sprang into a forest of bamboo, and finally peed
a river to keep all of Yomi’s creatures on the other side.

But Izanami, his twin, having seen the pee thing,
his annoying but effective cure for jellyfish sting,

pursued him to the opening of the Gates of Hell,
as they were named, years later, in an anime sequel,

so he pushed a boulder in her face but heard her yell
“I’ll kill 1000 people for this! I’ll kill, kill, kill!”

“I’ll make 1500 more!” he yelled back & felt her shake
the rock in her rage, and felt the self-formed earth quake

and saw the harbor wave begin to swell…(!) Oh, Izanami,
Izanagi, oh, horrible origami, oh awful tsunami—anime!

“Shtup” is a word meaning “push” or “nudge” as when you push or nudge a boulder into your sister’s face to keep her in the underworld, but of course it has other meanings, fully explored and exemplified in the Urban Dictionary.

Fortunately, as Wendy Doniger made clear in her discussion of the Rig Veda and other creation myths, the closing talk on Sunday of the Great Books Chicago weekend, incest was simply part of the creation myths of many cultures for practical reasons (where else were people supposed to come from?) but not something advocated by these cultures. New myths got rid of the practice when it came to the behavior of the people. As we might recall, gods do a lot of things the people are not allowed to do.

And, as Don Whitfield reminded me, Joseph Campbell also tells the story of Izanagi and Izanami in The Hero With a Thousand Faces.  So that’s where I’d read it before!  Campbell’s version is somewhat different from mine. In his, the underworld is known as the land of the Yellow Stream.  In mine, and Wikipedia’s, we learn where the yellow stream actually came from!  But both Campbell and I made the connection with Orpheus going down to the underworld to rescue Eurydice, and how that does not really work out well in either myth.

When I rehearsed my poem for my son, he giggled at “pomegranate.”  I thought he’d gotten my joke on the Persephone/Proserpine eating of the pomegranate in the underworld (another connection of Japanese and ancient Greek/Roman myth), but, no, an industrial design student, he was laughing at a marvelous industrial design joke involving the pomegranate phone.  (Takes a while to load, but worth the wait.  Hilarious.  Trust me.  Click every option!)


Collagemama said...

Izanami is going to be late for work after clicking all the options. She will tell Montessori, the vixen goddess of education it was because of the Yellow Stream.

Hannah Stephenson said...

This is great. So funny and lively. The title cracked me up, I must say...

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Hannah and Nancy!

Collagemama said...

Well thank heaven I went to Urban Dictionary! I thought shtup was a snarling/sniveling sibling version of "shut up" said alternating between "he's looking at me, Mom," "he's touching me, MOM," and "are we there yet?"

My most recent encounters with creation myths were the Hawaiian volcanic island stories. Thanks for reminding me there has to be incest and tears. After a long day, I'd like a jeweled spear at least.

Kathleen said...

And we got 8 volcanoes in this myth, too!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

I'm late to saying I love your poem! But I do. I have creation myths on the brain, having spent the week-end puzzling over Adam and Eve, and now writing a blog piece on the feminine face of God.

Kathleen said...

Kristin, I spent the weekend puzzling over Adam and Eve, too. I definitely want to read the piece on the feminine face of God. Did I ever tell you about saying the Sufi female name for God in the Arizona desert? Sigh....

Denise A said...

Thank you! I only wish we had made a video of you reading this aloud. I have it in my memory but wish others could have the pleasure too. So glad to see you last weekend. Take care.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Denise. I do love the ephemeral quality of theatre and many poetry readings. Makes it so alive and human! Great to see you, too, Denise! And I'm glad our heads didn't fall off, in myth and in life.

Dick said...

I love the tone of offhand, amused commentary that voices the glorious blood-and-thunder illogic that underpins all creation myths. A terrific performance piece with its rich, tumbling narrative detail constantly interrupted by performer's asides.

There's a whole potential series here. Although I guess visits to the Deep South might be uncomfortable in the wake of a similar treatment of Genesis!

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Dick! Love your idea of a series. I am amazed at how much of this is simply the myth, as told my many; my main task was to adapt/condense it for the particular circumstances of the Encyclopedia Show! (500 words or less, a fact checker on hand, etc.) I love the world's creation myths and appreciate the truths they tell, too!