Profile of a Goddess: Ama-No-Uzume
The ha!ha! godess of mirth and rebirth.
Name: Ama-no-Uzume, goddess of laughter and mirth
Born: 712 C.E.
Religion: Japanese Shinto
AKA: Uzume, Ama, Otafuku, Udzume, Daughter of Heaven, Terrible Female of Heaven, Amano-Uzume, The Great Persuader, Heavenly Alarming Female, Heaven's Forthright Female; worshipped today as Shinto KamiAKA in other religions: Baubo, Sheila-na-Gig, Eris (for some)
Body Type: Full-figured
Dress: Bell bracelets, moss cords (to tie up clothes), Sakaki tree headdress, long skirts (hiked above the waist), blouse (opened to bare breasts)
Interests: Dancing, laughing, drumming
History: This story begins with Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun Goddess. She, along with her two brothers, Susanowa (Storm God) and Tsuki-yomi (Moon God), governed the universe. One fateful day, Susanowa, who was jealous of Amaterasu's power as the deity illuminating the world, went on a rampage, wreaking havoc in her sacred domain. Amaterasu fell into a deep depression and in her grief exiled herself to a rock cave. The other gods and goddesses, no matter how much they tried, could not draw her from the dark recesses of her dwelling. The earth was covered in darkness and crops began to wither and die without her sunlight. In desperation, they called upon Ame-no-Uzume, in hope that her healing powers of laughter would entice Amaterasu from the darkness. Uzume entered the cave dressed in long robes which she promptly tied up above her waist. She turned over a large tub, stood upon it and began a bawdy dance. Making light-hearted fun of shamanistic rituals, she bared her breasts, exposed her genitals and danced wildly while drumming the tub with her feet. (According to legend, this is the origin of Taiko drumming.) The other gods and goddesses laughed loudly at her antics and joined in with her boisterous singing and ecstatic dancing. Amaterasu, curious about all the noise, came peering out of her hiding place. Seeing the others laughing, she abandoned her grief and emerged from the cave to once again bestow light on the world.
Interpretation: It is not difficult to perceive the image of the cave as symbolic of the womb; the dark atmosphere where all things are created. When Amaterasu flees to the cave, she begins her journey toward rebirth. She feels no hope as she withdraws her light from the earth, but by receding into the darkness, the process of regeneration begins. Uzume enters the mouth of the cave and recreates the heartbeat of the mother by beating on the drum with her feet as she exposes herself. The image of the goddess showing her vulva is seen in ancient cultures as representing the divine feminine, from which new creation emerges. She stands at the opening of the cave where life-giving light (Amaterasu) emerges, symbolically giving birth to light while also being born of it.
Uzume laughs and whirls with wild abandon as she celebrates creation. As all things are born from chaos, so is laughter. Physically, the body is in a state of confusion (chaos) as one laughs. Think about how you feel while laughing with abandon: open, energized, lifted to another sphere. This physical phenomenon carries over to the spiritual realm; we feel light, regenerated, hopeful.
During times of pain, we find ourselves resting in the dark recesses of the symbolic cave; this is a necessary place for our psychic incubation. Within the womb, we both slowly grow and rest until the moment of action and rebirth. But if we remain too long in this deep darkness, the creative process begins to recede and the threat of a lifeless world looms. This is the time to invoke Goddess Uzume. In your meditation, feel her feet drumming the beats of your heart – don don don, ka ra ka ka (the first drumming phrase of Bon Taiko). See her (you) laughing, mouth wide, head thrown back. Hear her (your) voice coming from deep within, in a loud "HA! HA!" Goddess Uzume is within you waiting to inspire your emergence from the cave.
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References: "Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the earliest times to AD 697"; pantheon.org; goddessgift.com; Popular Dictionary of Shinto; bellaonline.com