Well, it’s Mother’s Day, and in keeping with my new promise to write down every moment of inspiration I get (so as better to discipline myself...thanks Mom!) I’ve decided to share with you something I’ve spoken about many, many times in the past. Today, as we celebrate our Mothers and the profound impact they’ve had on us, I want to talk about the Primordial Mother, an archetype that pops up in a lot of folklore, but which often gets ignored because, let’s be honest here, a lot of those primordial parents weren’t the best role models, but they did offer us something powerful by which we can live our lives. So give you moms a hug, or some flowers, and be glad that they’re the Mother goddess, and (hopefully) not the Primordial kind.
|And if you do, Satsuki has methods for dealing with them.
Mythology has no shortage of mother figures: the Greeks had Gaea, Rhea, Demeter, and Hera (and Hestia, she who knew compassion, mercy, and sacrifice in the name of one’s children); Isis ruled the Egyptian court for some time; half the Celtic goddesses were known for being fiery defenders of their progeny; Frigga and Freyja embodied dueling concepts of fertility, hearth, and protection; and we can’t forget every single Mary in the Bible. And by and large they all had something to do with the same core concepts: home, love, and fertility. They were the strength by which their respective pantheons and heroes drew their resolve and noble deeds.
But PRIMORDIAL mothers were something entirely different. Whereas the maternal figures were meant to represent the motherly love we are supposed to be shown, the primordials were often aligned with creation, darkness, and Chaos- the elements of unpredictability or that eternal darkness from before our births, when there were no rules, only vast chaotic potential that would somehow coalesce into who we are. The waters of childbirth, the act of creating life, and frequently the chaotic consequences of when it all goes wrong. (Or, in some cases, the idea of the child overcoming and exceeding the parent, who had lost their way due to jealousy, stagnation, or the refusal to cede destiny to their progeny. Talk about metaphors...)
The fertile crescent had its Tiamat, the mighty “dragon” of the waters, from which all life was born, and who repeatedly attempted to devour it; Greek lore gave us Nyx, the eternal darkness, who was so mysterious and powerful that the kings of gods and titans gave her wide berth; Hel, though not primordial in origin, embodying the notions of death and its pull over life- a mother to those seeking stability in the most unstable of places; and the Fomorians of the Celtic Isles, this children of some nameless Mother, birthed from “Chaos and dark night” and arriving from “under the waters,” much like Tiamat.
But the award for “Primordial Mother” goes to possibly my favorite of these chaotic forces, because she didn’t start out that way. Rather, she represents the idea of corruption, of maternal love falling to pieces in the face of jealousy, as a formerly pure and devoted wife/mother loses herself to physical and emotional impurity. And her actions afterwards embody this sense of fear, anger, and loss, manifested as hatred and righteous rage.
|Are you really surprised I went with her?
While I could sit here and make an argument as to all the ways Amaterasu is the new mother of the Amatsukami, it’s far more fun to focus on her own “parent,” the female force that helped populate the nascent Japanese isles, and ultimately curse them. Izanami-no-Mikoto was one of two godlike being tasked with creating life following the building of the world we know- alongside her noble husband Izanagi, she traveled a new world and gave it bounteous life, along with all forms of kami to order and beautify a growing world. And by all accounts (both the Nihongi and Kojiki agree on this) she was good at her job. Like any maternal force, she birthed children, saw to it that they were raised well and honorably, and repeated the process perpetually, filling the world with all manner of life.
And then she gave birth to Kagu-tsuchi, a god of fiery might, and died (as would be expected if anyone shoved a living gout of flame out of their...well, you get the picture). The first mother, bringer of life, also became the first herald of death, as her now impure body plunged into the darkness of the yomi, a place so horrifying that her own husband took one look at the place and ran like hell when they first discovered it. Izanami’s old world was one defined by life- beauty, perfection, and order were an end result of the existence, and living beings made it sacred. But this new world she found herself in was more chaotic, cold, and full of “all manner of putrid things.” In short, it was a perversion of the sacredness of life, because death was not-life, but something else. Something weird. Something...well, not unnatural per se, but definitely not what Izanami had been accustomed to.
So as one can expect, this bothered the formerly living mother. She became despondent, depressed, as she was separated from hr husband and children. She had lived her life as a mother, and now she no longer was. And the impurity of this yomi world ate away at her mind, and her flesh.
Of course, Izanagi went looking for her. His love of her dead wife was too strong to deny, and after slicing up the fiery child that had killed her (and creating a bunch of volcanoes in the process), he walked deep into the same underworld he had once fled from, in search of his beloved. Things happened at the moment they met, and long story short, he ended up offending her, and running away, sealing off the cave to the underworld as he fled and divorcing his now incredibly angry wife from behind a giant boulder. Izanagi’s story would continue, but for now let’s focus on his wife.
Her parting words to him, at least according to the written records, were along the lines of “every day I will kill 1000 of your precious children,” meaning the Japanese people she would lead astray and introduce to this new-fangled idea known as dying. Izanagi would reply in particularly defiant fashion (but I’m saving that for Father’s Day), and go off to change this new world into something that balanced life with death.
|The Underworld has terrible health care,
as Sasami has just discovered.
Meanwhile his formerly loving wife and mother to all these kami transformed from a mother into a primordial mother, eschewing love and compassion in favor of impurity and deception. And this vision of Izanami is the one that has persisted in the folklore and the media ever since- a fallen mother, with more in common with Tiamat or Nyx than Isis and Frigg. But whereas the former divinities were always as they are, Izanami began her existence much like the latter- as a mother and the embodiment of love, fertility, reproduction, and compassion, only to transform into the former through death, decay, fear, and anger. A clear-cut case of the powerful corrupting influence of those negative thoughts, and how they can impact even seemingly perfect being into something more sinister...or perhaps just older.