Pagan Every Day: Festival of Amaterasu by Barbara Ardinger, PhD

Pagan Every Day: Festival of Amaterasu by Barbara Ardinger, PhD

July 17th


Amaterasu Omikami—Great August Spirit Shining in Heaven—is the supreme deity of the Shinto religion, queen of all the kami, the forces of nature. Nothing grows without her shining power. She is the ancestor of the Japanese royal family, but, as her stories show, her true roots like in Siberian shamanism.


When the Chinese arrived in Japan in the second century C.E., they found so many female shaman-rulers there that they called the country the Land of Queens. The most powerful shaman-queen was Himiko, Sun’s Daughter, who died in 247. Unmarried, chaste, and reclusive, Himiko performed magical ceremonies while the work of the government was done by her brother.


Confucianism, which arrived in Japan about 400, decreed that women were inherently unfit to rule. The shaman-queens were overthrown. A century and a half later, when Buddhism arrived, the status of women fell still lower. Among other things, it was said that a woman must be reborn as a man to be liberated from the wheel of life. As the Great Sun Buddha gained popularity in Japan, even the great sun goddess underwent a sex change. The people were told that Amaterasu was really a male god named Roshana.


But the native Shinto beliefs did not die, and it was an empress, Gemmyo, who in 712 first published the old Shinto myths of Amaterasu in the Kojiki, or “record of Ancient Matters.” One folktale tells how, like a shaman, Amaterasu climbs up a pillar to the heavens, creating the first sunrise. In the most famous story, she is insulted by her brother and hides in a cave until another shaman-goddess, Uzume, hangs a mirror in a tree, dances, and reveals her yoni. Amaterasu peers out, sees her glorious beauty in the mirror, laughs at Uzume’s performance, and emerges from the cave.


Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives (RedWheel/Weiser, 2006), a unique daybook of daily meditations, stories, and activities. Her new book, Secret Lives is a novel of magical realism about elderly women, younger women, good men, and mythological characters including the Green Man and the Norns gone mad in a modern world. Her earlier books are Finding New Goddesses, Quicksilver Moon, Goddess Meditations, and Practicing the Presence of the Goddess. Her day job is freelance editing for people who don't want to embarrass themselves in print. Barbara lives in southern California. To purchase a signed copy of Finding New Goddesses, just send Barbara an email at