Amaterasu, the Cosmic Weaver

[notes on Alan L. Miller's "Ame No Miso-Ori Me (The Heavenly Weaving Maiden): The Cosmic Weaver in Early Shinto Myth and Ritual," in History of Religions 24.1 (August 1984): 27-48.]

In Japan's Shinto religion, Amaterasu is first among the gods. She created the cosmos and all the other gods
and the clothes they wear.

Ancestor to the Emperor, she gave
to humans two skills that are especially prized:
the art of weaving hemp and silk.

[PS: Don't believe stories you may read about her being easily lured with mirrors....]

miso-ori: garmet weaving
hatu: to weave, especially on a loom
oru: to weave
umu: to shread or tear into thin strips

kami: sacred
kami-dana: Shinto home shrine; literally, "god-shelf"
tana: hand
tanabata: handweaving
festivals throughout Japan celebrate handweaving
poems in honor of cloth and weaving are recited
when new cloth is given to the temples every year

when a person seems about to die, a relative is to go up on the root of the house and stand calling the name of the dying one while shaking his or her clothes in the air

tamamusubi: tying or binding one's soul
kyoto: after a sneeze, one ties a knot in a cord in order to bind the soul, which has been expelled with the breath

For the renewal of Amaterasu's shrine buildings at Ise, Japan, undertaken every twenty years, Amaterasu is presented with a miniature sacred loom, together with thread boxes, spindles, and reeds.



Japanese ceremonies honor Amaterasu for her creative process, not for a single creation:

"[T]he divine weaver continually creates the order of the cosmos. It is a process, never finished, ... never codified.... It is the goddess that one serves and not the order that she creates. The interaction of warp and woof, and indeed the knots so formed, reated the beautiful brocade of the world, whose skies, mountains, plains and seas are permeated with the essence of the kami, or the sacred."

Miller compares this sense of the sacred in Shinto to Hopi, African, and Greek/Roman parallels (p. 44):

Arachne in Ovid's Metamorphoses (Greece, Italy)

the Dogon, West Africa:

"Spirit speaks and its words fill all the interstices of the cloth; they were woven in the threads and make the body of the cloth. They were the weaving itself ad the weaving was the words. And that is why cloth is called soy, which means, `It is speech.'"

the Tewa, a branch of the Hopi people:

Then weave for us a garment of brightness:
May the warp be the white light of morning,
May the weft be the red light of evening,
May the fringes be the falling rain,
May the border be the standing rainbow.
Thus weave for us a garment of brightness,
That we may wealk fittingly where birds sing,
That we may walk fittingly where the grass is green,
O our Mother the Earth, O our Father the Sky."

---quoted by Miller as recorded by Herbert J. Spinden, Songs of the Tewa (New York, 1933), p. 94.

above: excerpt from a print by

Utagawa Kunisada, c. 1830s


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