The light within

Discover the enduring and ancient tale of Amaterasu, the sun goddess of Shinto, whose light brings beauty to the world…

In the dark season, we must find an inner light, a sense of our unique gifts, and how our light can change the way we see the world. Elsie Jericho explores the enduring and ancient tale of Amaterasu, the sun goddess of Shinto, whose light brings beauty to the world…

“I believe that each of us carries a bit of inner brightness, something entirely unique and individual. A flame that’s worth protecting. When we are able to recognize our own light, we become empowered to use it. When we learn to foster what’s unique in the people around us, we become better able to build compassionate communities and make meaningful change.” ― Michelle Obama

There is perhaps no goddess that captures the sacred power of the feminine more than Amaterasu, who stands for all the light we carry within us, the things that make us uniquely us.

When we think about Amaterasu, we remember that we are beautiful inside and out, and that the world needs us, exactly as we are. “If you have withdrawn your splendour, come out of hiding,” says author Niki Dewart, who wrote The Wild & Sacred Feminine Deck. ‘Like Amaterasu, you have a responsibility to emanate your inherent resplendence.”

Amaterasu was the sun goddess of Shinto, oldest religion in Japan. Her name means ‘to illuminate all, and shine in the sky’. She represents fertility and the force of life that makes things grow and brings beauty to our world. As the guardian of the Japanese people, she is represented still by the emblem of the rising sun beams on the old Japanese flag.

The story goes that she loved the world and shone her beautiful light over it. But her brother was not so loving, and he wreaked havoc across her world, destroying everything in his path….so she ran away and hid in a cave, frightened and doubting herself.

She rolled a huge stone across the mouth of the cave and sunk into the darkness alone. But as she took herself into the darkness, this also made the whole world dark, both heaven and earth. Darkness fell everywhere, Amaterasu was alone and the world was in an eternal night.

To bring her out of her cave, and return light to the world, Uzume, goddess of laughter placed a mirror at the mouth of the cave, and then began to dance in a giddy frenzy, her moves getting more and more outrageous and playful as she danced, throwing off her clothes and whirling around with joy.

And as she danced, the gods laughed with delight. The noise of the dancing and the party roused Amaterasu from her solitude, and she crept to the mouth of the cave to listen.

Uzume continued to dance, her nakedness a celebration of the female form, a worship of the life force of women, a force that can return the world to how it was meant to be.

Eventually, curious and unable to stop herself, Amaterasu emerged from the cave, flooding light across the land as she did so – but on seeing her reflection in the mirror, because she had spent so much time in the darkness, she didn’t recognise herself, and instead imagined it was another goddess, one more powerful and beautiful than herself. And she shrank back.

Until that is, that Uzume held her arm and gently pulled her forward towards the mirror and out of the cave – and as she moved, and the goddess in the mirror moved with her, she realised that she was the power she saw, she was the beauty she wondered at…

And, so, as she truly saw herself, she was so awed by her power and her beauty that she came out of hiding and the sun returned to the world. She swore never to hide her beauty, and her gifts from the world again.

Amaterasu reminds us to always let our maverick beauty shine forth. “Directed towards a higher purpose, beauty that’s married to inner truth transcends vanity,” writes Dewart. “It overcomes comparison, the thief of joy, and becomes your unique offering to benefit all things.”

What this story reminds us, is that it’s really what’s under the surface that’s important. And not only important, but vital. When we allow ourselves to be who we truly are, when we do not hide from the light within, the world looks very different to us, and those around us.

Of course, in the journey back to the light, sometimes doubt and fear will stop you. Like Amaterasu – you’ll hide in the cave, not believing the light to be your own. But it is. Just step forward, look closer, and trust.

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