Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Hope everyone is having a great Easter weekend!

Doing a little more research on Easter, and other religious holidays, legends and rites of fertility and rebirth, I was struck by how many of them include an element described as "Descent into the Underworld". It is part of the Christian Easter that Christ descended into Hell for a time, before his rebirth. Similarly, the Egyptian judge of the dead, Osiris, was a figure of rebirth, having been destroyed and reborn twice, once to father Horus, and again after having been torn to pieces by Set. This cycle of death and rebirth was a strong reflection of the rising and lowering river Nile, and the crucial part it played in the survival of the ancient Egyptians.

The Japanese also had their underworld mythology, and its a fascinating one, the dark realm of Yomi:

"Yomi (黄泉 ?), the Japanese word for the underworld in which horrible creatures guard the exits; according to Shinto mythology as related in Kojiki, this is where the dead go to dwell and apparently rot indefinitely. Once one has eaten at the hearth of Yomi it is impossible to return to the land of the living. Yomi is comparable to Hades or hell and is most commonly known for Izanami's retreat to that place after her death. Izanagi followed her there and upon his return he washed himself, creating Amaterasu, Susanoo, and Tsukuyomi in the process.

This realm of the dead seems to have geographical continuity with this world and certainly cannot be thought of as a paradise to which one would aspire, nor can it appropriately be described as a hell in which one suffers retribution for past deeds; rather, all deceased carry on a gloomy and shadowy existence in perpetuity regardless of their behavior in life. Many scholars believe that the image of Yomi was derived from ancient Japanese tombs in which corpses were left for some time to decompose. After the arrival of Buddhism, Yomi also became one of the Buddhist hells in Japan, like Kakuri which is ruled by Enma."

Yomi is vastly different from the Welsh underwold of Annwn, "a world of delights and eternal youth where disease is absent and food is ever-abundant", which would tend more towards the fertility and rebirthing end of things. Certainly sounds like a friendlier place, anyways.

As far as fertility deities go, a fun inclusion to a game world would be Inanna (also known as Ishtar): "the goddess of love and is one of the Sumerian war deities, who was seen swaggering around the streets of her home town, dragging young men out of the taverns to have sex with her. Despite her association with mating and fertility of humans and animals, Inanna was not a mother goddess, though she is associated with childbirth in certain myths. Inanna was also associated with rain and storms and with the planet Venus. She is always depicted with a shaved pubic region." War and mating? Sounds more like a Viking god to me. Inanna spent a little time in the Underworld too, but she seemed more interested in scouting the place out for future conquest.

The Vikings had their own deity of rebirth, Baldur, who was slain through Loki's trickery and would descend into the Norsemen's mythological underworld, remaining there until Ragnarok was over.

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