Izanami: Goddess of Death and Rebirth

How dark it is, and cold. All other night journeys were practice for this one.

Hidden in the Mists, Ty Michelfelder (used by permission)

The moon, born from utter darkness, waxes.  There behind the clouds, even there behind the darkness, not blazing and dangerous to behold like the sun, but gentle, with a graceful light.  There is a reason sweethearts hold hands in the moonlight, mysterious as love. 

Here in the silence we wait, far from the hubbub of phones ringing, sirens wailing, people laughing, people crying, shots being fired, speeches being made, arguments, machines whirring.

Izanagi came by himself, tense and unready. He saw exactly what he feared. (How many of us have seen what we feared and wildly attacked it? Fear is how war often begins. ) But we are not alone now: we have Sky Woman with us–Sky Woman who did not choose to be thrown into the dark but who, like a seed, blossomed anyway, giving birth. The seed, resting in darkness beneath the earth, is the source of new life.

Sky Woman as a Seed, Taketo Kobayashi

Sky Woman combs our hair, or maybe the hair of just one of us, but her gesture reminds us all of those “hundred strokes before bed” that never made us more beautiful but did help us relax, so we could sleep.

Magical Comb, Taketo Kobayashi

In the dark, there is a glow.  Did someone light a lantern?  Poor Izanagi, when he came, was so distraught that when his light broke in, he saw only this image, wild and terrible:

Izanami, Goddess of Death, Koya Takahashi

But see, on the other side there is another image, charming as the moon and welcome as a warm bath at the end of the day.  “Beautiful lady dressed in night,” intones Sky Woman.  This is Izanami, lady of death and rebirth.  Like the new moon with all that beauty hidden behind it.

Izanami, Goddess of Rebirth, Koya Takahashi


One of Director Yuriko Doi’s inspirations for Mystical Abyss was a Jomon-period lantern representing two aspects of the same goddess. 

Lamp of the goddess

Yuriko writes, “The hollow center of the lamp symbolizes the womb.  On one side is the face of the goddess, with slanting eyes.  On the back is the image of a serpent, with ten holes surrounding it, representing the cycle of the moon.  These are Izanami’s two sides.  And a related notion I want to emphasize is that birth and death are also not a vertical line.  Birth, death, and rebirth are cyclical, like the moon…”

To express these ideas, Yuriko Doi has reformulated the story of Izanami in a way that combines Japanese with Iroquois myth.  In the Kojiki, it is Izanagi who gives birth to the three deities representing the sun, the moon, and the storm.  In the Nihonshoki, which was compiled a few years later, Izanami gives birth to those deities before she dies and descends to Yominokuni.  It is Yuriko’s innovation in Mystical Abyss to have Izanami give birth even after her death, reflecting a cosmology in which death is inherently pregnant with new life.  And whereas in the Japanese myth, Izanagi lights his comb to use as a torch, Sky Woman uses her magical comb to pacify Izanami, evoking the action of Hiawatha, who in Iroquois legend combed the snakes from the hair of the redoubtable Onondaga chief Atotarho to secure a lasting peace. 

The Mystical Abyss is a place unlike any you have visited before.  

For more information about the show, see the Theatre of Yugen website.  To buy tickets, use this link:  http://www.odcdance.org/buytickets.php .

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