Basho worships the divine female in nature:
Etsujin and Basho tell the history of spirituality on their islands: first humans communicating with trees and the wind, then a female divine force who dispersed in the rapids of time.
Most cultures have seen the Sun as male and Earth as female. In her Women’s History of the World, Rosalind Miles says:
“From Spain to China the pre-historic sun stood for maleness… the phallic sunbeams striking down on Mother Earth, a maleness whose rays impregnate the earth and cause the seeds to germinate.”
In Japan, however, the Sun and supreme deity is a Goddess, Amaterasu (“Heaven Shining”). Ardy Bass points out that the worship of a female supreme deity could not have arisen in a society as patriarchal as Japan has become since the 8th century: “Her continuing spiritual reign and survival today, in part can be attributed to the remaining characteristics of an earlier woman-centered culture.”
Amaterasu is a Goddess of Purity, so She hates anything dirty. In the central myth of Shinto, the Goddess’ brother, the Storm God Susano, spread shit on her seat and did other horrible deeds. His behavior so deeply shamed the Sun that She hid herself in a Rock Cave, leaving the world dark. To lure Her out from the cave, the kamisama (divine spirits) forged a Mirror out of stars. The eight million kamisama gathered before the Rock Cave in the darkness.
So now, of course, the Sun had to open the door a crack to see what was going on. Two kamisama lifted the Mirror to show Amaterasu the “other Goddess.” She opened the door wider to get a better look and the Strongman of the Gods was able to yank the Sun outside and put an end to this nonsense.
Uzume, possessed to dance so the eight million kamisama would laugh, was Japan’s first miko or female shaman, as well as first dancer, comedian, and porno actress. She is still considered the ‘goddess of comedy.’
Girls who are virgins may serve as miko in Shinto shrines. The distinctive uniform of the miko -- red divided trousers and white jacket, the colors of the Japanese flag, the rising sun against pure sky – made her a walking, breathing representation of the Sun Goddess, a symbol for the female Japan, the Japan uncorrupted by male militarism and cruelty, the female Japan which had no part in raping Nanking, bombing Pearl Harbor, enslaving comfort women, or building nuclear reactors on the edges of major tectonic plates.
She bumps Her forehead
As She gets up, the Sun(Goddess) bumps her head on the sharp point at the top of Mount Fuji. Anyone who stands at the right place west of Mount Fuji on a clear early morning would see this
Japanese long ago believed political power belonged to men, while women held the power of connecting with the spiritual. Female shamans, known as miko, went into a trance to speak for the kamisama, and men and governments listened to them with respect. Basho wrote of these female shamans:
Her thoughts come from the divine, so must be worth hearing. Basho’s stanza has an astonishing resemblance to the spoken words of two of the most magnificent women in Shakespeare.
Rosalind in As You Like It:
And in Othello, the dying words of Emilia:
Basho, Rosalind, and Emilia, each say that a woman should speak her mind, and be respected for what she says.
Carmen Blacker, in The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan, explains that the miko twanged her bow of catalpa wood with one hemp string to, “emit a resonance which reaches into the world of spirits, enabling the shaman who manipulates it to communicate with that world.”
On the 49th and final day of mourning, a miko channels a man’s spirit. Never again to make herself beautiful, his widow will no longer need a mirror.
A sheet of paper, traditionally of hemp fibers, is cut and folded in a zigzag pattern and attached to a wooden stick. The Ise Shrine produces these taima -- same Chinese characters and pronunciation as the psychoactive cannabis -- in great numbers, and priests take them in a box to distribute among houses who have supported the shrine; people wave it before the household shrine to ask a favor.
The light of the Sun Goddess is most easily seen on cherry blossoms. The bird steal the hemp paper from the offerings; hemp fiber is strong, so makes a good nest for the bird who brings good fortune. Notice the links: from blossoms to bird; from hemp offered to the gods to hemp stolen by birds, from Goddess to female nesting bird.
In the Noh play The Feather Mantle a celestial maiden, in praise for the beauty on a sunny day on Earth equal to that in Heaven, caresses the world, but the splendor never ceases. Seifu recreates her, making her caress the rock spring that never stops flowing. From these images of sunshine and flowing water, Basho hears/creates a female voice chanting the Lotus Sutra which for many East Asians contains the ultimate and complete teachings of Buddha.
The sutra – which begins with the famous benediction nam hyo renge kyou -- declares that women need not reincarnate as men and from manhood reach Nirvana; rather they can do so from being a woman – quite a statement of liberation for women. She chants the Lotus Sutra not in the masculine tones of priests but rather elegantly, as a celestial maiden caresses a spring of clear water. I went to YouTube because I wanted to hear women chant the Lotus Sutra, but all I could find were men. Basho offers another Buddhism, a female-centered, life-enhancing Buddhism.Her path to Enlightenment is not inside a temple, but rather beside the window watching the world in sunshine.
The Sun in spring warms the ground and causes moisture to evaporate into the cool air where it condenses. Moisture in the air makes sunlight passing through it refract, so the air seems to shimmer. Shimmers are the Sun-Carpenter building a mansion for the daimyo, a very important person who gets to live in such a magical house. This “Sun-carpenter” is the Sun Goddess Amaterasu who builds many things – such as all plant life -- with her light. The Queen of Photosynthesis here magically constructs something splendid, a mansion for the provincial lord who gets to live in such a fantastic house.
The next poet makes her divine work even more splendid: brides creating life within themselves, The tiny eggs blossoming inside brides’ bellies are future brides who will carry life forward – “generation after generation, individual after individual, brides welcomed into households, descendants in prosperity” -- while Sun and Earth work together to produce edible grains, so in the storehouse we stockpile enough to feed all those children. Here are lessons in Biology as well as Religion and Sociology.
Our next trio begins with a stanza by Hokushi
As the month of summer rains ends, the sky clears yet soon fills up with thick clouds bringing more rain. Also in this season biwa or loquats ripen: plum-like, growing in clusters, oval, 1–2 inchs long, smooth or downy yellow or orange skin, succulent tangy flesh yellow or orange flesh with flavor sweet to slightly acid. The oval shape of the fruit also appears in the lute known as a biwa, and in Lake Biwa near Kyoto. “Clouds and rain” in traditional Chinese and Japanese poetry suggests sexual intimacy, and “biwa have ripened” is also suggestive.
From these suggestions of sensuality, Basho offers an actual Asian female body with the slender curves which Richard Bernstein in The East, the West, and Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters describes as “more plumlike than melonlike of breast, spare rather than full of buttocks and hips." A sennyo, according to Hiroaki Sato, “a woman who has acquired magical powers, suggesting the legendary world of ancient China.”
The BRZ says, “Basho makes the ripening of biwa a symbol for the gracefulness of the goddess’ body.” Basho tells us to feel, with our hands or imagination, the rounded contours of the fruit, the skin and vital flesh beneath that skin, and compare to the contours of a slender but curvaceous woman; in particular the small oval biwa suggest the contours of Asian breasts (without implants). His second stanza changes that goddess into a mortal women beside a fast stream; her two hands squeeze fabric soaked in the red dye akane, madder, in opposite directions so the red liquid drops into the swift current. The red flowing away may suggest menstrual bleeding and the part of a woman that bleeds. Sato says Basho “painted with words a picture of a Chinese goddess that Utamaro – ukiyoe artist famous for sexual imagery – might have drawn with a brush.” This is a Basho not found in any other book or site: a physical sensual Basho who seeks to know the “slender figure of a goddess.”
“Ragged and tattered” are her family’s clothes that need mending before winter comes, and the scene of deciduous trees as leaves disappear in autumn. “Night work” are the jobs she does at night while the rest of the family sleeps. The next poet gives her a lantern to light up her work; like a genie she appears in smoke.
The Japanese Moon God Tsukuyomi appears in creation myths, but not in the hopes and aspirations of people. Basho seeks to elevate the Moon to greater status: he equates the Moon with Kichijoten, the Japanese form of Lakshmi, the Hindu deity of happiness, fertility, and beauty.
The name Lakshmi comes from the Sanskrit word Laksya, meaning ‘aim’ or ‘goal.’ From this root Lakshmi became the goddess ofprosperity, both material and spiritual. She is the household goddess of most Hindu families and a favorite of women. Unlike the Japanese Moon God merely passing through the sky, Lakshmi actively involves herself in human life, bestowing good fortune, enablng us to fulfill our goals.
Basho at age 22 seeks to see the ‘image’ of the Sun-goddess in the Moon—although in Japanese mythology the Moon is male. The majority of cultures see the Moon as female because of her 29 day cycle of waxing and waning which determines women’s menstrual cycle. Basho’s vision of the divine female Moon as a reflection of the Sun-goddess is profound from a spiritual point of view as well as being scientifically accurate—the light that seems to be coming from the Moon is actually from the Sun. So this 22 year old guy still living in his home town is proposing a revision of Shinto mythology to see the female in both Sun and Moon.
When Amaterasu’s grandson Ninigi came down from Heaven to rule over the Japanese islands, he met a beautiful maiden on the seashore. Her name was Tree Blossom Princess. Ninigi fell in love and asked her father, the God of the Mountains, for her hand. He approved, but sent along her ugly older sister, Rock Long Princess, as co-wife. Ninigi sent this one back. The father said,
Tree Blossom Princess became pregnant after one night with Ninigi, so he accused her of sleeping around. Incensed at his distrust, she declared that if she had broken her marriage pledge, the flames would consume her and baby -- but instead she gave birth to three healthy baby-gods.
Tree Blossom Princess endured her ordeal without harm, so became Deity of Easy Childbirth. The “caldron” is a womb (room).
The Buddhist temple, Hase-dera has long been a place of pilgrimage for women who came here to pray to the famous Eleven-Faced Kannon, a 30-foot tall statue in relief of the Goddess of Mercy, carved from a single log of camphor, the largest wooden image in Japan. Anthropologist Michael Ashkenazi says of Kannon, “for most people she carries the possibility of restoring and continuing life.’’ Women commonly pray to the Goddess of Mercy for love, to bear a child, for a child to succeed in school or life, or for relief from hardship.
Finally, by the end of April in central Japan, enough warmth has accumulated so even the nights are warm and tranquil. It is a time for the heart to find solace and renew hope.
Taking off our shoes at the entrance, we step quietly onto the finely polished hardwood floor. Before us rises Kannon-sama, five times our height, the compassion in her face and figure radiating to every corner of the temple. Over there, in a corner, someone barely seen in the faint lantern light sits in communion with the Goddess. Who is she? Why has she come here alone at night? What is she praying for?
Kon says “in the one now hidden before my eyes, the images (of all the women who came to Hase-dera inthe past) pile up one on top of another to attract my heart.” By making a poem about the hidden woman, Basho eulogizes her; as conduit between spring and Kannon, she herself becomes eternal. This woman and her prayers to Kannon-sama convey a tender mystery known in temples and churches throughout the world - this world where men make decisions but men are inconstant, and women pray to the goddess to join her.