March 26, 2013

Ix Chel: Mayan Goddess of Women’s Sexuality

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , at 4:42 am by Babs

Ix Chel (pronounced EE-SHELL) is the Mayan moon goddess.  She is the mystery and joy of our female sexuality, mother of earth and all life, patroness of the healing arts, weaving, childbirth, and destiny.  She is sometimes called “Lady Rainbow” and is often pictured as a serpent crone wearing a skirt and crossbones.  She carries an upside-down vessel in her hands which represents the nourishing gift of water, our most essential life-giving element.  She wears a serpent on her head representing her transformation from the winter to spring energy – shedding her winter skin in order to blossom anew into spring to a fresh stage in the life cycle.

Goddess Ix Chel was almost too beautiful, this girl with opalescent skin, who sat in the skies brushing her shimmering hair for hours on end.  All the gods were captivated by her.  That is, all but one.  Kinich Ahau, the Sun God, seemed immune to Ix Chel’s charms.  Yet he was the only one she really ever wanted.  For years she had longed for him as she watched him glide across the sky in all his golden splendor.  But the more Ix Chel followed him around, the worse the weather on earth became.  As she chased after him the tides would rise, creating floods that inundated the fields and caused the crops to die.  So enamored was she, that Ix Chel did not even notice the havoc she was causing.

Ix Chel bore the Sun God four sons.  They were the jaguar gods and could creep through the night unseen.  They were named for the four directions and each one was responsible for holding up his corner of the sky.

Unfortunately, Ix Chel’s love affair with the Sun God drew the ire of her disapproving grandfather.  In his anger he struck Ix Chel with lightning, killing her.  For the next 183 days she lay lifeless as hundreds of dragonflies surrounded her body and sang to her.  Waking suddenly, she returned to the palace of the Sun God.

Their relationship was turbulent.  Kinich Ahau had a suspicious nature and was often consumed with jealousy.  To make matters worse, he also had a fiery temper.  Suspecting that the innocent Ix Chel was having an affair with his brother (the Morning Star), Kinich Ahay threw her out of the sky.  She quickly found refuge with the vulture gods.  Hearing this, Kinich Ahau rushed to plead with her to return and promised never to treat her so poorly again.  Little time passed before he became jealous and abusive again.

Finally, Ix Chel realized he was not going to change.  She decided to leave him for good.  Waiting until he fell asleep, she crept out into the night, taking the form of a jaguar and becoming invisible whenever he came searching for her.  Many nights she spent on her sacred island (Cozumel) nursing women during their pregnancies and childbirth.

Ix Chel, like other moon goddesses, governed women’s reproductive systems so it was quite understandable that she would become the protector of women during pregnancy and labor.  The small Isla Mujeres (Isle of Women) was devoted to the worship of Ix Chel.  Comfortable with all phases of life, she was honored as the weaver of the life cycle.  She protected the fertility of women and was also the keeper of the souls of the dead.

She is a shape-shifter, consorting with the rabbit in spring (fertility and life-giving abundance).  She is at once a maiden (goddess of fertility and life), a mother (protector of women in childbirth) and a crone.  The serpent reflects her status as a wise woman dispensing healing visions.  She is the keeper of the life cycle, goddess of all new life and keeper of the bones and souls of the dead.

Wife to the high god Izamna, she oversees weaving, medicine, and childbirth.  Like the First Mother, she is a moon goddess who is depicted sitting in a moon sign holding a rabbit.  Ix Chel is a complex Goddess of ancient Mexico.  She was worshipped by the Putun and Yucatec Maya.  The hare was one of Her primary symbols.

In Maya myths She was the angry old woman who emptied the vials of her wrath on the earth, and assisted the serpent in creating the deluge.  Ix Chel was the goddess of floods and cloud bursts, a malevolent deity likely to cause sudden destruction in a tropical storm.  She was the consort of Itzamna and appears as a clawed water goddess, surrounded by the symbols of death and destruction, a writhing serpent on her head and crossbones embroidered on her skirt.

As an ancient fertility goddess, Ix Chel was responsible for sending rain to nourish the crops.  When fulfilling that function she was called “Lady Rainbow”.  She helped ensure fertility by overturning her sacred womb jar so that the waters would flow.

Though sometimes depicted as a goddess of catastrophe (the woman who stands by as the world floods) many of her myths show her in a more benevolent light – as a goddess who refused to become a victim of oppression.  This was a woman who when faced with adversity took charge of her life and turned it around!

Ix Chel encourages us to acknowledge the negative forces affecting our lives.  And she prompts us to assert ourselves fully in the face of physical or emotional violence that would diminish our sense of self.  She is all of life’s fertility and is the continuation of all life.  She is the mystery and joy of our female sexuality and protector of our children.  She is a healer, the Goddess of Medicine, who knows all of the healing gifts of the Earth and Her children, the plants.  Her flower is the marigold.  Her methods of teaching and healing are by example as She comforts those who are ill or in pain.  She is the energy of all water, our most essential life-giving ingredient.  Nourishing rains and crystal clear rivers are Her gifts.  As the tree of life, milk pours from Her breasts just as blood pours from her womb.

They Mayan stepped pyramid is Ix Chel’s mountain where She reigns as the feathered serpent energy of transformation.  Her totem is the snake which sheds its skin and is continually reborn.  Her lap is the red jaguar throne of authority and power.  She is often shown with a rabbit which symbolizes Her life-giving abundance and fertility.  She is the young Maiden ripe with flowering life as well as the old crone of wisdom, pouring the waters of life from Her cauldron.

She is viewed as creative inspiration for artists and crafts people.  She weaves the web of life and is the matron of weavers and those who make clothing.  The moon is Her symbol and as She moves through the cycles of waxing, full, waning and darkness She mirror’s the mysteries of our women’s bodies and our blood cycles.

Ix Chel Lullaby by Amy Martin

Lady Rainbow, colors sublime

Weaving existence from the sky

You hold for all the cycles of time

Ix Chel, I pledge myself to you.

Living in the ocean wave

In healing plants the lives they save

In the Moon in every phase

Ix Chel, I pledge myself to you.

Making fertile life on Earth

Guiding mysteries of birth

Embracing sex and all pleasure

Ix Chel, I pledge myself to you.

Maiden fair and apocalypse crone

Mother to all, compassionate one

Her promise is of restoration

Ix Chel, I pledge myself to you!

Ix Chel For Modern Times:

Not only does her myth explain the changing of each day but she also teaches us the importance of women’s ability to give birth and to understand their menstrual cycles through the altering phases of the moon.  Her copulation with the rabbit is symbolic of her lunar and reproductive knowledge.  The cycles give an indication of how to deal with the cycles in our own lives.  When the moon is black, plant new seeds for what you want to manifest in your life.  This can also be a time of retreat, reflection and regeneration from everyday life.  When the moon waxes water and nurture your seed and watch its new life.  Do what it takes to manifest what you desire.  When the moon is full, watch your seed grow.  Continue your needed efforts to keep it alive as the dark is when you can harvest and reap the rewards and bask in accomplishment, but share without greed or self-serving motive.  The cycle continues when the moon goes black once again.  This is also true for men to try to understand for their own lives as well as for understanding women.

In addition, Ix Chel teaches people to set boundaries with the uncanny amounts of stress that marriage and relationships can dish out.  We speculate, however unverified, that her changing of consorts happened around the time Ix Chel left the sun’s kingdom.  If your mate is being too irrational or irresponsible towards your feminine nature, ditch them for someone more grounded and caring to achieve your relationship needs.  However, when Ix Chel immediately leaves Itzamna, we see her go to the aid of the vulture divinity and then to women.  We too are to find healing with our animal totems and women when we come out of a pain-staking relationship, job, family debacle, etc.  The current celebrations at the Isla Mujeres show us the necessity for that shared connection with other feminine souls.

Ix Chel’s escape from the sun is also a reminder that once in a while we need to take time for ourselves.  We need our own special time to rest and renew so that we can deal with pressing responsibilities in our lives.  When we take time to go into ourselves, we can come out reborn and ready to take on any challenge that life may give us.  This is true for both sexes.  We need to learn to accept and adapt to the day-to-day as well as life transformations.  If we fight these changes it will only lead to more stress and tension within our lives.  When a perplexing or challenging situation comes to us, we should sit and consider the ways we can view it as a positive thing.  What did we learn from this experience?  It’s quite unrealistic to say we’ll never do something again, but is more palpable to say, “What can I change about myself if this ever happens again?”  We cannot control the actions of others, but we can be strictly mindful of our own.

Great Mesoamerican Goddess Song by Amy Martin

Ometechurtli, Ometechutli, half of cosmic duality.

From you infinite Divine Feminine, all these goddesses come to be.

Cipactli in the primordial ocean

Divided, created reality.

Tonantzin and Cihuacoatl

From you all Earth is embodied.

Chalchiuhtlicue of flowing waters

Rivers running to the sea.

Tlazoteotl consumes all refuse

Honestly accepting.

Xochiquetzal, sex and laughter

Blooms against the springtime sky

Izpapalotl, Sun at zenith

Dark obsidian butterfly.

Coyolxuahqui, strong Moon Goddess

Dismembered, coming back to life.

Malinalxochitl, abandoned wise one

Return and share your intuitive sight.

These holy mothers are of our land

The continent we call our home.

Now is their time to be asserted.

For divine inspiration we needn’t roam.

Suggested Mantra: I am woman!

Suggested Affirmations:

  • I am joyful
  • My big hips are sexy!
  • I am healthy and happy
  • I am alive with sexuality
  • I adore my womanly shape
  • I feel absolutely supercharged
  • My life path reveals itself to me
  • I have abundant energy and vitality

Gemstones:

  • Carnelian
  • Coral
  • Agate
  • Brown Jasper
  • Orange Stones

March 19, 2013

Oshun: The Yoruban Goddess of Love

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , at 6:13 am by Babs

Oshun delights in the creation of beauty and art, sensual delights and self-adornment.  Her symbols are mirrors, jewelry, honey, golden silks and feather fans.  Creativity in decorating home and temple is a way of honoring Oshun, who will bless any beautiful space created in Her honor.  There is no object so common that Oshun will not appreciate more if it is made artistic and pleasing to the eye.  Creativity in dress and self-adornment please her as well, and when Oshun is pleased, her blessings know no limits.

Originally named after a river, Oshun’s emblem is the brass bracelet worn by her worshipers, and a pottery dish filled with white stones from a ricer’s bed.  In her african homeland, Oshun mated with the God Change, with whom she had human children.  Their descendents, who still live along her waters, are forbidden to eat snails or beans, or to drink beer made from sorghum.

Oshun is still honored in Nigeria with an annual ceremony called Ibo-Osun.  A feast of yams begins the evening, then women dance for the goddess, hoping to be chosen as one of her favorites.  Those who are selected are granted new names which include that of the goddess: Osun Leye, “gift of Oshun”, or Osun Tola, “treasure of Oshun.”  Once selected in this way, the woman serves her community as advisor, particularly assisting with family problems and illnesses.  Oshun is especially consulted by those who wish to have children, for she encourages this womanly activity.

Oshun is the primary divinity of Oshogbo, an African orisha religion, where she is honored with brass objects, as well as jewel and yellow copper.  Her chief festival there celebrates the arrival of the ancestral family on the banks of Oshun’s river.  While bathing, one of the princesses apparently drowned, but reappeared soon after attired in gorgeous garments which, she said, Oshun had given her.  The alliance with the river goddess has continued to this day.

In the African diaspora, Oshun gained new names and titles: Oxum in Brazil; Ochun in Cuba; Erzulie-Freda-Dahomey in Haiti.  When she possesses dancers, their movements are those of a woman who loves to swim, who makes her arm bracelets jangle, and who admires herself in a mirror.  Her appearance is greeted with welcoming shouts of “Ore Yeye o!”  In Brazilian Macumba, Oshun is goddess of waters; she is depicted wearing jewels, holding a mirror, and wafting a fan.  Altars to her hold copper bracelets and fans, as well as dishes of Omuluku (onions, beans and salt).  She rules love, beauty and flirtation.  In Santeria, Oshun is revered as “Our Lady of La Caridad,” patron of the island of Cuba.

Oshun is the patroness of rivers and the bloodstream, the Nigerian goddess (also brought to Brazil and Cuba) was honored as the goddess of love and sensuality.  She wears seven bracelets, a mirror at her belt, river water in her pot, and is accompanied by her peacock and cricket.  She is depicted as an old wise woman sad at the loss of her beauty, or, alternatively is shown as a tall, coffee-skinned woman absolutely comfortable with her sexuality.

Oshun and the White Cloth

In the Yoruba religion of West Africa, one of the greatest of the Orishas is Obatala, father of wisdom, who was also called “King of the White Cloth”, because of the magnificent white cloth he wore.  Many times Oshun had asked him to teach her the power of divining.  And Obatala always said, “No, No, Oshun, you’re too young.  No, Oshun, you’re too pretty.  Oshun you can’t possibly learn the art of divining.”

It was the habit of Obatala to bathe in a certain pool.  And one day, as he was bathing, mischievous Eleggua, Orisha of the Crossroads, came by.  There was Obatala in his pool, with his beautiful white cloth folded nearby on a rock.  Eleggua saw his chance and made off with the cloth, so that when Obatala finished bathing, it was nowhere to be seen.  Ante there he had to remain, naked in the water, until Oshun happened by.  “What’s wrong, Father?”  she said.  “Well, Oshun,” said Obatala, “someone took my white cloth, and now, ah, I can’t leave the pool.  I’m sure you see my problem.”

Oshun looked around.  She noticed footprints going off into the forest, and she had a pretty good idea about who those footprints belonged to.  Oshun said, “Father, I’ll go and find your white cloth, but if I do, will you teach me the power of divining?”  And Obatala, who was becoming very tired of bathing, said, “Yes, yes, anything, just get me my cloth!”  So Oshun first went home to make a few preparations.  She took the rhythm and the flow of the river, and put them on her hips and in her walk.  And she took the sweet honey, and put it on her lips, on her breasts, on her voice.  And then she went to Eleggua’s house.  Eleggua was just putting that white cloth away, when he saw Oshun standing in his doorway, all golden in the sunlight.  And suddenly, Eleggua got a powerful, powerful urge for honey.

“Oshun, Oshun,” he said, “Give me some honey!”

Oshun said, “Give me the cloth.”

Eleggua said, “Honey!” Oshun said, “Cloth!”

Eleggua said, “Honey…”

Oshun said, “Cloth…”

Well, let us say they negotiated.  And at last, Oshun returned to Obatala in his pool, and gave him back his cloth.  And that was how Oshun came to learn the art of divining.  And when Oshun had learned all she could learn, she taught everyone in the village the art of divining, and she taught them all absolutely for free.  Which is why the Orisha Oshun, whose name also means sweet water, is also sometimes called the sacred whore.

Oshun is youngest of the Orisha, who represents female sexuality and is asociated with love, wealth, children and all the good things in life.  Among the Yoruba she is associated with the Osun River, but in the Americas she is the patron of all the sweet, that is not salty, waters.  Her color is yellow reminiscent of her trademark honey as well as the gold and champagne she loves.

As the goddess of the flowing river, Oshun exhibits its qualities.  She is vivacious, fresh, quick, lively, the most beautiful of the Orisha.  Her lush figure and sensuous hips embody the divine spark of erotic life.  Her name is related to the word for “source” and she is associated with basic concerns and the sources of life itself.  As the beautiful woman who reveals the wisdom of pleasure, she is graced by her priests with rich gifts: silks and perfumes, sweet foods flavored with her own honey (and in the New World, sugar), jewelry, coral, amber and all the red metals (copper, brass and gold, although in the New World copper is usually associated with Oya).  She is especially partial to champagne, the pale yellow drink that represents fine, even extravagant, living.  She is the lithe young woman in the full bloom of her womanhood.  Thus we find that in the New World, Oshun is often considered to be the young, sexual woman juxtaposed to Yemaya’s more maternal form.

Oh let me delight you with beauty

so the eye may dance with joy

let me seduce  you with scents

so that your nose inhales pleasure

let me tantalize your taste

till your tongue quivers

let me caress you with sound

that makes your ears sing and sing

let me touch your body

with waterfall music

and adorn your beauty with

golden bracelets and honey and perfume

and when all is experienced

when all your senses have been given play

when your spirit from the stars connects in a blissful way

with your body from the earth

then you will know sensuality.

The Mythology:

Oshun (pronounced oh-shun’), the Brazilian Macumba Goddess of the waters, rivers, streams, and brooks, is known for her love of beautiful things.  She loves to adorn herself, especially in yellows and golds.  Her rites at watery places include honoring her with honey and pennies (copper).  Her necklace of cowrie shells symbolizes her knowledge and power in divination.  It is said that the women dedicated to Oshun carry the special gift of their Goddess.  They walk and dance in the most tantalizing and provocative ways.  In their walk is the flow of the river.  None can escape their charms.

The Lessons of this Goddess

Oshun appears deductively in your life and cajoles you into remembering and honoring your sensuality.  Wholeness is nourished by focusing your attention and time on our body, respecting and giving play to your senses and your sensuality.  The Goddess is here to tell you that it is time for sensuality.  She invites you to follow her lead.  Oshun teaches us to “go with the flow” of our instincts in order to find inner tranquility.  Just as water ebbs and flows, allow yourself to live, being generous with your time for yourself during an “ebb”, and for others during a “flow”.

Suggested Mantra: Serenity

Suggested Affirmations:

  • Joy! Oh joy!
  • I allow myself to “be”
  • My creativity is energized
  • I enjoy being in the “moment”
  • I do what is easy, loving, fun and true
  • I surrender to the ebbs and flows of life

Gemstones:

  • Carnelian
  • Coral
  • Agate
  • Brown Jasper
  • Orange stones
  • Blue Calcite
  • Aquamarine
  • Copper

March 13, 2013

Britomartis: Minoan Goddess of Nature and Hunting

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , at 6:51 am by Babs

Early Crete had an elaborate and wealthy culture and based its worship on the female principle of nature.  When patriarchy overran the island, the theology of this culture was distorted and goddesses were demoted to heroines and their legends were grafted to those of Greek heroes.  Britomartis is one who has survived in this manner but some scholars suspect she may well be the greatest goddess of Minoan Crete.  She is traditionally depicted as a young, lithe and strong hunter, often carrying arrows.  This image was merged as a spoil of war, with the image of Artemis and has remained as Her image to this day.

Britomartis had as her companions, a suckling babe and a snake, two powerful symbols of the generative force.  Her name Britomartis means “sweet maiden”, “sweet girl”, “good maiden” or “sweet virgin”.  Britomartis was the daughter of Zeus and Carme, daughter of Eubulus.  She was born at Caeno on the island of Crete.  She was one of the Cretan nymphs.  Britomartis was also a huntress and a companion of Artemis.  Like the archer-goddess, Britomartis wanted to remain a virgin.

Minos expressed interest in the young woman but Britomartis didn’t want to have anything to do with the king, particularly considering that he was her half-brother (Minos was the son of Zeus and Europa).  Minos of Crete intended to rape the virginal goddess and chased her for nine months through forested land.  She eluded capture by throwing herself off a high cliff into the ocean.  There she was miraculously saved by Artemis who made her a goddess.  He caught her in the fish nets that she herself crafted and gave to humanity.  After this, in the western lands, she was called Dictynna (netted one).  Though, according to Diodorus Sicilus, she had already received this name, because Britomartis had invented the nets for hunting, called dictya.  It was this invention that she was named Dictynna.  While other people believed that she was named after Mounty Dicte, a mountain where she frequently hunted game with Artemis.  Dictynna was also possibly the Minoan Mountain Mother, where her sanctuaries were situated on mountaintops.  She retained the name Britomartis in the east.

The story that joins the two, with pursuit lasting nine months, the length of a human pregnancy, was a rebirth from the sea, suggests that this Goddess symbolizes the integrity of the feminine soul and rebirth.  Later Britomartis was also worshipped on Aegina where her temple, Aphaea, can still be seen.  Another version tells us she was Phoenician, and that she lived in Cephalonia, where she was worshipped as Laphria, before she went to Crete.

In Greek mythology, Britomartis was a mountain nymph (an oread) whom Greeks recognized also in Artemis, in Aphaea of Aegina, and in Kiktynna (derived by Hellenistic writers as from diktya, “hunting nets”).  She was worshipped as the Minoan goddess of mountains and hunting, an aspect of Potnia, the “mistress”.

The oldest aspect of the Cretan Goddess was as Mother of Mountains who appears on Minoan seals with the demonic features of a Gorgon, accompanied by the double axes of power and gripping divine snakes.  Her terror-inspiring aspect was softened by calling her Britomartis, a euphemism.  Every element of the classical myths that told of Britomartis served to reduce her power and scope, even literally to entrap her in nets (but only because she “wanted” to be entrapped): patriarchal writers even made her the “daughter” of Zeus, rather than his patroness when he was an infant in her cave on Mount Dikte, and they made her own tamed, “evolved” and cultured Olympian aspect, the huntress Artemis, responsible for granting Britomartis goddess status.  But the ancient goddess never disappeared and remained on the coins of Cretan cities, as herself or as Kiktynna, the goddess of Mount Dikte, Zeus’ birthplace.  As Diktynna, winged and now represented with a human face, she stood on her ancient mountain, and grasped an animal in each hand, in the guise of Potnia, the Mistress of animals. Later Greeks could only conceive of a mistress of animals as a huntress, but on the early seals she suckled griffon.  Archaic representations of winged Artemis show that she evolved from Potnia theron, the Mistress of Animals.

By Hellensitic and Roman times, Britomartis was given a genealogical setting that fitted her into a classical context:

Britomartis, who is also called Kiktynna, the myths relate, was born at Kaino in Crete of Zeus and Karme, the daughter of Euboulos who was the son of Demeter; she invented the nets [diktya] which are used in hunting.”  Diodorus Siculus 5.76.3.

In Minoan art, and on coins, seals and rings and the like throughout Greece, Britomartis is depicted with demonic features, carrying a double-handed axe and accompanied by feral animals.

As Diktynna

A xoanon, a cult wooden statue, of Britomartis, made by Daedalus, sat in the temple of Olous.  In Chersonesos and Olous, she was often portrayed on coins and was heavily worshipped in those cities; the festival Britomarpeia was held in her honor.  As Diktynna, her face was pictured  on Cretan coins of Kydonia, Polyrrhenia and Phalasarna as the nurse of Zeus.  On Crete, she was connected with the mountain where Zeus was said to have been born – Mt. Kikte.  Though temples existed to her in Athens and Sparta, she was primarily a goddess of local importance in Western Crete, such as Lysos and West of Kydonia.  Her temples were said to be guarded by vicious dogs stronger than bears.

As Aphaea

Britomartis was worshipped as Aphaea (Pausanias, 2.30.3) primarily on the island of Aegina in Mycenaean times, where the temple “Athena Aphaea” was later located.  With the coming of Athenian control over Aegina, a temple to her also existed on the outskirts of Athens, at the Aspropirgos.

As Britomart

Britomart figures in Edmund Spenser’s knightly epic The Faerie Queene, where she is an allegorical figure of the virgin Knight of Chastity, representing English virtue in particular English military power, through a newly coined etymology that associated Brit – as in Briton with Martis, here thought as of Mars, the Roman war-god).  In Spenser’s allegory, Britomart connotes the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I of England.

Britomartis was probably identical to or derived from the Bronze Age goddess Potniatheron, or the Mistress of Animals.  It seemed likely that Dictynna was called in PI-PI-TU-NA, a name found in the Linear B tablets, found in Knossos.  If this is true then Dictynna is an ancient Minoan goddess.  PI-PI-TU-NA, however, doesn’t appear in the tablets located in Pylos.

Britomartis has many of the attributes of Artemis but became the goddess of hunting, the earth, nature and wild animals.  Britomartis was a patron goddess of hunters, sailors and fishermen.  She may have originally being a Cretan moon goddess, as well.  Though Artemis also used this name as well, as Artemis Diktynna in her sanctuaries at Chania Bay and at Chersonesos; so some authors assumed that Diktynna was Artemis, not a separate goddess.

Besides the possibility that Orion was a potential lover for Artemis, there is ony one other person mentioned who caught the attention of the chaste goddess.  Bell insinuates that Artemis is in a homosexual relationship with a woman named Britomartis.  Artemis saved her from the sexual advances of Minos and then fell in love with her.

March 8, 2013

Benten: Japanese Goddess of Eloquence

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , at 11:26 am by Babs

Benten is the Japanese/ Buddhist goddess of love, beauty, eloquence, wisdom, arts and music, knowledge, good fortune, and water.  She is the protectress of children and the patroness of geishas, dancers, and musicians.  Originally she was a sea goddess or water goddess, on whose image many local deities near lakes were based.  Later she became a goddess of the rich and was added to the Shichi Fukujin.  The island of Enoshima rose up especially to receive her footsteps.

Her husband was a wicked dragon whom She reformed, and She is often shown riding one.  Dragons and their smaller relatives, snakes, are sacred to Her and snakes are often Her messengers.  She is said to prevent earthquakes and is worshipped on islands, especially the island of Enoshima.  Benten is originally of Hindu origin and is associated with Sarasvati, the Indian goddess of music and wisdom, and is sometimes shown with eight arms.  Benten is also linked to Kwannon or Kwan Yin, the sometimes female, sometimes male deity of compassion in Buddhism.

Benten is most often portrayed as a beautiful woman, riding a dragon while playing on a stringed instrument.  She has eight arms and in her hands she holds a sword, a jewel, a bow, an arrow, a wheel, and a key.  Her remaining two hands are joined in prayer.  It is often related that when a dragon devoured many children, she descended to earth to stop his evil work thus gaining her the title of protectress of children.

Benten is one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune who sails on the Takara-bune, the treasure ship.  Traditionally a picture of the Takura-bune placed under the pillow on New Year’s Eve will bring a lucky dream.  Benten brings luck and good fortune, persuasion and seduction.

Alternate names: Benzaiten, Benza-tennyo, Benzai-ten

Origin India.  Sanskrit Sarasvati.

Shinto Association: Kami Itsukushima Hime

Member of the TENBU

One of Japan’s Seven Lucky Deities

Associations: The Naga (Snakes & Dragons).  Benten is often depicted in artwork surrounded by white serpents or crowned with a white serpent.  At other times she appears with a sea dragon.  Images of her are also sometimes accompanied by a large white serpent with the head of an old man.  This latter entity is called Hakuja, considered her companion.  Even today, when many of the myths surrounding Benten are mostly forgotten, the Japanese believe that seeing a white snake is an open of great luck, but not many will remember why.  Furthermore, in modern Japan, Buddhism and Shinto continue to share deities despite earlier and aggressive government attempts to divide te two into distinct camps during the Meiji Era of State Shinto.  For example, the Japanese have merged Inari, the Shinto god/ goddess of rice, with Benten, the goddess of art and music.  The composite deity is called Uga Benzaiten.

In Japan, the worship of the Goddess Kichijouten has been largely supplanted by Benten worship.  The sea goddess, the sole female among the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan, invariably has Her temples and shrines in the neighborhood of water ; the sea, a river, or a pond.  She is the patroness of music, the fine arts (dancing, acting, visual) and good fortune in general.  She is often shown carrying a biwa (Japanese mandolin) or playing a lute.  She is often represented as a beautiful woman with the power to assume the form of a serpent, of shown seated  on a dragon or serpent and playing a lute.  In fact, the snake is almost always associated with Benten, who was originally a Hindu deity (Sarasvati) who represented learning, music and poetry.  Such artistic learning and wisdom often bring prosperity, hence her inclusion in the Japanese group of seven luckies.  She also has a jewel that grants desires.  Some say it is a jade, while others say it is a pearl.

In India, she was named after an Indian river with the same name (Sarasvati).  She arrived in Japan soon after the introduction of Buddhism to this island in the 6th century, and her worship was based largely on her attributes as described in the Sutra of Golden Light.

On days of importance to the serpent in Japan, one can find many festivals at the numerous Japanese shrines and temples dedicated to Benten, in which votive pictures with serpents drawn on them are offered.  It is also said that putting a cast-off snake-skin in your purse/ wallet will bring you wealth and prosperity.  Finally, during the Kamakura Period, artists for the first time began to create “naked” sculptures of Buddhist and Shinto deities.  The object of their artistic talents was often Benten, although other deities, like Jizo Bosatsu, were also sculpted in the nude.

Benten’s Children

In early Buddhism in India, Benten is associated with 16 children said to be incarnations of the various Buddhist deities who symbolize the crafts for which she is the patroness.  At Hase Dera in Kamakura, a cave with 16 life-size statues, all female, is found on the ground level of the temple.

One story is that 15 princes and 1 princess set out from Japan, which at that time was still part of the ancient continent of Mu, to populate the world.  They went to various parts of the globe and apparently their names are even similar to the names of the various continents and countries.

Money-Washing Tradition

In the Konkomyo-saisho-o-kyo Sutra in Japan, she is said to protect those who possess this sutra and to help them acquire all sorts of material gain.  The Zeniarai Benten Shrine in Kamakura City is devoted to the goddess Benton.  At this shrine, believers “wash” their money in water to make it reproduce and increase.  But there is another deity, known as Fudo Myou-ou, who can work the same miracle.

This money-washing tradition is easy to understand for Benten.  She is the goddess of fortune and shrines/ temples devoted to her are always located near water.  She is associated with the Naga who guard treasure.  But why Fudo Myou-ou?  His real symbol is fire.  His aureole is almost always the flames of fire.  He is also the main honzon for Goma, a fire ceremony still popular today in which defilements are symbolically burnt away.  So why would people wash money under Fudo’s protection?  Because he washes away impurities?  Maybe, perhaps, because drawings of Fudo show him standing on a rock rising fromt he sea?  For example, the drawing at Daigoji, Kyoto and the famous 1282 drawing by Shinkai of Fudou standing on a rock rising from the sea.  More over, Kurikara, and Fudou are found often near ascetic practice places, such as small waterfalls.  Perhaps this is the reason.

Zeniarai Benten Shrine is a popular shrine in western Kamakura, where people flock in order to wash their money (zeniarai means “coin washing”).  It is said that money washed in the shrine’s spring, will double.

Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura government, ordered the shrine’s construction after a god appeared in his dream and recommended him to build the shrine in order to bring peace to the country.  Because the dream occurred on the day of the snake, in the month of the snake of the year of the snake, the shrine was later dedicated to Benten because of her association with snakes.    Zeniarai Benten Shrine is a nice surviving example of the fusion of Buddhism and Shinto.  Many other shrines were stripped of their Buddhist connections when the Meiji government attempted to emancipate and separate Shinto from Buddhism.

The money washing takes place in a cave.  Kami are Shinto sacred spirits that are the objects to pray to for blessings and grace and to worship for their spirituality.  The kami can take various forms including the forms of natural elements like trees, rocks, mountains, the wind, and the sun.  The also take the form of national heroes and protectors of family clans or abstract things like fertility.

Kami are the only things that have great influence on daily life.  The kami of natural phenomena are worshipped: kami of the seas, kami of the rivers, kami of the thunders, kami of the rains, kami of the mountains.  It is important to perform rites for kami since although they usually guard and bless people they can also get angry an bring misfortunes upon them.  The kami are neither omnipotent nor omniscient.  In Shinto mythology, the kamiah that gave birth to the land of Japan failed at first and had to ask for help from other kami in heaven who told them to search for the answers through the practice of divination.  There are no absolutes or perfect kami.

The people worship the divine spirits, Shinrei, because they have great influence in their lives and they are in awe of the Magatsuhi Kami who bring evil into the daily living.  Some of the most widely recognized of the Shinto gods and goddesses were Amaterasu, Benten, Daikokuten, Ebisu, Futotama, Hachiman, Inari, Inazuma, Izanagi, Izanami, Okuninushi, Sengen, Susanowa, Tenjin, and Toyouke.

Many of these ancient Japanese Shinto kami goddesses and gods are living myths today.  Amaterasu was a highly revered Japanese Shinto sun goddess.  The daughter of the Creator god Izanagi and goddess Izanami, Amaterasu was known as “She Who Shines in the Heavens”, “Illustrious Goddess”, and “Ruler of the Plain of Heaven”, and the Japanese Imperial family was descended from her.  Written about in the Kojiki and Nihongi Japanese Sacred Texts, she has been revered since at least 600 ACE.

Benten was a beautiful Japanese goddess of the arts, good fortune, knowledge, language, water, wealth, and wisdom.  One of the Shichi Fujukin, “Seven Japanese Shinto Happiness Beings”, Enoshima Island rose from the waters to receive the footsteps of Benten.  There are many sanctuaries dedicated to Benten like the popular Zeniarai Benten Shrine in western Kamakura.  She was revered in both Japanese Shinto and Buddhist traditional practices.  Benten was also the protectress of children, dancers, geishas, and musicians.  Benten is often depicted holding a “Biwa” instrument in her hand.

As an Archangel Bentael Benten serves as an Archangel of the Forth Ray of Wisdom Integration.  She brings radiant concern, cheerful encouragement, and considerate understanding to the Fourth Ray of Wisdom Integration.  The Sacred Site focal point of Archangel Benten is the Zeniarai Benten Shrine, Kamakura, Japan.  She shows, steers seekers of concrete comprehension with realistic determination, as they proceed, step by step, from devoted kindness assurance to merited influential development.

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