The Ainu people of Japan suffered oppression at the hands of the Japanese which was similar to that suffered by various conquered peoples around the world at the hands of the Western World, Russia, China and the Muslim World.
The Ainu migrated south to the Japanese islands from the northern lands of the Inuit. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will recognize the similarities between the Ainu and Inuit belief systems and methods of worship. In addition certain linguistic similarities will be noted between the Ainu and the Japanese. The Shinto “kami” becomes the Ainu “kamui”, to cite the most prominent example.
As with the Inuit, exact names and aspects of the following deities can vary, with the most pronounced differences being in Saghalien.
- NOTE: I am still working out my entry on the Ainu bear god. If you know the Ainu then you know that that entry alone may double the size of this article. And as always, anyone curious about my source books can just ask.
RUKORO – The Ainu god of the male privy. No, I’m not kidding. The powerful stench from his domain serves the useful purpose of fending off evil spirits. Because of his association with evacuation and expulsion of things unclean he is regarded as a powerful exorcist. There is no corresponding goddess of the female privy, owing to primitive taboos about menstruation.
CHUP – The sun god of the Ainu. His wife is Tombe, the moon goddess. Ainu homes orient their sacred window toward the east to greet the rising sun. Until recent decades it was customary to salute the sun upon exposure to its rays, similar to the practice of genuflecting to the center of an altar, but done without kneeling.
It was considered disrespectful to bodily cross the rays of sunlight striking the hearth through the sacred window. It was better to wait until the position of the sun changed. An inau, one of the idols or totems of the Ainu people, would be set up to honor the sun. That inau bears an incised outline of the orb of the sun and during rituals libations and praise are offered up to Chup.
IRURA – This goddess was the psychopomp of the Ainu pantheon. She and her dog would guide a dead spirit from their gravepost in this world to whichever afterlife the fire goddess Fuchi had decreed the soul should be sent to, either for reward or punishment. Souls being punished were not subjected to hellfire, like in many Western traditions, but were instead condemned to a realm of constant icy-cold rains.
THE THREE BROTHERS NAMED SEREMAK, URESPA & USAPKI:
A) SEREMAK – The patron god of vigor, vitality and general physical fitness. He had a flattened belly (“Six-Pack abs of the Gods!”), nine pairs of wings and wielded a sword and a spear made of mugwort.
B) URESPA – The deity who oversaw the rearing and training of children. He also played a role in maintaining the child’s health until they reached their teen years. In the event of a child suffering from a long illness effigies of him would be crafted and used in rituals to restore the child’s health.
C) USAPKI – The god who granted individuals sufficient skill at hunting and fishing. He is not to be confused with the actual goddesses of hunting and fishing. Usapki was a more personal deity invoked to refine one’s personal skill, like a coach.
KANNA – The thunder/ storm god of the Ainu people. His children are all of the lesser storm deities and often live – or at least ride around – on individual clouds.
Kanna and his offspring are often depicted in flying dragon form and so, since dragons are serpents he is conflated in some myths with Kinashut, the chief serpent deity.
Oddly storm deities were not objects of individual worship in Ainu beliefs. In fact even most winds were viewed as at least partially evil. The standout exception is the north wind, which is revered for safely guiding the ships of the Ainu people’s ancient ancestors southward from Inuit lands.
In some traditions Kanna is one of the parents of Fuchi, the fire goddess.
OKIKURMI – Also called Aeoina. The hero and culture god sent down from the heavens by the sky god Kando-Koro. There are a multitude of myths regarding his parentage. Okikurmi wielded a spear made of mugwort and was cloaked below the waist in some of the purifying flames of the fire goddess Fuchi. His upper body was protected by a cloak of elm-bark provided by the vegetation god Shiramba.
Okikurmi slew countless monsters and other menaces – including the plague god Pakoro, one of his potential fathers. He taught the ancient Ainu how to hunt and fish as well as which weapons were to be used on which animals to show the patron god of those animals the proper respect.
He also instructed them on how to build homes and worship the gods (the practice of “oripak”). Other aspects of civilization that he taught them included agriculture, tattooing, the law, music and so on. Eventually, weary of the Ainu’s human faults he returned to the home of the gods. (In some versions he just leaves for another land)
Among the monsters slain by this god were a whale-sized trout-creature in a mountain lake, a creature who had defeated all the other gods who had done battle with it. In addition Okikurmi slew a tree-sized bear who was eating up all the Ainu’s game animals, an enormous sword-fish monster and the Huri – giant, cave- dwelling birds who devoured human beings.
The culture god also defeated the evil sub-aquatic goddess Moshir Huchi, who had trapped all the fish of the waters in a wickerwork trap, thus denying them to the Ainu and causing hardship. Moshir Huchi has disheveled hair, like the Inuit sea goddess Sedna, who often withholds fish from the Inuit to punish them for violating taboos. In battling Okikurmi the goddess’ living hair entangles itself around the hero and his weapons until he cuts it all away.
Okikurmi taught subsequent shamans of the Ainu how to travel beneath the sea in their astral/ spiritual bodies to do battle with this goddess whenever she withholds fish from the Ainu. They must shear off her hair as the culture god did. This is similar to how Inuit shamans travel in their spiritual bodies to appease Sedna by combing and untangling her hair. In Sedna’s case, however, she is always a revered deity and is not considered evil like Moshir Huchi.
Okikurmi’s wife was the younger sister of the owl god Kotan (also called Chikap). In some traditions their sons were Seremak, Urespa and Usapki, mentioned above.
UARI – The goddess who was deputized by the fire goddess Fuchi to preside over difficult childbirths. The difficulties could be attributed to unclean influences being present or even outright interference by evil forces. The complexity and diversity of Ainu rituals that could be used to accompany difficult births would fill an entire book all by themselves. Sometimes a temporary “secondary hearth” would be constructed in the home during labor, a secondary hearth dedicated to Uari.
WAKKA-USH – The goddess who ruled over all the world’s waters from the rivers and oceans down to the tiniest streams and ponds. She had an entire entourage of subordinate deities whom she assigned to rule over individual bodies of water and various creatures of the sea. Offerings to her were made at bodies of water as well as at the spirit fence outside Ainu homes.
A major myth featuring Wakka-Ush involved her seduction of the husband of the fire goddess Fuchi. The husband left Fuchi for the water goddess but Fuchi fought Wakka-Ush and defeated her. Fuchi then took her repentant husband home with her but ignored him for an extended period to teach him a lesson.
On another occassion Wakka-Ush and her subordinate deity Chiwash – the goddess of the river rapids – saved the ancient Ainu from a famine by negotiating peace between humans and the hunting goddess Hashinau-Uk. The goddesses instructed humanity’s intermediary Aeiona the proper rituals for hunting and fishing and he in turn educated the Ainu.
MOSHIRI – Also called Moshiri-Kara. This Ainu deity falls under the global mythological category called Divine Geographers like Inugpasug from the Inuit pantheon, Khong Lo from the Vietnamese pantheon, Halmang from the Korean pantheon and Rapeto from the Merina pantheon in Madagascar.
Moshiri was dispatched to the Earth by Kando-Koro, the sky god and supreme ruler of Kamuikando, the heavenly home of the gods. Kando-Koro sent Moshiri down to form the amorphous mass of the Earth into separate continents, then form mountains, rivers, lakes and islands. Moshiri’s crowning and most important work of geographical structuring was the lands to be inhabited by the Ainu people. (Again we see that this type of ethnic chauvinism is a universal human foible)
Moshiri was a gigantic figure, like his fellow Divine Geographers and his tools were likewise enormous. The final landmark that Moshiri created in the islands to be inhabited by the Ainu was Mount Optateshke. When he was completed with that majestic mountain Kando-Koro and other Ainu deities came down to admire his handiwork. Kando-Koro declared Moshiri’s work to be completed and so Moshiri flew back to Kamuikando with the other gods and goddesses.
The deity had forgotten his mattock on top of Mount Optateshke, and as the wooden handle of the mattock rotted the world’s first forest of elm trees grew from it.
HASHINAU-UK – The goddess of the hunt. If properly propitiated she watched over hunters and guided them to their prey. On top of that she protected the Ainu from the dark forces that lurked in the forests in the form of demons and monsters. When someone is possessed by a red fox or a badger Hashinau-Uk can be prayed to for help. In addition she protected fishermen on the shore but not those who actually took to sea, where they were under the protection of the water goddess Wakka-Ush.
KOTAN – Also called Chikap. The god who was considered to be in charge of overseeing the Ainu villages. His familiar animals were owls, especially eagle-owls, and those birds helped him watch over the communites of the Ainu. As a municipal deity Kotan had special importance to village chiefs, called Sapane Guru. The Ainu had no temples per se, but the home of the village’s Sapane Guru came the closest to fulfilling that role.
Kotan often reflected the municipal character of each Ainu village. In villages that were more urban and therefore less tied to hunting Hashinau-Uk, the goddess of the hunt, was revered much less than she was in more rural areas. This diminution of her standing in urban regions was such that in the famine myth it is Kotan who saves the ancient Ainu from the famine, not the hunting goddess in conjunction with the water goddess Wakka-Ush. (Similar to Inuit mythology in which the caribou goddess Pukimna was more important to the Inuit of the interior than the sea goddess Sedna, who held much more importance in the beliefs of the coastal Inuit.)
In the “Kotan-centric” version the owl god is alarmed by the famine and wants to send one of his subordinate bird deities as a messenger to the heavenly realm of the gods. The messenger is to inform the sky god Kando-Koro about the famine and determine its cause. The crow god Okkayu and the mountain jay god Eyami each in turn fall asleep while Kotan recites his lengthy message.
Exasperated, Kotan next calls upon the Siberian Dipper god Korono. This bird deity is able to stay awake through the whole message, flies to the heavens and recites it to Kando-Koro. The sky god sends back the reply that the famine is due to violation of taboos regarding the treatment of game animals. Kotan tells this to humanity by way of dreams and rewards Korono with the permanent job as his messenger god.
The owl god was also considered the deity who oversaw each family’s prosperity or lack of it. Gold and silver were sometimes said to fall from Kotan’s eyes to deserving Ainu people. Other versions depict Kotan ordering one of his subordinate bird deities – the god of the fictional Kesorap bird – to distribute the gold and silver.
KANDO-KORO – The Ainu sky god. He possessed and ruled over the celestial regions, including the land of the gods (Kamui Kando “God Realm”) the Susa- Ram Pet (“Willow- Soul River”) and the Pet Noka (“River of the Sky”) – the Milky Way. His wife was the goddess Nishkanru, the star goddess and Divine Wife. “The woman above the high clouds” was an epithet for her.
In the distant past Kando-Koro sent the god Moshiri down to the Earth to form the lands that would be the home of the Ainu people. Later he sent down Aeoina to teach the Ainu how to launch their civilization.
SHIRAMBA – The god of all vegetation, with particular importance placed on trees, especially oaks. Shiramba was to be thanked for all of the products and by-products of vegetation, from wood with all its uses to food to medicinal herbs and so on.
Called “the upholder of the world” Shiramba was also considered the lord of all products made from wood such as homes, boats, carts, inau, etc. This made him a very powerful deity second in daily importance only to the fire goddess Fuchi.
FUCHI – The fire goddess as well as the most prominent and active deity in the Ainu pantheon. Fuchi always had to be invoked before any other deities because as the goddess of fire and the hearth she was considered the go-between for mortals and the gods. The hearth was considered the portal to the afterlife and Fuchi oversaw communication with dead ancestors and was also in charge of the souls being born into infants.
If a child died in infancy its soul stayed in the hearth with Fuchi until she saw fit to place it within another fetus. The Ainu went for a long time – even among primitive peoples of all colors – without making a direct connection between intercourse and impregnation. Until the last century and a half they clung to the belief that pregnancy happened strictly because the fire goddess had chosen to bestow a child on a woman.
The connection between souls and fire was the fact that the Ainu believed the soul was the inner fire that kept the body warm. Dead bodies were thought to become cold because the soul had left them. This is why souls fell under Fuchi’s purview as the goddess of fire and the hearth, which kept the home warm.
The fire goddess had divinatory powers through her needles and sowing. By staring at her needle she would enter a trance-like state and by letting it work on its own she would sow a pattern that enabled her to piece together whatever she wanted to know. This was how she learned the goddess Wakka-Ush had stolen her husband in the myth about their battle.
In addition to punishing violations of taboos Fuchi also played a complex tutelary role, speaking to the Ainu in dreams and mentoring Ainu women in making the elaborate girdles called “kuts”. These kuts served a number of purposes both ritually and spiritually. After death the deeds that Fuchi had observed an Ainu soul commit during life would help her decide to send the deceased to the regular Netherworld (Pokna Moshiri) or the Wet Netherworld (Teine Pokna Moshiri), where evildoers and violaters of taboos were punished.
FOR THE TOP 15 IROQUOIS DEITIES CLICK HERE –https://glitternight.com/2013/01/28/the-top-fifteen-deities-in-iroquois-mythology/
FOR SIMILAR ARTICLES AND MORE OF THE TOP LISTS FROM BALLADEER’S BLOG CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/top-lists/
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19 responses to “TOP DEITIES IN AINU MYTHS”
That outhouse god got me to read the whole article!
He must be very persuasive!
I love your mythology posts!
Such underappreciated gods!
I know what you mean.
Your interpretation of native American beliefs is excellent.
I love your gift for describing these deities!
I followed a link from some nerdy boys who run a forum where they pout about your politics but note how good you are about Ainu myths.
Well thank you very much for saying so.
Very interesting breakdown of the Ainu gods!
Thank you very much for saying so.
The way you bring these myths to life is a real talent.
Thank you very much.
You have the greatest Ainu blog posts on the web. Are you married?
Thanks! No, I’m not married.
The sun god and a moon goddess actually switch places so the the sun god is now the moon god and the moon goddess is now the sun goddess