The common Pagan/Wiccan belief in the Divine Masculine and Feminine (or Great God and Great Goddess) is shared in many other faiths, and Shinto is no exception, having quite a few masculine/feminine parings in its pantheon. Shinto probably owes much of this to Chinese folk religion, in which the concept of Yin and Yang stresses the balance between Masculine and Feminine. Whenever I invoke the Great God and Goddess, I remember that I am also invoking those Masculine/Feminine deities in Shinto, and vice versa. Here’s a few of the divine Masculine/Feminine pairings that can be found in Shinto and related Japanese folk beliefs
Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto – Two of the most important deities in Shinto, Izanagi and Izanami are the divine creators, responsible for the birth of the other kami (gods and goddesses). Their story is very similar to that of Orpheus and Eurydice – after dying in childbirth, Izanami decends into the underworld and Izanagi tries to follow her. Izanami warns Izanagi not to look upon her, but he betrays her and lights a fire to see her, and shrinks back in horror to find her rotten and decaying. In rage, Izanami chases Izanagi from the Underworld. Another account tells us that Izanami eats from the food of the Underworld which binds her there forever – much like the myth of Hades and Persephone.
Amaterasu Omikami and Tsukuyomi no Mikoto – Like many religions, Shinto recognises the Sun and Moon as a divine Masculine/Feminine pair. But unlike many religions, the Japanese see the Sun as the feminine (the goddess Amaterasu Omikami) and the Moon as the masculine (the god Tsukuyomi no Mikoto). Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi were said to be born from the eyes of Izanagi upon washing them after his journey to the Underworld. It is fairly unusual that in this pairing, Amaterasu is most definitely the dominant force. She is often considered the most important deity in the Shinto pantheon, while Tsukuyomi holds a fairly minor role – little is known about him.
Jou and Uba – A legendary old couple who have become dosojin – wayside guardian spirits. A little more positive than Izanagi and Izanami’s relationship, they represent harmony and love in marriage. The characters of the Old Man and Old Woman are very important in Japanese folklore – a large proportion of mukashi-banashi (Japanese fairy tales) begin with the words, “Once upon a time in a certain place, there lived an old man and an old woman.” [Picture: By Yanajin33 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]
Orihime and Hikoboshi – Originally from Chinese mythology, Orihime is the “Weaver Princess” identified with the star Vega, and Hikoboshi is the “Cowherd Star” identified with Altair. During the Tanabata festival in Japan, the two are said to meet across the Milky Way – you can read more about this festival here. [Picture: “Yoshitoshi – 100 Aspects of the Moon – 40-2” by 月岡芳年 – http://www.ukiyoart.com/img/YoshitoshiShogokuKengyoiFullSize.html. Licensed under パブリック・ドメイン via ウィキメディア・コモンズ]
Tsuru and Kame – Tsuru means “crane,” and kame means “turtle.” Again of Chinese origin, cranes and turtles paired together represent longevity. In Japan, the famous mukashi-banashi tells of the legend Urashima Taro, who turns into a crane after falling in love with the sea goddess Otohime in the form of a turtle. So again, the two can represent the divine masculine/feminine union.
Obina and Mebina – At Hina Matsuri, Japanese households display dolls representing an Emperor and Empress, called Obina and Mebina. Although not regarded as deities, there is still a sacredness attached to these dolls, and again they can be seen as representing a divine masculine/feminine pair. [Photo: “HinaDolls-Emperor-Empress-topplatform2011” by Nesnad – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
Inari Okami – Although usually regarded as a single deity, Inari Okami nevertheless represents a union between the divine masculine and feminine for me. Inari-sama is depicted equally as male and female, and his temples are always guarded by a pair of fox statues – one male, one female.