Heavenly Beings: Susanoo and Orochi

You are probably familiar with some of the famous gods and goddesses of Greco-Roman mythology, and in this class you will get a chance to learn about the gods and goddesses of other cultures around the world. The story below features a divine character from Japanese mythology: Susanoo, the god of the seas and storms. His opponent is the Eight-Forked Serpent known also as Orochi.

Story source: Romance of Old Japan, Part I: Mythology and Legend by E. W. Champney and F. Champney (1917).

The Eight-Forked Serpent of Koshi

One day Susa-no-wo discerned a chopstick drifting down the River Hi and, deeming that there must needs be folk dwelling in the country above, set forth questing what manner of men they might be.

When he had journeyed far into the forest fastnesses he came upon a grey-bearded man and an aged crone weeping, with a fair maiden set between them, whom they caressed as though bidding her a last farewell.

Susa-no-wo saluted them courteously, saying: “Who are ye, Gods or mortals? For ne’er before have I beheld Children of Earth in these lone mountains.”

Thereupon the greybeard answered: “Thy humble servant, Great Augustness, is a deity of earth cleped Ashinadzuchi (Foot-stroke Elder), son of the Mountain-God. My wife is Tenadzuchi (Hand-stroke Elder), and this damsel is our daughter, Kushinada-hime (Wondrous-fair Princess).”

“Why lament ye thus piteously?” asked Susa-no-wo, and the aged man answered: “Alas, most honourable Lord, we bewail the loss of our eight beloved daughters, who, year after year, have been slain and devoured by the terrible eight-forked serpent of Koshi. Time is that the loathly monster cometh and this our last remaining daughter will surely perish. Wherefore do we grieve exceedingly.”

“Tell me,” entreated Susa-no-wo, “what manner of fish is this monster?”

“It hath eyes as red as a ripe mountain cherry, a noisome blood-inflamed body, armed with eight fearsome heads and eight forked tails. Moreover its back is all overgrown with firs, cedars, and pines, and it trails its tortuous coils over eight valleys and as many mountains.”

Quoth Susa-no-wo: “Aged stranger, I will gladly slay the loathly dragon, if thou wilt but give to me this thy beauteous daughter in marriage.”

“With all reverence be it said,” replied the father.

“I am ignorant of thine august name.”

“Thou beholdest in me,” boasted Susa-no-wo, “none other than the brother of the glorious Sun Goddess Amaterasu, Heaven-descended ruler of Yamato.”

Whereupon the deities Ashinadzuchi and Tenadzuchi made no further ado, but assented joyously to his request.

Forthwith Susa-no-wo took the maiden from the arms of her honourable parents and transformed her into a many-toothed comb which he thrust into his dishevelled hair.

He then bade the aged crone brew a great quantity of sake of eightfold strength, and fashioned a rampart of pointed logs wherein he hung eight goodly doors. At each portal he set a vast vat which he filled with the sake of eightfold strength. Then, with the utmost deliberation, he awaited the coming of the dread monster.

After a little the great serpent came lumbering its enormous carcass over hill and ravine until it reached the rampart of pointed logs. Here it paused at the portals and lapped up the liquor with its eight forked tongues. Whereupon it became unseemly drunken, laughing hilariously, slashing and cavorting its several tails like one bewitched, until, overcome little by little by a great drowsiness, it lay down to sleep.

Thereupon Susa-no-wo of a sudden drew his ten-span sword and slashed the monster into a thousand fragments. A river of blood gushed from each separate head, and as he severed the last remaining tail the edge of his august sword was notched. Marvelling greatly, he slit the tail of the serpent and discovered therein a miraculous sword, the divine Kushanagi (Herb-queller), which he delivered to the God of Heaven.

Then Susa-no-wo retransformed his many-toothed comb into the beauteous Kushinada-hime, whom he wedded forthwith in the province of Izumo.

Image Information: Susanoo slaying the Yamata-no-Orochi, ca. 1870, by Toyohara Chikanobu.