This is the last of five Mythological Spotlights that was originally a Deific Masks page.
Shiva is a very complex deity. He is usually the destroyer of the universe, though also sometimes considered a creator in some sects, and he is also a deity of the powers of liberation. He holds the trident of divine power, the drum of cosmic vibration, and the flame of destruction. He also wears the beautiful goddess of the Ganges river in his locks of hair. Despite his nature as a destroyer and a generally wild deity, he is known for being respectful, friendly, kind, loyal, and protective to his devotees, which probably explains a lot of his popularity as a deity. He also upholds cosmic balance and has the power to bring opposites together. As Mahadeva he is associated with the powers of the heavens and cosmos, one of the most powerful, if not the highest, of the Hindu pantheon of deities. Shiva is also represented as a Lord of Music (Vinadhara), and a Lord of the Dance. As Pashupati he is the lord of animals. In his capacity as the destroyer, Shiva destroys clutter to make way for space, harmony, and serenity.
It has been speculated that a seal found in Mohenjo-daro, an ancient settlement located in what is now Pakistan, depicts an early version of the Vedic deity Rudra, who went on to become the modern Hindu deity Shiva. The deity in question and its seal was named Pashupati, after one of Shiva’s epithets (which means “Lord of Animals”), and shown with the horns of a water buffalo, sitting in a yogic pose, and surrounded by animals. However, for many, Shiva originated as the Vedic deity Rudra. Funny enough, it is said that in Vedic times, an epithet given to Rudra and other deities was Siva (which means “The Auspicious One”), which would become the name of the modern Shiva.
Rudra himself was a lord of storms, wind, and the hunt, and was considered a dangerous and frightening deity, the embodiment of unpredictable and wild nature (which might have made his Siva epithet bitterly ironic). The Rigveda praises Rudra as one of the mightiest deities, if not the mightiest. His sons were a group of storm deities known as the Maruts, who were violent young warriors that attended to the weather deity Indra. Rudra was also feared to cause diseases to people and cattle with his arrows, but it was also believed he was capable of healing people as well. He was mainly appeased and worshiped out of fear rather than devotion, due to his mostly malevolent and unpredictable nature, and was often associated desolate and distant places.
Rudra’s depiction started to change when he became identified as Shiva, the destroyer of the universe and liberator of souls, which likely began with a body of Indian texts known as the Upanishads. One of these texts, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, is notable for is focus on Rudra and Shiva. In fact, it’s the first text where Shiva is definitely used as an epithet for Rudra; the wild, fierce, destructive, and borderline-malevolent deity Rudra started also being considered a kind and benign deity. Over time, Rudra and Shiva became viewed as one and the same deity, and in the time of another body of texts known as the Puranas, the notion of a trinity of deities (that of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer) emerged and Shiva’s role within it was: he was the destroyer and regeneration of the universe, the deity of transformation, and a liberator of souls. However, it was and still is often the case that one or two members of the trinity were favored more than the other. Vishnu and Shiva were always more popular and were treated as the Supreme Being by different sects of Hinduism. There are some who believe Shiva is the supreme being, and Vishnu and Brahma (among other deities) are merely aspects of him, while others believe Vishnu is the supreme being and Shiva is just his supreme guru and the ruler of the material world. Two sects represent each position respectively, and have often taken to vilifying each other and even demonizing their patron gods as liars. Even to this day most people prefer one of them over the other or both, but the deity Brahma never attained same kind of prominence. This may be partly to do with a myth in which Shiva cursed Brahma to never be worshiped. Some say it was because Brahma mated with a goddess named Shatarupa, which was considered incestuous because Brahma had created her and so she was considered to be his daughter. Today, Shiva is one of the most widely worshiped deities in Hinduism and is considered to be benevolent and just as well as destructive, and he is also worshiped in many forms and under many names. Many myths show him to be more powerful than almost all other deities, if not all other deities, and the devas tend to call on either him or Vishnu for aid. The only deity shown to be possibly more powerful than Shiva is his wife, Parvati, whenever she is angered or takes on terrfyingly wrathful forms such as Kali (whose dance of bloodlust almost destroyed the universe before Shiva lay himself beneath her feat as a mattress).
In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Shiva is manifested as the deity Mahakala, a wrathful protective deity (particularly one classed as Dharmapala or “protector of Dharma”) charged with defending practitioners, schools, and teachings of the Buddhist faith. In Buddhist lore, Mahakala is considered a wrathful manifestation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Mahakala arrived to Japan from China (where he was also considered a protective deity) and become a household deity of fortune and farmers, associated with prosperity, and was named Daikokuten. Despite his happy and benign personality, Daikokuten could also assume a wrathful form with six arms and three heads, referred to as Sanmen Daikokuten. Shiva himself also made his way to Japan as one of twelve devas who guard the eight directions, the sun, the moon, up, and down. He is known in Japanese esoteric Buddhism as Ishanaten or Daijizaiten, and he was believed to protect the northeast direction and live in the sixth heaven (the heaven of the world of desire). He is also believed to have been subjugated by Gozanze Myo-O, one of the Five Wisdom Kings, before becoming a Buddhist deity. There is also a myth from medieval times which stated that Japan itself was the domicile of Daijizaiten, who was thought to be its cosmic ruler and the inventor of the Chinese writing script. In the same myth, Vishnu (Bichuten) was the cosmic ruler of China and the creator of the Kharosthi script, while Brahma (Bonten) was the cosmic ruler of India and the creator of its script.
Shiva’s complexity has made him a hugely successful deity in the Hindu mythos. He has been able to capture multiple mythological connotations that render him a particularly universal deity within Hinduism. His association with asceticism has also led him to be taken as a totem of Hindu orthopraxy in that he represents the state to which the yogis aspire to, that which they seek to become through the attainment of God-realization. His dark side through Mahakala lends itself nicely to the Tantric framework and the resultant transmutation into Japan seems to have made him something of a chthonic god. As such, the universality of Shiva is a strength that allows him to travel throughout the East.
This is one of five Mythological Spotlights that were originally Deific Masks pages.
Beelzebub is the king of demons, the ruler of Hell, the prince of darkness, or at least that is what is implied in the New Testament when Jesus was accused of casting out demons by “the prince of demons”. The Devil as a broad concept of Christian mythos tends to be associated with many names, and in some ways what you might call him depends of how you view him. Strictly speaking, Satan is the accusing angel who prosecutes Man and presides over the principle of evil on God’s command, and indeed he was never the ruler of Hell so much as its eventual prisoner. But if it is the popular prince of demons you are looking for, Beelzebub is the Devil you are looking for.
The name Beelzebub comes from the name of a deity attested to in the Hebrew Bible called Baal-Zebub (or Baal Zebul). He was a deity worshiped by the Philistines at the city of Ekron, located somewhere in what is now Israel. According to the Book of Kings (2), the Israelite king Ahaziah sent oracles and messengers to this deity after recovering from a fall, but the prophet Elijah stopped them, condemned Ahaziah for seeking aid from a deity other than the national deity of Israel (Yahweh/Jehovah), and proclaimed he would never rise from his bed. The name Baal-Zebub means “lord of the flies”, but it may have been intended to be a pun on the name Baal-Zebul, which means “lord of the high place”, and such a pun might have been intended as a way of mocking or slandering the followers of the cult of Baal by referring to their deity as dung and their followers as flies. In those days, Baal’s cult was prominent in the lands of the Levant, and it was a prominent rival to the cult of Jehovah practiced by the Israelites. Baal came in many forms for different cities and with slightly different attributes. The deity popularly known as Baal was most likely, in actuality, a deity named Hadad, a deity of storms, rain, and fertility. The cult of Baal was even brought to Egypt by a people referred to as the Hyksos, who ruled Egypt under their own dynasty between 1603 and 1521 BCE. In Egypt, Baal (Hadad) was equated with the Egyptian deity Set, who was the deity of storms, the desert, war, and foreigners, and it turned the two deities had a lot in common in terms of their mythological attributes, so Baal became identified with Set and eventually a new cult formed devoted to a hybrid deity named Set-Baal (or Baal-Set). After the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt, they became vilified by the Egyptians, and so was the Egyptian deity Set, having been associated with foreigners and thus becoming associated with the foreign rulers they came to despise, and Set now came to be seen as the evil deity to be vanquished by Horus.
In the New Testament, Beelzebub is identified as the prince of demons, and Jesus’ detractors had accused him of performing his famous miracles and exorcisms by the power of Beelzebub rather than through Jehovah. In those days, it may have been believed that only the prince of demons can control demons. Beelzebub clearly was considered the prince of demons, and this is the source of the Christian conception of Satan as the lord of “evil” spirits and the ruler of the underworld. In the Jewish faith, the term Satan didn’t refer to any specific entity. It simply meant “adversary”, and this could refer to anyone; human or angel, or anything else. It was only when Christianity rose to prominence that Satan came to be identified as a specific being, and that being is Beelzebub. In the Testament of Solomon (which scholars aren’t sure was written before or after Christianity), Beelzebub appears as the ruler and leader of the demons and an angel who fell from heaven. He claims to lead men into worshiping demons, bring destruction through tyrants, arouse lust in priests, cause jealousy, and instigate wars and murders, and he tells Solomon that he lives in the evening star or Venus.
Beelzebub tends to get a very high rank in the hierarchy of Hell in the Christian tradition demonology, and was presented in many different ways by occultists, theologians, demonologists, and other figures. He is commonly associated with gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins, as classified by Peter Binsfeld, while the exorcist Sebastien Michaelis associates Beelzebub with pride. Michaelis also places Beelzebub among the three most prominent fallen angels, the other two being Lucifer and Leviathan. The poet John Milton describes him as a fallen cherubim who was imposing and had a wise face. Colin DePlancy described him as the god of the Canaanites, who represented him as a fly, an idea which likely goes back to the age of the Israelites. DePlancy also states that he was known to give oracles, just as Baal-Zebul of Ekron was originally believed to do so, and that he can rid harvests of flies. In the stories Johann Weyer, Beelzebub is Lucifer’s chief lieutenant who led a successful revolt against the Devil. The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage states that Beelzebub has the power to change men into animals and vice versa. In medieval times, Beelzebub was believed to be a demon of great power, who sorcerers conjured at risk of death by apoplexy or strangulation. The demon was difficult to banish and when summoned he would appear as a gigantic fly. Beelzebub was also believed to reign highest of the demons of the Black Mass, and to preside over the Sabbaths and black masses of witches, where they would deny Jesus in his name, chant as they dance, and even copulate with Beelzebub in wild orgies. Beelzebub is also one of thousands of demons blamed for the possessions that took place at the French province of Aix-en in 1611, which involved a nun named Sister Madeleine de Demandolx de la Palud. Beelzebub is considered to be the chief of all false gods, the governor of Hell, the prime minister of the infernal forces, the chief of staff under the Devil, among many other ranks and titles. Some demonographers consider him to be the chief of Hell itself.
He is traditionally depicted as either a giant fly or a being with noticeable fly features, but many grimoires have very different depictions of him. Some depict him as having the appearance of a misshapen calf, a goat with a long tail, a snake with feminine features, among various other descriptions. Reynnier Gustave describes Beelzebub in the De Marcelli Palingenii Stellati poetae Zodiaco as a spirit who is exceedingly tall, with a large and puffed out chest, a swollen face, menacing eyes and eyebrows, exceptionally large nostrils, bat wings, webbed duck feet, and a body covered in black fur, and with a crown of fire hovering around his head where two large horns protrude.
Nowadays, Beelzebub and Satan are considered synonymous, but at the same time they are somehow treated as different beings, and Beelzebub is usually treated as “that demon who looks like a fly”.
There is a reason for the iconic nature of Beelzebub that goes well beyond his notorious fly visage. Whereas Satan has a certain ambiguity in his identity as the incarnation of evil, Beelzebub has a loaded identity in that, in him, the hellish hierarchy and Jewish and Christian ideas about “heathen” religion and power come together as a single and mighty infernal totem, right down to his link to the main god of the Canaanites, whose religion was opposed by the Yahwist Israelites. For this reason he is the prince of demons cited in the New Testament, and it is important to note that for Christian belief, drawing from the Bible, all of the other gods are considered demons, thus Beelzebub is, from the Christian perspective, the prince of the pagan gods, therefore the prince of heathen adversity towards God.
This is one of five Mythological Spotlights that were originally Deific Masks pages.
Amun-Ra is the solar ram, the deity of the sun and its power and light. He is also the deity of creativity, breath, and fertility. He appears to be a syncretic deity based on the gods Amun and Ra, who were already quite important to Egyptian religion.
As you might expect, Amun-Ra was originally two distinct deities: Amun, the king of deities and a deity of the wind, and Ra, the sun deity. However, Amun-Ra’s attributes ultimately derive from a few more deities than just those two alone.
Let’s begin with Amun. Amun originally belonged to a group of deities known as the Ogdoad, four pairs of primordial deities (each consisting of one male deity and one female counterpart of that deity) who were worshiped in the city of Khmun (known in Greek as Hermopolis). Each deity represented primordial powers or elements, and the male and female deities represented the male and female aspects of these powers. Amun and his consort Amaunet represented air and wind, Nun and Naunet represented the primordial waters, Kuk and Kauket represented darkness, and Huh and Hauhet represented eternity. Together they represented the original state of creation, from which the solar deity Ra would emerge. However, in the 11th dynasty, Amun eventually rose to become the patron deity of the city of Waset (aka Thebes), replacing the local war deity Montu, and his consort was now Mut instead of Amaunet, and he gained a son named Khonsu, a lunar deity. Eventually, under the pharaoh Ahmose I, Amun rose to the status of national deity of Egypt, while the city of Waset, who you will remember was the center of Amun’s cult, became the capital of Egypt itself. During this time, Ahmose’s army had expelled the Hyksos, a dynasty of foreign rulers, and it is partly because of this that Thebes became the capital city which led to Amun receiving national importance. Amun would come to be the most important deity during this period, except during the reign of Akhenaten, who introduced a short-lived monotheistic cult of a solar deity named Aten.
Amun was seen as a deity of creative power, but was also considered a hidden deity, and during the New Kingdom he was especially believed to be a transcendental and self-created deity. Around this time, Amun also came seen as a protector of the downtrodden and the upholder of Ma’at (the Egyptian concept of order, truth, and cosmic law). His animal symbol was frequently the ram, a symbol of fertility. A ram-headed deity was also worshiped in Kush, and was identified with Amun. The ram’s association with fertility and with Amun led Amun to be seen as a fertility deity, causing him to be identified with Min, who was also a fertility deity. Eventually, Amun’s cult grew until it began to eclipse the cult of Ra, the solar deity who was also considered one of the most important deities of Egypt, and Amun became identified with Ra, resulting in the combined deity Amun-Ra.
Amun-Ra was considered a solar deity, creation deity, and fertility deity in one, and a hymn to Amun-Ra also describes him as a “lord of truth, father of the gods, maker of men, creator of all animals, lord of things that are, creator of the staff of life”. Amun-Ra eventually became so prominent, that his cult was almost monotheistic in nature (as opposed to the Aten cult which was wholly monotheistic), and he was considered the father and protector of the pharaohs. His worship even spread outside Egypt, and was considered an important deity in the Nubian kingdom of Napata. The Greeks identified Amun himself with Zeus, and worshiped by them as Ammon, often as a horned deity named Zeus-Ammon. Even as the dominance of Amun/Amun-Ra declined, he was still continually worshiped in his old cult center at Waset, and was also seen as the national deity of Nubia.
Now onto Ra, also known as Re. Being a solar deity, Ra was very important to the ancient Egyptians. The sun represented warmth, light, and life in general, and it was feared that if the sun stopped rising then it would mean eternal darkness and the end of the world. The pyramids and obelisks were often associated with the sun, and by extension with Ra, obelisks being viewed as petrified sun rays. His cult center was the city of Iunu (aka Heliopolis), which was considered to be the seat of Ra. On an interesting side-note, Egyptian and Greco-Roman legend describe the mythical phoenix as rising from the ashes of its predecessor, and then bringing said ashes to the altar of the solar deity in that same city. Iunu was also the cult centre of Atum, another deity associated with creation (much like Amun) and one of the older deities of Egypt, and the two were associated and sometimes identified with each other. The sun disk often served as his crown, but it was also associated with The Eye of Ra. The Eye of Ra was seen as the body of Ra, or an instrument of his wrathful power. The Eye of Ra was also associated with the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, a violent goddess who was originally created by Ra to destroy humanity when he got tired of them, until he changed his mind of course. The goddesses Hathor and Bastet were also goddesses created by Ra and were viewed as instruments of his vengeance (in fact, Sekhmet was created to finish the job after Hathor), though Hathor usually has more benign connotations. Ra’s two main enemies were Apep, the serpent of annihilation that seeks to destroy the same, and Aset (more popularly known as Isis), mother of the deity Horus who frequently schemed against Ra and in favor of Horus because she wanted him to have all the power. A very well-known myth about Ra is the myth of his journey through the underworld. Every day, Ra would sail the underworld accompanied by other deities, and he would have to fight and defeat Apep. Usually Ra is victorious, but sometimes Apep was thought to be victorious (usually on solar eclipses). He is often depicted as protected by either Set or Horus, and is often depicted with a ram’s head when venturing into the underworld.
The ram was considered to be the soul of the solar deity, and ram deities were sometimes considered appearances of other deities, possibly due to the Egyptian words for “ram” and “soul” sounding the same. Banebdjedet was considered to embody the four souls of the sun deity, as well as the souls of Osiris, Geb, Shu, and Atum (or Ra-Atum). The deity Heryshaf was identified with Ra and Osiris (as well as Dionysus and Heracles in Greece). Khnum himself, one of the oldest deities of Egypt, was also seen as an aspect of Ra. Perhaps it might be to do with the fact that Khnum’s cult was very popular before it was eclipsed by Ra’s cult. What’s interesting about Khnum is that he was associated with water, in fact he was associated with the Iteru river (better known as the Nile) and was the guardian of its source.
In the year 30 BCE, Egypt was annexed into the Roman Empire became a province known as Aegypticus. After Rome declared Christianity as the state religion in 380 CE, the polytheistic cult(s) that were previously observed were deemed heretical and the deities that were previously worshiped for thousands of years were banned from being worshiped. Over time, some of the old deities of Egypt came to be viewed as demons just as many deities did, and in modern times some of well-known deities of Egyptian deities are sometimes the subject of Chrisitan conspiracy theories which mistakenly relate them to Satan or Lucifer. Amun would come to be translated as Aamon, a powerful demon associated with anger who is found in the Lesser Key of Solomon. In the Book of Invocation of the Demons Vercan, Maymon, Suth, Samax, Sarabotres, Mediac or Modiac & Arcan, a demon named Maymon appears to have been linked with Amun-Ra in the form of Maymon-Ra. Maymon is usually identified with Mammon, and so Maymon-Ra is often identified as Mammon-Ra, who is also the subject of some conspiracy theories (including anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that accuse Qabbalistic Jews of worshiping Mammon-Ra). Some identify Maymon with Amaimon, a demon whose name is said to mean “terrible violence and vehemence” and the only demon said to be able to control Asmodeus, the demon of lust. Some say that Amon, Maymon, and Amaimon are names of the same demon.
Amun-Ra could be seen as somewhat loaded in terms of symbolism, yet this universality was quite likely expected of Amun-Ra considering his lofty status in Egypt as the supreme god of Egyptian civilization. A unifying deity for a polytheistic civilization tends to lend itself to a syncretism of two gods, and in this case the syncretism consists of two gods who were already hugely important in Egyptian myth. This lends itself to a powerful conception of a tutelary “national god” of Egypt, being the synthesis of two chief gods under whom all the other gods may respect and swear fealty to, not to mention the association with the Sun and fertility making him the deific symbol of life par excellence.
This is one of five Mythological Spotlights that were originally Deific Mask pages. In fact, this one could be thought of as a merger of two, as it includes content from the former “Ashura” page.
Varuna is the Vedic Indian deity of water, which ties him to the sea, rivers, rain, and the creatures that live and swim in the water, along with the planet Neptune. And yet Varuna is more than just a water deity. He is the builder of order, but he is also linked with the primeval chaos that has, for generations, been associated with the sea and represented by the water creatures Varuna is associated with, such as the dragon, the crocodile, and the fantastical sea creature known as Makara. Varuna is also a nocturnal deity, being very much linked with the night. He was once the supreme god of the Vedic pantheon, but over time was supplanted by the more brash thunder god Indra and as of now he is not an especially popular deity.
In the early part of the Vedic age of Indian religion, Varuna was exalted as the supreme deity and ruler of the pantheon of deities. He was the builder and keeper of cosmic order and law, which was traditionally referred to as Rta. In the ancient Vedic religion, Rta was an abstract concept that referred to the order by the sun and moon move, and the seasons proceed, but it also referred to moral or religious law and the order of ritual sacrifice. Even the deities were subject to Rta, and no one, not even Varuna, had direct command over Rta, but Varuna was the chief deity charged with its perseverance. He was also seen the ruler of the primeval, undifferentiated chaos. He was the chief of a group of solar deities known as the Adityas, so named because they were the offspring of the Aditi, the mother of deities. While many of the deities where associated with natural forces, Varuna was more concerned with moral/social affairs, ethics, laws, and the way the cosmos is governed, though this is not to say Varuna didn’t have his own attachments to nature. His brother Mitra was associated daylight, particularly the morning sun, while Varuna was more associated with the night (which is ironic considering he was the leader of a group of solar deities). Mitra was also the keeper of social order in some way in his capacity as the deity of oaths and contracts, and he and Varuna were paired together as Mitra-Varuna. Varuna was also twinned with Indra during the new year, when they worked together to re-establish order. Varuna was also described as omniscient, as catching liars in his snares, and as watching the world and the movements of humans through the stars in the sky. He was even said to grant his devotees wisdom, particularly insight into the natural order of the cosmos, such wisdom was referred to as “medhira”. He was even the subject of rituals in which he is invoked for the forgiveness of transgressions. Varuna was also referred to as “Father Asura” in the Rig Veda, and as an omniscient and all-enveloping deity he seems to have been originally treated as a sky deity.
Despite Varuna’s role in the Vedic religion and his status as the ruler of the heavens, Indra, the brash deity of weather, storms, and war, sometimes had more prominence in the Rig Veda and was even seen as more powerful than Varuna. Varuna also seemed to be more important when the laws of the physical and moral world were contemplated, but was not a strongly popular deity. Later in the Vedic period, Varuna was ousted from his original position, and Indra replaced him as the ruler of the heavens and the pantheon of deities. In later mythology, Indra even stole Varuna’s role as the governor of the cosmos after defeating Vritra for stealing the world’s water. Varuna became a water deity and took on a new role as the deity of oceans and rivers and the lord of the cosmic waters. He was also a deity of the night, the keeper of the souls of the drowned, and a lord of the underworld and the dead (a position shared by Yama, the lord of the departed). This Varuna was said to grant immortality, was attended by the nagas (serpents), and was seen as a guardian of the west direction. He was identified by some as the ruler of the nagas. He was even said to punish mortals who didn’t keep their word by capturing them with his noose and hanging them. His mount, or vahana (vehicle), was Makara, a kind of sea creature that had the attributes of many animals. Makara represented a chaotic state that order arises from, which may have implied that Varuna still had associations with cosmic order.
Towards the end of the Vedic period, Varuna’s reputation began to change in another way. In the early part of the Vedic period, the term Asura simply referred to might and strength, specifically that of a deity or person. But eventually, Asura began to refer to a class of deities separate from the devas, and eventually the devas were seen as good, while the asuras were seen as evil. Varuna was one of the Vedic deities who fell under the category of Asura, so were the likes of Agni, Mitra, and Soma, but these deities also joined the ranks of the devas. Despite joining the devas, however, Varuna was still seen as a sinister deity, probably due to his association with death and being feared as a severe punisher of mortals. Eventually, Varuna would be forgotten almost entirely in India, as he and many of the other Vedic deities became eclipsed by the rise of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the Devi, and he became even less popular if he was even worshiped at all. Despite his lack of popularity, however, Varuna is currently worshiped by the Sindhi people, who identify him as Jhulelal. Varuna also appears in Indian astrology where he is associated with the planet Neptune, Varuna and Neptune both being sea deities after all, though this would be a modern connection since the planet Neptune was not recognized by the ancients.
Unlike some Hindu deities who get incarnated in Buddhist lore, Varuna does not have a lot of presence in Buddhism and is hardly mentioned. He certainly wasn’t very popular in China. I have read that in Tibet, Varuna appears as the ruler of nagas in the form of Apalala Nagarajah, and is treated as a lord of weather, but I can’t find a lot of information about Apalala Nagarajah, and whoever this deity is he seems to be an obscure deity and may have been considered a minor deity. Varuna himself may have been depicted as his own deity in Tibet, but from what I have read he was likely treated as a minor deity. Varuna does appear in Japanese Buddhism as Suiten, a deva of water much like the late Vedic incarnation of Varuna. Suiten is one of 12 devas who protect the eight directions, up and down, and the sun and moon, and he is specificially the guardian of west direction. However, Suiten does not enjoy a lot of popularity in Japanese Buddhism, though in Japan this might be due to the presence of more popular water deities such as Suijin (aka Mizu no Kamisama), who is known as a benevolent water goddess, and Benzaiten, who is actually the Japanese Buddhist incarnation of the Hindu goddess Saraswati. I’d also like to mention that Varuna’s mount Makara is also incarnated in Japan as a creature known as the Shachihoko, a creature depicted as a fish with the head of a tiger or a dragon. Fun fact: the name Shachihoko literally means “killer whale”. The Shachihoko was frequently utilized as a roof ornament found on castles, tower gates, and the homes of samurai during the Edo period, and the creature was thought to bestow protection against fire and have the power to control rain. In Japanese art, the Shachihoko also sometimes substitutes the dragon in paintings of Ryuzu Kannon, a form of the hugely popular bodhisattva and goddess of mercy Kannon (the Japanese form of Guanyin, another name of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) who usually rides on the back of a dragon or sea turtle. The theme behind Ryuzu Kannon paintings that feature Shachihoko are usually inspired by the Chinese legend of carp swimming towards the Dragon Gate and becoming dragons. Here’s an interesting fact: in Japan, the dragon (there called Ryu) is closely associated with water, and though it directly originates from the Chinese dragon, they are related to the Indian serpent beings known as Nagas, whom Varuna was sometimes identified as ruling.
During the Meiji Restoration, when the emperor Meiji issued a decree ordering the separation of Buddhist and Shinto practices, Varuna (as Suiten) became identified with the god Amenominakanushi, the primeval kami that preceded creation and all other kami/gods. Consequently, Varuna is worshipped as Amenominakanushi at Suitengu, a temple located in the Chuo ward of Tokyo. Interestingly enough, Amenominakanushi is thought to embody a duality based on gender, male and female.
Varuna and Ahura Mazda
You may remember that in India, Asura became bad and demonic while Deva became good and heavenly. In Iran, Asura became Ahura, and referred to godly entities and to the supreme deity of Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda, while Deva became Daeva and were seen as evil spirits. In fact, in Iran, Indra became a demon who opposed the concept of truth, though not the leader of evil spirits (that role goes to Angra Mainyu). Varuna, on the other hand, got a very big break and became identified with Ahura Mazda, the deity associated with order, justice, light, and truth. The original Varuna was Father Asura, the Asura par excellence and chief of the Asuras, and he was the wise one, who bestowed medhira, wisdom (particularly of the order of the cosmos) The word “medhira” became “mazda”, and asura became ahura, and Varuna, as Asura Medhira, became Ahura Mazda. It should be noted that the Ahura Mazda of Zoroastrianism shares important characteristics with the original Varuna; he is the deity charged with upholding order and justice, like Varuna, he is the deity associated with the cosmic principle of order, like Varuna (though in Zoroastrianism it is Ahura Mazda who creates this principle), he is exalted as the wise one, like Varuna, and he is exalted as the supreme deity and the ruler of the heavens and cosmos, which Varuna originally was. Ahura Mazda was also identified with Mitra and the composite deity Mitra-Varuna, although Mitra became his own divinity in Iran known as Mithra, and he was a divinity of contracts and oaths, judicial protector of truth, and guardian of cattle.
It is worth establishing that, in the earliest period of the Vedic religion, Asura was an adjective meaning “mighty” and “powerful”. Many deities were given this adjective and variants such as “asurya” (meaning strength) and “asuratva” (meaning mightiness), some deities more so than others. Indra, the weather deity, was described as “asura” nine times, as granting or possessing asurya five times, and as possessing asuratva once. At one time, Indra’s actions are described as “asuryani” (meaning powerful), which add up to sixteen descriptions in total. Agni, the fire deity, is described as asura twelve times, as son of an asura once, and as possessing asurya twice, which also totals fifteen descriptions. Varuna, the deity of the waters and cosmic order, is described as asura ten times, and as possessing asurya four times, which totals fourteen descriptions. Mitra, the deity of friendship and contracts, is described as asura four times, and as possessing asurya four times, totaling eight descriptions. Rudra, the feared storm deity, is described as asura six times, as bestowing asurya once, and possessing asurya once. Dyaus, the sky deity, is described as asura six times. Soma, the lunar deity, is described as asura three times, as bestowing asurya once, and as possessing asurya once. Savitr, a deity of the sun before sunrise, is described as asura four times, and is particularly described as a kind leader. Surya, the solar deity, is described as asura three times. Parjanya, a rain deity, receives the same amount of honors as Surya. Vayu, the wind deity, is described as asura once, and once as possessing asurya. Apam Napat, a creation deity, is described once as possessing asurya. Sarasvati, a river goddess, was described as asura once. Ushas, the dawn goddess, is described once as possessing asuratva. The more times a deity was described as asura, or as possessing or bestowing asurya or asuratva, the mightier and more powerful a deity was believed to be. Indra, for instance, was likely the most powerful deity of the Vedic religion. And it wasn’t just deities that got called asura, as sometimes humans were called asura in the Rig Veda. Two generous kings are described as asura, as are some priests, and there is a hymn for requesting a son who is asura.
Varuna and Vairocana?
A fascinating potential link between Varuna and the buddha Vairocana has been explored in The Symbolism of the Stupa by Adrian Snodgrass and Craig J. Reynolds. A key connection seems to be lie in Varuna’s noose or rope, his binding the cosmos with his power of maya, his casting a net over the surface of the waters. This serves as a hypostasis for the concept of the creation of the cosmos through the spreading out of a pneumatic net. Varuna with his noose binds those who violate Rta, the universal Law, and his role in relation to his rope is typically seen in the lens of punishment. This is shared by other gods such as Yama, the ruler of the underworld who is called the noose-bearer and the binder of all men in his capacity as the king of death, Nirrti, a dark goddess who binds those intended for destruction, and even Ganesha, whose noose restrains the incalcitrant and leads the worthy. In the case of Vairocana, Vairocana embodies the concept of a net of cosmic order in his aspect as the Body of Principle. Vairocana abides at the hub of the World Wheel, receptacle of all cosmic order, which mirrors Varuna’s status in some hymns as the “Great Yaksa” at the center of the world.
In addition, as Suiten, Varuna became identifiable with Suijin, a kami found in Shinto tradition. Worth noting is how Suijin is not simply a name for a deity but also a generic term for a number of water deities as well as spirits and creatures, typically those associated with lakes, ponds, springs or well. These spirits are associated with mythological creatures such as dragons and kappa, as well as real animals such as fish, eels, turtles and snakes – and it’s no coincidence that both dragons and turtles are associated with Varuna. The name Suijin is even given to Fudo Myo-O, one of the mighty Five Wisdom Kings (or Vidyaraja), because of the way he is associated with waterfalls. Fudo Myo-O also, like Varuna, holds a rope or noose in his left hand, which he uses to capture demons, evil spirits and even gods who stand in the way of the Buddhist practitioner and his path towards enlightenment. It is here too that we come back to Vairocana, known in Japan as Dainichi Nyorai. Fudo Myo-O is the wrathful manifestation of Dainichi Nyorai, representative of his anger against injustice, ignorance and evil.
Varuna of the serpents
In The Symbolism of the Stupa we see Varuna related to the serpent Asura Vritra through both names sharing the same root “vr”, which means “to surround”, “to cover”, “to restrain” or “to check”. Both Varuna and Vritra have the seven rivers flow from their mouths, and so the two share a motif in different contexts connected to serpents and water. We can also note that Varuna’s connection to the serpent is actually quite old. Varuna has often been seen as the king of the nagas, a race of serpentine beings found in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, and this may in part have been drawn from his domain over the oceans, which were the dwelling place of the nagas. As a consequence of this association, Varuna himself is sometimes referred to as a naga, which may explain why some claim that he was worshipped as a snake. In the Atharva Veda Varuna is apparently referred to as a viper, and some believe that he was assimilated into the myth of Vritra. In Buddhist myth, Varuna is treated as a nagaraja, a king of the nagas. Varuna also becomes associated with snakes in Japan through Suijin, which is not simply a name for a deity but also a generic term for a number of water deities as well as spirits and creatures, typically those associated with lakes, ponds, springs or well. These spirits are associated with mythological creatures such as dragons and kappa, as well as real animals such as fish, eels, turtles and snakes – and it’s no coincidence that both dragons and turtles are associated with Varuna.
Varuna is a manifestly more complex mythological character than most treatises regarding his role in Vedic religion make him out to be. Most Hindus no doubt know him as simply a water god who is treated as inferior not only to Indra but also to Rama, avatar of Vishnu, yet Varuna, the ancient lawgiver of celestial and chthonic oceans, may yet be seen where most do not know him in world culture. In Iran, it seems, he has become the supreme lawgiver of the Zoroastrian faith. In Japan, it seems, he may yet be echoed as the most important Buddha of the Shingon sect. Few gods are like Varuna in their multiplicity of characteristics, and it is rare for us to find an archetype of a supreme being that seems dark and set against the anointed heavenly gods, even if it could be said he was once one himself one of them, and indeed that he becomes the supreme being of light. Certainly quite a transformation.
This is the first of five Mythological Spotlights that were originally Deific Mask pages.
Astarte was a Canaanite goddess of sex, fertility, war, and the morning or evening star, though in truth the name Astarte is simply a Hellenization of her Ugaritic name Athtart, rendered in Hebrew as Ashtoreth. The Christian demon Astaroth is explicitly based on this goddess, with his very name deriving from the Hebrew Ashtoreth.
The Sumerian goddess Inanna, goddess of love, sex, fertility, and warfare, serves as the furthest ancestor to Astarte. In Babylon, the same goddess was identified as Ishtar. Inanna was unique in that she was a goddess who represented strength and self-determination, characteristics which would not usually be given to goddesses in male-dominated civilizations. Inanna had many temples and shrines, and sacred prostitution was a part of her cult, and she was even considered Queen of Heaven. She was considered to be the goddess associated with the planet Venus, and her symbols included lions and the eight-pointed star. Despite being the goddess of love, she mistreated many of her lovers. Due to here reputation as a war deity, battle was considered the “dance of Inanna”.
One of her famous myths is that of her descent into the underworld. In the myth, she apparently decides to journey to the underworld in order to visit her sister Ereshkigal, the goddess of the underworld, but Ereshkigal is suspicious of her intentions. Inanna winds up arriving at Ereshkigal’s throne completely naked, is cursed and condemned by Ereshkigal and the demonic judges of the underworld, and left for dead hanging on a hook, and while Inanna was dead sexual intercourse stopped and fertility waned. After three days and nights, the goddess Ninshubur calls on other deities to save her, and her call is eventually answered by Enki, who creates two creatures to whom he gives the food and water of life. She is revived by Enki’s creatures and barely manages to exit the underworld, but the underworld’s judges seize her and demand someone take her place. After finding her husband Dumuzid on his throne, lavishly clothed and oblivious to what happened to her and thus showing no grief for her, she chooses that Dumuzid take her place. Dumuzid tries to escape this fate, but fails, and eventually his sister tries to cries out in mourning for him and proclaims that she will share his fate. Moved by this, Inanna allows the both of them to take her place in the underworld for 6 months each year. Strangely, the story ends in praise of Ereshkigal, rather than Inanna.
Inanna/Ishtar seems to have traveled very far as a goddess. In the lands as Canaan, she was identified as Ashtart, in Syria she was identified as Athtart, and in Greece she was identified as Astarte. In Ugaritic mythology, Athtart helps Anat hold back Baal (or Hadad) from attacking the other deities, and asks Baal to scatter Yamm after his victory over him. Worship of Astarte even spread to Egypt, where was predominantly considered a war goddess and worshipped alongside the goddess Anat (who was also brought to Egypt from Canaan). Both goddesses were believed to be daughters of sun deity Ra and were married to the storm deity Set.
In modern times the goddess Astarte has been mistakenly identified with other prominent ancient goddesses, particularly Aset (better known as Isis) and Asherah. Regarding the Canaanite goddess Asherah, her defining feature was that she was a mother goddess, and Astarte never was a mother goddess. Also, Asherah was the consort of El, who was worshiped as the father of mankind, while Astarte has never had any relation with El. Regarding Aset, Astarte was a goddess of love, sex, fertility, war, and seduction, and was associated with sacred prostitution, while Aset was the goddess billed as the ideal mother and wife and the female personification of the throne of the pharaoh (as symbolized by her headdress), and a goddess of magic and marriage. The two goddess couldn’t be more separate. Not to mention, in Egypt, Astarte and Aset had their own entirely separately cults.
In ancient Greece, Astarte was sometimes identified with the goddess Aphrodite, but may also have been seen as her own deity with distinct separate connotations. In fact, in the account of Strabo, there is a temple dedicated to Phosphoros located in a place called Eboura (which corresponds to what is now the Spanish city of Sanlúcar de Barrameda), and it is thought that this represented a Hellenistic cult of Astarte present in the area. Most curiously this temple honors Phosophoros as “Lux Dubia”, meaning “doubtful light” and purportedly associated with twilight. Is this was meant to be a local cult of Astarte, it certainly gives her some unique associations. We also see an interesting association with lust in that Astarte bears two offspring who are referred to in Greek names: Pothos, which means “longing” (as in lust), and Eros, desire.
In the Hebrew Bible, Ashtart/Astarte is identified as Ashtoreth, a goddess of the productive powers of nature who is described as Queen of Heaven, but her worship was also considered an abomination. Ashtoreth was described as the wife of Ba’al, who was the most prominent rival of Jehovah. In Jewish mythology, Ashtoreth became a kind of female demon associated with lust, known as Astaroth. In Christian demonology, Astaroth became a Duke of Hell, effectively turning a goddess of love and sex into a male demon. Perhaps due to him being the goddess Ashtoreth, he (or should that be she?) has a very special place in Hell, often ranking alongside Beelzebub and Lucifer. As a male demon, Astaroth is variously said to seduce men through laziness, vanity, and rational philosophy, reveal treasures, find mines and transmute metals, teach liberal sciences, cause destruction through tempests, and transform animals and men. He is also described as a prince of accusers and inquisitors. The descriptions of the male Astaroth, which likely influence modern depictions of Astaroth, derive from the Goetia and various European grimoires, all written from the Christian viewpoint.
Ever the inveterate archetype of sexuality par excellence, perhaps it is no surprise that she became a demon of lust in Jewish demonology, though how she became a male demon is something of a mystery. Regardless, it is probably her status as a demon that has helped catapult her to fame, though her status in the ancient world was no doubt highly recognizeable, and certainly enough that she would make appearances in the Bible, and later on Paradise Lost, as a principal pagan goddess thus representing the powers of “heathen” religion. She also stands as a classical example of the way that Christianity has reinterpreted the gods of old into their demons, their rulers of Hell, and thus lends credence to the axiom of the Devil as a representation of the gods that are despised at a given time.
I am pleased to find that we are about leave the accursed year of 2020, and to have beheld a morning star in the sky just before the end of the year. Whatever this coming year will bring will be alien to us, until it too late anyway, but we can only hope that it will be a better year than what we have seen before. It is pointless to deal in New Year’s Resolutions, since all of them are somewhat useless and always betrayed, but here is something close that I can talk about for this blog at least.
Beginning as of today, I am going to be working on terminating the Deific Masks pages and re-posting them as Mythological Spotlights. They will be posted individually, with some changes, over the course of the month. My aim with this is to de-emphasize the role of Michael W. Ford’s concept of Deific Masks, as I have begun to find Ford’s quasi-polytheistic framework of navel-gazing prone to a kind of narcissism interpreted through a pagan-esque lens, and beyond that I have begun to well past the framework that Michael W. Ford inspired in me over the last two or three years, and I think it’s time to reflect that. I have had thoughts like this for a while now, but for the time I didn’t bother to do anything with it. So after I release this, those Deific Masks posts will be gone and re-posted as Mythological Spotlights #14-#18. This means that most of them will be re-posted except for “Ashura” – the subject of the Asura and Ahura Mazda will be colated into a Spotlight dedicated to Varuna. I will try to get the first of them released in the coming week. I have been thinking of replacing them afterwards with new pages devoted to concepts of Luciferianism as time goes by, but we’ll see about that.
In any case, I wish everyone a Happy New Year, and I hope you all try to stay safe.
Amatsu-Mikaboshi is an obscure Japanese deity found within the mythology of the Shinto religion. Other names for him include Kagaseo, Ame-no-kagaseo, or Mikaboshino-Kagaseo. Most people who talk about him refer to him as the god of evil (indeed, all evil), chaos, disaster and misfortune, and I suspect this is in part influenced by the fact that Marvel’s comics depict him as essentially some kind of ultra-Satan figure. But when I dig deep into his lore, I begin to think that perhaps this doesn’t make a lot of sense, and in fact I begin to think that perhaps this is not the only thing about him that doesn’t really add up.
There are very few reliable sources on Amatsu-Mikaboshi. In fact, it seems that the only actual mythological source for Amatsu-Mikaboshi is the Nihon Shoki (“The Chronicles of Japan”), and even there just a section of the text titled “Ashihara-no-Nakatsukuni-Heitei” (or, “The Subjugation of Ashihara-no-Nakatsukuni”). It is also worth mentioning that, for some reason, the English language and Japanese Wikipedia articles for Amatsu-Mikaboshi seem to have very different accounts of his mythology. Ten years ago editors talked about a discrepancy between the two articles, and even after that the English language article still seems like it leaves out content from the Japanese version. The English language article says little other than him being considered a malevolent god of the Pole Star, and that he was identified with the god Myoken and then Amenominakanushi. The Japanese version, however, talks about how he was the last god to resist the authority of the Amatsukami gods that come from Takamagahara, that he was a star god and that star gods are seen in Japanese myth as being rebellious, and how he was even seen in Shinto theology as the Shinto version of Venus. Both articles mention that Amatsu-Mikaboshi was identified with Takeminakata, one of the rebel kunitsukami of Izumo, on the grounds that both were subdued by Takemikazuchi, though there doesn’t seem to be any traditional source for this identification.
If you dig around for information about Amatsu-Mikaboshi and his role in the Nihon Shoki, two facts about him appear that most people appear not to tell you. First of all, it seems that Amatsu-Mikaboshi’s proper name is Kagaseo, and Amatsu-Mikaboshi is an alternate name for Kagaseo that appears in an alternate version of the Nihon Shoki in which he is executed by the gods Futsunushi and Takemikazuchi. Second, only once and in that same account is Kagaseo treated as a god of evil, and in every other context Kagaseo is simply seen as the god of stars. The various encyclopedias that refer to Kagaseo/Amatsu-Mikaboshi as a god of evil do not mention this, and they certainly will not tell you exactly what evils he brings to the world to earn the title “god of evil”. The only thing Kagaseo is said to have done in the Nihon Shoki is refuse to submit to the authority of the gods of Takamagahara.
The Encyclopedia of Shinto website refers to Kagaseo as Hoshinokamikakaseo, or simply Kakaseo, and describes him as an “evil kami” who resisted the imperial forces in their pacification of the land of Japan. They also note that the alternate edition of the Nihon Shoki refers to Kagaseo as “the evil kami of heaven”, thus referring to him as a heavenly deity and contrasting the indigenous origins established in the original, and that Kagaseo is uniquely not portrayed in subjection to the order of the Amatsukami (the heavenly gods) at any point in the Nihon Shoki, presumably even after the total subjugation of Japan. If the alternate Nihon Shoki is anything to go by, Kagaseo would have preferred death to submission. Surprising, then, that this should be taken as evil in a country where death before surrender is the code of the samurai class.
What’s very interesting is that Kagaseo appears to be the only god in the Shinto pantheon who is identified with stars, let alone any star in particular. Every other Japanese deity associated with stars, such as Myoken, is associated with Buddhism, and as such they are technically Japanese adaptations of Indian and/or Chinese gods and astrological figures. In fact, it seems that Kagaseo’s identification with Myoken, the god of the Pole Star, may or may not be a product of Buddhist influence. So in terms of the native Shinto gods of Japan, only one, Kagaseo, is associated with the stars. In addition this, according to William George Aston in his translation of the Nihon Shoki, Kagaseo (or Ame-no-Kagaseo) is the only star god mentioned in the text and he is denied the suffix of “kami” or “mikoto” that are usually afford to other gods, including opponents of the gods of Takamagahara. Indeed, I can find no name for Kagaseo or Amatsu-Mikaboshi that features either of these suffixes in any source I find. This may lend some credence to the idea mentioned in the Japanese article that star gods are treated in Japanese, or at least Shinto, myth as gods who are unruly, disobedient and hence need to be subdued, as well as the theory that Kagaseo may represent a tribe in Japan that worshipped a star god and refused to submit to the authority of the Yamato dynasty.
Moreover, there seem to be some sources for the idea that Kagaseo was meant to correspond to Venus, and from there the morning star. For starters there is Hirata Atsutane’s thesis that Kagaseo/Mikaboshi is Venus on the grounds that the “ika” in Mikaboshi means “severe” or “harsh” in reference to the intensity of the star’s light and that “kaga” refers to “kagayaku” which means to “shine”, yet again a reference to the light of a star. There is also a paper from Nagasaki University which argues that Venus is the most appropriate match for Amatsu-Mikaboshi/Ame-no-Kagaseo. There are very few sources on this identification, but if you think about it, it might be possible that, given that his identity with the Pole Star makes the most sense in light of his Buddhist conflation with Myoken, and that the terms “August Star of Heaven” and “Brilliant Male” seem consistent with the traditional description of the morning star as the brightest and most brilliant object in the heavens other than the sun and the moon, it seems like the idea that Kagaseo may in fact have been the morning star, or dawn star, makes the most sense.
It’s kind of strange if you think about it. A god of stars, the morning star specifically, who refuses the authority of the dominant clan of gods and is slandered as an evil being because of his rebellion. Sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? Perhaps that adds to his obscurity in a way. In Western myths, rebellion against gods has an air of legitimacy to it as a theme. The Greek creation cycle seems to involve successive dethronements of ruling gods (first Kronos overthrows Ouranos, then Kronos is overthrown by Zeus), Prometheus becomes an icon of human existence and power by defying the will of Zeus, and Jesus, as too many people forget, was a rebel in light of his cause against the Roman empire and the corruption of the Judaic priesthood, and multiple revolts against injustice and tyranny happen in the Bible. In Eastern religions, however, you generally almost can’t conceive of anything other than full submission and therefore harmony with the prevailing order as representing absolute divine law, and as far as I know any rebellion myths consist pretty much solely of rebellions of rowdy beings that are put down by either the gods or the forces of Buddhist dharma. I’m sure there are exceptions, but in this light it makes perfect sense that a rebellious deity would not be widely venerated in Japanese religious culture.
Numerous Western sources, particularly online forums, claim that Kagaseo, frequently identified as Amatsu-Mikaboshi, represents a kind of primordial principle of chaos, darkness or evil, to the point that it is often added that the Otogi-zoshi describes him being imprisoned within the Pole Star and unable to return to Earth until he breaks free, any prayers involving him are specifically to pray to other gods to oppose him. There was a whole thread on a forum called Pagan Mystics dating back to 2007 which claims that Amatsu-Mikaboshi was “the god of Hell”, “the god of Sin and Darkness” and “the guardian of Soku-no-Kumi”, that he is “a force of absolute domination” (not at all like the absolute domination of the Amatsukami or the Yamato dynasty, I’m sure) that “feeds off of human emotions” like some sort of vampire, that he was the master of “certain creatures that are by nature dark or demonic”, “souls of those whose lives were sinister and unrighteous” and “souls that died with strong attachments and came back to hurt the living”, that he was only later called Ame-no-Kagaseo as part of an attempt to form an imperial cult built around gaining the power to rule the world by using intense discipline to control evil urges, that as Kagaseo he morphed into a Japanese version of Satan, that a woman named Mitoke (supposedly a Yamato queen) worshipped Mikaboshi/Kagaseo only to abandon such worship in order to trade with China, that the Mikaboshi cult resurfaced in World War 2 as a way to explain the atrocities of the Empire of Japan by saying that the people who committed the atrocities were possessed by Mikaboshi (which honestly reads like the kind of apologia that really shouldn’t be written under any circumstances), that the red sun on the imperial flag was the same symbol used by Mitoke as a symbol for Mikaboshi, that the Mikaboshi myth inspired the Star Wars movies and that this somehow prevented Japanese scholars from taking the mythology seriously, that he is “intolerant of humankind”, that he lets “lost souls” or “Shitidama” wreak havoc on the world because it amuses him, that he has soldiers that represent “seven sins”, and that his title of “August Star” comes from him being “born from the darkness of the Endless Stars”.
I cannot find a single traditional or mythological source for any of these ideas. In fact, it seems that the Pagan Mystics thread clearly derives from the Wikpedia article on Amatsu-Mikaboshi that has since been edited precisely to purge all of the ridiculously ahistorical and unsourced claims made in the thread. More to the point, these ideas are utterly nonsensical simply at face value if you do even a little bit of research, and there are several reasons why.
First of all, Hell, in the Christian understanding clearly implied by the thread, does not exist in Shinto doctrine. There is Yomi, but that’s just a dreary underworld not unlike other pagan underworld realms (such as in Greek or Mesopotamian polytheism). There is Jigoku, but that is not part of Shinto doctrine and instead is based on Buddhist doctrine, and Kagaseo/Mikaboshi is not really a part of the Buddhist pantheon. There is no “Soku-no-Kumi” in Shinto myth that corresponds to any kind of hell realm. There also seems to be no source for anything known as a “Shitidama”, not that you would need it to convey “demonic spirit” considering the litany of yokai that exist in Japanese myth. There is no analogue for the Seven Deadly Sins in Shinto. There is already a god, or group of beings, that brings sin, evil, impurity and disaster, and it’s not Mikaboshi/Kagaseo but rather Magatsuhi-no-kami, a group of gods who come from Yomi. Kagaseo is the original name for Amatsu-Mikaboshi based on the fact this is what he was originally referred to as in the Nihon Shoki, and Amatsu-Mikaboshi is an alternative name that exists in an alternate version of the canon. I cannot find a single soure for a Yamato queen named Hitoke, which makes me believe that she never existed. The Japanese ruling classes and the Empire of Japan, as far as we know, did not see fit to invent a new cult of black magick to crush their enemies when they could adequately do so militarily. And most of all, the whole concept of a “primordial force of domination” preceding creation doesn’t seem to make sense and is inconsistent with the existing creation myths in which Ame-no-minakanushi is established as the first god to exist.
While we’re here, I can’t be the only who thinks the whole idea of Kagaseo/Mikaboshi being a “god of evil” implies a dualism that isn’t consistent with Shinto doctrine, to the point that it sounds like the idea seems like a product of some kind of artificially imposed Christian lens. If there really is a god representing all evil within Shinto, where is the god representing all good? Any dualistic religious belief system, such as Christianity, Zoroastrianism or Islam, usually tends to pit a representation of all that is good against a representation of all that is evil. The Christian form of this is God and his son Jesus versus Satan, the Zoroastrian form of this is Ahura Mazda versus Angra Mainyu, the Islamic version of this is Allah versus Iblis or Shaitan. But Shinto is not a dualistic religion. In Shinto, for the most part there is nature and all the kami are the divine spirits representing the various elements, forces, objects and phenomenon – theoretically, there can be a kami for everything in the world. The closest thing to “the good god” would be Amaterasu, but that is more or less a designated good deity in the same way that Zeus, Indra, Odin or El are – in other words, simply the ruling deity of the pantheon. Kagaseo is treated as an evil god, but all he did was stand in the way of the gods of Takamagahara. Now a point can be made that none of the kunitsukami seem to be referred to as evil gods within Shinto canon, but then Kagaseo does nothing to earn the title of being a “god of evil”. In fact, older texts on religion and mythology that mention that god we call Amatsu-Mikaboshi seem to acknowledge him as Kagaseo and as a god of stars, not evil.
And if Kagaseo/Mikaboshi was recognized as a god of all, why is he never treated as such in any of his shrines, why in fact was he worshipped at all as a god of stars? In Chiba Shrine, Kagaseo (as Ame-no-Kagaseo) is worshipped in an auxiliary shrine dedicated to him referred to as Hoshi Jinja. It seems that in Oomika Shrine Kagaseo’s adversary, Takehazuchi, is worshipped, and Kagaseo resided in the Oomika Mountain (or Mt. Omika) as Mikaboshino-Kagaseo and ruled over what is called Togoku (the “eastern country”). Kagaseo also appears at the perimeters of the Oomika Shrine as Kamiboshino-Kagaseo embodied by a stone called the Shukkonseki, which is believed to contain his ara-mitama (meaning riugh, wild or violent spirit). This at least seems to be according to the biographies of the respective shrines, which I can safely say is a hell of a better source than what most Western accounts of Kagaeso can muster.
Frankly I’m amazed at how much lore is constructed about Kagaeso/Mikaboshi that also happens to be founded on complete bullshit, though I guess this should not be surprising given the nature of the internet. Most of what you will see written about this deity has no sources attached to it, you have to dig around to find out what little truth there is about him, and there really isn’t a whole lot said about him. He just seems to have been a rebellious star god who was defeated by the gods of Takamagahara so that they could rule Japan unopposed. Given that he was likely not only the only star kami but also seemingly associated with Venus, such a rebellious deity seems to be the Japanese analogue to what we would recognize as Lucifer in the West, and his resistance to the gods of Takamagahara could be interpreted in terms of national liberation, refusing the occupation of the gods of a foreign territory. But it seems that rather than this angle people seem to have chosen to go with the whole “god of evil” angle even though Ou-Magatsuhi, Yaso-Magatsuhi and the Magatsuhi-no-Kami already exist to fill any “god of evil” niche that exists in a way that still more or less fits Shinto doctrine.
The only thing I don’t understand is why. I only have two guesses. For Japan, I can only guess that rebellion is somehow evil in their traditional culture, and for the West I can only assume it comes down to some desperate desire to make the “Mikaboshi” of Japanese myth conform to the Mikaboshi that appears in the Marvel comics.
NOTE: 28/10/2021: This actually turned out to be my worst Mythological Spotlight ever. I’ve taken back some of the stuff I’ve said here about Lilith after reconsidering the subject from the angle of detournement, and the problems of treating subversive Satanic icons and symbolisms from the perspective of their originality within the purview of a society that is against them. There are still valid historical points made here, but the angle was erroneous and its conclusion was myopic, hypocritical, and smacks to me of elitism. Just keep that in mind as you read it.
Lilith as a figure almost needs no introduction, as she is a very famous (or should that be infamous?) mythological character whose currency stretches through from Christian culture, to occultism, to neopaganism and to Satanism and the like, and throughout the landscape of fantasy, horror and/or gothic literature. It is perhaps because of her popularity that she has become a ubiquitous archetype relating to some of the darker aspects of femininity. But, in this sense, it is perhaps also because of this that a lot of bullshit has been written about Lilith, and in general a lot of the presentation of Lilith is in many ways divorced from her historical background, and many times in neopagan circles she’s treated as though she was just a goddess of kinky sex with a rebellious attitude, when the actual mythology surrounding her often paints a much more sinister picture. And unlike what you might believe if you saw the intro to Night Angel, she most certainly is not to be identified with Kali, Pele or the various other goddesses who are typically considered “dark” from the perspective of pop mythology – for one thing, Lilith was never even a goddess. In general, as you encounter the mythical figure of Lilith, you will find much that is written about her or ascribed to her that is either ahistorical or just blatantly wrong. I have dealt with this sort of theme many times in my day, but only now do I take the time to write about it.
As you will understand going forward, one fact that affects our assessment of Lilith is that there are esssentially two Liliths present in our mythological canon, each with their distinct character. The first Lilith is the Lilitu found in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, which refers to a type of nocturnal wind demon that seduces men and is also believed to adbuct and kill babies – this I might call the “Pagan”, pre-Judaic or Pre-Pseudopigraphical Lilith. The second Lilith is the Lilith of the Alphabet of Ben Sira, which refers to the original first woman, created by God to be Adam’s wife, but who disobeyed Adam and proclaimed the forbidden name of God, resulting in her banishment from Eden and being cursed to lose one hundred of of her children every day – this I would refer to as the Judaic, Pseudopigraphical, or Christian Lilith. However, both Liliths tend to be very much related to each other in that the latter Lilith inexorably shares characteristics with the former Lilith, with the old myth of Lilith the Night Spirit extrapolated into Lilith the Vengeful Wife.
The “Pagan Lilith”
Many explanations have been brought forward over the years for the origin of the famous Lilith, some of them more or less accepted by scholarship than others, but the most likely explanation seems to be that the name Lilith has its roots in a type of demon known as Lil, also known as Lilu or Lilitu. Lilitu was usually the name of a specific type of demon, not usually a singular demon. One of the earliest references to a demon named Lilitu may have been Mesopotamian inscriptions that refer to Lilitu as a class of disease-bearing spirits or demons associated with the wind, rather than one specific demon. The Hebraic name Lilith ultimately seems to have its roots in the Sumerian name lilu, which means “air” or “spirit”. The name Lilith or Lilitu does not actually mean “screech owl” or “night owl” (that would be Lamia instead), but the association stuck in popular etymology due to an ancient superstition which held that that owls were associated with demonic powers. The Lilu and Lilitu classes of demons both have slightly different attributes connected to wind; the Lilu are associated with the southwest winds, Lilitu were believed to fly out like the wind or like birds. These demons also seem to be chiefly female, and most crucially they are referred to in Mesopotamian texts as being without husbands and thus seek out men to ensare for the purpose of sexual encounters, and it is said that men do not lie down with the Lilu/Lilitu in the same way that they lie down with their human wives. In Dictionary of Demons and Deities in the Bible, a comparison is made between these demons and the goddess Ishtar in that sexual encounters with Ishtar tend to end in death for the men who get involved, suggesting that sex with the Lilu/Lilitu tends to be dangerous for humans. Thus the Lilu/Lilitu demons can be established as dangerous or malevolent succubi as well as demons of wind and storms, and it is perhaps from this where the Jewish and Christian conceptions of Lilith find some of their roots. Later folkloric developments begin to establish the Lilu/Lilitu demons as child-stealers, as suggested by incantations found on Phoenician amulets, such as one found in the Arslan Tash site (though the authenticity is apparently disputed). In such an amulet, the Lilitu is depicted as a sphinx-like demon (referring to as “Flying One” and “Lilith”) and these amulets seem to be intended as apotropaic magical defences for women in childbirth. This establishes the role of the Lilitu demons as snatchers of children who are to be warded off by magical means in order to protect women and children from them.
A demon referred to as ki-sikil-lil-la-ke is sometimes identified with Lilith because Samuel Noah Kramer translated the name as Lilith in the 1930s. According to the Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ki-sikil-lil-la-ke demon resided inside the trunk of a tree that had grown in the garden of Inanna at Uruk (whose wood she plans to use to construct a new throne), alongside a serpent that rested at the base of the tree and the Zu bird (or Anzu) that raises its hatchlings at the top of the tree (not unlike the Norse myths in which Nidhoggr resides at the base of the Yggdrasil tree and the eagle that resides at its top). The snake is killed by Gilgamesh while the Zu bird flies away, but the ki-sikil-lil-la-ke destroys the house that it built in the tree trunk and ran off into the forest to avoid capture. The ki-sikil-lil-la-ke demon could be related to storms and wind due to the the presence of “lil” in its name, thus perhaps connecting it with the Lilu or Lilitu. However, beyond this etymological association, there is little in common between this demon and the Lilu/Lilitu demons, and it could be that this is just a different type of wind demon, not sharing the predatory sexual aspects of the Lilu/Lilitu demons.
The famous Burney Relief
In popular imagination, and more specifically Left Hand Path and neopagan circles, the Burney Relief has been one of the main ways of representing Lilith, and there are those who maintain that the winged lady depicted in the Burney Relief was meant to represent Lilith. In actual historical scholarship, however, there isn’t really a consensus for just who the figure in the Burney Relief actually is, though I believe it’s safe to say Lilith is not that figure. If we look at ancient civilizations and their religions, and from there you look at the way that the gods and the demons were treated, you’ll find that demons were generally not given the kind of respect or reverence that would lead to large statues being erected in their honour, let alone what must have been a prominent image that would have been displayed to many people, wherever that originally might have been (scholars don’t quite know where it was originally stationed). Demons did get depictions in Mesopotamia, such as Pazuzu or Lamashtu, but very few (namely Pazuzu, Lamahstu and perhaps Humbaba) get depictions in plaques, amulets or statues, and in fact we only really know about Pazuzu statues from this time period. There’s no evidence that the Lilu/Lilitu were given the same treatment, there’s very little evidence of their depictions outside a handful of amulets, and their main description is textual rather than visual. One thing to keep in mind is that while the Lilu/Lilitu were seen as malevolent, Pazuzu was believed to be a protective figure despite his demonic nature, because he was believed to drive out all the other demons and evil spirits and thus was invoked in apotropaic rituals to protect humans from misfortune and diseases. There it makes sense that the Pazuzus would get small statues and plaques while the Lilu/Lilitu would get a handful of amulets, if anything. The ancient Mesopotamians simply didn’t believe that demons like the Lilu/Lilitu deserved that kind of reverence, and who could blame them considering they believed that they were just child-snatching wind succubi. Such a thing would hardly be worthy of honor in any culture. If there is a goddess that had the Lilu/Lilitu’s qualities in the ancient world, some people consider Lamashtu a goddess, though she is usually treated as a demon, but even as a (sort of) goddess Lamashtu was considered very malevolent and, like the Lilu/Lilitu, abducted and feasted on children, and Pazuzu (ironically another demon) was frequently invoked to protect women from her. Lamashtu was certainly not an object of worship for ancient Mesopotamian people, so on that basis there’s no reason to assume why the Lilu/Lilitu would be either.
Generally, in the ancient world, large statues were reserved for the gods, not demons, and usually major gods at that. Take the Greek pantheon for example. Large statues were typically reserved for the gods of Olympus as opposed to comparatively minor gods or daemons. In the case of Mesopotamia we might think of the huge statues of winged bulls that flanked the gates of palaces. These were known as Lamassu or Shedu, and were treated as the representatives of gods, stars and constellations, or were considered protective deities in themselves. Thus the winged bulls would be taken as representations of the gods and their power rather than the demons. Furthermore, what little we do know about how the Lilu/Lilitu were depicted in Mesopotamian textual lore and the iconography found in magical amulets doesn’t really match the figure shown in the Burney Relief, which is a winged nude woman with a crown and talons, standing atop lions.
Furthermore, although scholars don’t quite know who the figure depicted in the Burney Relief, it is my personal opinion that the figure in the relief is likely to be Ishtar or Inanna. Why? The three main possibilities given for the identity of the figure would be Ishtar, Ereshkigal or Lilith. Having ruled out Lilith entirely, we’re left with either Ishtar or Ereshkigal. If you examine the figure on the Burney Relief, you notice that many of her features bear a familiar resemblence to traditional depictions of Ishtar or Inanna. For one thing, the crown definitely resembles the one worn by Inanna, and the wings of the statue, although facing downwards, line up with traditional depictions of Inanna/Ishtar in which she has wings. Sumerian depictions of Inanna match the pose that the Burney Relief figure makes, and in fact we know of several smaller plaques wherein Ishtar/Inanna make the same pose as in the Burney Relief. I believe that the lions in the relief also tie the figure to Ishtar/Inanna on the grounds that lions are her main symbols, and indeed we see artwork of Inanna resting her foot upon a lion in ancient Akkadian art. With all this in mind, it seems a little baffling that scholars have such a difficult time identifying the goddess of the Burney Relief. What’s more, there are no depictions of Ereshkigal anywhere, so with numerous depictions of Ishtar corresponding to the Burney Relief and no depictions of Ereshkigal, there really isn’t that much reason to assume that the relief represents Ereshkigal, and certainly not much more reason than to assume the figure is actually Lilith.
The “Judeo-Christian Lilith”
Where the pagan Lilith was more or less a class of wind demons and succubi, the Lilith of Judaism, and later Christianity, represents a singular entity, following from later folkloric developments about a singular Lilitu, and this Lilith becomes far more mythologically signficant than the pagan version. It must be stated, though, that the Lilith we know does not necessary come from Jewish orthodoxy.
In the official Hebrew Bible, Lilith plays a minor role as an ambiguous “night creature” who settles in Edom following its destruction by God according to the prophecy of Isaiah 34 – and that’s if we assume the night creature is Lilith, if we remember that the name Lilith doesn’t actually mean night owl. It is true that the original Hebraic text does seem to use the word “lilit” (לִּילִית) to refer to the creature. Curiously enough, however, while English translations render it as “screech owl”, Latin renditions refer to this creature as Lamia, not Lilith. It could be, then, that Lilith was not intended to be a personal name in the Hebrew Bible but more of a descriptor for a generic creature. Beyond that, Lilith certainly does not appear in the original creation story of the Torah or the Tanakh. The Lilith that is recognized today thus comes not from the official Hebrew Bible, but from extracanonical Jewish tradition.
The earliest reference to Lilith as the original wife of Adam comes from the Alphabet of Ben Sira, whose composition is estimated at the earliest to be around 700 AD, which would have been well after the ascent of Christianity in Europe, not to mention the rise of Islam, so this would certainly have been a late addition to Judaic canon at best. It is considered to be possible that the story contained within the Alphabet may have predated the Alphabet itself, but this is not possible to determine. What is certain, however, is that the Alphabet of Ben Sira predates the composition of the Zohar, the foundational treatise of Kabbalah, at least according to Gershom Scholem (generally considered an authority of Jewish mysticism and tradition) who believes that its author, Moses de Leon, knew about the Alphabet of Ben Sira and its version of Lilith. In addition, the Alphabet of Ben Sira is considered to be a satirical work, rather than a serious doctrinal treatise, due to several instances of the author blatantly mocking or insulting Biblical figures, depicting them as perverts, and the protagonist of the book himself being depicted as being the product of an incestuous relationship between the prophet Jeremiah and his daughter, all and many other references suggesting the book was intended as a polemic satire of the Jewish faith. Furthermore, while the work is considered to be part of Midrashic tradition, this is largely down to Kabbalistic mystics and scholars accepting parts of its content centuries later as received wisdom, seemingly without paying mind to its overall lack of connectivity to Judaic tradition, and then after that the tale was repeated in Rabbinic compendiums to the point that, when this version of Lilith made it to English speaking audiences, nobody knew enough about ancient and medieval Jewish folklore to know whether the tale really was a statement of Jewish tradition or if the Alphabet was a satirical work.
In any case, the myth found in the Alphabet displays a remarkable transformation of the Lilith character. Here Lilith is a human, the original wife of Adam, distinguished not only by this status but also by her defiant temperament, her insistence that Adam not treat her as a subordinate when she tells him “I will not lie below”. When Adam insists that Lilith is inferior to him, she tells him that “We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.”. This is often taken as a sign that Lilith, or rather the text’s authors, were preferential to gender egalitarianism on the grounds that it opposed the subordination of women to men. Of course, more profound is that Lilith utters the forbidden name of YHWH and flees the Garden of Eden, thus defying God. It is this defiance that becomes the origin of Lilith’s demonic characteristics. Three angels pursued Lilith on God’s orders seeking to bring her back to the garden, but she refuses, proclaiming that she was created to cause sickness to infants and that she has dominion over male infants for 8 days after their birth and female infants for 20 days. However, the angels ultimately convince Lilith to agree to an oath in which one hundred of her children die each day, and that when she sees the names of the angels on an amulet she would have no power over any infant bearing said amulet. Thus the myth of Lilith in the Garden of Eden is ultimately a rather drawn out explanation for a pre-existing Jewish tradition in which Lilith was viewed as simply a prolific child-snatcher, not the bride of some Adversary. It is interesting, though, how a being that we’ve already established to be a child-snatching demon is elevated to the status of God’s first wife. It does make you wonder what the Ben Sira’s intended commentary is. Is it that the religious institutions are patriarchal oppressors aimed against women’s rights, or its it that the Ben Sira casts women in a negative light by depicting the first woman as a traitor to Adam?
The rest of extracanonical Jewish tradition, at least leading up to the Alphabet of Ben Sira, doesn’t mention Lilith being the first wife of Adam, and instead most tradition focuses on her being a child-snatching succubus. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, Lilith is referenced just once within the Songs of the Sage and in the text Lilith is treated as part of a litany of different types of demons and creatures in pretty much the same way as in Isaiah, referring to “all the spirits of the destroying angels and the spirits of the bastards, the demons, Lilith, the howlers (?) and [the yelpers…] they who strike suddenly to lead astray the spirit of understanding”. In the Midrash Rabbah, there is a version of Genesis where a “first Eve” (or Chavvah ha-Rishonah) is returned to dust by God, but she is not called Lilith and this identification is only made outside the texts and only really becomes established centuries later by Kabbalistic mysticism and extant Jewish folklore from the medieval period onward. Elsewhere in the Midrash Rabbah, in the Midrashic Numbers God threatens to destroy the Israelites and Moses pleads with God to reconsider his threat, in the process comparing him to “that Lilith who, when she finds nothing else, turns upon her own children”. In other Midrashic texts, Lilith appears as a type of demon (in the sense of “a Lilith” or “Liliths”) that seduces and mates with Adam, after he parts with Eve, and their copulation gives birth to various demons that soon fill the world. The Midrash Akbir, however, depicts Adam leaving Eve after Cain kills Abel, only for Adam to be seduced by Lilith and father numerous demons who are eventually destroyed by Methuselah. Sometimes Lilith appears as a singular demon rather than just a type of demon, such as in the Gemara where she appears as a demon who gives birth to demonic children, seizes men who sleep in a house alone like a succubus, shoots “arrows”, and even has a son named Hormin whose name is a corruption of Ormuzd which is another name for the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda. Lilith (or Liliths) is also the subject several Jewish incantations which appear on bowls for the purpose of either repelling or imprisoning evil spirits such as Lilith(s). In a next from Nippur, the Liliths (who are referred to as Lili in male form and Lilith in female form, again suggesting that Lilith was not a singular demon entity but a type of demon) are likened with hags and ghools and adjured in the name of Abraham, Isaac, “Shaddai of Jacob” and Ya Ha-Shem. The Lili seem to function as the Judaic equivalent of the incubus, a male demon who seizes and sexually assaults women in their sleep, in complimentary contrast to the female Lilith who is a kind of succubus. Lili would also produce children with their victims without their consent or even knowledge, the offspring being half-human and half-demon (a cambion, if you will), and no one would know about the fact of it being a product of such a union until the child inevitably behaves too erratically for any normal human child in accordance with its nature as a cambion. The female Lilith would also give birth to a demonic child as a consequence of her sexual union with an unsuspecting man, and this child would be born in a deserted area and would seek out its father, screeching and raging into the night whenever it is frustrated in its journey. Anyways, in a similar Persian incantation, “the liliths” as well as “the evil Lilith” are bound and sealed, and “the evil Lilith” in particular is cited as causing the hearts of men to go astray, appearing in dreams (both in the night and the day), creating nightmares and attacking children (both boys and girls). In some medieval Jewish magical texts, the demon Bagdana appears as “the king of the lilits”. Another amulet, the “amulet of Epra”, suggests that there are multiple species of Lilith, as it adjures all of them in the name of their offspring . Generally speaking, Jewish magical tradition held that the Lilith (or Liliths) was a succubus that also bore a patholigical hatred of human children and would thus attack them unless warded off with incantations and amulets, and in many ways this continues on from the Lilith found in the Hebrew Bible. Even Christian lore historically never really changed this connection, with the Byzantian Christian Michael Psellus identifying Gello, a demon from Greek mythology long believed to cause infertility and infant mortality, with Lilith, and even then this identification was ultimately dismissed by later Greek Christian scholars as a confusion. Indeed, speaking of Christianity, we should note that Lilith appears nowhere in the New Testament canon or extant historical Christian tradition, not even in the Gnostic sects.
Popular folk tradition and demonology cites Lilith as the consort of Samael, who she mated with after splitting up with Adam after refusing lie below him, but this idea does not come from The Alphabet of Ben Sira. Instead it comes from later medieval texts, such as A Treatise of the Left Emanation, which was a Kabbalistic text written in the 13th century by Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi ha-Cohen. The same text also posits that there are two Liliths, one of them married to Samael and the other married to the demon Asmodeus. It must be safe to assume that the Lilith who is married to Samael is the Lilith that was to sleep with Adam before disobeying him, and this one is identified as the “Matron Lilith”, while the one married to Asmodeus is known as the “Lesser Lilith”, and is the daughter of a being named Qafsefoni. Other folk traditions say that Lilith simply marries Asmodeus and not Samael, and together they are believed to produce demonic offspring together. Whatever the case, this idea as the wife of [insert powerful demon lord here] seems more or less to be the product of medieval mysticism that came after even the Alphabet of Ben Sira, and certainly after much of established Judaic tradition.
Much of what we now associate with Lilith isn’t really canonical, but despite this it is the basis of the Lilith known to modern demonology (Christian or otherwise) and Western literature. In fact, it seems that the popular conception of Lilith might be traceable to her appearance in Faust, one of the most famous plays in Germany written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles introduces the eponymous protagonist to Lilith (also known as “The Pretty Witch”) as Adam’s first wife and tells him to beware of her because of her otherworldly beauty and because those who are seduced by Lilith never escape her grip. This establishes what is essentially the core of the modern Lilith in Western folklore, the first woman created by God and the emblem of female seductive power as well as the negative side of femininity, and such an archetype continues throughout Western folklore. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the famous troupe of Victorian-era British painters, particularly Dante Gabriel Rossetti, helped cement this version of Lilith through not only Rossetti’s famous painting Lady Lilith but also his sonnet called Body’s Beauty in which Lilith is described as “the witch he [Adam] loved before the gift of Eve” and her seductive character is elaborated. The poet Robert Browning composed a poem entitled Adam, Lilith and Eve, in which he, in an even more radical and maverick interpretation of the Lilith myth, depicts Lilith and Eve as cultivating friendship between each other. Some Victorian depictions re-emphasized the dangerous nature of Lilith, such as George McDonald’s Lilith in which the eponymous demon, cast as the Queen of Hell (which she never was in almost any of her myths), kills a child named Lona and tries to seduce and have sex with the protagonist Mr Vane, and other novels in which women named Lilith attempt to destroy the lives of male protagonists. 19th century French poetry also ramped up the evil nature of Lilith beyond her traditional scope. Victor Hugo depicted Lilith in La Fin de Satan as the daughter of Satan (again, never was this in any actual mythological canon) who was responsible for the crucifiction of Jesus, brought violence, imprisonment and “the cross” to the world, sees the French population as a threat to her schemes due to their “love of liberty”, and on top of all that is apparently so evil that she can never be redeemed while even Satan is shown being redeemed and turned back into Lucifer as an angel in God’s court. Remy de Gourmont wrote a play called Lilith in which Lilith is graphically shown having sex with Satan and seducing Adam while Satan seduces Eve.
Over time, Lilith eventually came to be seen by some feminists as a symbol of female empowerment and a new idea of femininity that was seen to have emerged in the time, and this idea has continued into modern assessments of Lilith. In his book Demonology and Devil-lore, the American abolitionist minister (and later freethinker) Moncure D Conway, who was sympathic to the suffragettes, seems to have thought of Lilith as not only an “infernal Madonna” but also a “protomartyr of female independence” whose attitude to Adam made him the “prototype of the ‘strong-minded’ and ‘cold-hearted’ woman”. It at first seems difficult to say if he is giving a sympathetic account since he simultaenously talks about Lilith in terms of female empowerment and also in terms of destructive demonic behaviours and not to mention negative female traits, though ultimately he seems to lean towards a somewhat feministic interpretation with lines such as “Had there been an order of female rabbins the story of Lilith might have borne obvious modifications, and she might have appeared as a heroine anxious to rescue her sex from slavery to man” and “we may suppose that Lilith found him [Samael] radical on the question of female equality which she had raised in Eden”. Apparently taking after Conway’s ideas, centuries later, was a scholar named Maximillian Rudwin, who wrote in The Devil in Legend and Literature that Lilith was the first woman to propose that men were essentially equal to women and that she left Adam because he thought the man should be the head of the family, and married Samael because he agreed with Lilith’s ideas about sexual equality. Rudwin even went so far as to mock Jehovah (or perhaps Christianity by proxy) on the grounds that he “could not foresee the widespread suffragist movement of the present day” even with his apparent omniscience. Ada Langworthy Collier wrote in Lilith, The Legend of the First Woman (the title alone should give us a clue as to where this is going) re-interprets Lilith as a character who, although clearly rebellious towards Adam, does not reject the authority of God and in fact is cast further as an apparently more benevolent or at least naive figure than any other interpretation; even her child-snatching ways from the old myths are recharactized not as a product of her own personality but instead an act of desparation brought on by her desire to have a child and jealousy of Eve, all ultimately motivated by the desire to fulfill the role of a loving mother to someone, and unlike the Lilith of actual myth she apparently returns the child she stole from Eve back to Eden. In addition to this departure from the mythos, we find that instead of Samael or Asmodeus this Lilith marries Eblis (clearly supposed to be Iblis, or perhaps Satan by proxy) after leaving Adam, despite herself not being an opponent of God. Apparently Collier based her own poem on old rabbinical myths and legends about Lilith, but also warned that she had not read the legend closely, suggesting that she might not actually have known what she wass talking about.
Perhaps the most radical interpretation of Lilith can be found in Renee Vivien, a radical lesbian poet who may have been a feminist or supporter of feminism. She wrote about Lilith in a similar way to Collier, depicting Lilith as the wife of Satan and thus Satan as a sympathetic supporter of the cause of feminism, and like Collier uses the name Eblis to refer to Satan, but unlike Collier’s and Conway’s Lilith, Vivien’s Lilith was created by the breath of dawn and not flesh and rejects Adam not out of his own apparent sexual chauvinism but because she considered Adam to be inferior to her by nature on account him being made of flesh and thus refuses to be his partner (which is actually even more radical than the Ben Sira). Furthermore, this Lilith is also sterile and on those grounds refuses to have children with Adam or even Satan, instead taking Satan as her “mystic lover” and, instead of having carnal relationships for the purpose of bearing physical offspring, engage in metaphysical intercourse that produces lustful dreams and other wicked fantasies and thoughts that haunt and corrupt the minds of men. On top of all that, she proclaims Lilith to be the symbol of lesbian identity itself, particularly as militantly opposed to heterosexuality, saying that “the dark breath of Lilith is within us” and declares her to be her foremother as an example of her refusing the love of men, preferring that of the serpent.
All of this serves as the root of the modern conception of Lilith within popular culture, religious commentary, demonology, occutlism and especially the Left Hand Path, given that the modern Lilith has a tenuous relationship (at best) to tradition in its characterization of Lilith. The modern Lilith is Adam’s first wife, the grand queen of Hell, the bride of Satan and the purest embodiment of lust itself, all of which have very little to do with the Judaic religious mythos she originates from, but find prolific expression in 19th century Western poetry, and this is where the modern Lilith seems to come from.
The Lilin (a.k.a. Lilim)
Some attention should be paid to the subject of the Lilin, a type of demon popularly known as the lustful offspring of Lilith. It seems that the term also originates from Mesopotamian mythology, wherein the term may have referred to hostile nocturnal spirits, a meaning that is carried over into the Jewish term, which simply means night spirits. According to Ronald Hutton (who may or may not be reliable depending on what you make of his neopagan bias), the Judaic Lilin are carried over from the Lilu/Lilitu of Akkadian and Sumerian folklore, who in turn were the minions of the demon Lamashtu. In the Targum Sheni, King Solomon summoned some Lilin and ordered them to dance for him. It is sometimes claimed that Agrat Bat Mahlat, the angel of prostitution, is the ruler of the Lilin, while some rabbinical texts suggest that Lilith herself is the mother or grandmother of Agrat Bat Mahlat. In A Treatise of the Left Emanation, the Lilin are the offspring of Lilith and Samael, whose presence in the world caused God to castrate Samael in order to prevent the couple from producing more of them. Beyond that, there really isn’t much out there about the Lilin other than they’re night spirits that have some relation to Lilith.
Lamia and Lilith
Returning briefly to the subject of the “Pagan Lilith”, it’s worth examining the connection between Lilith and Lamia that was mentioned earlier. Lamia was a demon found in Greco-Roman mythology who, similarly to Lilith (or the Liliths), seduced men and devoured children. Originally one of Zeus’ many human lovers, she became a demon after Hera, upon learning of this affair, cursed her to kill her own offspring (or alternatively they were killed by Hera). Lamia eventually became so established in Greek folklore that mothers and nannies would warn children about her in order to frigthen them into behaving properly. In this light, the Lamia could also be seen as having evolved into a type of demon rather than a singular figure, in fact this is how it came to be understood in folklore by the time of the Middle Ages. Indeed, manuscripts such as the Suda and the writings of Aristophanes establish that there is not one Lamia but many, establishing the concept of a generic Lamia, much like the generic Lilith is established in Judaic and Biblical tradition. Latin translations (particularly the Vulgate) of Isaiah 34:14, the only Bible verse that actually mentions Lilith in some form, use Lamia as the Latin name for the creature that is called Lilith in Hebrew. If Isaiah were to speak of Lilith as the sort of individual arch-demoness that Kabbalah and later Christian folklore do, this identification would not make sense. As such, the Lilith of Isaiah 34:14 was more or less a type of demon rather than a singular demonic individual, and since this is the case we can assume that Lamia in Latin is meant to translate what Lilith means in Hebrew. The very name Lamia has its roots in the Indo-European “lem”, meaning “nocturnal spirit”, which is very similar to the connotation that Lilith has in both Biblical and pagan Mesopotamian myth. Lamia, then, becomes another form of the Lilith myth within Greco-Roman culture, and thus in this way another “Pagan Lilith”.
All in all, there is much about Lilith that doesn’t have a great deal of connectivity with the Lilith found in ancient tradition. Contrary to a lot of neopagan and Left Hand Path interpretations, Lilith was never a goddess of anything in any tradition she was a part of. Far from being turned from a goddess into a demon by the Jews, Lilith has always been a demon, and often times a generic night demon, a type of succubus, rather than the arch-demonness that is recognized in contemporary folklore. Her status as a symbol of female empowerment is entirely non-traditional and rests not only on the Alphabet of Ben Sira but also a long line of 19th century romantic poetry that sought to re-establish Lilith as a character, both as a dangerous demon of seduction and a defiant symbol of female power or equality, even to the point of her having been taken up as a symbol of lesbian separatism on occasion. Now, I’m not saying here that archetypes are absolutely static and arent subject to change – indeed, several gods have undergone profound transformations during the life of their respective religious cults and ended up taking on new meanings as a result, and beyond that Lucifer and Christos (once a title for the god Serapis) are fine examples of this process – but the transformation undergone by Lilith seems to lack traditional continuity and raises questions about just what ideas of female empowerment or equality we’re dealing with when we attribute such a cause to Lilith.
The whole idea of Lilith being motivated by a belief in the equality of the sexes rests largely on the idea of her refusing to be subordinate to Adam, as is shown in the Alphabet of Ben Sira. But even if we put aside the fact that the Alphabet of Ben Sira itself is considered to be a work of satire in light of Jewish tradition, which would mean that every modern interpretation of Lilith is based on a text that was probably never intended to be taken seriously or even as official myth, and therefore totally unconnected to the mythos of Lilith, just what is Lilith outside the Alphabet anyway? A demon known for attacking men in their sleep and abducting and killing children. Just what ideas about equality and empowerment are in play for that to become a figure of noble defiance against patriarchal norms and inequality? At most, even within the 19th century, we find in Lilith an archetype about many of negative aspects of the female psyche, particularly involving seduction and the complete subversion of parental compassion (tied to the child-snatching and child murder). Her cruelty towards men in both mythos and poetry showcase a prolific female archetype of seduction as well as cold manipulation, she is the archetype of the women who seek to destroy men and children, the latter serving as obstacles to rampant and wanton selfish desire due to their invoking of ancient parental instincts in women, and if Lamia is anything to go by there are many other myths like this in world myth. If that’s someone’s idea of freeing women from patriarchal oppression, then what are we dealing with when it comes to feminism?
You are probably aware from reading my blog that there exists a tendency within the occult world to cast Satan as a god among the Egyptians through fallaciously tying him to actual Egyptian gods, thus establishing Satan not as the Evil Incarnate of Christian lore but as one of the great gods of pre-Christian polytheism. Proponents of this idea usually employ the Set-Sat-Saton-Satan etymological fallacy, in order to establish the link between Satan and the Egyptian god Set, a storm god (not unlike the Canaanite god Ba’al) and lord of the desert who became demonized as a god of chaos and evil after the Hyksos, who were patrons of his, were expelled from Egypt, and such a connection is certainly favored by those in the Temple of Set. But there is another idea I have come across – that Satan, or more specifically his connection to Lucifer, is connected to the Egyptian serpent deity Sata. According to Malcolm Godwin in Angels: An Endangered Species, the mythical (and also not actually canonical) fall of Lucifer into the Abyss reminds us that the Jews were in Egypt and that there was an Egyptian serpent deity named Sata who “is father of lightning and who likewise fell to earth”. The spurious connect between the motif of the light-bringer and lightning aside (surely gods like Zeus, Thor, Ukko or Marduk are now also Lucifers, aren’t they?), what is the actual truth of this connection? This is the subject of our Mythological Spotlight today.
So just who is Sata, you may wonder? In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, there is a spell apparently intended to transform the speaker into a snake, and this spell invokes a serpentine being named Sata. Here we get a description of Sata that goes as follows:
I am the serpent, long in years, sleeping and born every day I am the serpent who is in the ends of the earth As I sleep, I am born, I am renewed, I am rejuvenated every day
I am the Sata-snake, long of years, who sleeps and is reborn each day. I am the Sata-snake, dwelling in the limits of the earth. I sleep and am reborn, renewed and rejuvenated each day.
The Sata-snake appears to be described as a symbol of renewal and cyclical transformation, very similar at least in thematic to the Ouroboros symbol that is more commonly recognized. Sata never dies for he is constantly reborn and renewed with each sleep he takes, thus approaching a motif similar to death and rebirth despite it not actually being suggested that he dies, that is unless “sleep” here is taken to mean death. He also seems to dwell in the deepest realms of the earth or underground, suggesting rather blatantly that Sata is some sort of chthonic deity. However we have no mention of mastery over lightning or falling from the heavens here, so where exactly did Godwin get that from? I’m not sure.
According to The Secret History of Lucifer by Lynn Picknett, the aforementioned spell was supposed to be a magical means by which practitioners of the Egyptian religious/magical system, or perhaps more specifically the Pharaohs, to become immortal and embody the traits of the serpent long in years, and that the Pharoahs like Sata would descend to the earth before ascending to the heavens as the resurrected Osiris. The book does little to establish the connection to the myth of the fall from Heaven, and given the connection to the Pharaohs it seems more likely that the descent is tied not to the fall of a serpent from Heaven but rather to the idea of descent into the underworld upon death, which is the necessary precursor for resurrection in the afterlife. And the book mentions Sata being a “father of lightning” but there is no indication of this in any source material, so yet again we’re left clueless.
And the more I look the more I find how little information there is about Sata. If he was a god within the Egyptian pantheon, he certainly seems to have been a very minor deity, nowhere near as important as many of the other gods of the pantheon, and every source I can find of him all seems to trace back to a single spell within the Egyptian Book of the Dead that doesn’t really establish most of the attributes that are assigned to him which supposedly tie him to Lucifer and Satan. There is no source available for Sata’s mastery over lightning, and certainly no source available for his “fall from Heaven”, but various books talk about Sata having those attributes anyway, with seemingly no justification for it, in order to make the case that Sata was the basis (or simply a basis) for Satan thus allowing the case to be made that Satan was originally a polytheistic god, rather than the adversarial angel in God’s court that his original lore establishes. Some books even claim that Sata was actually just another name for Set, and if you know anything about Egyptian mythology you’d know that Set was never depicted as a snake anywhere in Egyptian mythology even after he became recast as an evil deity.
But of course, no attempt to connect Satan with the Egyptian pantheon would be complete without bullshit etymology, and that’s where classic internet nonsense comes in. According to a guy on Steemit calling himself sandalphon, for instance, the ancient Egyptian lexicon provides proof of an etymological connection between the names Sata and Satan. His proof of this connection is an image showing a series of hieroglyphs that supposedly show Sata, Sat An and then Satan. Exactly how this connection is supposed to work is in no way explained, the article makes no build up to the subject within itself, and indeed that weird image is the only mention of Sata anywhere in the article, we’re just given the image and supposed to take its claims at face value. We have no reason to believe there is any connection between any of these hieroglyphics and the Hebraic name Satan unless we plan to do the Peter Joseph thing where “son of God” actually just means “the Sun” because the two sound similar. There may as well be no etymological connection to speak of.
Given all of this, it seems extremely unlikely that the Jews based their idea of Satan on Sata, not least considering Sata was a minor deity in the Egyptian pantheon. Now, to be fair, Yahweh was also originally a minor deity within the Canaanite pantheon, but at least he went somewhere and became the central deity of the Bible while the Egyptian deity Sata never really went beyond one spell of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Not to mention, the idea that the Jews got their idea of Satan from the serpent Sata would require us to assume that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was actually Satan, and the Jews never established any such connection between Satan and snakes – that was a later Christian idea.
Pretty much every account you read of Sata being the origin of Satan or Lucifer, or about him being the master of lightning who fell from Heaven, is very likely to be bullshit. There is no extant source for these attributions, and the people who peddle it most likely have a larger agenda concerning the supposed pre-Christian roots of the Satan archetype; not from a Satanist perspective, of course, and likely not for some neopagan project, but more probably for some pablum about how there is a universal religion that’s been practiced since the beginning of time, and presumably distorted over the years. Sata himself is mildly interesting as a chthonic emblem of renewal, but there are many other mythical figures that fit not only this role but countless others, so given his status as a minor deity who only seems to have appeared in one spell I fail to see how he got taken up as a pro-expy for Satan.
Zhulong (also known as Zhuyin or Chu-yin) is a peculiar figure within Chinese mythology. Other names for him include Zhoulong and Chuolong. He is recorded as a dragon who was also worshipped by the Chinese as a god. This deity stretches back to very early periods of Chinese myth and history, and is considered to be a god of the weather, light and the sun. He is typically described as a dragon or serpent with a human head, but he could also be thought of as a pig dragon, as pig dragon is one of the many meanings of his name. Like many creatures found in Chinese myth, he also found his way to Japan, where he was recgonized as a yokai (a kind of monster or demon).
There are many myths centering around Zhulong that can be found in the ancient Chinese Classics, a series of texts whose composition predates the Qin dynasty, the first imperial dynasty of China, and which collectively form the canonical basis of ancient Chinese literature, particularly Confucian scholarship. The Classic of Mountains and Seas (or Shanhaijing) describes Zhulong as a deity residing at the top of a place called Zhōngshān (or Mount Bell), which seems to refer to a geographical location now known as Zijinshan (or Purple Mountain). Older myths place his abode in a different location, specifically a place called Mount Zhangwei. A huge creature, described as a thousand leagues long, Zhulong appears to have control over the transition of night and day as well as the weather. It is written that when his eyes are open or looking out there is daylight, and when they are closed it is night, and that he commands the seasons by blowing and/or calling out – when he blows it is winter and when he calls out it is summer. He is described as not needing to eat, drink or even breathe, but also that when he does breathe it creates gales of wind.
This myth is sometimes considered to be an antecedent to a similar myth concerning Pangu (or Pan-ku), another Chinese creation deity, on the grounds that both Pangu and Zhulong were believed to have built up the foundations of heaven and earth, thereby responsible for the creation of the universe. The fact that the composition of the Shanhaijing seems to predate the myths of Pangu appears to support the hypothesis that the Zhulong myth is the ancestor of the Pangu myth, as well as the origin of Pangu during the Han dynasty, thus suggesting Pangu to be the Han dynasty successor to Zhulong. And speaking of chaos, the myth of Zhulong has also been compared to another mythical creature known as Hundun, a beast representing the primordial chaos that existed before creation. The comparison stems from Zhulong not needing to eat, drink or breathe, which theoretically matches up Hundun’s lack of orifices. However, most depictions of Zhulong do have orifices, and the myths state that, although Zhulong doesn’t need to breathe, he sometimes does. There is one depiction of Zhulong that sometimes looks “faceless” at first, or at least lacking eyes, but upon close inspection it is just that he has only one eye, not unlike the Cyclopes of Greek mythology.
In the Classic of the Great Wilderness, Zhulong is mentioned as a god-man with a serpent body and describes the same characteristics as before, while adding that the wind and the rain are under his command and that he shines over “the ninefold darkness”. In the Chu Ci (or Songs of Chu), Zhulong is described as a being capable of bringing light into places that the sun cannot reach, which is implied to be the underworld, based on how the Shanhaijing in some translations refers to him as being able to “light the dark world of the dead”. The Huainanzi describes him as a creature that hides in the mountains and never sees the sun. In The Records of Penetration into the Mysteries (or Dongmingji), Zhulong is referred to, though not by name, as a blue or azure dragon that carries a torch in its jaws and illuminates a mountain reached by neither the sun nor the moon and is populated by peculiar plants and trees that can be used as torches.
In Japan, Zhulong is known as Shokuin, or Shokuryu, and is generally considered to be a yokai. The term yokai is a complicated a loaded term, but it can be translated as “strange apparition” and the categorization seems to comprise of ghosts, demons and various supernatural creatures, and is treated separately from the god category, or kami. This would mean that Zhulong has effectively been downgraded in Japanese myth from a god to a monster. Beyond that, however, many of the details of Shokuin are essentially the same as the details of Zhulong but with some differences. Whereas Zhulong resides at either Mount Zhangwei or Mount Bell, Shokuin resides at the top of Mount Shō. Shō is the name of one of the Yōrō Mountains which sit between the Mie and Gifu prefectures, however it’s possible that this is not the mountain referred to in the myth, as Toriyama Sekien, the author of the Senagikyo (which incidentally is a Japanese transliteration of the name Shanhaijing) in which he is featured, describes it as a mountain located near the Arctic Ocean. It seems that Shokuin was one of many yokai that were originally lifted from Chinese mythology, with many of their myths borrowed from their Chinese counterparts and names translated from Chinese to Japanese.
Shokuin also appears in the first volume of a text called the Konjaku Hyakki Shui (or “Supplement to The Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past”, also authored by Toriyama Sekien), in which he is described as the god of a mountain called Shōzan (likely a variant of Mount Shō), which is located in “the regions beyond the seas”.
Serpent of the morning star?
Zhulong’s many names are of interest here. Guo Pu’s commentary on the Classic of Mountains and Seas refers to him as “Enlightener”. The name Zhulong means “torch dragon”, though the name Zhu can also mean “illuminating”, “bright”, or “shining”. The name Zhuyin similar means “torch shadow”, but as Zhu can also mean “bright” and yin can mean “darkness”, we find that Zhuyin can mean “bright darkness”. This meaning is retained in the Japanese names Shokuin and Shokuryu. The reason I chose Zhulong for my return to writing Mythological Spotlights is because of an interesting coincidence that this presents.
Now, when you consider this in relation to the fact that Zhulong is described as having ligthed up the underworld, it strikes me that there is a similarity between this figure and the way that Lucifer, or his predecessor Athtar, are described. Lucifer, you may recall, is the bringer of light, and either fell or descended to the underworld. His Canaanite predecessor, the god Athtar, stepped down throne the throne of Mount Sapon in order to rule the underworld, and it just so happens that a torch is one of the items associated with this god. In a sense, Athtar much like Zhulong brought light to the underworld. Both also tend to contain both light and darkness within them, with Ahthar freely travelling between the heavenly Mount Sapon and the underworld, and Zhulong’s very name denoting him as being associated with both light and darkness. It is tempting, then, to consider Zhulong a rough Chinese counterpart to Lucifer. The image of a red-coloured serpent who resides in a darksome abode bringing light with a torch also certainly hits the right notes.
However, the general consensus regarding the myth is that Zhulong does not represent the morning star, and certainly lacks the connection to the planet Venus that Lucifer would have, and that instead Zhulong represents the phenomenon of auroras, specifically the Aurora Borealis. However, there are other scholars that suggest that it was a metaphor for an active volcano. The Japanese myth gives us some indication that the aurora borealis or the northern polar lights might be the main inspiration, given his immense size, his bright red colouration and the location of his home near the Arctic Ocean. In addition, the myth of Zhulong was very obviously developed in isolation from the Levant, and so it cannot have a clear relation with the myth of Athtar.
His connection to Pangu, a god whose body becomes the whole universe, might render him loosely comparable with beings like Tiamat, whose destruction begets the creation of the cosmos and mankind, as does a tradition within Chinese mythology that mortal beings inherit the powers of dragons, but in a rather distant sense.
Although Zhulong doesn’t have any intrinsic connection to Lucifer, he can be posited as expressing similar principles to the Lucifer archetype, on the grounds that he, like Lucifer, is an illuminating figure. In any case, though he seems to have been overshadowed by other deities in Chinese mythology, he serves as a fascinating link between early Chinese myth and later Chinese myth, specifically in the context of Pangu and Hundun, and is an interesting representation of the unity of the yin and the yang in the form of an enlightening serpent. He deserves quite a bit more respect than he gets.
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