Friday, September 9, 2011

L5R Cosmology: the O-kami

Fresh on the heels of yesterday's post, I imagine that many of you are saying something to the effect of, Wait a minute. One giant universal godhead? That sounds far too much like western monotheism and not enough like multi-layered eastern spirituality.

To you, I say this.

All right then. First, the creation story of Rokugan:

In the beginning, before the universe was created, there was only Nothing. The Nothing that existed before the birth of all things was aware, and at some point during its timeless existence, it realized it was alone -- and thus experienced Fear. This unprecedented emotion was the first Sin, and created one third of the world. The realization of Fear also created in the Nothing a sense of loneliness and a desire for a companion. These sensations were the second Sin, Desire, and created a second third of the world. And when the Nothing realized what it had done, it experienced regret and a wish to unmake what it had mistakenly created. This was the third Sin, Regret, and it created the final portion of the world, completing it and ending the Nothing’s existence.

The newly-made universe was chaotic and formless at first, like an egg whose white and yolk had been intermixed. Slowly, the primal elements of creation seeped through the empty universe, and the energies pooled, with the heaviest sinking to the bottom and creating different layers of reality. Above was the Celestial Heavens, while below the mortal realm was born, as were the various other spirit realms and, finally, Jigoku, the Realm of Evil.

In the wake of the Nothing came three entities whose names have never been known by any living creature, mortal or divine, since that time. When they are spoken of at all, they are simply known as the Three Gods Whose Names Cannot Be Spoken.[1] These three gods looked upon the new realms, particularly the mortal world, and recognized that it must be given form and purpose, an act beyond their means. In order to give shape to the universe, the three gods sacrificed themselves to give birth to a single man and woman, two divine beings who could do what the three before could not, and bring order to existence. Thus were born the Sun Goddess and the Moon God.

Lady Sun and Lord Moon looked down upon the mortal world and were perplexed by its formlessness. Ultimately, they realized they could only give form to what existed there by giving names to all the things that could be found in the mortal realm. They entered the mortal realm and named it, and doing so, they created names for themselves; Lady Sun became Amaterasu, and Lord Moon became Onnotangu. They began to name all they found there, such as stones, trees, deer, and all other things imaginable.

With the mortal realm fully formed, Amaterasu and Onnotangu returned to the Celestial Heavens, and Lord Moon’s ardor for Lady Sun grew more powerful with each passing moment until, driven by his obsessive love, he pursued the Sun across the sky, creating the cycle of day and night. Onnotangu eventually caught up with Amaterasu, and the sky was blackened during the middle of the day. It was at this time, the first eclipse, that the ten children of the Sun and Moon were conceived.

All right, pretty basic stuff here. I included this mainly for the sake of completeness, since there are some folks reading this who haven't played the game and aren't conversant with Rokugani mythology. The only thing that you truly need to take away from that story is this: Lord Moon and Lady Sun represent yin and yang.

Side Note: it bears repeating that kami are not moral creatures. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that Lord Moon is evil and Lady Sun is good. It is far more correct to say that Lady Sun embodies propriety (and therefore honor) and Lord Moon embodies impropriety and lack of honor. Again, divest your mind of the notion that honor = good. Other words for propriety are bureaucracy and stubborn pride, and impropriety is often another term for expedience and candor. 

Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime. Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime. 
-- from Wikipedia

Admittedly, many of the attributions aren't perfect, and the genders are switched; we can handwave that by saying "Rokugan is not Asia." That said, the comparison itself is apt: Sun and Moon are polar opposites who nonetheless complement each other, and when they come together they form a perfect whole. Elaborating upon yesterday's conclusion that the Void Dragon is Lady Sun and Lord Moon (and yet, at the same time, not), consider this:

Lady Sun is the white element (Yang)
Lord Moon is the black element (Yin)
The circle that they form is the Void Dragon.
The Void Dragon is the totality of the Four Elemental Dragons.
The Elemental Dragons are the gestalt intelligences of their respective mikokami. 
The mikokami are the building blocks of the universe.
Therefore, Lady Sun and Lord Moon are everything.
As it is written in the Tao of Shinsei, All Are One.

The tremendous implications of this philosophy will be addressed, I promise, when we reach the Shintao portion of this series.

[1] I believe this to be an obscure in-joke regarding the original creators of the game: John Wick, David Williams, and D.J. Trindle.

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