Friday, June 21, 2013


Blessed Solstice, everyone! It's the perfect time to profile the name of one of the few sun goddesses!

In most cultures the sun is associated with masculine energy and the moon with feminine energy. Japan is a notable exception. Japanese mythology has one of the few sun goddesses: Amaterasu (pronounced "ah-mah-the-rah-suh"). Her name is derived from Amateru meaning "shining in heaven." Her full name, Amaterasu-omikami means "the great divinity who shines in heaven."

Amaterasu's father is Izanagi, who was the father of most gods in Japanese mythology. After his failed attempt at trying to rescue his wife from the Underworld, Izanagi performed a cleansing rite. During this ritual he "begat" Amaterasu from his left eye. Sorry, that's as specific as it gets. They're gods, their conceptions don't have to make sense. Anyways, she was so bright and beautiful that she was sent up the celestial ladder to rule over heaven. Aside from being the sun goddess she is also the goddess of the whole universe, invented rice fields and the loom, and taught humans how to cultivate silk worms and wheat. She keeps herself busy.

Amaterasu also has two brothers: Susanoo or Susanowa (the god of storms and the sea) and Tsukuyomi (the god of the moon). There was quite a lot of drama between the three of them. Originally, Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi shared the skies together. But then Tsukuyomi murdered Uke Mochi, the goddess of food, for being too gross (she "pulled food from her rectum, nose, and mouth"). Amaterasu was so horrified by her brother's actions that she declared him evil and cut all ties with him, separating day from night.

She's not on the best of terms with her other brother either. Depending on who's telling the story either Susanoo was causing such a racket that he scared his sister or he was a sore looser when Amaterasu won a contest and vandalized her property and killed one of her attendants. In any case, Amaterasu ran to hide in a cave and refused to come out, taking the sun with her. The other gods tried to lure her out to no avail. Finally the goddess Uzume succeeded. The other gods found her obscene dances hysterical, and Amaterasu wanted to know what everyone was laughing about.

Amaterasu is still very important to the Shino religion in Japan. Her chief place of worship is Grand Shrine of Ise on the island of Honshu, and this is the holiest shrine in the Shinto religion. Inside, the goddess is represented by a mirror called Yata no Kagami. This is considered to be one of the Three Imperial Treasures. The Three Imperial Treasures are all object that supposedly belonged to Amaterasu, aside from the mirror there is also the jewel and the sword. The Grand Shrine of Ise is unique in that the main buildings are destroyed and rebuild every twenty years in honor of the goddess who is rejuvenated after each rebuilding. After this rite, it is traditional to give Amaterasu gifts of rice and clothing. Supposedly, the next rite is supposed to take place this year, I'm not sure if it's underway or if it already past. The Japanese imperial family claims to be descendants of her (or at least they did before 1945, I guess it's no longer PC for royalty to claim divine ancestry). Her sacred days are July 17th and the Winter Solstice, so you guys below the equator have her covered today.

As for us Western Neo-Pagans and Wiccans, Amaterasu is the most well-liked of all the Japanese deities. I've seen some people describe her as a "dark" goddess like Kali and Hecate, but I don't think that that category suites her. If that's how the Neo-Pagan community feels about her then that's going to effect it's chances of being used as a baby name.

Amaterasu has never been a common name in the United States. It's pronounced the way it looks (which is not always the case with Japanese names) but there's still going to be people who don't know how to say it. Still, it has a great history. It feels strong. There aren't a heck of a lot of sun names for girls in mythology. So it's got a lot going for it.

Encyclopedia of Spirits by Judika Illes

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Sunday, June 16, 2013


It seems like I'm always suggesting eccentric animal names.

Turtle is derived from the French word torue, and it means the same thing. This is not the same etymology as the "turtle" in turtledove. That comes from the Latin turtur, which supposedly replicates the bird's call.

Turtles are the world's most ancient reptile species. The earliest known turtles date back to 220 million years ago. They are unique because of their shells which is attached to their ribs and backbone. The largest turtles are aquatic like the leatherback sea turtle.

In many cultures around the world, turtles represent longevity and wisdom. They are associated with water, the moon, time, immortality, and Mother Earth. In Ancient Egyptian mythology the turtle is connected to Set, and so they were the enemies of the sun god Ra. In Ancient Greek/Roman mythology they were connected to, oddly enough, Aphrodite/Venus. Several myths state that the earth rests on the back of a turtle. In alchemy, the turtle symbolizes chaos.

Turtle has never been a common name in the United States. The only instance that I can recall in which Turtle was used as a name was in the novel Wicked by Gregory Maguire. There is a small but key character called Turtle Heart. The Native Americans also used it in their names, but of course it would have been in their own languages.

The other unusual animal name I profiled recently was Otter. Otter has the benefit of there currently being a lot of popular "-er" names. There's nothing that sounds like Turtle except for Myrtle, which isn't fashionable at the moment. Some names for animals can become names for people if they're charismatic enough. But this isn't a cute and cuddly animal (like Bunny or Kitty), nor is it a big and strong animal (like Tiger). Therefore Turtle might be a little daffy. Then again, few years ago I said the same thing about Bear.

Perhaps it might be more reasonable to find turtle-related names. I guess I know what my next Spirit Animal name round up will be.


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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Spirit Animal Round Up: Butterfly

I think my recent post put me in a butterfly type of mood.

People generally love butterflies. They are admired worldwide for their beauty. One of the more obvious associations with the butterfly is the coming of spring. They also represent freedom, lightness, and rebirth. Many cultures link butterflies (and also moths) to the dead, believing that they embody the souls of the departed. This is why butterflies are shown on tombstones in many countries. But with the exception of only a few times butterflies aren't usually seen as ominous. Some cultures believed that witches transformed into butterflies in order to steal milk and butter.

All this makes butterfly names appealing. Here are just a few that I collected:

1. Chrysalis. I posted about this one recently. This is the stage between caterpillar and butterfly.

2. Mazarine. A deep blue color. Also the name of a famous French cardinal. The beautiful Mazarine Blue's numbers have been declining for reasons that are unclear.

3. Monarch. One of the few names on this list that works for boys, this references the most iconic of North American butterflies. They are known for their orange and black coloring.

4. Flutura. Albanian for "butterfly."

5. Parvaneh. "Butterfly" in Persian. Can also be spelled Parvana.

6. Fritillary. A species of butterfly. From the Latin fritinnire meaning "to twitter." This name could also refer to flowers.

7. Vanessa. Invented by author Jonathan Swift, it was later used for a genus of butterfly.

8. Mariposa. Spanish for "butterfly."

9. Psyche. Some depictions show this mythical character with butterfly wings. In Greek/Roman mythology, she famously loved Eros/Cupid.

10. Skipper. Some species get this name due to their swift, darting flight patterns. Reminds me a bit of Barbie dolls, but there's still some appeal here.

11. Copper. Another one that works great for boys. They are also called gossamer-winged butterflies. Come to think of it...

12. Gossamer. A word used to describe something very fine or sheer.

13. Leafwing. Something about this smoosh-name is very charming. There is also Cloudywing, Daggerwing, Bluewing, Clearwing, Duskywing, and Glassywing.


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