Baubo & the Bean Clean

Bean Day

Candlemas, that night of a thousand lights, marks the end of a liturgical cycle, that of the infancy of Jesus. From now on the light becomes stronger.

Here in Japan, February 3rd, so the old calendar has it, is the traditional end of winter. It marks the end of the long dark days; temperature-wise, this purported end is a little harder to believe. The shifting of this little fragment of the floating world toward the sun, though, is becoming delightfully apparent. Winter fragrances waft surprisingly out of the blue and are especially welcome for their shock (and bliss) value. Drab colours persist but the trees are beginning to sip on sunlight. Today I noticed greening stalks on an apricot tree that has been playing dead for the past few months.

The changing of the seasons is a time in all cultures of the Old Ways of the thinning of the veils, where the borders between the human and spirit worlds become unusually porous. During this in-between time life is in the balance: anything can happen.

To cleanse oneself and one’s dwelling from old memories and negative influences and to prepare the soul to meet spring there is the ritual hurling of beans on this day, called Setsubun. [More info and pix and links, here]. Into nooks and crannies where energy gets stuck and stagnant, (and/or at the rather comedic demon figures) ‘lucky’ beans are flung by the handful, along with the incantation: “Demons out! Happiness in!”


At this seasonal border-line we also find just the place for an irreverent and salty goddess like Baubo. Who better to provide a bit of bawdiness and hilarity to lift and flavour our winter-flagging spirits? The goddess of mirth in Japan goes by a variety names: Uzume, Otafuku, and Okame (varieties I suspect of the mother/maiden/crone triad?).  She’s represented as a plump, cheerful woman whose appearance is not quite perfect,  her hair is mussed or the combs are askew or falling out, and her kimono isn’t exactly immaculate; nevertheless, she is always depicted as a smiling, warm and eminently huggable sort. It was she who danced provocatively before the assembled crowd of gods when Amaterasu (the sun goddess) retired to a cave in a snit and refused to come out. Following (after the jump, if you’re interested) is that amusing story offered for the beginning of spring.



This is Jeremy Taylor’s rendition, one of my favourites, where Uzume plays the role of the trickster, the kickstarter of life:

Amaterasu withdraws her shining presence from the world, condemning all-animals, good, and goddesses alike-to a lingering death in the cold and the darkness created by her total and absolute absence.

Word spreads quickly, and the gods and goddesses light torches and gather in front of the mountain, weeping and tearing their beautiful robes and scratching their faces in ritual gestures of submission, grief, contrition and supplication. Inside the mountain, the Goddess of the Sun can hear their weeping and cries for forgiveness, but her heart is hard. There is no forgiveness in her.

At this point, Uzume, washerwoman to the gods, the most lowly and despised of all the gods and goddesses, appears on the torchlit scene. She has been down by the river, washing the clothes of the gods and goddesses. She thought the sun went down unusually early, even for the middle of winter, but she hadn’t given it much thought. Now she arrives, carrying her basket of clean laundry, and find her divine masters and mistresses all in the most extreme attitudes of distress and supplication. She is surprised and asks what’s going on.

The gods and goddesses can hardly be bothered to tell her. (The tendency of the figures of established power to ignore and demean the trickster is one of the hallmark archetypal elements of the repeating trickster story.) Eventually, Uzume is able to piece together the story . .  . (Susanowo, Amaterasu’s unruly brother & spanner in the works of creation has upset the cosmos and tried his sister’s patience once too often. Thus her snit and the threat to all of horrible death.)

Uzume is incredulous. “Really?”


“We’re all going to die?”

“We’re all going to die!”

“Even me?”

“Even you!”

“Well, then,” Uzume looks around, “there’s only one thing left to do!”

“What’s that? What can there possibly be left for us to do? Don’t you understand? We’re all doomed!”

“In that case . . . ” Uzume puts down her load of divine laundry and tips the basked over on the ground so that it becomes a makeshift platform. She climbs up onto the overturned laundry basket in the flickering torchlight and takes off her obi, revealing her bare breasts. “Let’s party!”

Uzume Dancing

The gods and goddesses are stunned. Uzume starts to sing a ribald little song. She takes her breasts in her hands and pretends they are gigantic eyes. She makes them look to the right, and then to the left, as she sings. She prances and dances on top of her overturned laundry basket/podium. Then she causes her breasts to look cross-eyed.

Despite their misery and despair, the gods and goddesses are moved to laughter. They roar and hoot as Uzume performs her comic, seductive striptease.

Inside the mountain, Amaterasu hears their laughter and is confounded and amazed. What have they got to laugh about? They are all doomed! What can they possibly find funny in the face of  their inevitable and ignominious demise? She presses her ear to the rock to see if she can hear what the cause of their merriment can possibly be, but all she hears is a little high-pitched singing and increasing gales of laughter. Slowly her divine curiousity gets the better of her, and she parts the rock like a curtain and takes the tiniest peek into the darkened landscape to see what is so amusing in the face of inevitable slow and lingering death.

But since she is Goddess of the Sun, when she parts the wall of the mountain to steal a peek at the incomprehensible merriment, a ray of golden sunlight shoots forth into the darkened scene. Uzume sees this one ray of light, and with unaccustomed authority, she commands the God of War to hold up his endlessly polished shield and catch the beam of light and reflect it back at the mountain.

When Amaterasu peeks out of the mountain, the first thing she sees is  her own divinely radiant image, reflected in the mirror-smooth surface of the God of War. She has never seen herself before, and she is convinced it is another goddess. In that instant, she is utterly dismayed and entranced. The gods and goddesses must have somehow created and called forth another goddess of the sun to take her place–one that is so unbelievably radiant and beautiful that even she, Amaterasu herself cannot tear her eyes away  from her shining beauty. Uzume calls out triumphantly, ordering the God of War to walk backwards, carrying his mirror/shield, so that the reflected image of Amaterasu begins to recede in her gaze. Amaterasu comes forth, slowly following the magnificent receding image, entranced by its luminous grace, power and beauty.

When she emerges, Uzume calls out to the rest of the gods and goddesses to close the mountain behind Amaterasu and turn it into solid rock, so that the Goddess will never be able to withdraw from the earth in that way again.

Source: The Living Labyrinth, 236-8


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