About those incestuous beginnings

If you found the element of brother-sister incest somewhat disturbing in yesterday’s blog that included the Japanese Creation story, you should consider the following.

First of all, in most, if not all cultures, the recognition of the relationship between copulation and conception some fourteen thousand years ago appears to have been immediately followed by the idea that as with all other human activities, sexual activity should be carefully regulated by those who wished to avoid displeasing the Ultimate One, if only by bringing it into line with the natural ways of the world as then understood; while the gods themselves should set the example.

For instance, since the discovery of the fact that without the assistance of a male, the female couldn’t create anything at all, most of the old female cults, such as, say, those whose Mother-goddess had long been associated with the sea—and of course, who was believed to create the fish upon which her children routinely sustained themselves—had suddenly found themselves looking to merge with one of the new, male cults whose own god might now be claiming dominion over the sea; while under the circumstances—the two having arisen from the very same place in mind and all—the myth-makers of the day naturally came to present them, in spirit at least, as ‘brother and sister’, or this divine pair who having properly married, now cohabited in the sea and actually created all those fish together. 

And so it was in Japan, whose ancient Creation story as recorded in the Kojiki has it that Izanagi and Izanami were actually but the seventh divine brother-sister pair directed to help with the creation of the world; that is, the world having been started by an Original Pair long before them, and the earth having already been created—albeit at present, still covered with water—their task as assigned by the older kami, or gods was just to create the Japanese islands, people, and their deities; and meanwhile, the myth-makers would have them set the example for how people should behave, perform all the required rituals and ceremonies, and so forth.

For instance, both the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki report that when the divine pair went to marry by ceremoniously approaching each other from opposite directions around the ‘Pillar of Heaven’, Izanami was the first to speak; after which, they completed the marriage ceremony and only then, mated—but then, produced a grotesquely deformed child; which they promptly set asea alone in a boat, to die as it would. 

Then they asked the older generation of gods what they’d done wrong. And you’ve probably already guessed their answer: Izanami shouldn’t have been the first to speak; the man should have been allowed—must always be allowed—to speak first!

And so they went through the marriage ceremony again—this time, in the proper manner—and went on to conceive many healthy offspring. Example set! (Wikipedia, Japanese Mythology https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_mythology)

And second of all, the Japanese are scarcely the only people whose Creation story centers on an incestuous relationship, but are one of many peoples whose Creation stories and general tales of the ancient gods speak with little or no concern of such a Beginning.

For instance, you might be interested to find out, if you don’t already know, that in the Ancient Greek story of Creation, the Original Mother, or Earth-mother Gaia gave birth to a son, Uranus, who became the Sky god; and when he was sufficiently grown, she mated with him, eventually producing twelve children—six gods: Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Lapeteus, and Cronus, and six goddesses, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys—comprising a group known as the Titans.

Mother-son incest too, you might shriek in horror? Well you see, at first people imagined that in the Beginning, the Great Mother alone existed; and their stories of Creation reflect that—in some quarters, still reflect that; same as the Bible would have you believe about Yahweh—but after people made the connection between babies and sex, those stories needed to be updated.

So okay—but how, without coming up with a completely different story that might ultimately upset the whole apple cart? The myth-makers’ answer: the Great Mother would have to be seen as bearing a male child with whom she’d eventually have to copulate in order to get things moving. Hey, how else was she supposed to do it?

And so we come upon the ancient story of Gaia and Uranus—and for that matter, their daughter Rhea and her own son Zeus, Egypt’s Isis and her son Horus, Phrygia’s Cybele and her son Attis, the Muisica Colombians’ Bachué and her never-named son, et al

And then, the Greeks, as with the Japanese, told of more than one generation of gods that became entangled in this ‘incest’ trap. For the twelve children of Gaia and Uranus themselves are said to have subsequently paired off, with the youngest, Cronus, mating with one of his older sisters, Rhea—thus mirroring the fact that the woman that his father Uranus had mated with had been older than he—ultimately producing, in the order of their birth, the three goddesses Hestia, Demeter, and Hera, and the gods Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.

Who in turn paired off, with the youngest, Zeus, marrying his older sister, Hera—although it would appear that right about here, the myth-makers decided to liven up all this boring, repetitive stuff a bit by reporting that soon after his marriage, Zeus had sex with his other sisters as well; perhaps most notably the agricultural goddess Demeter, with whom he not only begat a daughter, Persephone, but with her—his daughter— eventually fathered the wine god Dionysus.

Scarcely to mention that by an earlier wife, Dione—a daughter of the Titan pair Oceanus and Tethys, and thus his cousin—some held him to be the father of Aphrodite; by another cousin, Leto—this time a daughter of Coeus and Phoebe—the father of the twins Artemis and Apollo; by Maia, the principal star of the Pleiades, the god Hermes; oh, and by his wife Hera, the warrior god Ares and lame god of the forge Haephestus; while from his own mind was said to have sprung, armed to the teeth with weapons and wisdom, the fully grown war goddess Athena.

And so it came to pass that his daughter Aphrodite dutifully married her half-brother Haephestus; but then to the delight of the myth-makers’ followers—who were beginning to find this new generation of gods most entertaining, if only because they reminded them so much of people themselves—Aphrodite too, as the very embodiment of sexual desire, took many lovers, in her case both divine and human: at various times being linked to another half-brother, Ares, by whom she was said to have seven children; less so to her half-brothers Poseidon, by whom she only had two, and Hermes, one; to her nephew Dionysus, by whom she had another five; and to the mortals Anchise, by whom she had one more, and by Adonis, alas, none. Ironically, she never had any by her husband—probably because she was never able to find time to squeeze him in. Oh, and did we mention that together with her half-sisters Athena and Hera, whom she happened to humiliate one day by being judged more beautiful than they, she helped start the Trojan War?

Anyway, Zeus’ seven children, together with Zeus himself, Hera, and their remaining brothers and sisters—save only Hades, whose divine responsibility was looking after the subterranean world of the dead and so was often said to prefer living there; and Hestia, inasmuch as some ancient Greeks reported that she’d eventually turned her seat at the divine council over to Dionysus, if only to keep the peace—comprised the twelve Olympian gods, so called because they were held to dwell atop Mt. Olympus. (Wikipedia, Greekhttps://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incest_in_folklore_and_mythology)

We might also note in passing that in no particular order, the ancient Dogon, Ugandan, Sudanese, Berber, Egyptian, Yemeni, Sumerian, Iraqi, Iranian, Indian, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Philippino, Hawaiian, Yaghan, Incan, Mexican, numerous Native American peoples, the Inuit, Icelandic, Norse, Irish, British, French, Germanic, Estonian, Ukranian, and Russian peoples are all found to have stories of incestuous Beginnings—with the rule of thumb being that those claiming that it had all started with a single Personage typically went on to imagine a Divine Mother-Son incest, or more rarely, Father-Daughter; while those starting with a Divine Pair from the outset usually described them as Brother and Sister.

And finally, it should be noted that while virtually every known society past and present has prohibited both sibling and parent-child incest among its ordinary citizens, some ruling families who claimed to be divine or at least representatives of the divine—and were actually worshipped as such by their people—are on record as having believed themselves priveleged to practice any form of incest that they might fancy, ‘same as the other gods’; but more commonly, ruling houses such as the ancient Egyptian, Incan, Hawaiian, and Thai came to view brother-sister incest as simply the most effective way of keeping their royal blood line pure and ensuring that all of their power and wealth would remain within the family. (Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incest_in_folklore_and_mythology) (National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographict.com/magazine/2010/09/tut-dna-dobbs/) (Zireal07 https://zireael07.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/incest-in-myths/)

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