Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series includes several deities from classical mythology. Some of them, like Odin, Thor, Loki, and Bast, are pretty well-known, and I’ve already covered them in other posts. Another former god, Pharamond, is presented as if a traditional deity, but is presumably an original creation of Gaiman’s. There was, however, one character who really was a veteran of mythology, but I didn’t know anything about. That was Susano-o-no-Mikoto, the Japanese god of storms.
Picture by David Tourangeau
Susano is a rather ambiguous god, sometimes helpful, but other times quite chaotic, as befits the nature of a personification of storms. He has some of the traits of the trickster god as well. The storm god is the son of the creator god Izanagi-o-no-Mikoto, who, when his wife Izanami died in childbirth (these Shinto deities must not have been quite as indestructible as advertised), journeyed to the underworld to try to retrieve her. Sound familiar? Well, in this version of the archetypal myth of a visit to the world of the dead, Izanagi discovered that his dead wife was now disgusting and horrific, and ran away. He then performed a cleansing rite to purify himself, which resulted in the birth of the sun goddess Amaterasu and the moon god Tsukuyomi from his eyes, and Susano from his nose. Amaterasu and Susano had a long-standing feud between them, one stage of which involved a contest in which the sun goddess created new gods with Susano’s sword, while Susano did the same with Amaterasu’s necklace. Susano declared himself the winner, and for some reason this led to his going on a rampage. Seems like it would make more sense if he had LOST, but gods work in mysterious ways. The storm god caused quite a disturbance in Heaven, and threw a flayed horse into Amaterasu’s house. The sun goddess hid in a cave from her brother’s chaos, and did not emerge again until Susano was banished from Heaven. The god then took up residence in Izumo, where he killed the ravenous multi-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi (which would later appear in Dragon Quest III) by getting it too drunk to fight back.
He found a magic sword in either the tail or belly or the serpent, and gave it to his sister as a reconciliation gift. The sword, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, is now one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan.
Legend has it that it is currently kept at the Atsuta Shrine, but the fact that the public is never allowed to see it makes the story a bit suspicious. As a reward for slaying the monster, Susano was allowed to marry Kushi-inada-hime, who had been next in line to be sacrificed to the Orochi.