Universal Struggle. Universal Woman.
Book Review: The Goddess Chronicle - Natsuo Kirino
A story of two sisters, one dark, one light. One is destined to become the beloved and revered Oracle. The other is forced to sacrifice her life in service of the dead. But what happens when one sister refuses to accept her fate? What happens when, after choosing love over destiny she finds herself betrayed and alone?
She gets her revenge.
Namima and Izanami
The Goddess Chronicle is the thirteenth book in Canongate’s ambitious Myths Series. Set in ancient Japan the story of creation is retold to our heroine, Namima, from the perspective of Izanami, the Goddess of the Dead. Long ago, Izanami was the Goddess of Creation and, together with her husband, Izanaki, the God of Life, she gave birth to the islands that became Japan. But after her death and imprisonment in the Underworld her bitterness transformed her into the ultimate destroyer.
Both Namima and Izanami share several commonalities. Both were assigned a station in their lives. Both were bound by strict rules meant to keep them subservient. Deviation from those rules, whether societal or divine, brought consequences. In Namima’s island home, breaking sacred taboos would condemn the wrongdoer (and their families) to death. For Izanami, speaking out of turn (i.e. before her husband) resulted in the birth of abominations.
In the end, both Namima and Izanami were betrayed by the men they loved. While those men continued throughout life without looking back (sometimes refusing to remember their sins), Namima and Izanami languished in the dark among the dead. The injustice inflicted upon both women left them bitter and that bitterness gave them terrible strength. One went back to the land of the living for a few short days. The other took the lives of 1,000 people every day.
The Female Struggle
As Namima’s and Izanami’s stories intertwine, The Goddess Chronicle becomes less of a feminist retelling of ancient myths and more a tale of the Female Struggle.
Considered the weaker sex, women were controlled in accordance with the needs of men and the expectations of society. She was considered tainted from the womb, yet expected to remain pure and virginal. She was revered as a life-giver and mother, but easily discarded and defiled. She was expected to accept power in passive piety to God, and put to the torch if she exercised them otherwise.
These patterns are codified in our collective history and continue to dictate our actions and expectations. In our North American society we expect both men and women to succeed at work. But which one of them should raise the children? We believe women have just as much right as men to stand in positions of power and politics. But who is usually considered to be a more capable leader? No matter how far we’ve come, women continue to struggle against ancient narratives dictating who they ought to be.
The Strength of Women
What is the point of all this struggle and indignity? Is it a woman’s lot to endure as Namima was expected to? Is a woman’s power and strength only realized in bitterness as Izanami showed? The answers to these questions are nuanced.
To endure means to suffer patiently and passively through hardship. Many endure with the promise of a reward (a big payout, a ticket to heaven, etc.) However, the only reward sufferers are certain to receive would be the end of their suffering. There is no certainty of meaningful change. No certainty of something better.
Namima knew this and so she refused to suffer. Instead, she actively struggled. She broke taboos, threw aside her duties and grasped for life and freedom. In the end her actions led to her death. But what is death if not the ultimate change?
Like Izanami, who transformed from the Goddess of Creation to the Goddess of Death, Namima transformed. In death she realized her true destiny and through Izanami she learned what true strength looked like. It was not bitterness, though it granted power. It was not forgiveness, which only granted justice. It was not love either, which only fueled the living.
Strength came from choosing to bear responsibility. As a Goddess, Izanami could have abandoned the Underworld the moment the opportunity arose. She chose to kill 1,000 people a day instead. Why? Because she knew that without death, life would have no meaning. Without life there will be no reason to love.
Izanami chose to bear the responsibility of life’s meaning, something no male God was strong enough to bear. That is telling, for Izanami is the Universal Woman. She is the Female Struggle and with every indignity inflicted upon her, she grew stronger to the point where she could kill Gods. With this power she could destroy all that was created. But by choosing responsibility Izanami showed her true strength and that of the strength of women:
That no matter how much they struggle, no matter how much they suffer, women shoulder burdens Man, in his weakness, cannot.