Asian Gods and Goddesses
Also known as The Ten Kings, or the Ten Judges of Hell; the Ten Kings of Hell are afterlife judges. They derive from Chinese Taoist tradition, filtered through Japanese Buddhism.
- Those who have clearly lived exemplary lives travel to Paradise.
- Those who have been clearly wicked travel to a punishment realm.
But what of those whose actions are more ambiguous? Those who may have performed both good and bad deeds while alive? Where do they go? That’s for the Kings of Hell to decide.
The Kings of Hell preside over a series of afterlife trials intended to determine the fate of the dead soul. The person’s actions while alive, both positive and negative are weighed, analyzed and discussed. Jizo serves as the defense attorney for dead souls and always attempts to present human actions in the best possible light. Final outcome, however is up to the Kings of Hell.
The Eighteen Levels of Hell
Chinese legends speak of the “Eighteen Levels of Hell”. Each court deals with a different aspect of atonement and different punishments; most legends claim that sinners are subjected to gruesome tortures until their “deaths”, after which they are restored to their original state for the torture to be repeated.
The concept of the eighteen hells started in the Tang dynasty. The Buddhist text Wen Diyu Jing mentioned 134 worlds of hell, but was simplified to the Eighteen Levels of Hell for convenience. Sinners feel pain and agony just like living humans when they are subjected to the tortures listed below. They cannot “die” from the torture because when the ordeal is over, their bodies will be restored to their original states for the torture to be repeated. The following is a list of common punishments and tortures in the hells:
- Mountain of Knives: Sinners are thrown off cliffs and land on mountainous terrain with sharp blades sticking out. Some depictions show offenders climbing trees with knives or sharp thorns sticking out of trunks and branches.
- Cauldron torture: Sinners are fried in cauldrons of oil.
- Dismemberment: Sinners are dismembered by various means, including sawing, slicing into half, mashing/pounding into pulp, being crushed by rocks/boulders, being run over by vehicles, etc.
- Grinding torture: Sinners are put into a grinding machine and ground into a bloody pulp.
- Burning: Sinners are set aflame or cast into infernos.
- Paolao torture: Sinners are stripped naked and tied to a large hollow metal cylinder with a fire lit at its base.
- Boiling liquid torture: Boiling liquids are forced down sinners’ throats or poured on parts of their bodies.
- Tortures involving removal of body parts or organs: Tongue ripping, eye gouging, teeth extraction, heart digging, disembowelment, skinning, etc.
- Ice World: Sinners are frozen in ice. Some depictions show unclothed sinners suffering frostbite in an icy world. Their bodies eventually fall apart or break into pieces.
- Scales and hooks torture: Sinners are pierced with hooks and hung upside-down. Some depictions show sinners having nails hammered into their bodies.
- Pool of Blood: Sinners are cast into a pool of filthy blood, where they drown. Blood spills from all bodily orifices.
- Tortures involving animals: Sinners are trampled by cattle, gored by animals with horns or tusks, mauled or eaten by predators, stung or bitten by poisonous species, etc.
- Avīci: The period of suffering in this chamber is the longest. It is reserved for sinners who have committed heinous crimes, including the Five Grave Offences.
Some literature refers to eighteen types of hells or to eighteen hells for each type of punishment. Some religious or literature books say that wrongdoers who were not punished when they were alive are punished in the hells after death.
The Five Grave Offences:
Ānantarika-karma or ānantarika-kamma is a heinous crime that through karmic process brings immediate disaster. They are called ‘anantarika’ because they are ‘an’ (without) ‘antara’ (interval), in other words the results immediately come to fruition in the next life, i.e. the participant goes straight to hell.
These are considered so heinous that Buddhists and non-Buddhists must avoid them. According to Buddhism, committing such a crime would prevent the perpetrator from attaining the stages of sotāpanna, sakadagami, anāgāmi or arhat in that lifetime. The five crimes are:
- Intentionally murdering one’s father.
- Intentionally murdering one’s mother.
- Killing an Arhat (fully enlightened being).
- Shedding the blood of a Buddha.
- Creating a schism within the Sangha, the community of Buddhist monks, nuns and pariṣā who try to attain enlightenment.
In Mahayana Buddhism these five crimes are referred to as pañcānantarya and are mentioned in “The Sutra Preached by the Buddha on the Total Extinction of the Dharma”.
The Goddess of Mercy
She Who Hears the Cries of the World
- Also known as: Guan Yin, Kuan Shih Yin, Phat Ba Quan Am, Sung-Tzu-Niang-Niang
- Alternative spellings: Quan Yin, Guan Yin, Kuan Yin,
Kwan Yin is the very essence of mercy and compassion; among the most beloved and well known of all spirits. Technically, Kwan Yin is considered a Bodhisattva, venerated as such throughout the Buddhist world but she also possesses the stature of a goddess and many consider her to be one, not just modern Western goddess devotees but also in East Asian folk religion.
Kwan Yin is a spiritual phenomenon; she transcends religious boundaries and is also found in Taoist and Shinto shrines, even in the shrine of her main rival, the Lady of T’ai Shan.
- Kwan Yin is a great favorite of independent practitioners and goddess devotees everywhere.
- Kwan Yin protects the helpless, particularly women, children and animals.
- She bestows good health and fertility.
- She guides and protects travelers especially seafarers and sky travelers.
- In recent years, Kwan yin has emerged as the guardian of air travel.
- She protects against attack from either animals or humans.
- She breaks cycles of rebirth, punishment and retribution.
- Kwan Yin provides protection in the realms of the living, the dead and anywhere else.
Kwan Yin’s true identity is subject to debate. Officially she is an aspect of the Bodhisatva Avalokiteshvara. The Lotus Sutra, which describes Avalokiteshvara, was among the first Buddhist texts translated into Chinese. Avalokiteshvara translated into Chinese is Kwan Shih Yin. The first Chinese statues of Kwan Shih Yin aka Avalokiteshvara, appeared in the 5th century CE and depict him as a slight, graceful, androgynous man.
Kwan Yin as we know her today first emerged from China’s wild northwest frontier, by the Silk Road, sometime between the 7th and 9th centuries CE and began to move into the Chinese heartland during the 9th and 10th centuries along with detailed legends of her life, which do not correspond to Avalokiteshvara but to the Taoist goddess, Miao Shan. Kwan Yin may really be Miao Shan assuming the official guise of Avalokiteshvara as Buddhism was then socially dominant while Taoism was disparagingly considered folk religion. Her strong identification with horses may also indicate her origins on the western frontier.
Alternatively, many believe Isis, Mary Magdalen, and/or Mary, Mother of Christ traveled the length of the Silk Road, finally emerging as Kwan Yin or that their images may have served as a portal for a frontier spirit. Whoever she is, she is entirely good. The desire of so many individuals and traditions to claim Kwan Yin testifies to her appeal and power.
- Favored people:
Women, children, exiles and travelers but Kwan Yin vows to respond to anyone who calls out her hame in his or her moment of fear or suffering. She offers aid, mercy and compassion to anyone who suffers. She helps not because of who you are, but because of who she is.
Kwan Yin has many forms. She is typically depicted as a kind, beautiful woman dressed in white. In her fertility goddess path, she carries at least one child. These statues closely resemble images of Isis or the Madonna. Kwan Yin is depicted with one-thousand eyes and one thousand arms indicating her ability to see all and help all. Kwan Yin may be accompanied by her acolytes, a small girl and boy.
However, Kwan Yin is a goddess of the masses. Not everyone can afford a statue, and so Kwan Yin’s name or even her title, the Goddess of Mercy, written on a piece of paper and posted where it is visible is considered just as powerful and effective as an image.
- Color: White
- Animal: All are sacred to Kwan Yin but especially horses
- Bird: Peacock
- Tree: Willow
- Gem: Pearl
- Metal: Iron
- Mount: Lion or hou, a mythic lion-like creature; dragon; giant carp; dolphin
- Number: 19
- Sacred days: The first and 15 of each lunar month, the New Moon, and the Full moon.
Attributes: Rosary, lotus, a sutra vase from which pours compassion, a willow branch symbolizing her powers of exorcism (according to Chinese shamanism, demons flee from the presence of willow); fish basket
Feast days: The 19th day of the 2nd Chinese month is Kwan Yin’s birthday. The 19th day of the 6th Chinese month commemorates when Kwan Yin became a Buddha. The 19th day of the 9th Chinese month, the day she first wore her sacred pearls.
Offerings: Oranges, pomegranates, spices, incense; Iron Goddess Oolong tea; offerings on behalf of needy women, children, and wildlife.
Note: Kwan Yin is a vegetarian. Her image on restaurant menus often indicates that vegetarian fare is served. Give appropriate offerings (i.e. don’t give her steak). Many devotees adopt a vegetarian diet in her honor but even those who do not, traditionally eat vegetarian on her sacred days.
Kwan Yin epitomizes goodness. No one is kinder, more compassionate or more benevolent. Kwan Yin doesn’t possess a single malevolent or malicious impulse. She is also exceptionally responsive, as evidenced by her world-wide veneration. If you are new to spirits or are generally afraid of them, Kwan Yin may be the right spirit for you.
From: Encyclopedia of Spirits
- Also known as: Ca Ong; Mr. Fish; Grandfather Fish; Lord Fish
- Origin: Vietnam
- Favored people: Fishermen and men in general; Sir Fish is a men’s deity.
Sir Fish is not exactly a fish: he’s a whale. Sir Fish, King of the Sea, is a guardian deity in the form of a whale. He is the patron of fishermen whom he protects out on open waters.
Sir Fish is widely venerated along the central and southern coasts of Vietnam. Festivals are held in his honor. He may be an incarnation of the Lord of the South Seas. Sir Fish is associated with prominent Vietnamese male military or naval heroes and may be enshrined alongside them.
Whales are Sir Fish’s sacred messengers and must be treated with immense respect. Disrespect directed toward his messengers is the equivalent of disrespect directed towards Sir Fish.
The first person to catch sight of a whale carcass is considered as one of Sir Fish’s elder sons and must arrange and observe appropriate funeral rites for the whale. The whale carcass must be respectfully interred. In return, the man will receive blessings of good fortune from Sir Fish.
Sacred sites: Whale bones that have washed ashore are enshrined in his many temples along vietnam’s southern coast.
From: Encyclopedia of Spirits
Goddess Fuji, also known as Fuchi, is a powerful and almighty goddess of fire. The ancient people of Japan depended on her favor and her strength. The majestic mountain, Fuji was even named after her. Both seem beautiful and soft like a light breeze, but their fire can be very powerful and destructive. Fuji is the goddess of fire; honor her and release her into your life.
Fuji, goddess of fire, is much like her own mountain; she is a volcano. Almost always she is calm and peaceful, but she can unleash a terrible blaze of fire destroying all that stands in her way when angry. Yes, fire can be impossible to beat, but it can also be simple and good. Its energy lights our way, cooks our food, warms and dries us. At times we all enjoy the warm flickering of a fire. Sometimes we love them so much that we imitate them with a gas fire if we don’t have a fireplace. Fuji as a fire goddess can be called upon to help us control the fire that sets so many things ablaze.
Fuji, like everyone else, is not perfect. Take this story, for example. Once the Goddess Fuji was fighting with Mt. Hakusan’s god over whose mountain was taller. Amida Buddha created an ingenuous way to measure: he connected the two mountain peaks with a long pipe and poured water in one end. Fuji was proud until the water came rushing down on her head. However, her humiliation didn’t last long. Fuji struck Mt. Hakusan with eight blows, creating the eight craters near its summit.
You do not need a volcano to honor Fuji. Fuji dwells in the hearth of every home. The hearth or fireplace serves as her altar. Offerings to Fuji include millet, beer, rice beer, and a well tended flame. These offerings may be fed directly to the fire. Your gift can be as simple as a single candle flame.
To honor and respect Fuji, you can use a fire ritual. Ancient fire rituals are almost always associated with women and goddesses. Fire rituals have survived since we first tamed fire to keep warm in caves. The fireplace is still the center of many homes, and candles are still lighted at birthdays and funerals. Fire rituals also exist for cleansing and purifying in traditional and modern medicine.
Known as the woman’s best friend, Fuji protects reproductive health and bestows fertility. An ancient ritual to counteract infertility involved having the barren woman lie on another woman’s fresh afterbirth while a circle of women surrounded her, invoking Fuji’s blessings to allow her to conceive. She also protects children. Fuji’s essence is contained in fireplace ashes. These may be collected into small bags and worn or carried as protective amulets.
From Crystal Vaults and other sources
Attributes: Flaming pearl, red coral branch.
Realm: The Dragon King of the Sea lives in an underwater palace formed from coral. The exact location is subject to speculation: arguments are made for the Sea of Japan or the Yellow Sea.
Sacred Date: Taeborum, the Dragon Festival is celebrated in Korea on the first full moon of the lunar calendar. The Dragon King is invoked and honored at the harbor. Women wade into the river to launch miniature boats bearing lit candles. Written wishes and messages to the Dragon King are attached to the boats.
Dragon kings appear in the mythology of various East Asian people; they may or may not be the same spirit. Although there are many dragon spirits resident in the sea, the Dragon King is their chief, lord, and master.
The Dragon King is the lord of water; he controls precipitation and thus helps or hinders agriculture. He controls sea waters, stilling them as desired or raising storms. He remains an important deity for sailors and those who fish or otherwise ply the waters. He is not limited to salt water but has dominion over rivers, too.
According to Chinese myth, the Dragon King of the Sea lives in a beautiful underwater palace. Crabs and lobsters serve as his courtiers. In Korea, the Dragon King is the complementary power to the Mountain Spirit: they represent yin and yang respectively. Even though the Dragon King is male, he epitomizes ying energy.
The Dragon King has a beautiful daughter, often depicted in human form riding a dragon similar to images of the Japanese goddess, Benten. The Dragon King and his family are master magicians and transformation artists. They are not restricted to only one form.
From Encyclopedia of Spirits
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