The Mythical Interpretations of “Moto no ri” 3

The following is a translation of an excerpt from “The Mythical Interpretations of Moto no ri” by Mieko Murakami.

The mystery of numbers

A careful reading of “Moto no ri” reveals that numbers are utilized in various ways. The symbolism of numbers are utilized with much purpose and meaning. I would like to take into consideration the imagery concerning the meanings behind the numbers themselves.

Traditions from both east and west share the belief that numbers represent the fundamental principles of the cosmos. In ancient Babylon and in Hinduism, numbers were held to be the fundamental principles behind everything in the natural world. At the same time, they represent concepts of harmony underlying the arts and ideology. Consequently, numbers not only represent physical volume and quantity, but convey elements of quality as well. Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle considered numbers the basis, origin, and material substance of all things. Odd numbers express the male principle while even numbers represent the female principle. There is a Latin proverb, “Numero deus impare gaudet,” that claims “odd numbers please the gods.” Even in China, odd numbers are symbolized by Yang, even numbers symbolized by Yin.

In Christianity, God is conceptualized as being “three persons but one God.” The Book of Revelation is the quintessential example of how numbers are utilized for their symbolism. A sample passage describes the holy city of Jerusalem in the following manner: “It had a great, high wall with 12 gates, and with 12 angels at the gates (21:12).

The mystery of numbers are dealt with in belief systems such as numerology, gematria, and Japanese sureigaku. Since the number one (representing unity) is the origin of all numbers, the more one separates from the number one, the more one spreads, scatters, or regresses into the material world.

In “Moto no ri,” the Sun or Omotari-no-Mikoto is represented by a serpent with 12 heads and three tails that has a sword at the end of each tail. When I examine the significance of the number 12 and number three, first of all, the 12 hours of a.m. and p.m. represent the order of the cosmos. It is a number representing the sacred. There are 12 major Greek/Roman gods, 12 signs of the zodiac (both Western and Chinese), 12 apostles, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 knights of King Arthur’s Round Table.

In terms of space, a rashinban compass has long been equipped with 12 directions. But of course the number 12 is not only connected with direction, but is also connected with time. The idea that this number represents the order of the cosmos has been inherited by thinkers such as D. Thomas. As the connection of the number 12 with time, it is the number of the signs of the zodiac are 12 as well as the numbers of months in a year.

A circle, orb, or halo represents perfection and the number 12 does so as well. The number 12 divides a circle perfectly. As one can see with how a clock is divided, a circle can be largely divided into fourths which each can be divided further into thirds.

From the perspective of salvation and the sacred, the number 12 is also important in that it is associated with Christ. On top of 12 being the number of his disciples, Christ saves a woman “who was subject to bleeding for 12 years” (Mark 5:25). He also brings a dead 12-year-old girl back to life (Mark 5:45). He also names 12 evils that come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’ (Mark 7:21).

There are a number of collective entities that are made up of 12 units: the signs of the Western and Chinese zodiac, hours (a.m./p.m.), and months in a year. On another hand, the number 12 is related with space, and represents the present, visible world and all things on earth or in nature since it is thought to be the perfect manifestation of cosmic/natural order. In contrast to this, the supernatural and divine is represented by the number 13. In a system which one is the beginning and 12 is considered the end, it represents ultimateness and the attainment of a goal.

Further, the numbers 12 and 7 are related in that 12 is the result of multiplying 3 and 4 while 7 is the sum of 3 and 4. The number 3 represents the principle of the spiritual (and the celestial or unworldly) and the number 4 represents the principle of the material (terrestrial or worldly).

Three originally was the sacred number in ancient Persia. It symbolizes the conquest and development/previous incarnation of dualism. The number 3 symbolizes the following triads: heaven, earth, and water; past, present, and future; beginning, middle, and end; the three phases of waxing and waning of the moon; heaven, earth, and humanity (Taoism); the three images (Buddhism); the Three Wise Men of the East; faith, hope, and love; the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (Christianity); the three imperial regalia of Japan: the mirror, sword, and magatama jewel.

The number 3 also symbolizes completion, achievement, and fulfillment. The three directions in which the Sun is closely associated with sunrise, zenith, and sunset (east, south, and west) corresponds with birth, the prime of life, and death.

The number 3 is also sacred in traditions where gods have an aspect of three different phases. In ancient Egypt, there are gods that represent three phases of the Sun: Horus (morning), Ra (noon), and Atum (sunset). In ancient Greece, the three worlds of the heavens, sea, and underworld are ruled by Zeus and his three thunderbolts, Poseidon and his three pronged trident, and Hades with his three-headed dog Cerberus.

In Christianity, not only does the number 3 symbolize the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but it also symbolizes the divinity of Christ, his fate to die on the cross, and his soul. In Norse myths, there are three norns or three goddesses who rule over the fates of the gods and human beings.

The number 3 is often utilized in myths as a time frame in which a god or hero engages in a certain action. For instance, a battle or a death lasts for three days or three years. Three is a number that is associated with the divine.

Returning to “Moto no ri,” it reads:

“Then God the Parent, as Tsuki-sama (the Moon), entered the body of Izanagi-no-Mikoto and, as Hi-sama (the Sun), entered the body of Izanami-no-Mikoto and taught them the divine providence of creating human beings. Then nine hundred million, ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine seeds were put into the body of Izanami-no-Mikoto in three days and three nights.”

Here, we see the appearance of the number nine. This number symbolizes completion, perfection and truth; the end of a cycle. It is three set of threes, the “triple triad,” or complete perfection. Being three times three, to Pythagoras, it symbolized the maximal range. All numbers are all included and recur in the number nine. The number nine also resurrects itself. In other words: 2 x 9 = 18 = 1 + 8 = 9; 3 x 9 = 27 = 2 + 7 = 9; 9 x 9 = 81 = 8 + 1 = 9. Since the all numbers returns to the number nine in this way, in numerology, it is the symbol of perfection, truth, and self-containment/self-sufficiency.

In Buddhism, it is the highest number, and considered the luckiest number in China.1 In Hebrew traditions, it represents pure knowledge; it is a sacred number in Northern Europe.

In “Moto no ri,” Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto were at the center. What does this “center” symbolize?

“Center” also has the connotation of “source, target, focus of attention, pivot, or nucleus” in its regular use. Thus there was once a time when it shaped the concept and imagery of the primordial cosmos. It is tied with the origin of all existence, the axis mundi (cosmic axis), paradise, sacred space, point of intersection on the Cross, pure existence, ground zero (coordinate origin), and the eternal present. In Buddhism, it represents the state of Nirvana and enlightenment. It symbolizes the Tao in Taoism.

In the Man’yoshu there is a poem that reads: “Lo! There towers the lofty peak of Fuji / From between (minaka) Kai and wave-washed Suruga / The clouds of heaven dare not cross it” (319).2

Objects that symbolize the center are cities (Jerusalem in heaven), palaces, labyrinths, pyramids, obelisks, the white stones (omphalos stone) of Delphi, the North Star which the center of the 12 constellations of the zodiac, and the looming frame of an arch. Other objects that symbolize the center are the nave of an axel, a throne, the protrusion of a shield, and the navel, which is the center of the human body. Also, the crow’s nest that appears in children’s fables. The lotus or the pearl of the lotus. The sacred rose. An egg that a snake entwines around. A spider’s web. The center exists in various material and abstract worlds such as the shape of a helix and the point where space-time and ultra-space-time intersects.

It symbolizes the primordial state; in concrete terms, it means to pass through death and reach eternity. It also symbolizes rebirth and resurrection; the Supreme Being and the immovable mover. It ties heaven, earth, and the underworld (This is most clear especially in the Oracle of Delphi). It also includes anything that ties the gods, human beings, and the dead.

“Moto no ri” is not only a story of the past. It is not only a story about the ancient past that involves Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto; it is also a story about Oyasama’s physical existence, and a story of the present. It is also a story of the future.

I still would like to contemplate on “Moto no ri” on deeper levels. I shall always pray that we will grasp the divine intention as given to us in this revelation and able to universally bring it into realization.


  1. Translator note: Really? I thought it was eight.
  2. Translation from