Folklore and Myth Thursday: Week 15 – O

Welcome to the first Folklore and Myth Thursday of 2017! This week I will be looking at some figures and elements beginning with the letter ‘O’. These include: Okuninushi, the Oni, Ot, Otshirvani, otter, and omphalos.


We start this week off with Japanese Shinto mythology. In this mythology Okuninushi is the god of medicine and magic (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:465). “His name means ‘Great Land Master’, and he ruled the earth after its creation until Amaterasu [the sun goddess] sent her grandson Ninigi to take his place. As god of medicine, he is credited with having therapeutic methods of healing” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:465).
After many adventures including his 80 brothers, the beautiful princess Yakami, Susano-Wo and Susero-Hime, Okuninushi married Suseri-Hime and became the ruler of the Izumo province (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:465). For more details about Okuninushi and his adventures, see Cotterell & Storm (2007:465) or follow this “Okuninushi” link.

Ōkuninushi Bronze Statue.jpg
By Flow in edgewiseFlow in edgewise撮影, CC BY 3.0, Link

The Oni

Staying in Japan, we now move on to the Oni – giant horned demons (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466). “They are said to have come to Japan from China with the arrival of Buddhism, and Buddhist priests perform annual rites in order to expel them.” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466). Cotterell & Storm (2007:466) notes that the Oni can have a variety of colours and have three fingers, toes and sometimes three eyes. “The oni of hell have the heads of oxen or horses; they hunt down sinners and take them away in their chariot of fire to Emmo-o, the ruler of the underworld” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466).
Oni are usually cruel and lecherous, and some are held responsible for illness and disease (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466). “[Others] are said to have once been mortal women whose jealousy or grief transformed them into demons” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466).


Ot is “the fire queen of the Mongols” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466) and was said to have been “born at the beginning of the world, when the earth and sky separated” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466). She is believed to be identical with Umai – “the mother goddess of the Turkic people of Siberia” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466).
“Her blessing is invoked at weddings and her radiance is said to penetrate throughout all the realms” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466).


In Siberian mythology, Otshirvani is a god of light, “sent by the supreme god to fight Losy, a monstrous serpent who killed all mortal beings by covering the world with poison” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466).
“Otshirvani took the form of an enormous bird and, seizing Losy in his claws, threw him against the world mountain, killing him” (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466).


The otter is a lunar animal (Tresidder, 2004:362) “linked with fertility and cult initiations in both Africa and North America. The Chinese associated the friendly and playful otter with a high sexual drive, and there are folk tales of otters disguising themselves as women to seduce men.” (Tresidder, 2004:362).
A person shape-shifted into otter form and killed also plays a significant role in one of the myths surrounding the Norse god Loki. I this myth the curse of the dwarf Anvari – a curse which passes to Otter’s father, Hreidmar, is told of. See also (Cotterell & Storm, 2007:466) or follow this “Andvari’s Curse” link.


“A sacred zone or object symbolizing the cosmic novel or centre of creation – a focus of spiritual and physical forces and a link between the underworld, the earth and the heavens” (Tresidder, 2004:356).
Tresidder (2004:356) notes: “The original omphalosat Deplhi in Greece – a white standing-stone with a tracery of carving – was sacred to Apollo and may originally have been a focus of Earth Mother worship and divination”.
“Omphalos symbols ranged from stones of phallic shape or ovoids with serpentine carving symbolizing generative forces to sacred trees or mountains. The holes in sacred Chinese jade bi discs may have somewhat similar significance” (Tresidder, 2004:356).

Omphalos museum.jpg
By ЮкатанOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Sources and more

Read the previous posts in this series by clicking here.

The official #FolkloreThursday site can be read over here and remember to follow the Twitter conversation using the #FolkloreThursday tag.

Check out The Folklore Podcast – Yule! Fairies! Slenderman! Awesomeness! And more!

Also be sure to stop by Ronel’s blog for her folklore and fiction posts!


Cotterell, A. & R. Storm. (2007). The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology. London: Hermes House.

Tresidder, J. (2004). The Complete Dictionary of Symbols in Myth, Art and Literature. London: Duncan Baird Publishers.

By Carin Marais

Bibliophile, writer of speculative fiction, non-fiction, and maybe-fiction, language practitioner, doer of stuff.


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