Umay – Umai — Ogetsuhime /Ukemochi — The Earth Goddess


Uke-mochi is a Japanese fertility and food goddess belief in Japan that may have its origins with the Turkic-Mongol peoples in ancient times.

Uke Mochi (保食神 Ukemochi-no-kami; English: “Goddess Who Possesses Food” is a goddess of food in the Shinto religion of Japan. When Uke Mochi was visited by Tsukuyomi she prepared a feast by facing the ocean and spitting out a fish, then she faced the forest and bountiful game spewed out of her mouth, finally turning to a rice paddy she coughed up a bowl of rice. Tsukuyomi was so disgusted he killed her. Even her dead body produced food: millet, rice, and beans sprang forth. Her eyebrows even became silkworms.
The goddess is sometimes also called Ōgetsuhime-no-kami (大宜都比売神).
Uke Mochi is also the Wife of Inari in some legends and in others is herself Inari.

From the Encyclopedia of Shinto:

A deity appearing in an “alternate writing” quoted within Nihongi. The name uke is synonymous with uka, meaning “food,” with the result that ukemochi no kami means a tutelary of foodstuffs, although some theories suggest that the kami is identical to Ōgetsuhime. According to Nihongi, Amaterasu commanded Tsukuyomi to go to Ukemochi, whereupon Ukemochi produced various foods from her mouth, including “things broad of fin” and “things narrow of fin,” “things rough of hair” and “things soft of hair,” and these she presented on one-hundred serving tables as a feast to Tsukuyomi.

Tsukuyomi, however, was enraged at being served foods that were “polluted” (since they had issued from Ukemochi’s mouth), and drew his sword and killed Ukemochi. Hearing of this, Amaterasu sent Amenokumanoushi to investigate; it was found that cattle and horses were produced from the head of Ukemochi’s dead body, rice was produced from her belly, and wheat and beans were produced from her genitals. Amenokumanoushi took these items to Amaterasu, who was pleased, saying that the foods would serve to feed human beings. Amaterasu planted the various grains and seeds in fields and paddies, a story said to represent one type of food-origin myth.

The word “umai” in Japanese meaning “delicious” raises the irresistible inference that this is an invocation of and relic reference to the same Umay/ Umai goddess of the continental Turkic-Mongol peoples…see below for a comparison.

From the Wikipedia entry on the Umay-Umai Of the Turkic peoples. The name appeared in the 8th-century inscription of Kül Tigin in the phrase Umay teg ögüm katun kutıŋa ‘under the auspices of my mother who is like the goddess Umay’.
Umay is a protector of women and children. The oldest evidence is seen in the Orkhon monuments. From these it is understood that Umay was accepted as a mother and a guide. Also, khagans were thought to represent Kök Tengri. Khagan wives, katuns or hatuns, were considered Umays, too. With the help of ‘Umay, katuns had babies, and these babies were the guarantee of the empire. According to Divanü Lügat’it-Türk, when women worship Umay, they have male babies. Turkic women tie strings attached with small cradles to will a baby from Umay. This belief can be seen with the Tungusic peoples in Southern Siberia and the Altay people. Umay is always depicted together with a child. There are only rare exceptions to this. It is believed that when Umay leaves a child for a long time, the child gets ill and shamans are involved to call Umay back. The smiling of a sleeping baby shows Umay is near it and crying means that Umay has left.
In the view of the Kyrgyz people, Umay not only protects children, but also Turkic communities around the world. At the same time Umay helps people to obtain more food and goods and gives them luck.
As Umay is associated with the sun, she is called Sarı Kız ‘Yellow Maiden’, and yellow is her colour and symbol. She is depicted as having sixty golden tresses that look like the rays of the sun. She is thought to have once been identical with Ot Ene of the Mongols and Altay. Umay and Ece are also used as female given names in the Republic of Turkey.

Umai (Ymai, Mai, Omai). In the beliefs of the ancient Türks and Mongols Umai was a female Deity associated with benevolent deities and spirits. She was considered to be a favorite wife of Sky God Tengri, living in the heavenly zone. Like Yer-Sub, Umai directly deferred and performed assignments for Tengri. If Yer-Sub ruled over all alive on land and in the water, Umai was giving a special divine power to the people.

It is impossible to picture an image of Umai. Living in the heavenly zone, she radiates rays down to Earth, which penetrate into a man and as hot sparks live in him to his death. This spark supports in the man his vital energy and physical force, but it is neither spirit, nor Kut (luck; mercy, fortune; spirit. – Translator’s note.). It is a divine power linking the man to the heavenly zone and it is sent by Tengri for his magnanimity. If the spark perishes, so perishes the man, he dies… Thus, everything spiritual and physical in our Universe was subjected to the two Deities Yer-Sub and Umai.

For the ancient Türks, Umai appeared as highly revered female Deity, who patronized all Türkic people. She participated, together with Tengri and Yer-Sub, in reaching a victory by the Türkic forces over an enemy. In the Orkhon inscription in honor of Tonyukuk there are such words: ‘Tengri, (Goddess) Umai, Sacred Yer-Sub, they, it should be believed, gave (us) victory’. In Orkhon inscriptions there is a comparison of the Khagan spouse with Umai: ‘…Her majesty my mother Katun, comparable to Umai…’. This testifies to the reverence of this Goddess by the highest ruling ranks of the ancient Türks, and first of all by the representatives of the divine authority on the Earth – the Khagans.

The ancient Türks did not sacrifice domestic animals to Goddess Umai. They prepared dairy and meat dishes and with solemn ceremonies dedicated them to Her.

After disintegration and fractionation of the ancient Türkic states and the detachment of the ancient Türkic population of Eurasia, the Goddess Umai began to be considered only as a protector, from bad spirits of the earthly world, of pregnant women and small children. The reverence to Umai (Ymai, Mai) Deity remained fresh in the memory of the Altai Türks until recent times.

And today a part of the modern Altai Türks thinks so. ‘When the Kut of the child reached the Earth, he was weak and helpless, and therefore together with him Umai descended from heavens, and guarded him even in the womb of the mother. It was necessary, for the malicious spirits, penetrating the human, could penetrate the womb of the pregnant woman and ruin the child, resulting in abortion. At the approach of delivery Umai helped the child to arrive, entering sometimes in a struggle with a malicious spirit, who interfered with delivery and pulled the child to itself. So were explained late and heavy deliveries. Umai helped to properly cut the umbilical cord. She not only safeguarded the child, but also looked after him, washed his face, cleaned eyelashes. Umai entertained the kid, educated him and talked to him in Her own way. They well understood each other. Sometimes the child, lying in the cradle, suddenly started to smile or laugh in a dream, and sometimes did it while awake. But sometimes child cried in a dream, slept restlessly, for Umai at that time left him.

Part of the Altai Türks, on the child reaching the age of six months, invited a Kam for a special sacramentation to Umai-ana (ana – mother), with a sacrifice of a young bull. During sacramentation they asked Umai to safeguard and to look after the baby, and attached to the cradle as a talisman a small model of a bow with an arrow, symbolizing the weapon Umai used for malicious spirits trying to attack the child. The complete care and the constant presence of Umai near the child continued until he learned not only to walk freely, and run, but mostly until he understood speech well, and spoke fluently. It happened at approximately 5-6 years of age. Now the child was completely included into his social environment, first of all in the circle of the parents and relatives, was being accustomed to work, played with children of his age, etc. At this point his connection with Umai-ana completely stopped.’6 When a child reached this age, a special kamlation (sacramentation. – Translator’s note) to Tengri was organized at the request of the parents, with a sacrifice of a domestic animal, and with an appeal for longevity for the child, because Tengri endowed the Kut (soul) to the child.

‘A part of Altai-Sayan Türks preserved Umai as a patroness of pregnant and small children. Here was well preserved a concept about archaic attributes of a deity personifying a female side of the human reproduction, as a patroness and defender of pregnant and newborn from malicious spirits of the earthly world. The babies, just born in the earthly world by the will of Heavenly Deities, were especially sensitive to malicious spirits.

Children saw and felt the malicious spirits in the dwelling, unlike the adult people, and certainly with exception of a Kam. The representation of a female biological beginning was also mirrored in the name Umai, which (equally for Türks and Mongols) meant the womb of the mother, uterus, placenta, and even cut off umbilical cord. It underlined the specificity of Umai functions as a deity of popular reproduction. It was Her, that the childless or unprolific spouses, and women, whose children died in infancy, and the like, asked for children.’7 Kams revered Umai at difficult deliveries, the women called Her Umai-ana – ‘mother Umai.’

The concept of placenta and umbilical cord under a name Umai (Mai, Ymai, Omai) are not alien to both modern Altai-Sayan Türks and Mongols. Believing that Umai will remain in the umbilical cord and will permanently patronize the child, customarily the umbilical cord was buried in the yurt near a hearth. Revering Umai, the Türks in many families made a symbolical small bow with arrow or spindle, to serve as a talisman for the babies. The bow with arrow was for the boys, spindle was for the girls. These amulets were attached to the dwelling, near the usual place where was a cradle with child. They were made at the first placement of the newborn into the cradle, with the invited Kam, and removed when children grew up and did not use a cradle any more.

The modern Volga Tatars do not revere Umai deity. This reverence was preserved in the pre-Islamic Tatar dastans (poetic tales) and legends, in language and in customs. In Tatar language are many well-known words derived from roots um, ym, im, am, expressing female womb or link between the mother and child ym, ymsynu, ymyn amu, yyumalau, im-gek, imu, imezu, imezlek, -imi, -imchak, am, amyi, mai etc.

Today the Türks do not know about Umai deity, and therefore, do not recognize Her. But with it they did not become neither spiritually, nor materially richer. The divine birth of the child, childcare have simply turned to a usual reproduction, but even that is not for themselves, but as a service to other peoples.

Source: Rafael Bezertinov’s “Ancient Turkic Deities

The above descriptions also raise a question as to whether Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess may in fact be a variant form  of the Umai earth goddess. Amaterasu shares the following traits:

– Ama-terasu means Heavenly-Shining goddess, shares the iconography of the Yellow Maiden (and discussed elsewhere, that of the Dawn Maiden), although primarily an earth deity, at the same time associated with the sun. Perhaps, her solar role developed over time, subsuming or conflating the solar role of the male solar consort deity at some point in antiquity.

– The presence of the goddess being of paramount importance to life underlined above, is seen in the myth, art and plays depicting Amaterasu as disappearing into a cavern, and endangering the agricultural world that depended her for life and regeneration

– In ancient Japan till modern times, the samurai would bestow the gift of bow-and-arrows, and a sword at the birth of a child. This custom survives somewhat with the gift of exquisite lacquered reproductions of bow-and-arrow and or helmet set to boys, although the gift in modern day Japan is now paid for and gifted by grandparents instead. Certain shrines still give bows-and arrow sets or arrow talismans to shrine-goers today.

More on Ymai, Umay, Umai goddesses below:

Another possible cognate is the deity Umashiashikabihikoji
[Umashi ashikabi hikoji no kami](Kojiki)
Other names: Umashi ashikabi hikoji no mikoto(Nihongi)

A kami that appeared in the process of formation of heaven and earth. Acording to Kojiki and an “alternate writing” quoted in the Nihongi, when the land was first formed, it was uncongealed like floating oil, and drifted about like a jellyfish. From within this substance an object appeared and sprouted like a reed, becoming the kami Umashiashikabihikoji.

The second and third “alternate writings” describing this episode in Nihongi, state that Umashiashikabihikoji was the first kami to come into being, while the sixth account describes it as the second kami produced. However, Kojiki states that this kami was the fourth of the five separate heavenly kami (kotoamatsukami) that were produced alone (hitorigami) and then hid themselves away (i.e., died).

This kami was not known as the ancestor of any clans.

“Umai was a female Deity associated with benevolent deities and spirits. She was considered to be a favourite wife of the Sky God, Tengri. Like Yer-Sub, Umai obeyed Tengri. If Yer-Sub ruled over all the living on land and water, Umai was the giver of special divine powers to mankind. Umai lived in the skies and radiated down to the Earth. Her rays penetrated man and dwelled in him like a spark until he died. This spark accounted for man’s vital energy and physical force, but it was not Kut (spirit). It was rather a divine power linking man to the heavens, sent by Tengri. Once the spark perished, death followed. Thus, everything spiritual and physical in our Universe was subject to two Goddesses, Yer-Sub and Umai. The Turks did not sacrifice domestic animals to the Goddess Umai, but dedicated carefully prepared dairy and meat dishes in solemn ceremonies. Umai protected the Turkish tribes and participated, together with Tengri and Yer-Sub, in the victory of their forces over an enemy. In the Orkhon Inscriptions honouring Tonyukuk we read: “Tengri, Umai and Sacred Yer-Sub, it should be known, gave (us) victory.” In the inscriptions there is also a comparison of the Khagan’s wife to Umai: “…Her majesty, my mother Katun, is comparable to Umai…” This testifies to the reverence of this Goddess by the highest ruling classes, especially the representatives of divine authority on Earth, the Khagans.
After the disintegration of the ancient Turkic states and the migrations of the ancient populations of Eurasia, the Goddess Umai began to be considered only as a protector of pregnant women and small children, from malevolent earthly spirits. The reverence to Umai (Ymai, Mai) remained fresh in the memory of the Altai until recent times. Today, some Altai testify that when the Kut of a child reaches the Earth, he is weak and helpless, and therefore Umai descends with him from the heavens, and guards him even in the womb. This is necessary, for the malicious spirits penetrate the body and the womb of the pregnant woman, ruining the child and causing abortion. As delivery approaches, Umai helps the child arrive, entering sometimes in a struggle with a malicious spirit, who interferes with the delivery and pulls at the child. This is how late and difficult deliveries are explained. Umai helps to properly cut the umbilical cord.
She protects the child, educates and talks to him, for they understand each other well. When a child cries during a dream and sleeps restlessly, Umai is said to have left him. Many families make a small bow and arrow (boys) or spindle (girls), to serve as talismans. These amulets are attached to the dwelling near the cradle. They are made when the newborn is first placed in the cradle and removed when the child no longer needs it. On the child reaching the age of six months, a Kam is invited for a special ceremony to Umai-Ana (Mother Umai), involving the sacrifice of a young bull.
During this they ask Umai to safeguard and protect the baby. A talisman is attached to the cradle, i.e., a small bow and arrow, symbolising the weapon Umai uses against malicious spirits. The complete care and the constant presence of Umai near the child continues until he learns to walk, run, understand speech and speak fluently. This happens at approximately 5-6 years. When the child becomes accustomed to his social environment, especially his parents, relatives and later his playmates, his connection with Umai-Ana ends.6 When a child reaches this stage, a special ritual is performed for Tengri, which involves the sacrifice of a domestic animal. Appeals are made for the child痴 longevity. The name Umai also referred to the womb, placenta and cut umbilical cord. This underlined Umai’s functions as a Goddess of reproduction. It was to Her that barren couples prayed for a child.7 These concepts are not alien to both modern Altai-Sayan Turks and Mongols. Some still believe that Umai remains in the umbilical cord to protect the child. The umbilical cord may be buried near the hearth. The modern Volga Tatars do not revere Umai, but she is remembered in the pre-Islamic Tatar dastans (poetic tales) and legends, in their language and customs.

2 thoughts on “Umay – Umai — Ogetsuhime /Ukemochi — The Earth Goddess

  1. SOZTURK says:

    Thanks for this very valuable and, unfotunately ignored information.

  2. Bugra says:

    Thanks for this interesting and informative article. However I do not agree with the statement you gave “Today the Türks do not know about Umai deity, and therefore, do not recognize Her.” Turks do recognize their ancestor’s religion and respect it. Even in today’s modern Turkey, “Umay” is a famous girl name and you can observe many practices comes from Tengrism as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s