Sacred gourd myths

The gourd, one of the most ancient of plants to migrate around the world from Africa, was heavily used in divination.

Outside of Africa, earliest evidence was the gourd remains found in the Spirit Cave (Thailand).

In the earliest versions of the deluge mythology(of which there are many in Asia and ISEA), the gourd has always featured as a magic fruit of salvation.

Millet and gourd are believed to be of sacred provenance from heaven  according to the beliefs of the Taketaka tribe of Taiwan (Source: Tales concerning the origin of grains in the insular areas of Eastern and Southeastern Asia by Toichi Mabuchi, 1964)

In Japan, the gourd is also associated with divinities and features in the earliest genealogical semi-mythical chronicles, the Kojiki.  The gourd is found in the names of deities in section “The Birth of the Deities” after the creation of the Japanese islands by the primordial pair Izanagi and Izanami, they were born from the deities who governed the river and sea domains:

“…next, they gave birth to the sea-deity, whose name is the deity Great-Ocean-Possessor next, they gave birth to the deity of the Water-Gates, whose name is the deity Prince-of-Swift-Autumn ; next they gave birth to his younger sister the deity Princess-of-Swift-Autumn. (Ten deities in all from the deity Great-Male-of-the-Great-Thing to the deity Princess-of-Autumn.) The names of the deities given birth to by these two deities Prince-of-Swift-Autumn and Princess-of-Swift-Autumn from their separate dominions of river and sea were: the deity Foam-Calm; next, the deity Foam-Waves; next the deity Bubble-Calm; next, the deity Bubble-Waves; next the deity Heavenly-Water-Divider; next, the deity Earthly-Water-Divider; next, the deity Heavenly-Water-Drawing-Gourd-Possessor; next, the deity Earthly-Water-Drawing-Gourd-Possessor. (Eight deities in all from the deity Foam-Prince to the deity Earthly-Water-Drawing-Gourd-Possessor.)” — The Kojiki, Chamberlain trans. at Sacred Texts

In Japan, the gourd also symbolizes “signified happiness or success to people. Their humorous shapes have also always been thought of with affection. There are thus several sayings featuring the word “hyotan”. A set of three gourds are a good luck symbol as the sound “san-byoshi sorou” in Japanese. It means a great person all-round. Also a set of six gourds is even luckier, because “mu-byou” means no sickness! Gourds also remind us of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), one of the most well-known historical samurai heroes. Hideyoshi’s battle ensign was a gourd motif. He would add further gourd motifs to his ensign every time he won a battle. After that, this ensign became a famous symbol of victory, the “Sennaribyoutan” which means one thousand gourds growing on a tree (see: Good luck symbol, Hyotan)

This good luck symbolism probably stemmed from Taoist beliefs – as seen in the earliest Taoist texts — according to Girardo N.J.’s Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism: The Theme of Chaos (hun-tun).

2 thoughts on “Sacred gourd myths

  1. I am an independent artist, working with gourd creation myth iconography and currently developing two web pages, and, and look forward to exploring the forking paths your site opens to my explorations. Thank you for the inspiration. Francisco.

  2. Geoffrey Tjakra says:

    When I was visiting Kyushu National Museum sometime last year, one of their exhibit was this large human size gourd shape coffin. Some of the past inhabitants of Japan used these gourd shaped coffin to contain their deceased. I think it was made from terracotta.

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