I had a request from a reader for information on deaf gods the other day, and while I’m sure there are more out there, (the Greek deities have a big selection of physical disabilities that vary from story to story, depending on who’s doing the telling) jolly old Ebisu was the one who jumped to mind.
Ebisu’s a simple spirit, don’t y’know. He’s a Japanese/Shinto god of luck, keeping a special eye out for all the bros who share his real passion: fishing. Lucky Ebisu also boasts a seat among the Seven Gods of Fortune in Japanese folk tradition, and his smilin’ face pops up all over the island in shops and shrines.
As often happens with popular deities, lucky ol’ Ebisu eventually had himself consolidated into more mainline myth. The people of feudal Japan eventually merged Ebisu with one of the high families of the gods, and he became the son of Izanagi and Izanami, two powerful gods of creation.
Somewhere during their marriage ritual Izanagi and Izanami slipped up, and Ebisu paid for it by being born mostly deaf and nearly blind, without arms and legs. Poor lil’ feller. Must have been a pretty serious mistake, and—what’s that? Lady Izanami spoke before she was supposed to? Wow. Rough. A lifetime of deformity for their child absolutely seems like a just ruling for speaking a moment too early. Let the punishment fit the crime, Shintoism.
But don’t feel too badly— he was raised by some good fisherfolk, and eventually sprouted those absentee limbs, though his hearing never quite recovered. In the end, he got the divine life that every god hoped for, granting prayers, chillin’ out, and fishing.
However: during the Kannazuki, (the month without gods) all of the deities are summoned up to the Grand Shrine of Izumo (one of the most ancient Shinto shrines around) and prayer-granting takes a vacation. Luckily for us, Ebisu doesn’t hear the summons, and stays on duty for the whole month, looking out for fishermen, and throwing out luck like it’s going out of style.