originally published May 15, 2014
People often ask me whether or not I worry about running out of interesting topics before this thousand days is up. My response is always the same. “Of course not,” I tell them. “I haven’t yet written about toilet gods.”
Well, today I throw caution at the swirling fan and cash in on one of our species’ most notably bizarre predilections: assigning a higher power to the place where we poop.
Modern religions have spent too long on the proverbial fence, blindly adhering to its monotheistic principles and paying no mind to our spiritual doody needs. There is no patron saint of having eaten too many spicy enchiladas last night, nor am I aware of any Hebrew or Muslim prayer to combat lactose intolerance. We must look to the faiths of the ancients for this.
In old-timey Japan, bodily waste wasn’t buried underground and forgotten. It would be collected and spread around the fields, acting as a fertilizer and completing that grand circle of life that most of us would rather not think about. For this reason, the kawaya kami (toilet god) was a god of fertility. Not the fun kind of fertility that we usually (but not always) reserve for another room in the house, but the food/crop sort of fertility. Sometimes family members would sit in front of the toilet and eat a bowl of rice in order to appease the god.
The other big plus in praying to kawaya kami was for protection. Collecting fertilizer material from toilet basins was dirty work, but also a bit on the dangerous side. There was the risk of tumbling into the muck and drowning, which is probably the worst way to die this side of inhaling next to Ann Coulter. Kawaya kami – if properly appeased by your consumption of malodorous rice – can save you from such a fetid fate.
One Japanese tradition – and while many of the ancient Japanese cultures had ascribed a deity to that palace of digestive destination, the specifics appear to vary – states that the toilet god is a blind man holding a spear. Because no one wants to endure the unholy pain of a discontented toilet god (and really, I’d assume any toilet god to automatically be discontented given the nature of the job), it was tradition to clear one’s throat loudly before entering the outhouse, letting the toilet god know he should tuck that spear away.
Japanese toilets do actually tie in with human fertility, so that’s good news for those who were hoping this story would get just a little more weird. The cleanliness of one’s privy is said to have a significant impact on the outcome of a pregnancy. Not the health of the baby or the postpartum state of the mother – no, this is something important. A clean commode means you’ll have an attractive baby. Allow enough dirt, lint and pubes to accumulate around the rim and you’ll end up with an ugly offspring. If this seems like a snakey way for a husband to get his wife to keep cleaning the john into her third trimester… well, it probably was.
The toilet god exists in Chinese folklore too. China, the land where even modern-day facilities consist of a hole in the floor (fun fact – finding the images for today’s article has been truly unpleasant!), has incorporated a little tale with their version of the deity. They call her Zi Gu (also Mao Gu), and her story goes that a high-ranking minister named Li-Jing fell in love with her, had her husband murdered and took her as his concubine. Then Li-Jing’s wife got jealous and killed her in the bathroom (or hole-room, or whatever they call it).
On the fifteenth day of the first month of the year, Chinese women fashioned a doll as a tribute to Zi Gu, and summoned her spirit in the middle of the night. Women would tell the doll that the evil husband and wife were gone now and she could safely be on her way. Apparently the motions of the doll (which were in the ladies’ hands, so we’re assuming a sort of Ouija-type hoodoo here) could be interpreted by fortune tellers.
Sometimes the depth of the human imagination can be truly astounding.
Across the continent in good ol’ Rome, the locals had not one but three gods set up to handle their crapular affairs. There’s the sewage goddess, Cloacina, who was the protectoress of the Roman sewer system. She was later merged – I don’t know, maybe the Romans were trying to cut down on the god-count – with Venus, the goddess of love. I’m at a loss to explain why Venus was chosen, but then I don’t really understand why a sewer system requires otherworldly oversight.
Crepitus was the god of the actual toilet. He was also the god of farting. Actually, let’s strike Crepitus from the record – the only evidence of his existence is from later-era Christian satire, which poked fun at the pantheistic tendencies of the Romans.
Stercutius (also recorded as Sterculius and Sterquilinus) was a god of fertilization. Not the best assignment on the god-roster I’m sure. But at least he was buddies with Saturn, the god of agriculture, so he probably had some pull when it came to scoring a table without a reservation in whatever restaurants the A-list Roman gods were known to frequent. As with kawaya kami in Japan, poop was revered as a fertilizer, and as such Stercutius was also dubbed the god of dung. That was coincidentally my alter-ego when I worked as a Mexican wrestler throughout college.
The Babylonians felt that our back-door goings-on were more worthy of a demon than a god, and so they concocted Sulak, the Lurker of the bathroom. This so-called ‘demon of the privy’ actually crept into early Christian and Jewish beliefs; the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud state that a man should wait to have sex after pooping for at least as long as it would take to walk half a mile, otherwise Sulak will ensure his kids will be epileptic.
If you think that’s weird, check out the lore of the Maori people in New Zealand. If a warrior was feeling faint and woozy, he was sent to bite the structure of a nearby latrine. Apparently the gods hang out around the shithouse, given that human excrement is the food of the dead (there’s something for us all to look forward to). Biting the latrine would pass the illness back to the gods and bring the warrior back to pristine health. The whole “biting to transfer energy” thing shows up all over Maori tradition, like the one where a son is supposed to bite his dead father’s penis in order to acquire his powers.
Whoa. I think this is a good place to pull the brakes on this story. If it gets stranger than this, I just don’t want to know. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see a god about a horse…