The following is a translation of an investigation of a Japanese blogger into the lore of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The original text can be found on Souls Seed.
In the beginning
In the centre of the Sanctuary (Fountainhead Palace) is an enormous crater. Traces that something did indeed crash there can be easily found. The impact to create a crater this size would have instantly killed any living beings or buildings in the direct vicinity. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to speak of a complete extinction, meaning the moment the crater came into existence, so did the Sanctuary (whatever came before no longer exists).
From this point onward, I would like to identify eras of the Sanctuary’s history based on the eras of Japan’s history. However, this division into eras is merely for clarity and does not imply these eras actually existed in the world of Sekiro.
Period from creation to 14,000 BCE
The history of the Sanctuary began with the meteor crash. The crash left behind a deep crater in the Sanctuary. Of course, no trace of any previous civilisation remained.
The Jomon Period began approximately 16500 years ago and is identified as Japan’s first historical era, meaning I will place the meteor crash before 16500 years ago.
Jomon Period — Yayoi Period (14,000–300 BC)
The history of the Sanctuary began when the meteor struck. Shards of the meteor were scattered throughout the area, with a large chunk left at the bottom of the crater.
Then, gods came to the Sanctuary.
Adamantite can only be mined in the oldest parts of Ashina. Ancient rock and soil is said to attract the grace of gods, perhaps lending this metal its supple strength.
This Adamantite, in other words, is iron meteorite. The gods were drawn to the iron meteorite, to the Sanctuary, and began collecting the shards of iron meteorite scattered throughout the land of Ashina.
A long time passed and powerful white snakes and centipedes became gods of the land.
Dried Serpent Viscera
The Great Serpent is a god of the land
As mentioned in my post on Sekiro, the fairy tale Tawara Touda describes a divine battle between a serpent and centipede of the mountains of Nikkou and Akagi. Further down the road the story introduces the element of ‘dragon’.
Similar to the fairy tale, the Sanctuary was also initially inhabited by snakes and centipedes. In this era, the ancient people (Jomon people) worshipped and lived among these gods of the land.
Yayoi Period — Kofun Period (300 BC–300 AD)
The largest chunk of iron meteorite from the bottom the creator (lumps of adamantite) was believed to be a dwelling place of the gods. Numerous mighty gods were attracted by this rock (iwakura). That is, until the Divine Dragon came from the West.
The Divine Dragon from the West was so drawn to the rock, it brushed aside the gods that had been dwelling there and made the rock its home. And thus, the meteorite became the rock of a god.
The one to discover this rock was the clan centred around a Priest-Queen. The Priest-Queen heading this clan is the maiden sleeping in the sanctuary, referred to in Japanese history as Himiko.
The Priest-Queen worships the rock and had the iwakura hauled from the bottom of the crater to enshrine it. From the shrine water flowed, endlessly, and eventually it filled up the crater. During this time, lesser gods hid themselves from the Divine Dragon. The gods dissolved into the water.
However, after the Divine Dragon took root, the lesser gods hid themselves… [my translation; English version of the game: “The doctor Dogen studied the plants in this ancient place, resulting in the recipe for this special medicine.”]
At the same time, the ancient people became immortal under influence of the strange water. The ancients henceforth settled in the Sanctuary and worshipped water of the fontainhead for centuries to come.
In this era, traffic between the Sanctuary and the world below was still commonplace; the inhabitants of the Sanctuary would frequently visit the world below. Sanctuary people could return to the Sanctuary through the transportation means of a wedding procession (this may have been bi-directional in the past).
Water sprang forth from Mibu Village, which served as some sort of ‘station’ for travel between the lower world and Fountainhead Palace.
Early Heian Period
Fountainhead Palace was built by the ancients who had become immortal. The depth of the water in the lake was still shallow and the buildings were constructed near the crater.
Culture found its way to Fountainhead Palace through the people who visited the world below. They visited the capital [Kyoto?] and took culture from the capital back with them to Fountainhead, similar to how culture from Tang China was introduced in Japan.
Around this time, earth-dwellers also started to make their way to the Sanctuary. They tricked the wedding procession by feigning the fragrance, allowing them to enter the Sanctuary. Those who managed to make it to the Sanctuary became Water of Palace drinking residents.
Step into the marital shrine and offer the fragrant, auspicious stone.
Mibu Breathing Technique
Developed by the founder of Mibu Village. “Those who seek to join the procession must master the Mibu Breathing Technique. Without it, the Divine Dragon cannot be met.”
This suggests the way to the Palace was already submerged at this point in time. The path to the palace is shaped as a loose U-form and already filled with water, making the Mibu Breathing Technique a necessity.
Around this time, the Senpou High Priest visited the Sanctuary. The Inner Sanctum is modelled after the Koya’s Inner Sanctum, it can be assumed that the Senpou Main Hall was built during the early Heian Period. The Senpou High Priest’s visit to the Sanctuary is similar to how Kukai went to Tang China.
The Senpou High Priest meets with the Divine Dragon and brings back souvenirs to the Senpou Temple, similar to how Urashima Tarou and Tawara Touda brought back souvenirs from their visit to the Dragon-palace. The souvenir he brought back was flesh from the Great Colored Carp. However, the Great Colored Carp is the area’s master and therefore a god.
Dried Serpent Viscera
The Great Serpent is a god of the land […]
Fresh Serpent Viscera
It is safe to assume that eating it [a god] would be poisonous to one’s health.
Great White Whisker
A priceless white whisker taken from the great Colored Carp.
The Senpou High Priest, however, did not even touch the Great Colored Carp’s meat that he received. One of the commandments dictated that they are not allowed to eat meat. Yet, one priestess broke the commandment and decided to eat it.
Remnant: True Monk
Her true name was Priestess Yao [Yaobikuni].
The priestess became immortal, akin to the Yaobikuni from Japanese mythology [bhikkhuni, a fully ordained Buddhist nun, that lived long lives by eating special creatures, such as mermaids], and is expelled from the temple. She wanders about until she reaches the Sanctuary.
The flesh of the gods is poisonous. The poison crystallises the human body as insects. The most poisonous insect is the centipede. As I pointed out before [in another blog post], the gods and insects can substitute each other or transform in one another, so the same logic applies to a part of the gods. (Some kind of chemical reaction catalysed by the rejuvenating water)
The Senpou High Priest witnessing the priestess’s immortalisation became obsessed with the charm of immortality, which was originally bestowed upon him by the Divine Dragon. Unable to withstand the temptation, he takes a bite. Belatedly, he realised that the immortality came forth from the power of the insects.
Holy Chapter: Infested
“For an age, I have been blessed by the worm. To be undying is to walk the eternal path to enlightenment, thus I must become enlightened to understand why I cannot die. It is said the holy dragon’s origins were in the west. So I wonder, how did the worm come to be bestowed upon me?”
To learn the reason how the worm became bestowed upon him, the Senpou High Priest distanced himself from the law and embarked on a quest to become undying.
Mid Heian Period
Several centuries after the Senpou High Priests attained immortality, the Okami [Kuraokami] clan arrived. These female warriors grasped control of Fountainhead Palace through force and took seat as military family of the area. They revered the nobility while enjoying the prime of their lives.
The Okami clan originated, however, as a clan worshipping the white snake.
Gun Fort Shrine Key
[…] The Sunken Valley clan will shoot any stranger who approaches, and Snake Eyes’ guns are particularly feared. This elite group of women are descendants of the ancient Okami Clan. Their especially sharp eyes allow them to snipe victims at great range.
Dried Serpent Viscera
Apparently, denizens of the Sunken Valley worship the organs believing they represent the deity itself.
They abandoned their god and aimed for Fountainhead Palace next. Fearing the revenge of their god, they bolstered their defence by by building a gate. The Okami’s gate and its artificial waterfall served as a barricade to stop the invasion of not people, but white snake(s).
Using their power, the Okami clan commanded Fountainhead’s forces to attack Ashina, but Ashina managed to repel their invasion.
[…] The blue, poisonous rust on Sabimaru’s blade applies “Poison” status abnormality. Wielded in wars of old, the [Ashina-made] blade’s blue rust was used to drive off inhuman Okami warrior women [from Ashina]. Even now, it is likely to be effective against their descendants.
Worried Ashina might launch a counter-attack, the Fountainhead forces closed the palace’s gate and left an undying Infested to guard it. Cultural exchange with Mibu Village ceased and the wedding procession fell gradually into oblivion.
Late Heian Period
During the conflicts at Fountainhead Palace (Genpei War, 1180–1185), the Divine Dragon lost its left hand and awkened. Alongside its awakening, the amount of gushing water increases, submerging most buildings constructed around the edge of the Fountainhead Palace crater.
Furthermore, the quality of the rejuvenating water is changed due to the Divine Dragon’s wounds (See also: defence mechanisms of plants). This led to the spread of Dragonrot in Ashina, a cough so bad it was said no one would survive.
Residents of the city were unable to maintain their human shape and gradually turned into slugs. Confrontations among them intensified, laying waste to the Fountainhead Palace.
Truly Precious Bait
[…] The Hirata noble in the pot is obsessed with thoughts of becoming a “master.” […]
Truly Precious Bait
[…] The Fountainhead Palace noble in the pot is obsessed with becoming one with the “master.” […]
The power struggle for the prestigious position of area master triggered further confrontations (Genpei War, 1180–1185). This war is rooted in the power struggle between the Old Dragons of the Tree (Taira clan) and the Great Colored Carp (Minamoto clan).
The carp’s faction emerged victorious. The old dragons fled to the Divine Dragon’s spiral cloud and the imperial palace they controlled was locked away. Most nobles were confined to the imperial palace, the clan under their control were put into pots. The worst sinners were flushed down the river.
It can be argued that the former represents the losing Taira clan whereas the latter represents the victorious Minamoto clan. And so, Pot Nobles Koremori and Harunaga were put into pots and Harunaga was flused down the river, out of the city. The victorious Shizu can be found leisurely playing kemari at Fountainhead Palace.
Note: It looks like the battle was decided when the Great Colored Carp broke off a large branch of the Divine Dragon’s tree, leader of the Old Dragons of the Tree.
With the civil war raging on in Fountainhead Palace, Takeru and Tomoe fled the city to Ashina. With the palace’s ongoing deterioration and an increase in citizens unable to maintain their human shape, there was debate whether the Divine Dragon, as the cause of the city’s problems, ought to be slain.
Nobles on the losing side that were exiled from Fountainhead Palace escaped to Ashina. The one(s) exiled to Mibu Village shrouded themselves in mist until an opportunity to return to the palace arose, but opposing forces dispatched the illusionary Corrupted Monk in order to prevent their return.
Since it was an illusion, the Mist Noble(s) would be unable to suck the life out of the Corrupted Monk, making it impossible to eliminate the gatekeeper protecting the cave entrance.
Remnant: Corrupted Monk
[…] The Corrupted Monk donned the mask of a fierce guardian deity. Her form was nebulous, appearing as if in a dream. What reason could there have been for guarding the Mibu Village cave entrance?
As head of the Divine Dragon faction, the Shrine Maiden continued to suppress the Divine Dragon’s uncontrollable power as much as she could, which temporarily halted the spread of Dragonrot throughout Ashina. In the meanwhile, Takeru arrived in Ashina to look for ways to slay the Divine Dragon.
Takeru, modelled after Yamato Takeru, was a great king and direct descendant of the Divine Dragon (Divine Heir), making him the most suitable person to represent the faction in favour to slaying the Divine Dragon.
However, the depth of his ties to the Divine Dragon also formed his weak point. The wounded Divine Dragon endlessly continued to absorb power of life for the living surrounding it. The deeper the bond, the more there is to snatch.
Takeru, having his power of life absorbed by the Divine Dragon, contracted Dragonrot and continued to lose his power of life until he eventually died. Tomoe, servant of the Divine Heir, passed away alongside him.
Only the Sakura Droplet remained.
The flow of the power of life flowed from living creatures through the Divine Heir to the Divine Dragon. If the Divine Dragon is healthy, no power of life would flow from the heir to the dragon because the Divine Dragon itself is ‘eternal’. However, with the Divine Dragon injured, it requires power to restore itself and takes the power of life through — and, when insufficient, from — the Divine Heir.
By the way, if a follower of the Divine Heir revives, the power of life is taken from those with whom the heir as a close bond with. The Dragon’s Blood Droplet is an item able to reverse that flow.
Late Sengoku Period
When Wolf comes to the Sanctuary, he uses the Mortal Blade to obtain the gracious gift of tears by soothing the Divine Dragon. The Divine Dragon was soothed by shedding tears instead of getting killed by the Mortal Blade because tears purify the blood that had been shed.
With the Divine Dragon calmed, the Shrine Maiden sleeps silently.