Monday, March 31, 2008

Tranformation 2 of 4: Onmyoji

My latest body of work consists of four Identity Aspects. Here's number 2.

The time: the Heian Period of Japan, where man's emotions are believed to manifest as real demons. Onmyoji are practicioners of Onmyodo, or "Yin-Yang Magic," who temper them. They are distinguished figures from the Heian Era, like Arthurian court wizards. They were diviners of futures, star readers, consults, and exorcisers. They summoned spirits, slayed spirits, enacted helpful seals and dreadful curses. You can't tell me that they don't sound wicked cool!
They had a system of training, distinct costumes and accessories, and were trained to serve the Emporer in Kyoto. A particular figure, named Abe no Seimei (921-1005 AD), went down in history as the most famous Onmyoji. Son of fox Spirit Kuzu no Ha, he was said to see spirits at a young age, and the rest of his career is as shrouded in mystery and lengend as his mystical birth. This is Japan's Merlin.

My knowledge of Onmyoji comes from three places: the films, animé, and wikipedia. This is highly embarrassing, but the best I can do. What I do know about them thrills me.

But this— Heien era: a time when man's emotions are believed to manifest as real demons— is the important part. Real demons that need to be really exorcised. Taking ownership of ill feelings, and conquering them hypothetically in order to exorcise them actually. I love this concept. A woman is ditched by a man, and her jealousy consumes her and turns her into a demon. This demon assaults the man in question. Onmyoji gets to the bottom of this, exorcises the demon, woman turns to normal. The demon is the mode of communication.

Here's the scary part, the demon is still used as a mode of communication. People still kill, torture, and intimidate, but the demon is now hypothetical insead of seen as real. My impression is that the Heian Japanese did believe all this literally, and I'd be cool if we still did. The Onmyoji act as emotional doctors the relive the effects of painful feelings.

Maybe that's all a bit much, but this is the spiritual aspect of my identity. Still a little fuzzy, I'm going to sum it up with this, a quote from the film Onmyoji 1 starring Mansai Nomura as Abe no Seimei: "A spell is anything that binds someone, or their heart. The simplest form of a spell is a name. You are bound by the name "Minamoto no Hiromasa," just as you are bound by love." This is about seeing things as they really are: Words and emotions, things you can own and solve with your OWN strength.

Onmyoji are common folklore in Japan, and are common in animé. Find them in titles such as Tokyo Babylon, X/1999, Shounen Onmyoji, Abenobashi Magical Shopping Arcade, and a probable appearance in Spirited Away, just to name a few.

Question: Anyone know of any good informational books on Onmyoji?

Top: Frame 7 from Onmyoji animation, Kori Michele. Bottom: Still from film Onmyoji I.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

AFAIK, there aren't any books on onmyouji in English. There's a nice one on shamanism and minority religions called The Catalpa Bow, and there are a few decent books on the Heian period, most of which have a small amount of information. There are also translations of some of the story collections Seimei appears in. (Konjaku Monogatari and Uji Shui Monogatari, I think?) Wikipedia is about the best you're going to do without a university library or a good command of Japanese.

(Yes, I'm a Seimei fangirl.)