The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan

The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan

The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan

The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan

Synopsis

This study of shamanistic practices in contemporary Japan examines the shamanic figures surviving in Japan today, their initiatory dreams, ascetic practices, and the supernatural beings with whom they communicate.

Excerpt

In 1986 when the second edition of this book appeared, I recorded that during the previous ten years the subject of shamanism had burst into life in a manner scarcely predictable when the book was first written. Now that a third edition is promised I must record a similar expansion, not to say explosion. In the West, that is to say in England and America, the shaman has ceased to be the concern only of anthropologists and historians of religion. He has now entered the New Age. Workshops, institutes, groups, even Faculties of Shamanics are now dedicated to proving that this ancient figure holds the secret solutions for all our modern problems. The shaman is now a saviour for the twenty-first century. Anyone, it is claimed, can now learn the necessary skills to acquire a 'power animal', to sing a 'power song', or to embark on the shamanic journey to the upper and lower worlds. There are even accredited shops which will sell you the shamanic tools, drums and rattles, necessary for the journey.

In Japan the scene is rather different. No comparable New Age movement seems to have arisen there, despite what was labelled the 'occult boom' of the 1980s. But the rituals, beliefs and cosmologies described in this book have not disappeared, as seemed likely twenty-five years ago. The trances, the powers to save lost spirits, to contact local numina, to heal sicknesses caused by angry ghosts, have all survived in the context of the New-new Religions which appeared during the late 1970s. Some of the kyōsosama or Founders of the groups in this second wave of postwar new religions can be seen to deploy in their powers and prophecies the ancient patterns described in this book. The old figures thus survive, though often in guises so new as to be difficult to recognise.

The myths, symbols and beliefs in other worlds, however, remain valid. They may often be forgotten in the modern age with its lowered spiritual ceiling, its easy means to gratify fleeting desires and its rejection of ascetic practices as ways to special knowledge. But they are not so deeply lost that they may not be rediscovered. A crisis, as Yanagita Kunio found, may drive a tap-root down into buried strata of the mind, releasing ancient symbols which awake

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