The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan

By Carmen Blacker | Go to book overview

Preface to the Third Edition

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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The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Preface to the Third Edition 5
  • Preface to the Second Edition 7
  • Preface to the First Edition and Acknowledgements 9
  • Contents 15
  • Illustrations 17
  • 1 - The Bridge 19
  • 2 - The Sacred Beings 34
  • 3 - Witch Animals 51
  • 4 - The Other World 69
  • 5 - Ascesis 85
  • 6 - The Ancient Sibyl 104
  • 7 - The Living Goddess 127
  • 8 - The Blind Medium 140
  • 9 - The Ascetic's Initiation 164
  • 10 - The Visionary Journey 186
  • 11 - The Symbolic Journey 208
  • 12 - The Ascetic's Power 235
  • 13 - Village Oracles 252
  • 14 - Mountain Oracles 279
  • 15 - Exorcism 298
  • 16 - Conclusion 315
  • Appendix 317
  • Abbreviations 321
  • Select Bibliography 354
  • Additional Bibliography (Third Edition) 366
  • Glossary 368
  • Index 375
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