The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan

By Carmen Blacker | Go to book overview

5

Ascesis

One more question of a preliminary and general kind remains to be discussed. How does the shaman in Japan acquire his special power?

We shall find that two modes of entry into the sacred life are open to the medium and the ascetic in Japan. Either he is 'called', summoned by a deity in a dream or a possession to leave his old life and begin a new one, closer to the sacred world; or he may of his own volition, with no supernatural election or persuasion, decide that the life he has hitherto led is meaningless and insupportable, and that he must seek another kind of life for which new powers and gifts are needed. Whether the impulse comes from his own will, however, or from some apparently external spiritual being, whether he is what Hori calls the 'quest type' or the 'Vocation type', he can only acquire the special powers he needs to bridge the gap between the two worlds by certain ascetic practices.

These measures are known in general as gyō. In so far as they are painful, exhausting or wearisomely repetitive, in so far as they remove both body and mind from their accustomed habits, in so far as they require very great strength of will to accomplish, they may properly be described as ascetic. The same practices are performed indiscriminately by both the medium and the ascetic. Whether it is the medium's power of trance or the ascetic's power of banishment and transformation that is desired, the same disciplines are invoked. They are the means of building up a store of power, which can then be channelled into the required direction. Continuous application to these disciplines is needed, moreover, if this store of power is to be maintained. Once let the shaman relax his ascetic effort and his power will dwindle, grow flabby and eventually disappear.

These disciplines can be broadly classified into three: fasting, cold water and the recitation of words of power.

Let us start with food and the abstention from food.

-85-

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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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