The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan

By Carmen Blacker | Go to book overview

9

The Ascetic's Initiation

We now turn to the active partner of the two shamanic practitioners in Japan, the ascetic. He first appears on the scene in the late Nara or early Heian period, that is to say in the late eighth or early ninth century, known variously as an ubasoku, a hijiri or a shamon. All these names carry a Buddhist connotation. They indicate a man who has taken Buddhist vows, but chooses to retire to the fastnesses of certain mountains rather than to reside in any recognised temple or monastery. There he undertakes a regime of the austerities we outlined in an earlier chapter. Abstaining from cereals, salt and of course meat, he devotes himself under the guidance of a guardian divinity to the recitation of a particular holy text. If a waterfall happens to be nearby he stands beneath it. He also makes, in either visionary or symbolic form, a journey to the other world. These experiences act as an initiation. They endow him with the supernatural and holy power by which he can vanquish malignant spiritual beings and transform them into powers for good. 1

Hori distinguishes two principal categories of hijiri during this early period. One is a solitary hermit, dwelling in either a cave or a grass hut on the slopes of a holy mountain. There he avoids human company, fasts and devotes himself night and day to the recitation of one particular holy text. Usually this is the Lotus Sutra. Many of the earliest hijiri and ubasoku are recorded as devoting their lives to the constant repetition and contemplation of this holy text, their voices as they recite achieving in time an unearthly quality of holiness which makes the hair of all who hear it stand on end, and which draws monkeys, bears, foxes and deer from the surrounding forest to listen in front of the cave. 2

The favourite place chosen by these recluses for their retreat was the range of mountains south of Nara, stretching from Mt Kimpu near Yoshino down the Kii peninsula to Kumano. We are told of many hermits who retired to Mt Kimpu itself, to the neighbouring mountain Ōminesan, to

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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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