The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan

By Carmen Blacker | Go to book overview

15

Exorcism

We have now arrived at the last stage of our investigation, the rituals whereby the powers of both the ascetic and the medium are used to deal with the lower spiritual entities which cause the symptoms of demoniacal possession. Already we have observed two or three examples of the manner in which a professional ascetic healer, alone and unaided, casts out the foxes and ghosts which cause possession. We now examine those older methods of exorcism whereby the exorcist does not confront the sufferer directly, but forces the spirit to transfer itself into the body of a medium, through whose mouth it must name itself and hold dialogue with him. Once more, therefore, we are concerned with the ritual of yorigitō, but it is directed now not towards prayer and petition to a superior spiritual being, but to the banishment and restitution of an inferior one.

We mentioned in a previous chapter that the use of a medium as a mere passive vehicle, a virtual zombie through whose mouth the spirit may speak, can be traced back to the ninth century when the doctrines and spells of esoteric Buddhism were first brought to Japan from China. We have seen too that the Abisha ritual prescribed the use of unblemished children for this purpose; bathed, dressed, anointed, purified and censed, they would tell one everything one wished to know of hidden and future things.

The use of children, untrained girls and even the elegant ladies of the court for this extraordinary purpose is recorded in many places in the literature of the Heian period. More often than as organs of prophesy, however, such people are found serving as mediums for the ascetic healers of the time; as vessels into whom the malignant spirit could be transferred from the body of the patient, and through whom it could be brought to subjection.

The ascetic exorcist at this time was usually either a priest of the Tendai or Shingon sect, or one of the yamabushi or genja who had accomplished noteworthy penances and

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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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