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Onmyodo - Taoist Sorcery In Ancient Japan

This article is written to educate the kids and adult folks who are interested in Onmyodo and dreaming of learning it. It is to tell the truth where it originates. This is for the purpose of "Remember the source of water when You are drinking it" (饮水思源).

There are kids and adults from the west and even Englished-educated , westernized Chinese , who are very anti-China and anti-Chinese and very pro-Japan and later they found out  all the  Ofuda (御札 or お札 o-fuda, a charm) / Omamori ((お守り or 御守 - A portable form of o-fuda)  contains Chinese Characters written on them and start to question whether they are produced in China and then desperately searching fruitlessly for Japanese Talismans written in Japanese Language.

This article is also to Give credit where credit is due. So next time when You see and hear Onmyodo, You will always remember - "This is Taoist Magic, Taoist Divination and Taoist Metaphysics of the Ancient Chinese".

The beginning of Onmyodo in Japan
In the 5th and 6th centuries, the principles of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements were transmitted to Japan from China via the Korean Peninsula, along with Buddhism and Confucianism.

While elements of both 'Religious Taoism' and at a later date, 'Philosophical Taoism' have had an unmistakable influence on Japanese religion, Taoism as a distinct, institutional tradition, never really gained a following amongst the Japanese people.

However, beliefs concerning the 'Taoist Immortals' and Taoist Paradises were 'adopted-in' to various streams of Japanese folk belief and mythology, along with Taoist mystical and medicinal practices.

Jugondo (呪禁道)
Jugondo (呪禁道) was concerned with issues such as the vanquishing of monsters; curing of disease; freeing people, places and objects from possession by spirits (evil or otherwise); dispersing of apparitions, etc.

A highly ritualistic discipline, it incorporated Chinese medical practices, Taoist spells and charms, magic invocations, and forms of hypnosis to induce mystical states in the practitioner. In these altered states, Jugondo practitioners would undertake feats such as fire-walking and pouring boiling water in their bare skin without harm.

Onmyōdō (陰陽道)
Onmyōdō (陰陽道  - (日文:おんみょうどう) also In'yōdō, lit. ‘The Way of Yin and Yang’) is a traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology, a mixture of natural science and occultism. It is based on the Chinese philosophies of Wu Xing and Yin and Yang. It was accepted as a practical system of divination. These practices were influenced further by Taoism, Buddhism and Shintoism, and evolved into the system of onmyōdō around the late 7th century. Onmyōdō was under the control of the imperial government, and later its courtiers, the Tsuchimikado family until the middle of the 19th century, at which point it became prohibited as superstition it was under control of the imperial government, and then later its courtiers, the Tsuchimikado family. The restrictions have been lifted, and as of 2006 anyone may study onmyōdō.

Yin-yang and the Five Elements, as well as the divisions of learning to which they were linked – astronomy, calendar-making, the reckoning of time, divination, and studies based on observation of nature – were amalgamated into fortune telling. This process of judging auspicious or harmful signs present in the natural world was accepted into Japanese society as a technique for predicting good or bad fortune in the human world. Such techniques were known mostly by Buddhist monks from mainland Asia who were knowledgeable in reading and writing Chinese. Over time demand from members of the imperial court who believed that onmyōdō divination would be helpful in decision-making made it necessary for the laity to perform the art, and onmyōji began to appear around the middle of the 7th century.

With the implementation of the ritsuryo system law codes in the 7th and 8th centuries, yin-yang techniques were put under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Onmyō (陰陽寮 Onmyō-ryō) in the Nakatsukasa-shō of the Imperial bureaucracy. The Bureau of Onmyō was responsible for overseeing the divinations of Onmyōdō, astrological observations, and the creation of calendars. Also, by law the Buddhist clergy was forbidden to practice astrology and fortune-telling; hence, government-controlled onmyōji came to monopolize the practice.

From the Heian period onward, as the ritsuryo system relaxed and the Fujiwara family rose to power, the society of the Imperial court took on a more formal shape, and adherence to rituals to placate the souls of the dead (御霊信仰 Goryō Shinkō) to combat the creation of vengeful ghosts (怨霊 onryō) burgeoned. Because onmyōji displayed methods that were believed to avert disasters with their skills of divination and magic, the practice afforded onmyōji influence over the personal lives of the Emperor and the nobility of the court. Consequently, popular awareness of onmyōdō gradually spread from court society to Japanese society as a whole, strengthening its development into a characteristically Japanese art.

Onmyōdō merged with other beliefs and occultism, and evolved from imported Chinese thought into a syncretism found only in Japan. Japanese Onmyōdō took in elements from Taoism (道教), which was transmitted to Japan at the same time as Onmyodo, including magical elements such as katatagae, monoimi, henbai, and ceremonies to Taoistic gods such as the Taizan Fukunsai. Elements of feng shui and the medical art of jukondō were incorporated as well, and as onmyōdō and Japanese Shinto mutually influenced each other, Onmyodo grew more distinctive. From the end of the 8th century onward, it was influenced by the magical elements of esoteric Buddhism and the Indian-derived astrology (Sukuyōdō - 宿曜占星術, a type of Indian Astrology based on the xiuyao jing 宿曜經) that were transmitted with it.

Onmyōji (陰陽師)
Onmyōji (陰陽師, also In'yōji) was one of the classifications of civil servants belonging to the Bureau of Onmyō in ancient Japan's ritsuryo system. People with this title were professional practitioners of onmyōdō.

Onmyōji were specialists in magic and divination. Their court responsibilities ranged from tasks such as keeping track of the calendar, to mystical duties such as divination and protection of the capital from evil spirits. They could divine auspicious or harmful influences in the earth, and were instrumental in the moving of capitals. It is said that an onmyōji could also summon and control shikigami.

Famous onmyōji include Kamo no Yasunori and Abe no Seimei (921–1005). After Seimei's death the emperor had a shrine erected at his home in Kyoto.

Onmyōji had political clout during the Heian period, but in later times when the imperial court fell into decline, their state patronage was lost completely. In modern day Japan onmyōji are defined as a type of Shinto priest, and although there are many that claim to be mediums and spiritualists, the onmyōji continues to be a hallmark occult figure.

Abe no Seimei (安倍晴明)

Seimei's life is well recorded in Japan History. Immediately after his death, however, legends arose. Many legends of Seimei were originally written in the Konjaku Monogatarishu, and by the Edo period there were many stories in circulation that focused on his heroic acts.

Abe no Seimei was a descendant of the poet Abe no Nakamaro and a disciple of Kamo no Tadayuki (賀茂忠行) and Kamo no Yasunori (茂賀保憲), 10th-century diviners of the Heian court. He became Kamo no Yasunori's successor in astrology and divination, while Yasunori's son took on the lesser responsibility of devising the calendar.Seimei's duties included analyzing strange events, conducting exorcisms, warding against evil spirits, and performing various rites of geomancy. He was said to be especially skilled in divining the sex of fetuses and finding lost objects. According to the Konjaku Monogatarishu, he correctly predicted the abdication of Emperor Kazan based on his observation of celestial phenomena.

Seimei's reputation grew sufficiently that, from the late 10th century, the Onmyōryō, the government ministry of onmyōdō, was controlled by the Abe clan. The Kamo clan likewise became the hereditary keepers of the calendar.

The mystical symbol of the equidistant five-pointed star, referred to in the West as a pentagram, is known in Japan as the Seiman or the Seal of Abe no Seimei.

According to legend, Abe no Seimei was not entirely human. His father, Abe no Yasuna, was human, but his mother, Kuzunoha, was a kitsune (a "fox spirit"). At a very early age, no later than five, he was allegedly able to command weak oni to do his bidding. His mother entrusted Seimei to Kamo no Tadayuki so that he would live a proper human life and not become evil himself.

The Heian period, especially the time when Seimei lived, was a time of peace. Many of his legends revolve around a series of magical battles with a rival, Ashiya Doman, who often tried to embarrass Seimei so that he could usurp his position. One noted story involved Doman and the young Seimei in a divination duel to reveal the contents of a particular box. Doman had another person put fifteen mandarin oranges into the box and "divined" that there were fifteen oranges in it. Seimei saw through the ruse, transformed the oranges into rats, and stated that fifteen rats were in the box. When the rats were revealed, Doman was shocked and defeated.

Seimei is involved in numerous other tales as well. He appears as a minor character in the Heike Monogatari and is said to be responsible for divining the location of the Shuten-dōji, a powerful oni purportedly slain by Minamoto no Yorimitsu.He is sometimes said to be the onmyōji who discovered Tamamo no Mae's true nature, although the time of the Tamamo no Mae story does not coincide with Seimei's lifetime; other sources credit the act to a descendant, Abe no Yasuchika.

 Abe no Seimei wrote 2 books: Senji Ryakketsu (占事略决) and Kinugyokutoshū (金烏玉兎集) , both are written in Kanji , Chinese Characters.

Senji Ryakketsu (占事略决)
Senji Ryakketsu (占事略决, lit. The Summary to Judgements of Divinations) is one of the texts written by Abe no Seimei.

The text contains thirty-six chapters (36 fortune-telling techniques) and total of nine thousands Chinese Characters. Many of these divinations relate to normal daily lives such as determining the gender of an unborn child, finding lost or missing objects, and advice on how to lead one's personal life.

Kinugyokutoshū (金烏玉兎集)
Kinugyokutoshū (金烏玉兎集/三国相伝陰陽輨轄簠簋内伝金烏玉兎集, "The book of the golden crow and the jade rabbit") is the most important book of Onmyodo. To the Chinese, it is also known as "簠簋袖衷傳".

The saying of "金乌玉兔"(Golden Crow , Jade Rabbit) was written in the book Huai Nan Zi (淮南子) , one of the Ancient Chinese Philosophical Classic.

The title "金烏玉兎集"  has hidden meaing. 金烏 - Golden Crow (or 3 legged crow), means the Sun. 玉兎 - Jade Rabbit , means the Moon. From this explanation, they represent The Yin and The Yang, therefore the hidden meaning of  Kinugyokutoshū  "金烏玉兎集" is "The Book of Yin and Yang".

Seal of Abe no Seimei (晴明紋)
"Seimei Kikyō" is a pentagram used by Abe no Seimei as the symbol of the Onmyoryo (Bureau of Taoist Geomancy) associated with the Five Chinese Elements - Metal , Wood, Water, Fire, Earth.

Shikigami(式神) - Divine Spirits in Onmyodo
Shikigami (式神 or  しきがみ、しきじん, also read as Shiki-no-kami, 式の神) in Japanese means a kind of divine spirits from Japanese folklore. The belief of shikigami originates from Onmyōdō.

Abe no Seimei is often depicted with one or more shikigami, or servant spirits. Men of great spiritual power could call upon the aid of spirits to serve them. Seimei is often depicted with twelve shikigami (十二式神).

The 12 Shikigami (十二式神) found in Onmyodo is exactly  the same 12 Divine Heavenly Spirits (十二天將) found in 六壬神课 (Liu Ren Shen Ke - The Liu Ren Divination Method) - one of the Chinese metaphysics.

The 12 Shikigami (十二式神) are:
天一(てんいつ)| 腾蛇(とうだ)| 朱雀(すざく)| 六合(りくごう)
勾陈(こうちん) | 青龙(せいりゅう) 天后(てんこう)| 太阴(たいいん)
玄武(げんぶ) | 太常(たいじょう) | 白虎(はくじゅう)| 天空(てんくう)

In Onmyodo, Shikigami are said to be invisible most of the time, but they can be made visible by banning them into small, folded and artfully cut paper manikins. There are also shikigami that can show themselves as animals or birds. They must be conjured during a complex ceremony and their power is connected to the spiritual force of their master. If the evoker is well introduced and has lots of experience, his Shiki can possess animals and even people and manipulate them. But if the evoker is careless, his shikigami may get out of control in time, gaining its own will and consciousness. In this case the shikigami will raid its own master and kill him in revenge. Normally shikigami are conjured to exercise risky orders for their masters, such as spying around, stealing and enemy tracking

Divination Method in Onmyodo
Divination methods used in Onmydo is known as rikujin-shikisen (六壬式占). It is actually Da Liu Ren (大六壬), one of the Chinese Divination methods.

Shikisen was widely used by practitioners of Onmyōdō in the Nara period until the mid-sixteenth century where it was replaced by ekisen (易占) - 易经 (Book of Changes).

Ofuda (御札 or お札) / Omamori (お守り or 御守)

Ofuda (御札 or お札 or おふだ - o-fuda, a charm)  is a type of household amulet or talisman hung in the house for protection. It is to protect the family in residence from general harm, such as a disease. A more specific ofuda may be placed near particular objects such as one for kitchen to protect from accidental fire.

Omamori ((お守り or 御守) is a portable form of  Ofuda,  typically given out wrapped in a small bag made of decorated cloth. Omamori are often spotted on bags, hung on cellphone straps, in cars, etc.

Omamori have changed over the years from being made mostly of paper and/or wood to being made out all types of materials nowadays (i.e. bumper decals, bicycle reflectors, credit cards, etc.). Modern commercialism has also taken over a small part of the creations of omamori. Usually this happens when more popular shrines and temples cannot keep up with the high demand for certain charms. They then turn to factories to manufacture the omamori. However, priests have been known to complain about the quality and authenticity of the product these factories produce.

There are modern commercial versions for these that are typically not spiritual in nature and are not issued by a shrine or temple. They do not confer protection or need to be replaced every year. It has become popular for stores in Japan to feature generic omamori with popular characters such as Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Snoopy, Kewpie, etc.

Ofuda and Omamori must be written in Cloud Script or Chinese Characters. Only Cloud Script and Chinese Characters can be used in Oriental Talismans (Chinese, Japan, Korea). Modern Languages cannot be used in Talismans, which will not bring any spiritual power. Japanese and Koreans Spiritual Masters know this as well.

Using Chinese Characters in Ofuda does not mean they are made in China, but because they are needed to be used in Talisman Writing.

Taijou Shinsen Chintaku Reifu (太上神仙鎮宅霊符)

 The most well known talismans found in Onmyodo are a collection of 72 talismans called in Japanese the taijou shinsen chintaku reifu 太上神仙鎮宅霊符 (meaning  "Numinous Talismans of the Highest Spirit Immortal for Tranquilizing the Household").

These talismans are actually the Taoist Talismans known as "Tai Shang Lao Jun Zhen Zhai Qi Shi Er Ling Fu" (太上老君镇宅七十二灵符) .

These 72 talismans protect people from misfortunes, such as warding the curses of a ghost who committed suicide, protecting household from misfortunes such as illness, robbery, reduction of assets, etc, and preventing various other misfortunes caused by evil spirits.

Kuji-In (九字印) and Kuji-kiri(九字切り) in Onmoyodo
The Nine Syllable Seals and the Nine Symbolic Cuts are also among Onmyodo techniques. The kuji are first introduced in the Taoist text Baopuzi (抱朴子) a book written by Ge Hong c.280-340 ADE).

In it he introduces the kuji in chapter 17 titled DengShe/登涉 (Climbing [mountains] and crossing rivers) as a prayer to the six Jia (generals of yang), ancient Taoist gods. in Daoist Magic, the Chia Spirit Generals are powerful celestial guardians and part of Tammon-Ten's (Vaiśravaṇa), The God of the North, Celestial Thunder Court.

The Taoist Nine Syllables are combined with "Qi Men Dun Jia" (奇门遁甲) ( One of the Three China's highest metaphysical arts) and become known as Four Vertical Five Horizontal Cuts (奇门四纵五横法). Since ancient time, the Taoists use it to seek safety and to make their wishes come true.

Many kids and adults from the west,  who learn Ninjutsu, will learn about the Kuji (九字) but don't know where  the original source comes from. Many people mistook Kuji (九字)  was created by the Ninjas in Japan.

There is nothing wrong to learn Japanese Version of Kuji but You must at least know where the original source come from.

Details of Kuji is explained here: Powerful Taoist Nine Syllables and Hand Seals

Kōshin (庚申)
Kōshin (庚申) is a folk faith in Japan with Chinese Taoist origins. In Taoism, it is know as Shou Geng Shen (守庚申) - "Observe the Metal Monkey".

A typical event related to the faith is called Kōshin-kō (庚申講), held on the Kōshin days that occur every 60 days in accordance with the sexagenary cycles calendar, when people gather and meet, staying up all night in order to prevent from the Sanshi (三尸) worms inspect themselves.

In the 9th century, Kōshin (庚申) had been already practiced at least by aristocrats.   It is called Kōshin-Machi (庚申待 - Kōshin Waiting). During the early years this custom became a kind of overnight festivity or party.

In the Muromachi period, Buddhist monks started to write about the Kōshin, which led to wider popularity of the faith among public. Numerous monuments or pillars called Kōshin-tō (庚申塔) (or also Kōshin-zuka (庚申塚) were erected all over the country and the faith remained very popular through the Edo period. When the Meiji Government issued the Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order in 1872, folk beliefs were turned down as superstitious, Kōshin belief too losing popularity as a result.

Today, the Kōshin belief still survives, although it is far less popular and receives smaller recognition than once it did, due to the absence of any central organization to help promote such faith because of its folkloric nature. While many Kōshin-tō were moved, for example, to inside Buddhist temples or even to private houses to be protected, there are many remaining along historical roads as well. There are also well maintained Kōshin-dō (庚申堂), built in respect for the Kōshin, sometimes attached to Buddhist temples, or otherwise in stand-alone.

The main Kōshin belief that survived from an original complex faith, is the concept that three worms, called Sanshi, (三尸) live in everyone's body. The Sanshi keep track of the good deeds and particularly the bad deeds of the person they inhabit. On the night called Kōshin-Machi (which happens each 60 days), while the person sleeps, the sanshis leave the body and go to Ten-Tei (天帝), the Heavenly god, to report about the deeds of that person. Ten-Tei will then decide to punish bad people making them ill, shortening their time alive and in extreme cases putting an end to their lives. Believers of Kōshin will try to live a life without bad deeds, but those who have reason to fear will try to stay awake during Kōshin nights, as the only way to prevent the Sanshi from leaving the body and reporting to Ten-Tei.

In the Edo period, Kōshin-Machi became more popular in other levels of society and with commoners, and the festivities took more the character of a belief. It was at that time that deities started to appear within the faith. One was Shōmen-Kongō, a fearsome blue faced deity with many arms.

Shōmen-Kongō became Kōshin-san when people expected this demon to make the Sanshis themselves ill and prevent them going to Ten-Tei. Shōmen-Kongō is not really a god but a demon who can send illnesses.

Three monkeys covering eyes, mouth and ears with their hands are the best known symbols of Kōshin faith. They are Mizaru (not see), Iwazaru (not say) and Kikazaru (not hear). It is not very clear why the three monkeys became part of Kōshin belief, but is assumed that it is because like the monkeys, the Sanshis and Ten-Tei are not to see, hear, or tell the bad deeds of a person.

Statues of Shōmen-Kongō with the three monkeys have existed in temples and shrines since the Edo era. Sometimes carved stones called Kōshin-tō were placed around a dwelling for protection. Such stones can present diverse forms, from having only Chinese characters (kanji) to including a depiction of Shōmen- Kongō with one, two or three monkeys.

Other custom of the Kōshin belief are the use of paper scrolls also showing Kōshin-san and the monkeys which are displayed on Kōshin-machi, the Kōshin night. Those who keep this tradition invite neighbours, friends and relatives and sit in front of a provisory altar which has a bowl of rice, soup, seasonal fruit, flowers, candles and incense sticks. They also hang scrolls with pictures of Shōmen-Kongō. Everyone will try to stay awake through the whole night.

Onmyodo in Modern Japan
After Seimei's death the emperor had a  shrine, the Seimei shrine, erected at the location of his home. The original shrine was destroyed in war during the fifteenth century, but it was rebuilt in the same location and still stands today.

Over the centuries, the various arts and practices of onmyodo gradually became absorbed into Shinto and Buddhist tradition, and also into the disciplines of the shugenja, and other ascetic groups, to the point where onmyodo - as a distinct tradition in it's own right - to all intents and purposes ceased to exist.

Today, there are many Japanese Cartoons and Japanese Comics showing the magical power of Onmyodo and Onmyoji , therefore kids and adults around the world are getting interested to understand and research on Japanese Magic and Spells, which indirectly, will lead the Western Folks to learn about Taoist Sorcery, Taoist Talismans and Taoist Metaphysics.

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