Sketches of Japanese Folk Religion – Part 1
In the beginning Japanese Folk Religion’s were shamanistic, and many of these traditions of ecstasy, spirit guides, etc have survived even into modern Shintoism. The Japanese people themselves appear to have come from a mixture of the Altaic peoples, such as the Evenk peoples of Siberia and the Koreans, as well as the Emishi (most closely related to the Ainu) and the people’s of South East Asia. So while it’s common to look to later Chinese inspired arts for inspiration these art forms don’t always work for artists trying to depict Japan’s kami and other spirits thousands of years ago.
It’s of course well known that kami often inhabit beautiful and ancient objects. What people often forget is that at times they also choose to inhabit people, making a person their vessel for delivering messages (divination) and performing services (such as healing). There are a number of different people throughout Japan’s history which acted as shaman vessels for the kami in this way, including some of their early Queens.
As with the Korean tradition most of these shamans tended to be female, with males rarely fulfilling the role of shaman.
Usually a person couldn’t choose to become a shaman, though their were certain rituals to gain shaman like powers, and later imports such as Yin and Yang magics allowed males to play a magicians role. A true shaman, however, was chosen by the kami and or spirits to be their mediator, so while a shaman could learn to be a better shaman they couldn’t learn to be a shaman.
Nukiuk is a folklorist and illustrator who has been collecting fairy tales from various traditions in order to help inspire artists at Zeluna.net. You can find his collection of Japanese fairy tales at http://zeluna.net/japanese-fairy-tales.