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MONONOKE - Japanese spirits

Posted by Marcello Bertinetti on
Kiyo hime 189 - donna demone


And children's dreams become nightmares, women's nights are troubled by fears. Even the strongest men, the fighters, tremble at the sound of that terrible word...

It is the fear of the supernatural, a feeling that unites civilizations as distant as the Western and Eastern ones. Some might object: it is the culture that has become contaminated. Technology and principles of freedom and democracy coming from the West, aesthetics and spirituality coming from the East.

in the images: Kiyo hime, demon woman - Buruburu, ghosts of cowards

According to these opinions, the points of contact between Europe and the Far East are relatively recent: a couple of centuries or little more. Yet, in the depths of our soul, where the events of the past settle, there is something else. Let's try to dig into the collective imagination and go down to the layer in which we have deposited the medieval magical culture: the one in which ghosts and spirits still coexisted with the religious beliefs of Christianity, and induced common people and great ecclesiastics to practice propitiatory rituals.

Shīsā 23 - guardian yokai

in the images: Hashihime, virgin princess of the bridge - Shīsā, guardian yokai

A doctor of the church like Albertus Magnus, considered the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages, still tried to bring together theology, natural science and magic in the 13th century. Why? Because the medieval world was populated by demons: whether they were children of Satan or God made no difference and the important thing was to keep them at bay by offering them prayers and gifts. In the magical texts of the early Middle Ages - but also in the great literary works, and we are talking about Saint Augustine and Dante Alighieri - hundreds of different spirits are listed, many of which even have a noble title and therefore play an important role in their hierarchy. And be careful: demons care a lot about titles. For this reason, from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, the "catalogues" of demons multiplied: famous examples are the text of the English doctor and magician Johann Wier (the Pseudomonarchia daemonum of 1563) and the classification of Francis Barrett listed in the book The Magus of 1801.

Ikuchi 79 - colossal sea monsterJami 21 - evil mountain spirit

in the images: Ikuchi, colossal sea monster - Jami, evil mountain spirit

The Far East is populated by mononoke. Like the terrestrial and celestial demons who lived in the forests and dreams of feudal societies, the mononoke are supernatural creatures, endowed with great powers and therefore capable of influencing the existence of humans. Deeply rooted in the rich Japanese spirituality, they are the protagonist ghosts of the literary epic of the Heian period, between the 8th and 12th centuries. In the Middle Ages of the archipelago, no Japanese ignored the yōkai, mononoke terrible in appearance and capable of causing misfortune and damage. The very origin of the name mononoke – from the Chinese “strange thing” – evokes the idea of ​​monstrosity, which must be fought or tamed. The analogies with Europe do not end here. In that era, daily life was marked by rituals that combined beliefs and magic, and which had the aim of making friends with the demons who were masters of night and day, of work and family. Therefore, there were specialists capable of conversing with spirits: the monks and the yamabushi, who practiced spells and chanted prayers, and used exorcism to cure illnesses caused by the mononoke. Exactly like in the feudal West…

Nurikabe 151 painted wallOkuri inu 59 - companion dog

in the images: Nurikabe, painted wall - Okuri inu, companion dog

The varied universe of Japanese demons is well described in the original Mononoke book by Matthew Mayer (NuiNui editions), structured like a true illustrated catalogue. In this interview Mayer tells how the idea for the book was born and describes the mononoke repertoire from his original point of view.

The drawings that illustrate this post are taken from Mayer's book.

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