October Mythology Special: Homunculi and Alchemy

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The creation of artificial human life has long been connected to alchemy and can be traced back to the first recorded recipe for creating a Homunculus in an Arabic work titled The Book of the Cow. So what does an aspiring alchemist need in order to create artificial life? Well, according to this book you’ll need: magician semen, a sunstone, a cow or ewe, sulfur, a magnet, green tutia, and a large glass or lead vessel. Robert Lamb from How Stuff Works goes on to lay out the step-by-step instructions, and you can read those for yourself, but it says that after the cow or ewe is inseminated and fed exclusively on the blood of another animal it will give birth to some “unknown substance”. After being transferred to the large vessel with the before mentioned chemicals, it will start to form human skin and develop slowly into a small human.

At which point, alchemists thought these tiny creatures could be used in a variety of ways, some of which were: “The first type of Homunculus may be used to make the full moon appear on the last day of the month, allow a person to take the form of a cow, a sheep or even  an ape, allow one to walk on water and know things that are happening far away. The second type of Homunculus can be used to enable a person to see demons and spirits, as well as to converse with them, whilst the last type of Homunculus can be used to summon rain at unseasonable times and produce extremely poisonous snakes.” Continue reading

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October Mythology Special: The Legends Surrounding Sun Showers

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A.B. Mitford’s Tales of Old Japan has in it an enchanting story of a very particular wedding, a fox’s wedding. He tells of two young, white foxes here: “Now it happened that in a famous old family of foxes there was a beautiful young lady-fox, with such lovely fur that the fame of her jewel-like charms was spread far and wide. The young white fox, who had heard of this, was bent on making her his wife, and a meeting was arranged between them. There was not a fault to be found on either side; so the preliminaries were settled, and the wedding presents sent from the bridegroom to the bride’s house, with congratulatory speeches from the messenger, which were duly acknowledged by the person deputed to receive the gifts; the bearers, of course, received the customary fee in copper cash.

“When the ceremonies had been concluded, an auspicious day was chosen for the bride to go to her husband’s house, and she was carried off in solemn procession during a shower of rain, the sun shining all the while. After the ceremonies of drinking wine had been gone through, the bride changed her dress, and the wedding was concluded, without let or hindrance, amid singing and dancing and merry-making.” Continue reading

October Mythology Special: The Multifaceted Nature of Oni

In Noriko Reider’s Japanese Demon Lore, she recounts one curious tale of an Oni: “Shuten Dōji, the chief of an oniband, lives on Mt.Ōe. During the reign of Emperor Ichijō, Shuten Dōjiand his oni band abduct people, particularly maidens, enslaving them and eventually feasting on their flesh and drinking their blood. The concerned emperor orders the warrior hero Minamoto no Raikō and his men to stop the abductions by vanquishing Shuten Dōji and his band of oni followers. Raikō and his men disguise themselves as yamabushi (mountaineering ascetics) and by means of guile, deception and some divine help, they eliminate Shuten Dōji and his oni band. There are many theories regarding the origins of the Shuten Dōji legend, including the notion that Shuten Dōji and his fellow oni were nothing more than a gang of bandits who lived on Mt.Ōe, or that Shuten Dōji was a Caucasian man who drifted to the shore of Tanba Province (present-day Kyoto) and drank red wine.”(20) Continue reading

October Mythology Special: Nurikabe (The Wall Yokai)

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This edition of October Mythology Special comes with a true story from a pretty famous mangaka: Mizuki Shigeru, the creator of GeGeGe no Kitaro. Everything is Scary recounts his story on their site: “In his historical memoir, Showa, Mizuki depicts an encounter that brought him incredibly close to the most senseless of all deaths. While in Papua New Guinea, alone in the pitch dark of night, the young soldier encountered an invisible wall that he could feel with his hands. It compelled him to stop and he slept the night, only to awake next to a cliff’s edge. Mizuki credits the spectral wall, a yōkai called Nurikabe, for his survival. ‘“If the Nurikabe hadn’t been there,” he writes, “I would have run straight off into the darkness and died.’”

There has been another more recent encounter in 2005 as well in the famous Aokigahara forest by the medium Yuuko Sou during the filming for a TV program. Tofugu recounts: “She and the TV crew were just about to enter the forest when a blurry, wall-like thing allegedly rose from the ground, as if the spirits of the dead had come together to say, No further! If you’ve come to commit suicide, you can’t enter!Continue reading

October Mythology Special: Zashiki Warashi

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“About 600 years ago, a warrior was fleeing forces from the south when he discovered and befriended two six-year-old brothers. The oldest brother came down with a deadly illness, and succumbed after swearing to protect his home – the land of Ryokufuso Inn. When the owners and visitors of Ryokufuso Inn began noticing strange occurrences such as the sound of child’s laughter and footsteps, objects moving on their own accord, and almost nightly incidents of sleep paralysis, they believed the spirit of the boy had settled as a zashiki warashi. In order to please the zashiki warashi, the owners collected toys and placed them in the front parlour tatami room. As well as toys suddenly springing to life, ghostly orbs are often captured on film.”

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The story above is about a real inn in Iwate that seems to be blessed with the spirit of a zashiki-warashi. I say blessed because these kinds of youkai are often seen as a sort of good luck charm to the families that they haunt, with the disappearance of a zashiki warashi from the home as a sign of bad luck. The zashiki warashi is a kind of house youkai, with zashiki referring roughly to the tatami room of a traditional Japanese house and warashi meaning small child. This youkai always appear as small children, and never adults, often between the ages of 3 to 15 years old. They are mainly known for the mischief that they cause rather than their appearance, but when you do see them, they often appear in kimonos if they’re girls and more patterned or striped outfits if they’re boys. They are also often depicted with short straight hair in a bob-cut.

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The origins of the zashiki warashi may come from the need to come up with an explanation to small children why their family’s fortunes have waned, but there are few other more historical origins it may be pulling from as well. The Book of Yokai by Michael Foster mentions that the basis of these legends might stem from the practice of infanticide in Japan that happened through at least the eighteenth century. A dead infant may not be necessarily memorialized like a more grown child would be, so they were often buried under the floors of houses and though to become a sort of guardian spirit because of it. Hyakumonogatari points to a similar yet more specific origin: the history of the relationship between the people of the Tono region and Yamabito. It is said that the men of Yamabito would often raid the villages of Tono, either raping or kidnapping local women. Any children born of these raids would either be hidden away in the depth of the house or killed if they became too much of a burden. The hiding away of these children and subsequent infanticide seems like a logical basis to the zashiki warashi legends.

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There are quite a few zashiki warashi characters in anime and manga, but as I haven’t seen all of these shows, I’m going to point to three that I have noticed in the past couple months of reading manga and watching anime. One of the more recognizable characters in recent anime seasons would be Ougon-douji from Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits. Ougon-douji is the owner of the two different inns featured in the anime, Tenjin-ya and Orio-ya, and she maintains a role as innkeeper and mistress mostly at Orio-ya. She is very clearly a zashiki warashi and is named as such in the show by the characters. Her appearance is similar as well with one key difference: her hair is blond instead of black. But she is pictured a lot wearing a traditional kimono, short hair in a bob cut, fairly young looking, and carrying a child’s toy. Ougon-douji also has the ability to bless certain places with good luck, which Aoi find out when she gets a huge influx of customers to Moonflower after she shows up.

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My next example is a little less clear, but still referred to as a zashiki warashi in the story itself. I’m talking about the Zashiki Warashi in XXXHolic. She’s a little less clear because when we first meet her, she doesn’t really look like a typical depiction of this youkai. For one, she’s on the high age range, looking to be around 15 years old maybe. She’s also wearing non-traditional clothes with a more Western looking winter outfit. Her hair is also longer, but it is straight and black so that fits fairly well. There’s no real reference to her bringing good luck or taking up residence in a house or building, but there may be a slight reference to the origins of the myth by saying she usually lives deep in the mountains secluded from other people, which may be referring to Yamabito or Toho and the way their regions were fairly secluded. CLAMP definitely took a few liberties when they chose to use this myth, but I think it’s a fairly clear depiction especially when we get to scenes of her in a traditional kimono.

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The last one I want to bring up may or may not be the case. This is a personal theory of mine on the origins of this character, but I do think it works. I’m talking about Kitaro from GeGeGe no Kitaro. I have to admit I don’t know much about the history of this series, so this very well could have been the intended thought behind his character design. My thoughts on Kitaro being a zashiki warashi come mainly from his appearance. For one, his hair is short and cut into a bob or bowl cut. He’s also wearing fairly traditional clothes with his sleeveless top shirt in a striped pattern. There’s no real reference to similar abilities of good luck, but I think it’s safe to say that at least his character design may have been based off of the look of the zashiki warashi.

Let me know what your favorite characters are that are based off of zashiki warashi in anime and manga, and join me next time for more myths and legends in the October Mythology Special.

~~Thanks for Reading!~~


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October Mythology Special: Gremlins

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“While I’m staring at the instruments, during an unearthly age of time, both conscious and asleep, the fuselage behind me becomes filled with ghostly presences — vaguely outlines forms, transparent, moving, riding weightless with me in the plane. I feel no surprise at their coming. There’s no suddenness to their appearance. Without turning my head, I see them as clearly as though in my normal field of vision There’s no limit to my sight — my skull is one great eye, seeing everywhere at one.

These phantoms speak with human voices — friendly, vapor-like shapes, without substance, able to vanish or appear at will, to pass in and out through the walls of the fuselage as though no walls were there. Now, many are crowded behind me. Now, only a few remain. First on and then another presses forward to my shoulder to speak above the engine’s noise, and then draws back among the group behind. At times, voices come out of the air itself, clear yet far away, traveling through distances that can’t be measured by the scale of human miles; familiar voices, conversing and advising on my flight, discussing problems of my navigation, reassuring me, giving me messages of importance unattainable in ordinary life.” (389) Continue reading

October Mythology Special: 100 Ghost Stories (Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai)

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High in the mountains, a group of samurai gather, bringing the youngest of their class with them. It is long after the wars between clans have ended, and so the samurai’s grasp at the chance to feel brave, to prove themselves the warriors they once were. The cave they come to is dark, eerie even. Slowly they set up their game. One hundred candles are lit and the group gathers around as the light sends flickering shadows dancing along the walls. One by one they tell a story. A story of horror, of demons and ghosts, those stories meant to scare children or even the strongest among them. Each one tries to outdo the other, pushing their companions to fail, to drop out and admit they are scared. One by one, the candles go out until there is only one remaining. The last storyteller plunges the cave into darkness as the last candle is extinguished. From the shadows, a great black hand descends, reaching for the samurai, scattering their courage as they flee from the cave. Continue reading

The Philosophy and Psychology of XXXHolic

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CLAMP has always told great stories. Cardcaptor Sakura has captured the imagination of a generation of young girls and remains one of my all-time favorite animes to date. It weaves magic, heroism, and romance in a way that keeps you coming back to see what new card or what new mystery Sakura will have to solve this time. Chobits offered an interesting look into the problems of human and android relationships. It commented on the meaning of love and of existence in general. Tsubasa took some of CLAMPS most famous characters and turned them upside down to discuss the nature of relationships, of memories, and the interconnectedness of the universe. And now, one of my other favorite CLAMP series seems to go a step further, offering a peek into the human psyche and the universe itself, XXXHolic.

There are a few universal truths to this series that each story arc builds off of, and then some smaller commentary on different phenomena and human nature within those general rules. I’d like to take a look at a few of those today and begin to build a picture of what exactly the philosophy and psychology of this series is. To start, there are two main rules the universe and characters of XXXHolic follow: equivalent exchange and hitsuzen (or fate). Continue reading

Waxing Philosophical: On the Fate of Those Who Can See Youkai

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I love stories about youkai, whether it be in anime or manga form. Mythology, especially that of Japan, has always been a huge interest for me, as you can probably tell from the plan for next month and my posts on the mythology of Ancient Magus Bride. Which also means that I’ve spent a lot of time watching all sorts of different shows that have youkai and reading different manga as well, and through that process, I’ve come to notice a few things.

There are some common threads throughout all youkai stories that seem to paint a picture, both troubling and hopeful, for those who have the ability to see youkai and spirits. For the purposes of this post I went through some of my favorite youkai anime and manga again, namely: Ancient Magus’ Bride, Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits, XXXHolic, and Elegant Youkai Apartment Life. These shows may all focus on the interaction of human and youkai, but they are all also so different from one another in terms of mood, setting, and story. The aspects I found that seem to stay constant however are the background of main character, the kinds of interactions humans can have with youkai, and the impact seeing youkai has on human-to-human relationships. Continue reading

My Top 4 Favorite Female Prose Fantasy/Sci-Fi Writers

I’ve been reading a lot more prose lately than comics, mainly in an effort to catch up on a lot of the new books I’ve missed over the last couple years. I have a problem though. Once I find a book I love, I can’t put it down. And once I find an author I love, I obsessively look for any other books they’ve written. I’ll read their books on the train ride to work, during lunch, and sometimes be tempted to sneak a chapter or two during the slow times at work. The last couple weeks I’ve been sucked in again by this obsession, and have found myself binging through a series I’ve read three or four times already in order to get to the new book that just came out. Right now, as I’m writing this I keep glancing over to the book on my coffee table, being tempted to pick it up again even though I’ve been reading it the last couple hours.

In a way, this has started to eat into my blog writing time, so I figured I’d try and appease the book-lover in me and talk about something different this time. Tonight we’re going to talk about some of my favorite prose fantasy/sci-fi authors, the ones that have managed to suck me in and keep me coming back again and again. For the most part, my favorite authors happen to be women, so I figured I put together a short list of the women authors I love and why they keep me coming back for more. Continue reading