Percival Lowell.

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knife -blade across the skin, it instantly
sinks in.

The principle involved is the principle of
the wedge. By drawing the blade along in
the direction of its edge at the same time
that you press down, you thin its angle to
any desired tenuity. You have but to grad-
uate the horizontal motion to the vertical


force. As the angle of the wedge thus
sharpens, the force necessary to make it
enter is lessened indefinitely. We unwit-
tingly apply this principle whenever we cut
anything. And as this is our normal state,
we forget that the blade is, statically used,
not as cutting as we think.

Furthermore, it will be remembered that,
as a rule, the priests took heed in placing
their feet. Most of them were careful to
minimize the impact.

These are some of the points that make
miracle-working possible ; but a good audi-
ence is equally necessary. A sympathetic
populace renders Japan a very paradise of
miracles. There is thus a twofold reason
for a miracle's success ; a thicker skin in
the priests, and a thicker skull in the peo-
ple. This double lack of penetration makes
it easier both to do, and to be done by, a
miracle than it would be elsewhere.

Pondering in this wise upon the great
advantages for successful miracle-working
possessed by priests of an artistic, pachyder-
matous people over those of a thin-skinned,
scientific one, and half lamenting the lost
grandeur of that pious past whose childish


imaginings loomed so large and life-like, and
vanish so sadly before our bull's-eyes of
search, we were rolled through the broad
quiet twilight of tillage toward the growing
twinkle of the town.

To give a full account of Shinto miracles,
we have now to consider quite a different
class of them ; the objective ones, pure and
simple. The nomenclature is not mere
matter of distinction. For the first kind
are brought about by the unintentional but
efficient subjective action of the miracle-
performer himself ; the latter take place
independently of him. It is a distinction
unimportant as regards the things, but of
vital consequence as regards the people.
For though it be open to the looker-on to
doubt whether the water or the fire in the
two ordeals above be rendered any the less
hot by having parted with its spirit, it is
not open to him to doubt the difference of
perception of that heat in the man's normal
and abnormal states of consciousness. This
question is quaintly begged by believers, by
stating that the god withdraws the spirit of


the fire or permits it to return momentarily,
according to the character of the tester.
Skeptics settle the whole matter off-hand
by denying the fact. But it is unscientific
to call upon a noumenon unnecessarily, even
of an annihilating character. Universal ne-
gation of a sense distinction implies univer-
sal charlatanry ; and men are both too sim-
ple and too astute for that to be possible.
Charlatans ape but they do not originate.
A counterfeit implies a genuine, and a sham-
mer something to sham.

To the objective miracles there is no psy-
chic or divine side ; they are due to undi-
vined psychical principles merely. The
Odojigokushiki, or " The Descent of the
Thunder-God," is one of these. He de-
scends into so plebeian a thing as a kettle
of steaming rice, the rice being afterward of-
fered in banquet to the temple deities. For
to have rice taste like thunder is said to be
peculiarly pleasing to the gods. The manner
of working this miracle is as follows : —

Upon a small urn was placed a kettle and
upon the kettle a rice steamer, the hd so
set on as to leave a slit on one side. A
young acolyte then appeared in the usual


pilgrimage robe, his hair dank from the bath
and his whole person shivering with cold,
and, striking a spark from some flint and
steel, proceeded to light the fire and then to
encourage its combustion by the usual fin-
ger-twisting, scattering of salt, prayer, strik-
ing of sparks, and brandishing of \\\q. goJiei-

After the exorcism was well under way,
the head priest came forward and sat down
before the kettle in order to perfect the rite,
the acolyte falling back to the part of mute.
In keeping with the good man's extreme
purity, his finishing touches were very sim-
ple. They consisted of a soundless whistle
which he kept up through his pursed lips
and of certain archaic finger - charms sym-
bolic of pulling some very heavy substance
toward him. Then, still mutely whistling, he
sat perfectly still and watched.

He had not long to wait. Suddenly a roar
rose out of the body of the kettle, and at
almost the same instant the priest's own
body began to sway back and forth. Steam
followed the roar ; then, after a couple of sec-
onds, the roar ceased. We did not have to
be told that it was the voice of the Thunder-


God ; and when it ceased we knew the god
had gone.

Press of business the priest gave as excuse
for the shortness of the divine visit. But
indeed we were very fortunate, it seemed,
in getting him to come at all, for often
the deity does not deign to descend, even for
a moment, being otherwise occupied. Be-
sides, if every accessory be not perfectly pure
he refuses to come on conscientious grounds.

The priest averred that at the moment of
possession he always felt a violent punch in
his stomach. He also said that the swaying
of his body was to induce by symbolic trac-
tion the presence of the god, though it had
seemed a trifle late for the purpose. Doubt-
less the god can be so constrained, but doubt-
less, also, the kettle is for something in the
subsequent conversation. The slit- in its lid
has been suggested as capable of explaining
the miracle, could it only talk as well as it
can roar.


We now come to a miracle which might
possibly be turned to practical account. It is
perhaps the most wonderful of the objective
ones. It consists in bringing down fire from


heaven by simple incantation. The spark
thus obtained may be used to light any-
thing, the prehistoric two sticks preferably
for purposes of warmth At the time I was
shown this miracle, I was not in need of
caloric, — it was seventy-five degrees Fahren-
heit in the shade, — so I was permitted to
witness its working upon the comparatively
vile body of my own freshly filled, unlighted

This is a very difficult miracle. Indeed,
even when it succeeds it is scarcely an eco-
nomical method of firing one's tobacco day-
dreams, so much time and trouble does it
cost. But to epicureans who hunt new sen-
sations and to whom the one meaning of the
word "dear" is synonymous with the other,
it may safely be recommended. For it is not
likely as yet, if I may argue from my own
experience, to be generally taken up.

To insure success in the city, the day
should be sunshiny. Among the mountains
even a cloudy day will do, so I am informed.
I cannot speak confidently on this latter point,
because my own investigations were confined
to the ridge-pole of my house in town, and to
the turf immediately below it.


The priest who performed the miracle be-
gan by douching himself in the bathroom,
from which, between the plumps of water,
issued uncouth sounds, sputterings of for-
mulae and grunts as he finger-twisted. He
emerged with nothing on but a blue pocket-
handkerchief for loin-cloth, the small blue
and white rag with which the Japanese dab
themselves in lieu of towel. In this attire
he sallied forth into the garden, and select-
ing the side of a hill as a propitious spot,
squatted in the ordinary Japanese posture on
its slope.

Cradling the pipe between his hands, he
prayed over it exhaustively. Then he put
it, tilted toward the sun, in front of him, and
exorcised it very energetically by finger-
charms, one of which strikingly resembled
an imaginary burning-glass. There was, how-
ever, nothing between his fingers but air.
He had spent fifteen minutes thus in digital
contortions, when he suddenly stopped, dis-
tressed, and, complaining that the ants tickled
him by promenading over his bare skin, said
he thought he would go upon the roof. So
a ladder was brought and tilted against the
eaves, and up it he mounted to the tiles, and

94 OCCULT japan:

thence by easy slopes to the ridge-pole. In
this conspicuous yet solitary position he con-
tinued the incantation. Part of the time I
sat beside him on the roof ; part of the time
below upon the ground, looking intently up
into heaven for the advent of the god.

Three quarters of an hour passed thus in
momentary expectation of his descent, but
nothing happened. At last, much chagrined,
the priest informed us from the ridge-pole
that it was of no use that day, and came
down ; but he signified his intention of re-
peating the rite till he succeeded, and, with
this pious resolve, left.

True to his word, he was there again two
days later, and remembering poignantly the
disturbing ants, he decided to ascend at once
to the ridge-pole. Before he did so, I exam-
ined him to a certain extent, although he
had on only one of my own very smallest
towels. Then two of us took post in the gar-
den commanding the ridge-pole, and watched
him for the better part of an hour from our
vantage points. In another part of the gar-
den had been set the lunch table, also com-
manding the ridge-pole, for the expected
divine visit was sublimely ill-timed, and we


hoped thus, if necessary, to be able to com-
bine god and mammon. We put the evil
hour off as long as possible, till at last nature
could wait no longer, and we decided to sit
down to our delayed repast, firmly purposing
to keep one eye constantly on the exorcist.
We did so religiously till we forgot him a
moment for the vol-aii-vent. Suddenly the
man on the roof uttered a cry, went into inci-
pient convulsions, and threw the pipe off
into the garden, lighted. We instantly re-
pented our forgetfulness of the god, and
cursed our love of mammon. But too late,
as the miracle had been wrought.

Exactly how the miracle was managed, I
am unable to guess. The man certainly had
scant means of concealment about his bare
person. Naturally, however, we were not
satisfied, and he professed himself willing to
repeat the act. He tried the trick after this
time and time again, but never succeeded
more. So there this miracle remains, very
much in the air. But I should say that it
is said to be very commonly done ; a more
common thing, indeed, in Japan, than I can
conceive burning-glasses to be.

To make the catalogue complete, I ought


to mention what, spiritually viewed, are orna-
mental miracles — such as killing snakes and
bringing them to life again, rooting burglars
to the spot, arresting the attempts of assas-
sins in the act, and defending one's self
against discourteous dogs. But all such acts
need not be dwelt upon at length, as they
are very simple affairs to the truly good,
and, like some scientific inventions, too ex-
pensive for general use.


FTER the miracles, or possessions of
things, follow, in order of esoteric
ascension, the incarnations, or pos-
sessions of people.

The miracles, as I have hinted, are per-
formed largely with an eye, at least one eye,
to the public. To drench one's self with
scalding water or to saunter unconcernedly
across several yards of scorching coals are
not in themselves feats that lead particularly
to heaven, difficult as they may be to do.
Esoterically regarded, they are rather tests
of the proficiency already attained in the
Way of the Gods than portions of that way
needing actually to be traversed. The real
burning question is whether the believer be
pure enough to perform them pleasurably.
To establish such capability to one's own sat-
isfaction in the first place, and to the wonder


of an open-mouthed multitude in the second,
are the objects the pious promoters have in

Not so the incarnations. They too, in-
deed, serve a double purpose. But whereas
they are, like the miracles, measures of the
value of the purity of the man, they are also
practical mediums of exchange between the
human spirit and the divine. Foregone for
directly profitable ends, loss of self is the
necessary price of an instant part in the
kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps the most startling thing about
these Japanese divine possessions is their
number ; unless it be that being so numer-
ous they should have remained so long un-
known. But it is to be remembered that
what no one is interested to reveal may
stay a long while hid. For, with quite An-
glican etiquette, the Japanese never thought
to introduce their divine guests and their
foreign ones to each other. Once intro-
duced, the two must have met at every turn.
Indeed, the visitants from the spirit-world
remind one of those ghost-like forms of '
clever cartoonists, latent in the outlines of
more familiar shapes, till, by some chance


' divined, they start to view, to remain ever
after the most conspicuous things in the


Thoroughly religious, the possessions are
not in the least hierarchic. In theory
esoteric enough, in practice they are, in the
older sense of that word, profane. For god-
possession is no perquisite of the priests. It
is open to all the sufficiently pure. The
reason for this lack of exclusiveness is to be
sought in the essentially every-day family
character of Shinto. Everybody is a de-
scendant of the gods, and therefore intrinsi-
cally no less holy than his neighbor. Indeed,
if ease of intercourse be any proof of kin-
ship, the Japanese people certainly make
good their claim to divine descent. For
they pass in and out of the world beyond
as if it were part of this world below.

Purity is the one prerequisite to divine
possession, and though to acquire sufficient
purity be an art, it is an art patent rather in
the older unindividualized sense of the w^ord.
Any one who is pure may give lodgment to
a god, just as any plutocrat may entertain
modern royalty. The gods, like latter day
princes, are no respecters of persons. They


condescend to come wherever due prepa-
ration is made for them.. It is the host's
house, not the host that they visit ; the
presence of the host himself being graciously
dispensed with. The man's mind must have
been vacated of all meaner lodgers, includ-
ing himself, before the god will deign to
habit it, but who the man is, is immaterial.
Such humble folk as barbers and fishmongers
are among the most favored entertainers of

But though the social standing of the man
be immaterial, the social standing of the
god, on the other hand, is a most material
point in the matter. For mere association
with the supernatural is not in Japan neces-
sarily a question of piety or even of impiety.
Often it is pure accident. To become pos-
sessed by a devil, of which bewitchment by a
fox is the commonest form, may be so purely
an act of the devil that no blame beyond care-
lessness attaches to the unfortunate victim.
Religion claims no monopoly of intercourse
with the unseen. What religion does claim
is the ability to admit one to the very best
heavenly society. For, to say nothing of
mere animal spirits, there are all grades in


gods, good gods and bad gods, great gods
and little ones. Access to the most desir-
able divinities is the privilege to which the
church holds the keys.

Capability to commune is thus in a general
way endemic, much as salvation is held to be
in some places, or infant damnation in others.
And to Japanese thought the gods are very
close at hand. Unsuspected as such pres-
ence be by foreigners, in the people's eyes
the gods are constantly visiting their temples
and other favorite spots, in a most ubiqui-
tous manner. Indeed, after introduction to
their Augustnesses, one is tempted to in-
clude them in the census and to consider
the population of Japan as composed of
natives, globe-trotters, and gods.

The gods resemble the globe-trotters in
this, that both are a source of profit to the
people. For finding themselves in communi-
cation with the superhuman, the Japanese
early turned the intimacy to practical ac-
count. They importuned these their rela-
tives for that of which men stand most in
need, the curing of disease. Out of this
arose a national school of divinopathy.

Civilized cousins of the medicine-men of


North America, of the shamans of savage
tribes the world over, and of Christian sci-
entists generally, the Japanese practitioners
differ from most members of the profession
in the widespread popular character of their
craft. For though all the practitioners are
religious men, they are by no means all
priests. Except for a difference in degree,
the distinction between the priests who
practice and the practicing lay brethren lies
in the professional or avocational character
of their performance. The priests, of course,
have no other business than to bfe pious,
and to be temporarily a god is an easy exten-
sion to being perpetually godlike. The lay
brethren, on the other hand, practice such
possession only as an outside calling, each
having his more mundane trade to boot. The
above-mentioned barber, for example, besides
industriously shaving man, woman, and child,
— this detail of the toilet being universally
indulged in, in Japan, — was able to carry on
a very lucrative business as a popular other-
world physician. But he made no analogue
of the European barber - surgeon of times
gone by. No particular pursuit has privi-
lege of the divine practice, barbers being no


better than other folk in the eyes of the god.
A divinopathist's earthly trade may be any-
thing under heaven. Plastering and clerk-
ing in a wine-shop are among the latest
specimen occupations I have met with of
men thus engaged in business both with
this world and the next.

These doctors of divinity receive regular
diplomas, without which they are not allowed
to practice. Nominally they are not allowed
to practice with them, for in the certificates
no mention is made of the special object
for which the certificates are issued, permis-
sion being granted merely to perform prayer,
which comprehensive phrase covers a multi-
tude of saintly acts.

The reason the certificates read so beauti-
fully vague is not that religion conceives her
esoteric cults to be profoundly secret, but
that the government imagines them to be
barbarous because not in keeping with foreign
manners and customs. At the same time,
the paternal powers-that-be dare not pro-
scribe them. The fact is, they are both too
Japanese to be countenanced and too Jap-
anese to be suppressed ; so the authorities
wink at their practice. The Japanese gov-


ernment is, in more matters than this one, in
much the same awkward state of mind as the
Irish legislator, who declared himself to be
"for the bill and agin its enforcement."

Divinopathy has one great advantage over
other schools of medicine : by the very prep-
aration for healing others the physician heals
himself. For mere qualification to be a prac-
titioner is itself a preventive to earthly ills ;
much as vaccination precludes small-pox. The
only question might be whether the cure be
not worse than the complaint. After an
account of the rigid self-discipline to be
undergone before a diploma be possible, and
then largely kept up for it to continue
in force, I think it will seem uncommonly
open to the doubt. Yet there are plenty of
men who lead this life of daily hardship and
renunciation for the explicit purpose of en-
joying the life they renounce ; just as many
an invalid will give up all that makes life
worth living for the sake of living the unde-
sirable residue longer.

But if the self-martyrdom be duly per-
formed, the god practically always descends
on application, and vouchsafes his opinion as
to the cure of the complaint. Of course his


prescriptions are religiously followed, and if
report speak truth, with an unusually large
percentage of success. Any and all diseases
are thus cured on presentation, subject only
to the willingness of the god. This proviso
satisfactorily explains the few unfortunate

Divine possession is not limited in its
applications to the curing of disease. Natu-
rally the divine opinion is quite as valuable
on other subjects as on medicine, and is con-
sequently quite as much in demand. From
the nature of the gods themselves to the
weather of the coming month, anything a
man may w'ant to know is thus inquired
about of deity. Due care only must be
exercised to grade the importance of the
question to the importance of the gods. For
gods of high rank stand as much on their
dignity as men both in the matter of coming
and in the matter of talking after they have
come. I remember once a most superior
person, as gods go, who grew very angry
because I asked him a question he deemed
it beneath him to answer, although he had
descended on purpose to impart information,
and told me, quite up and down, to go to the


god of agriculture (Inari-sama) for trivialities
of the kind.

The character of the company sought is
what renders excessive self-mortification ne-
cessary. It is only to the very best heavenly
society that introductions are so hard to get.
Inferior gods permit intimacy on much easier
terms. Ordinary icJiiko, or trance-diviners,
for instance, whose deities rank much lower,
go through a preparation which is mild in


The one thing needful to insure divine
possession is purity. If you are pure, that
is, blank enough, you can easily give habita-
tion to a god. Now some men are born
blanker than others, but none are by nature
quite blank enough for religious purposes,
though secularly they often seem so. Addi-
tional vacuity must somehow be acquired,
the amount varying not only with the man,
but with the rank of the god by whom he
desires to be possessed. To reach this state
of inanity is the object of the austerities

In the days of Ry5bu there were two


classes of men who indulged in mortification
of the flesh to the attainment of thus losing
themselves, — gyoja snd skiiija. With pure
Shint5, that is, the present resurrection of
the past pure faith, these names are natu-
rally not popular, inasmuch as they savor of
the millennial lapse from orthodoxy. But
the course in practical piety pursued by the
would-be pure, having itself always been de
rigueur, remains still substantially the same.

Gyoja, translated, means "a man of auster-
ities;" and heaven is witness that he is.
Short of actual martyrdom, I can imagine few
thornier paths to perfection. He would seem
to need a cast-iron constitution to stand the
strain he cheerfully puts upon it. Even to be
a sJiinja necessitates a regimen that strikes
the unregenerate with awe. Though sJihija
means simply "a believer," the amount of
works this simple believer must perform be-
fore his faith is enough to be accepted would
appall most people.

The curriculum has this in common with
more secular ones, that whoso goes in at the
one end usually comes out at the other, un-
less protracted austerity fall upon him ; in
which case he quits in the middle. The fact


that so many graduate shows that no ex-
traordinary capacity is required to do so ; in-
deed, it is the capacity for incapacity that is
necessary. Plodding perseverance is what
wins the day. For the course is terrifically
arduous and terribly long.

To the purification of the spirit, the road
lies through the cleansing of the body. To
this end the two chief exercises are washing
{suigyo) and fasting {danjiki). Unlimited
bathing, with most limited meals ; such is
the backbone of the regimen. The external
treatment, being the more important of the
two, claims notice first.

Washing is the most obvious kind of puri-
fication the world over. Cleanliness, we say,
is next to godliness ; though at times in indi-
vidual specimens the two would seem not to
have made each other's acquaintance. But
in Japan cleanliness very nearly is godliness.
This charming compatibility is due possibly
to the godliness being less, but certainly
chiefly to the cleanliness being more.

Even secularly the Japanese are super-
naturally cleanly. Every day of their lives
forty millions of folk parboil like one. Nor

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Online LibraryPercival LowellOccult Japan; or, The way of the gods; an esoteric study of Japanese personality and possession → online text (page 5 of 18)