Onmyouji

An onmyoudou practitioner was a part of a proud and influential profession in Japan starting about the 7th century. It utilizes a style of magic spell casting and a mix of science and occultism. The Yin-Yang and Five Elements aspects came to Japan from China, and were further influenced by Taoism, Buddhism, and Shintoism.   Examples of what an Onmyouji practices include divination, the Five Elements, Yin and Yang, shikigami, ofuda, astrology, the Rokuyou--6 day lucky and unlucky calendar, and alchemy. They are powerful mages and have deep knowledge of their specialties.  

Quick History

To deal with imposters, the Tsuchimikado family (related to Emperor Tsuchimikado who reigned from 1198 to 1210, and descended from one of the most famous omyouji--Abe no Seimei), setup an onmyoudou system that licensed and trained practitioners. Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi was the one to sign off on this in 1683. The next year the Shogunate created the Office of Astronomy, and the calendar creation duties shifted from the Imperial Court's office to their own. Onmyoudo came to guide many aspects of the Shogunate.   Onmyoudou was prohibited by the Meiji government in 1870, the first in a series of bans of popular religious practioners. One might think this was because Japan didn't want to seem backward to the West in a time of rapid modernization and industrialization. But it is more likely that the Meiji government ousted the ommyouji because they were linked with the government of the Shogunate, which they had toppled just a few years before.   Tsuchimikado Yukitada saw the decline in the call for his brand of magic, and wrote all he knew of it in his treatise, the Onmyoudou and Ofuda: A Research Compendium, to ensure the knowledge would be kept for the future.  

Modern Day

In 2006, the prohibition was lifted. So now anyone may become an onmyouji.   Old influences of the profession still show up in Japanese culture. One example of this is the 6 day cycle of lucky and unlucky days often seen in small print on modern Gregorian calendars. Lucky days are more expensive for events such as weddings, and you can find discounts on the unlucky days.  

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Alternative Names
陰陽師, Onmyoudou practitioner
Famous Onmyouji
Abe no Seimei was one of the most well known onmyouji.
Abe no Seimei
Abe no Seimei by Kikuchi Yosai


Cover image: Tengu Bronze by Kawanabe Kyōsai

Comments

Author's Notes

Important References

The Development of Early Modern Onmyōdō by Hayashi Makoto
The Oriental Magical Practice of Onmyōdō and Its Checkered History


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