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Conch Shells and Ritual Sticks - Caniglia

Claudio Caniglia (SOAS) Conch shell and ritual sticks. Extraordinary and ordinary time during yamabushi practices

Claudio Caniglia

Conch shell and ritual sticks. Extraordinary and ordinary time during yamabushi practices

 

The ritual of the mountain retreat (nyūbu) performed by the Japanese mountain ascetics (yamabushi) until the Meiji period, was structured according to a complex symbolism involving many elements: embryology, agricultural cults of the mountain-harvest goddess and the tantric Buddhist idea of enlightenment in this very body (sokushin jōbutsu). 

After entering the “other” space of the mountain several rituals were performed with the aim of getting out from the ordinary dimension of time. The ascetic would reach a state in which he became detached from all bounds with the past and found himself in a ritual drama. Then going through all states of conditioned existence, he was finally reborn as a new entity endowed with the powers of the buddha/kami and able to put into practice his divinatory and magical-exorcist powers when upon his return to the secular world.  

The sacred time of the mountain retreat is marked by the succession of different rituals, started and closed by the sound of the conch shell, or by practices purifying the space, performed by striking together ritual sticks.  The meticulous organization of the mountain retreat period creates an extraordinary condition where time and mountain's sacred space end up being bound together determining the final empowerment of the mountain ascetic.

During his magical-exorcist activities, the yamabushi displays the power accumulated during the sacred ascent. To what extent the efficacy of this power is due to his breaking the ordinary time of the parishioner’s daily life by re-enacting the extraordinary condition of the mountain retreat?