Was he a magician? The legend of Abe no Seimei.

Did he actually have special powers, or was it just a myth? There was a yin-yang master (Onmyōji) named Abe no Seimei who used to be active in Japan.

Born in 921, it was said that he had superhuman powers.


Background of the era

The Heian Period was an age when the aristocracy was at the centre. The capital was called “Heiankyo” and was located in present-day Kyoto. Heiankyo was a place of self-interest and greed, and surprisingly demons would apparently appear.

Marriage in this era was called “kayoi-kon” (commuter marriage). The husband would commute to the wife’s house to live there. When the husband stopped going there, it would signal the end of the marriage. Many women were abandoned, and it is said that their resentment became a curse and then a grudge.

This curse would turn humans into demons between 1 and 3 o’clock at night. It was a time when going out at midnight was forbidden.

Profession: Onmyoji (lit: yin and yang master)
Onmyōji is a profession of fortunetelling and prayer based on the “Yin-Yang and Five Elements” (Yin-Yang-Go-Yo) philosophy, which originated in China. As mentioned above, it played an important role in the demon frequented Heiankyo and held a central position in the government.


The legend of Abe no Seimei

He has left behind quite an assortment of legends. These include curing the emperor’s unexplained illnesses, bringing rain to areas suffering from water shortages, and sealing off demons and ghosts – truly magician-level activities.

He could use a technique called “shikigami”. This is the art of summoning demons and making them obey one’s commands. He had a shikigami guarding his home, but that’s not all.

It is said that he also had the shikigami do household chores such as cleaning. However, he kept it away from his home because his wife was afraid of it, so it is clear that he always had a shikigami with him.

Seimei was asked, “Are shikigami really that strong? Can it kill that frog in the pond?” In response, he takes a leaf in his hand, chants a spell and then throws the leaf at the frog. It is crushed the moment it lands on it.

There is even a legend that he revived his murdered father. If you cross this man, you are in for trouble.


How about Seimei’s parents?

His father was human, but legend has it that his mother was a nine-tailed fox. In ancient Japan foxes were creatures that had the power to deceive humans, but a nine-tailed fox held special powers, meaning that Seimei would also have had some superpowers too.

Could you be given the power of Seimei?

There are several shrines in Japan dedicated to Abe no Seimei. One of these is the Abe Seimei shrine in Kyoto, built on the site where Seimei was born.

Another is the Nagoya Seimei Shrine in Aichi Prefecture, which was built as a shrine after Seimei’s living quarters when he killed poisonous snakes.

And also Kumano Shrine in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo, has a strong legendary connection with Seimei.

Maybe the number of people in the world today who are frustrated and resentful because of war and recession is increasing. Perhaps there are demons walking the streets, invisible to the eye. Even today, Abe no Seimei is used as a theme in anime, manga and dramas.

Perhaps in each and every one of us is the hope for a superhero like him.


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