Abe No Seimei - Life and Legends

Life and Legends


Japanese Mythology & Folklore

Mythic Texts and Folktales:
Kojiki | Nihon Shoki | Fudoki
Kujiki | Kogo Shūi | Nihon Ryōiki
Otogizōshi | Oiwa | Okiku | Urashima Tarō
Konjaku Monogatari

Divinities
Izanami | Izanagi | Amaterasu
Susanoo | Ame-no-Uzume | Inari
Kami | Seven Lucky Gods | List of divinities

Legendary Creatures & Spirits
Oni | Kappa | Tengu | Fox | Yōkai
Dragon | Yūrei | List of creatures

Legendary Figures
Abe no Seimei | Benkei | Kintarō
Momotarō | Tamamo-no-Mae | Sōjōbō

Mythical & Sacred Locations
Mt. Hiei | Mt. Fuji | Izumo | Ryūgū-jō | Takamagahara | Yomi | Jigoku

Sacred Objects
Amenonuhoko | Kusanagi | Tonbogiri
Three Sacred Treasures

Shintō & Buddhism
Bon Festival | Setsubun | Ema | Torii
Shinto shrines | Buddhist temples

Folklorists
Kunio Yanagita, Keigo Seki, Lafcadio Hearn, Shigeru Mizuki, Inoue Enryo

Seimei's life is well recorded, and there is little question about it. Immediately after his death, however, legends arose much like those surrounding Merlin. Many legends of Seimei were originally written in the Konjaku Monogatarishu, and by the Edo period there were many stories in circulation that focused on his heroic acts.

Abe no Seimei was a descendant of the poet Abe no Nakamaro and a disciple of Kamo no Tadayuki and Kamo no Yasunori, 10th-century diviners of the Heian court. He became Kamo no Yasunori's successor in astrology and divination, while Yasunori's son took on the lesser responsibility of devising the calendar. Seimei's duties included analyzing strange events, conducting exorcisms, warding against evil spirits, and performing various rites of geomancy. He was said to be especially skilled in divining the sex of fetuses and finding lost objects. According to the Konjaku Monogatarishu, he correctly predicted the abdication of Emperor Kazan based on his observation of celestial phenomena.

Seimei's reputation grew sufficiently that, from the late 10th century, the Onmyōryō, the government ministry of onmyōdō, was controlled by the Abe clan. The Kamo clan likewise became the hereditary keepers of the calendar.

The mystical symbol of the equidistant five-pointed star, referred to in the West as a pentagram, is known in Japan as the Seiman or the Seal of Abe no Seimei.

According to legend, Abe no Seimei was not entirely human. His father, Abe no Yasuna, was human, but his mother, Kuzunoha, was a kitsune (a "fox spirit"). At a very early age, no later than five, he was allegedly able to command weak oni to do his bidding. His mother entrusted Seimei to Kamo no Tadayuki so that he would live a proper human life and not become evil himself.

The Heian period, especially the time when Seimei lived, was a time of peace. Many of his legends revolve around a series of magical battles with a rival, Ashiya Doman, who often tried to embarrass Seimei so that he could usurp his position. One noted story involved Doman and the young Seimei in a divination duel to reveal the contents of a particular box. Doman had another person put fifteen mandarin oranges into the box and "divined" that there were fifteen oranges in it. Seimei saw through the ruse, transformed the oranges into rats, and stated that fifteen rats were in the box. When the rats were revealed, Doman was shocked and defeated.

Seimei is involved in numerous other tales as well. He appears as a minor character in the Heike Monogatari and is said to be responsible for divining the location of the Shuten-dōji, a powerful oni purportedly slain by Minamoto no Yorimitsu. He is sometimes said to be the onmyōji who discovered Tamamo no Mae's true nature, although the time of the Tamamo no Mae story does not coincide with Seimei's lifetime; other sources credit the act to a descendant, Abe no Yasuchika.

  • Torii of the Seimei shrine in Kyoto.

  • Seimei's pentagram mon represents the Wu Xing.

Read more about this topic:  Abe No Seimei

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