A-Yokai-A-Day: Abe no Seimei

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Owls and cats are of course staples of Halloween lore, but what about the people who use them? That’s right, I’m talking about wizards, witches, and warlocks! This week I will be detailing the most famous Japanese wizard and some of the magic that he used.

Japanese folklore has no shortage of magic users, and I’ve detailed quite a few of them on yokai.com. Today’s yokai is not a yokai at all, but a man—an actual historical figure who really lived, and who has entered the realm of folklore due to the sheer number of legends surrounding him and his life. I sometimes describe him to people who are new to Japanese folklore as “Japan’s Merlin” because he plays a somewhat similar role in literature and folklore; although those kind of East-West comparisons are only good for the most superficial connections, and I feel like it’s better to avoid them once you’re past the introductory stages. In any case, Abe no Seimei is a name that anyone delving into the realms of Japanese magic and superstition will run into sooner or later.

Abe no Seimei was an onmyōji, which is kind of like a court wizard in the classical period of Japanese history, about 1000 years ago. The onmyōji studied Taoism, Buddhism, Wu Xing (Chinese elemtantal theory), astrology, and other forms of esoteric knowledge. They were in charge of organizing the calendar for the imperial court, making sure important events fell on auspicious days and so on. They tried to read the future for the emperor and his family. They provided spells to protect the royals. They were so important that they even had an entire bureau of government, and at times wielded considerable influence. Abe no Seimei was the most powerful and famous onmyōji that ever lived, and he is one of the reasons that the onmyōji became as powerful as they did. There are tons of stories about him and his adventures, but I tried to condense them into a digestable readup. Click the image below to learn all about him!

This entry comes from my book The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits—which came out last year—and has no yet appeared on yokai.com yet. One of the nice things about A-Yokai-A-Day is that it gives me a chance to share some of my entries which haven’t yet appeared outside of paper and ink. If you like today’s entry, you’ll love The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits, as it contains an entire chapter on magic and onmyōdō


Abe no Seimei

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