What kind of witch or wizard would be complete without a familar—that little helper animal that is used and abused by the spellcaster and performs all kinds of tasks for its baster? Today on A-Yokai-A-Day we dive deeper into wizard week with a fun little yokai type called shikigami.
Shikigami are a really interesting class of yokai. In theory, any yokai could be turned into a shikigami by a powerful enough sorcerer. Usually, though, they were smaller, weaker creatures who didn’t pose as much of a threat to their masters. Abe no Seimei, of course, was able to employ a number of shikigami due to his incredible skill at magic.
The rules of summoning and controlling spirits in Japan are closely related to Shinto cosmology and philosophy about how the soul works. They’re also related to the way ancient ghosts were pacified and turned into gods. Here is a very quick crash-course:
According to Shinto belief, humans and kami all have a soul known as mitama. A mitama is divided into four separate spirits, or tamashii, which oppose each other. These are controlled by another spirit, calling a naohi, which forms a connection between heaven and earth.
The four tamashii are aramitama, nigimitama, sakimitama, and kushimitama. Aramitama is the spirit of courage, perseverance, and extroversion. Nigimitama is the spirit of peace, harmony, and cooperation. Sakimitama is the spirit of happiness, love, and affection. Kushimitama is the spirit of wisdom, observation, and analysis. Aramitama and nigimitama oppose each other, while sakimitama and kushimitama are considered to be aspects of the nigimitama. All four of these spirits are controlled by the naohi—the oversoul—and they work together to form one soul.
When dealing with spirit summoning, it is important to know which tamashii you are dealing with. Nigimitama manifest as benevolent and helpful spirits. Aramitama manifest as raging, wild, dangerous spirits. These opposing tamashii differ so much—even within the same kami—that they can seem to be two separate beings. Much of Shinto is based on the concept of pacifying the aggressive aramitama and bringing forth the peaceful nigimitama.
Helpful prayers and songs are normally directed to the nigimitama of the kami in order to bring out its benevolence. Dark summoning and spells meant to harm others invoke the much more dangerous aramitama.
The art of controlling a shikigami is, of course, the art of speaking to the correct part of the spirit and avoiding invoking the wrath of the wrong part.
You’ll find shikigami in The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits, available on Amazon and wherever fine books are sold. Click on the image below to read the full entry on yokai.com:
Since you’ve mentioned the different parts of the soul, I’m curious when an Ikiryo is formed, is it usually one of the tamashii or are the concepts not connected?
Yes, the ikiryo is a perfect example of part of the soul manifesting and attacking someone. It works with the same rationale as a dead person’s ghost.