Feb 5, 2016

Posted by in Death, Eastern Practices, Mythological Characters, Popular Culture | 0 Comments

Shinigami: Possessed By A God Of Death

Shinigami: Possessed By A God Of Death

shinigami1In many of the works of Western folklore, mythology, and religion there exists a specific deity or spectral presence responsible for gathering the souls of those whose earthly existence has come to an end. A common theme of some kind of personification of mortality or “death god” is often present to fulfill the role of psychopomp for the recently deceased. Typically having no influence on death’s natural selection, these soul collectors are merely cast as the shepherds of the fallen into the variously depicted afterlife scenarios that await them. In the contrasting culture of the Far East, however, the character described as a “god of death” in Japanese folklore has a distinctly more active and sinister function.

According to Japanese Buddhists faith, there is no divine being designated to the role of gathering souls and ushering them to the land of the dead. In Japan, the “death god” is instead an alternative supernatural being known as a shinigami. The ominous shinigami is a menacing spirit of legend with an infinitely intimidating power over its human prey. A shinigami has the unique ability to initiate an assault on any person it may choose with no need for physical weaponry of any kind. In fact, the only weapon the loathsome demon ever need draw on is simply thoughts that exist already within the mind of its victim.

A shinigami has the ability to manipulate the thinking of its victim and to essentially turn them into their own adversary. By using a person’s own self-doubt, insecurity, and shame, this monster is able to convince people that they no longer want to live. By possessing the mind of an individual and concentrating on all of the despair, suffering, and remorse present in their psyche, a shinigami causes the person to actually desire death. As a result of this internal torture, the target of the death spirit is ultimately provoked into committing suicide.

Shinigami are not often mentioned in classical Japanese literature. However, the term gains more frequent usage in works from the Edo Period (1603-1868). Shinigami are mentioned in association with the possession of humans and the poignant occurrences of double suicides. In some versions of shinigami tales, individuals are guided to a specific location for the purpose of ending their life. This can be referenced as an explanation for accounts of multiple suicides in one common location.

In some regions of Japan, folk customs indicate that certain rituals be observed in order to avoid a visit from a shinigami. In the Kumamoto Prefecture, it is customary for someone who has gone out during the evening hours to attend to someone to either eat a bowl of rice or to drink tea before they return to sleep, and this is believed to keep shinigami away. Similarly, visiting graves during the sunrise is avoided in the Okayama Prefecture to prevent a visit from the demon.

While the legend of the shinigami is one that has existed in Japan for many generations, most recently the formidable beasts of lore have been given new notoriety in the world of popular Japanese culture. Shinigami are turning up more and more frequently in mainstream art forms, like anime and manga. The fictional depictions of the death god are sometimes in tune with traditional folklore, but on occasion can also be surprisingly trendy versions of the infamous monster. Although it might seem like the disturbing reputation and history of the shinigami would make it an unlikely champion of popular media, the recurring appearances in movies, television, and video games seem to tell a strikingly different story. While Japan’s death god is quite possibly nasty enough to rattle even the Grim Reaper of Western fame, the shinigami has apparently also achieved that rare wicked charisma that holds society captive and has them eagerly demanding more.

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