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KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Lafcadio Hearn) online
OF A MIRROR AND A BELL
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Now there are queer old Japanese beliefs in the magical efficacy of a certain mental operation implied, though not described, by the verb nazoraeru. The word itself cannot be adequately rendered by any English word; for it is used in relation to many kinds of mimetic magic, as well as in relation to the performance of many religious acts of faith. Common meanings of nazoraeru, according to dictionaries, are "to imitate," "to compare," "to liken;" but the esoteric meaning is to substitute, in imagination, one object or action for another, so as to bring about some magical or miraculous result.
For example:-- you cannot afford to build a Buddhist temple; but you can easily lay a pebble before the image of the Buddha, with the same pious feeling that would prompt you to build a temple if you were rich enough to build one. The merit of so offering the pebble becomes equal, or almost equal, to the merit of erecting a temple... You cannot read the six thousand seven hundred and seventy-one volumes of the Buddhist texts; but you can make a revolving library, containing them, turn round, by pushing it like a windlass. and if you push with an earnest wish that you could read the six thousand seven hundred and seventy-one volumes, you will acquire the same merit has the reading of them would enable you to gain... So much will perhaps suffice to explain the religious meanings of nazoraeru.
The magical meanings could not all be explained without a great variety of examples; but, for present purposes, the following will serve. If you should make a little man of straw, for the same reason that Sister Helen made a little man of wax,-- and nail it, with nails not less than five inches long, to some tree in a temple-grove at the Hour of the Ox (2),-- and if the person, imaginatively represented by that little straw man, should die thereafter in atrocious agony,-- that would illustrate one signification of nazoraeru... Or, let us suppose that a robber has entered your house during the night, and carried away your valuables. If you can discover the footprints of that robber in your garden, and then promptly burn a very large moxa on each of them, the soles of the feet of the robber will become inflamed, and will allow him no rest until he returns, of his own accord, to put himself at your mercy. That is another kind of mimetic magic expressed by the term nazoraeru. And a third kind is illustrated by various legends of the Mugen-Kane.
After the bell had been rolled into the swamp, there was, of course, no more chance of ringing it in such wise as to break it. But persons who regretted this loss of opportunity would strike and break objects imaginatively substituted for the bell,-- thus hoping to please the spirit of the owner of the mirror that had made so much trouble. One of these persons was a woman called Umegae,-- famed in Japanese legend because of her relation to Kajiwara Kagesue, a warrior of the Heike clan. While the pair were traveling together, Kajiwara one day found himself in great straits for want of money; and Umegae, remembering the tradition of the Bell of Mugen, took a basin of bronze, and, mentally representing it to be the bell, beat upon it until she broke it,-- crying out, at the same time, for three hundred pieces of gold. A guest of the inn where the pair were stopping made inquiry as to the cause of the banging and the crying, and, on learning the story of the trouble, actually presented Umegae with three hundred ryo (3) in gold. Afterwards a song was made about Umegae's basin of bronze; and that song is sung by dancing girls even to this day:--
Umegae no chozubachi tataite
["If, by striking upon the wash-basin of Umegae, I could make honorable money come to me, then would I negotiate for the freedom of all my girl-comrades."]
After this happening, the fame of the Mugen-Kane became great; and many people followed the example of Umegae,-- thereby hoping to emulate her luck. Among these folk was a dissolute farmer who lived near Mugenyama, on t he bank of the Oigawa. Having wasted his substance in riotous living, this farmer made for himself, out of the mud in his garden, a clay-model of the Mugen-Kane; and he beat the clay-bell, and broke it,-- crying out the while for great wealth.
"Then, out of the ground before him, rose up the figure of a white-robed woman, with long loose-flowing hair, holding a covered jar. And the woman said: "I have come to answer your fervent prayer as it deserves to be answered. Take, therefore, this jar." So saying, she put the jar into his hands, and disappeared.
Into his house the happy man rushed, to tell his wife the good news. He set down in front of her the covered jar,-- which was heavy,-- and they opened it together. And they found that it was filled, up to the very brim, with...
But no! -- I really cannot tell you with what it was filled.