Jan 28, 2016

Mamemaki ritual and the Setsubun folklore

     February is crawling upon us, this year having an extra day too. It’s a month when we celebrate the “Imbolc” or “Candlemas” , and it’s a month that is thought to precede the arrival of the spring, and announces it, in spiritual thought. Indeed, for those parts of the planet that are blessed with seasons ( lol ), it does mark a period of more fair, if a bit moody weather. It already “smells” like spring where I am. The Snowbells are probably out already too, and soon the Saffron flowers, Buttercups and Daisies will follow, if this weather keeps up.

    Therefore, it’s hardly a surprise that the many civilizations and cultures associate it with the arrival of the spring and the end of the “dark” part of the year. The day lengthens, and people divine weather by signs. Make Imbolc Maiden beds, and do rituals to chase away the bad luck, and misfortune and replace it with the good luck. In thoughts of some civilization, it’s pretty much the actual New Year’s celebration. A good example is the Setsubun, a day that marks the begging of the spring in Japan.

    Setsubun significance and rituals

    Setsubun is a religious and public holiday (although not a national holiday) in Japan, commemorating seasonal division, and the begging of the spring, modeling after “Tsuina” an older Chinese custom that influenced the Setsubun rituals and customs. [1]
Oni Demon face/mask is a popular
    tattoo  design, here with a blue face,
but equally often with red . Oni demons
are the ones being banished with
the Mamemaki ritual

    It’s celebrated on the 3rd or 4th   of the February, the day before the start of the spring, according to Lunar calendar of Japan. Some of the customs and celebrations date back to the 13th century [2]
    The festivities include dancing, singing, throwing roasted soy beans, money inside envelopes, candy, treats, glitter, and religious ritual intended to deter and banish evil spirits, and draw fortune. The last is associated with the belief that, much like in the case of the European Samhain, or Midsummer, the veils between the worlds are thin on this day. Another example of similar notion taking important part of the holiday lore,  is the Chinese ghost month, of the Hungry Ghost month . And the other important lore of the Setsubun is focused on drawing the fortune. Hence the rituals with throwing lucky and auspicious things, namely “fuku mame” ( lit. “lucky beans” ) , which are roasted soybeans, or in some parts of Japan peanuts, although the latter is much less frequently used. So in that sense, Setsubun in much of a New year type of spiritual time, and is ideal  for cutting ties with the misfortune, disease, and damaging, and replacing it with health, fortune and helpful.

      Traditional Sake with ginger is drank during this festival, and some of the roasted soybeans are eaten, traditionally the number of beans eaten corresponds the number of the age of person, or the number of the age of person plus one for luck. The bean throwing ritual, also known as “Mamemaki” can be performed in the temples, at the public ceremonies, or at homes in the family circle, or both. It’s customary for people to get together on this day and often the celebrities and sumo-wrestlers are invited to take part in public celebrations.

     Sardine heads for protection

     Sardine heads are a peculiar choice of an amulet, by Japanese people, hung on the doors alongside the branches of Holly, tied with a knotted rope on Setsubun, so that they deter the evil spirits from entering the premises. Sometimes soybean husks are hung alongside the fish head. In some more archaic rituals, the sardine heads, well dry, and old wood were burnt, and smoke was wafted to chase away the evil spirits, often accompanied by sounds of drums. Although archaic, these types of rituals are still practiced today in some parts. [3]
     The Mamemaki ritual

Roasted soybeans
as used in  the Mamemaki
ritual. They serve both for throwing
outside or on person wearing an Oni
mask, and to be eaten for attracting
the good fortune/luck
     This ritual is done, to repel the Oni demons, a blue or red-headed troll like creatures from Shintoism lore, believed to bring diseases, misfortune and other bad things to people. Reportedly, the soybeans, while raw hard, and pretty much inedible, by being processed by fire become edible and symbolize thus the conquering of hard, dangerous Oni demons. In that sense, the ritual of throwing and then eating the beans, is like the fire which softens them. Thrown at the demons, they are symbols of their defeat. So there’s a bit of   sympathetic magick in the rite. Also, all beans are considered lucky in Japanese folklore, hence the inclusion of such in a ritual that both repels and drives away evil.

      The  very ritual is typically described in the following manner:

On Setsubun, each household loads up asakemasu, the wooden box in which sake is sometimes served, with roasted daizu, or soybeans. Then the head of the household (or a male in the household whose Chinese zodiac animal matches that particular year) throws handfuls of beans outside of the front entrance while chanting, “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (“Demons outside, good luck inside”).

Sometimes the rest of the household chants along, “Gomottomo, gomottomo” (“That’s right, that’s right”) as he performs this task; some, especially the kids, play the part of oni by donning paper masks and running from the bean-thrower. This ritual is called mamemaki, or the scattering of beans. Afterward, everyone eats the same number of roasted beans as their age for luck.” [4]

     So we see that the beans are thrown either around the houses, temples, or at the person/people wearing the Oni masks. The last is a typical roleplay ritual, not completely unlike those performed by Wiccans for example. Sometimes these beans are thrown vigorously through the open door, the phrases is spoken/yelled and then the doors are violently and swiftly shut close. This is a practice common for many spirit banishing spells, or spells and rituals that symbolize cutting ties with something bad.

     As an interesting side note; a somewhat comparable ritual with beans, was done during the Roman Saturnalia ( Sol Invictus ) , for the similar purpose, only that the ancient Romans were driving away the evil spirits of the dead, known as Larvae and Lemuri. Incidentally, or not, this was also a celebration which is similarly considered a New Year’s celebration festivity.

     Ehoumaki, the huge lucky sushi roll

     Another, more popular and urban tradition associated with the Setsubun holiday in Japan, is eating the fas sushi roll ( “futomaki” ) which contains 7 ingredients, on this day and it’s called “Ehoumaki” ( Ehou being pronounced much like the “echo” ) and must be ate facing a specific lucky direction.
     The ehoumaki may be purchased in the stores,  as they are readily available in time of the holiday but there are some requirements that must be met in order for it to work it’s lucky charm; it must contain seven ingredients, if possible ones reputed to be lucky, it must not ( under any circumstances ) be cut, and it must be ate in silence, facing a specific lucky direction which changes from year to year. [5]

Don’t forget that about Imbolc/Candlemas  and Valentine’s Day  , which are also in February.
Lots of love and many Blessings


NOTES: This article was written and composed by myself, so If You wish to use any parts of it elsewhere online feel free, but do add credits; Shadow of the Shadows magick place, or  Shadow-333@hotmail.com or a direct link to this post


[3] Acc. to the source listed under [2]
[4] Retrieved from: https://japanesemythology.wordpress.com/banishing-demons-one-bean-at-a-time/ for educational, informative and explanatory purposes, without any ill will
[5]  Acc. to http://justhungry.com/ehou-maki-lucky-long-sushi-roll-setsubun-no-hi , also recipes for ehoumaki provided there

Oni demon face/mask tattoo design   http://www.tattoobite.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/blue-oni-mask-and-waves-tattoo-design.jpg      Both used here for illustrative and explanatory purposes without any ill will

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