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Evolution of the Wizard's Spirit helper: Medieval Heian to Contemporary Heisei shikigami

Tue, June 23, 2:00 to 3:55pm, South Building, Floor: 9th Floor, S904


Shikigami were originally goblin-like spirits who were abject servants for a ritual specialist in magic and divination. They served wizards (onmyōj) who held prominence during the Heian era (794 to 1185). The earliest visual images of shikigami show gnarled, distorted humanoid beings. Heian texts describe various types of shikigami, from paper effigies or inanimate objects transformed by the wizard into living spirit helpers, to animal or humanoid creatures with shapeshifting abilities. Shifting to Heisei era (1989 to present) media, we find that the spirit helper has been transformed into a cuter, more complex and resentful version of the medieval goblin. They frequently embody the aesthetic concept of guro-kawaii "grotesque cute." No longer simple wizard helpers, they are often aggrieved and cranky characters with complex personalities. Culture producers acknowledge and indulge contemporary preoccupations, especially those found in the lucrative girl culture market, and thus create a spectrum of cutely grotesque shikigami figures that appeal to these consumers. My goal is to focus attention on the way changes in representations of shikigami reflect larger cultural trends and cultural tensions.