NEO-SHAMANISM--Towards a Culture of Ex-stase
The Appearance of Intensive Expanse in the Digital Realm


ITOH: The "vision quest" rite that you performed in "Be Still, Sit And Listen Well" was not in a cave, but in its antithesis, at the top of a mountain. Up before the first morning light, watching this vantage point emerge from darkness into light, was like watching the border crossing between the living and the dead, I'm sure it must have been a place seeped in enormous powers. Could you tell us a little bit about the extase of this experience?

HOSONO: The town of Santa Fe itself is about 1,500 meters above sea level to begin with, and we climbed up from there, so the mountain that you see in that footage is over 2,000 meters above sea level. The shapes and forms in the surrounding landscapes are truly fascinating. It was certainly unlike any that one could experience in Japan. When you arrive at the top of the "table mountain," you find it an enormous plain, very much like one might imagine heaven to be like. You really think that it would be a perfect place to take a nap on a nice day. It is entirely covered with something like a moss. Walking on it is like floating on air, it really feels good. There are rattlesnakes here and there though, so you do have take some care. (laughs)

The point of the whole exercise is to find the highest point in the vicinity, and pray facing the rising sun. And then you have to follow the sun. You're not allowed to wait around. Once the sun has risen you need to then follow that, and then wait around on the mountain for the next perspective. It's as though power really came off of the mountain, and you're trying to stay in the center of its expression.

ITOH: It is said that the shaman makes his base in a continuum between the living, the dead and the natural world, not only as a medium between humans and the holy ghost, but also for any number of other forces that come to call from the other side. I'm curious about Shin'ichi's special interest in the Mt. Mitsumori (Yamagata Prefecture, at the edge of Tsuruoka City) rite, where on the first day of bon [Buddhist All Souls Day] in the old Chinese calendar a multitude of souls assemble. On that day and only that one day in the whole year they bring out the Uba-sama Kuneri or "Twisted Old Broad," a strange and portentous wooden sculpture of an elderly woman, and perform the mori kuyo--rite of bon. Then carrying the Twisted Old Broad, the living climb up the mountain to meet a multitude of the dead. I suppose that mountains are especially good paths for commuting dead souls--NAKAZAWA, what do you think?

NAKAZAWA: The word "mori" [sacred ground or forest] in "mori kuyo" apparently has its linguistic origins in the word "death." In the old days the dead were buried in the forests. These days when we want to go meet the dead we go to the cemetery.

That particular All Souls Rite in Yamagata that you mention is interesting. The Twisted Old Broad is like the oarsperson in the river Styx, of course. They have her likeness carved in wood, her torso bare. She's like a big old raisin! (laughs) No, but she's really eerily impressive, expressing incredible female power--the townspeople actually hide her likeness away for the rest of the year. Only during All Souls Day does she make her appearance, and then everybody's working together, carrying her on their backs into the mountains from dusk till dawn. And we follow along. Once we're just about reaching the belly of the mountain, there comes this terrifying moaning sound from up ahead. We carry on until the depths of the forest, until we find the altar for sharing our alms with the dead, and we have a huge rite there. So they do this communion of bon all very literally: the living go where the dead souls come, share the food and spend several hours together.

I was really intrigued by this moaning sound, so I asked a friend from the local community. He said that there are a bunch of kids who set out along a parallel ridge to make a quick buck. They're the ones doing the moaning. They're little urchins, really. Symbols of hell. And these kids are allowed, only this one day each year, to pillage the adults. They've set out before we do. And they ask for money. They even have the right to refuse passage if we don't pay. The kids are roping off parts of the path and waiting for us. Some of them come home with as much as 100 dollars for one night's plunder!! (laughs)

But this kind of ritual is not limited to Japan--you can find them everywhere in the world. Kids at Christmas are originally the same thing. Why is it that children receive Christmas presents, do you think? It is because they are the residents of the land of death. Christmas is a ritual for experiencing this phenomenon. In Europe it still carries some of these connotations, I suppose. That's why when DICKENS wrote A Christmas Carol, he had so many apparitions of death visiting Mr. Scrooge. That story is precisely what Christmas was originally all about--a ritual where we are revisited by the dead. The media for these appearances are the children, who carry instruments. The children make a complete ruckus with them, and the dead appear along with this noise.

ITOH: You once wrote, "Through bringing back multiple manner of encounters with the dead, the living gain an unparalleled new perspective on what it means to be alive." This seems one new way of apprehending shamanism.

NAKAZAWA: It could be an issue of memory. We all live with the memories of the dead. We exist together with memory. We are living here now, in this same space, this same place where other souls went before us. This hall is in this corner of Shinjuku--this, right here, was once the haunt of hunters and practitioners of shamanistic religions. The dead are watching us. And to say that they are watching us, is nothing more than a recognition of the fact that we live within a collective memory, a memory which in itself exists to illuminate some meaning about our existence. It is no more definitive than any meaning of any other time. Not any more definitive than the value of any one thing can define the value of all things. Any thing must have been appraised very differently in a different time. And the people who understood that different value were living in a world with just as much integrity as we. We are living completely surrounded by such collective memories. And the fact that we live our life surrounded in their collective memories only points to the fact that we are coexisting with them. This relates very closely to our problems in understanding history.

Another thing which is important to state here is that we human beings are extase culture-producing animals. I think that this is really one of humanity's epoch-making subtexts. In many ways, humans are creatures just dying to get outside of themselves. They're always trying to develop new systems for this great escape, in one way or another. Take identities, for example. People form identities to create themselves within. And then the things which sort of stick out, or leap out of my "identity" attach themselves to others', maybe the things in Chihiro's personality that don't quite fit inside of "himself."

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