Onmyoji Meaning: What is Onmyoji? History and Magics

May 28, 2021 | Blogs, Japanese Learning

Let’s learn about “Onmyoji.” We are going to learn what exactly the meaning of Onmyoji is, the history of Onmyoji & the famous Onmyoji in Japanese history, and what kind of magic & spell they were able to use. You might have seen Onmyoji characters in Anime and know what they are like. But by reading this article, you will have a better understanding of Onmyoji.

Onmyoji in Japanese:

Hiragana(ひらがな): おんみょうじ

Kanji(漢字): 陰陽師

What is Onmyoji?


Onmyoji (陰陽師おんみょうじ): A master of Onmyodo.

Onmyodo (陰陽道おんみょうどう): A system of natural science, astronomy, almanac, divination, and magic that developed independently in Japan based on the Chinese philosophies of yin and yang and wu xing (five elements). – Wikipedia 

If you are an Anime fan and have already watched lots of Anime series, you would definitely have seen a character wearing Kariginu (image below), making a pentagram, or summoning creatures by using small paper.

Kariginu (狩衣): Clothes worn by Court nobles in the Heian period and afterward.

Kariginu [image]

onmyoji meaning

And you might wonder whether those characters calling themselves Onmyoji were based on something or were completely fictional groups of people.

Onmyoji did exist back in Japanese history. They were civil servants working as both scholars and advisers. With the knowledge of the theory of Yin-Yang and the five elements and the magic they use such as fortunetelling, they worked mostly for governments and court nobles.

History of Onmyoji

Onmyoji was the name of the government post in ancient Japan (Nara period [710 – 794] ~ Heian period [794 – 1185]). Nowadays we know that all magic or spiritual things aren’t real. However, at this time in Japan, people were more likely to believe in those things including the existence of demons and ghosts. So when people encountered some disaster, they relied on the power of Onmyoji.

There is the famous Onmyoji from Japanese history who has been portrayed in many films and Anime series that you may be familiar with.

Abe no Seimei (安倍 晴明)

Abe no Seimei was born in 921, studied Onmyōdō and astronomy. He became a civil servant in 948, earned the title of Doctor of Astronomy in 960, and gained the trust of emperors and court nobles as an adviser. He lived his long life as the greatest Onmyoji until he dies at age 84.

Seimei’s Mother Was A Fox?

onmyoji meaning: kuzunoha

One of the most famous legends about Seimei we know today is that Seimei was born from a fox. His father, Abe no Yasuna (安倍 保名) was a human but his mother, Kuzunoha (葛の葉) was a fox spirit in human form.

Seimei vs Doman

Ashiya Doman (蘆屋 道満) was also an Onmyoji who had the same level of magical power as Seimei. Even though there are many contradictions and a lack of explanations in history books about Doman that makes many people think that Doman was a fictional person, he is known as Seimei’s long-time rival. He is often portrayed as a villain in fiction.

There was one story from the history book. Seimei and Doman faced each other in the Onmyoji divination battle in front of the emperor and court nobles. Both Seimei and Doman agreed that the loser of this battle has to be a disciple of the winner. The emperor brought the closed box with 15 oranges inside and asked them to answer what’s in the box.

First, Doman answered that there are 15 oranges in the box. Next, Seimei saw 15 oranges inside of the box, transformed 15 oranges into 15 rats, and answered that there are 15 rats in the box. 

The emperor was disappointed in Seimei until he saw 15 rats from opened box. He claimed Seimei’s victory and Doman humiliatingly became Seimei’s disciple.

Seimei Shrine (晴明神社)

seimei shrine

Seimei Shrine or Seimei-Jinja (晴明神社) is located in Kyoto, Japan. This Shrine was built by order of the emperor Ichijō. The construction was completed in 1007 (2 years after Seimei’s death) at locations of Onmyoji’s former home. 

Seimei Shrine (address):
806 Ichijō-agaru, Horikawa-dōri, Kamigyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-ken 〒602-8222

Magics & Spells

Now we know the meaning of Onmyoji and their history. Let’s see what kind of magical power they had. Onmyoji developed many of their magics during the period they served as civil servants. Those three written below are the most famous ones.

Pentagram (五芒星)

onmyoji meaning: pentagram

From the ancient western & eastern world, Pentagram is known as a symbol that has a mythical power. In Onmyodo, Pentagram represents the Theory of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements. Five elements are wood, fire, mud, gold, and water. Onmyoji created the power of spiritual protection by drawing a Pentagram or holding something that has Pentagram in it.

Shikigami (式神)

onmyoji meaning: shikigami

Probably the most famous magic of Onmyoji. Shikigami is a ghost or demon that is summoned by Onmyoji from Washi (和紙), a Japanese traditional paper. In Anime, Shikigami is something Onmyoji summon to fight, but according to the history book, Shikigami was used in various ways such as being a security guard in important places or helping people to support their jobs.

Kodoku (蠱毒)

onmyoji meaning: kodoku

Kodoku means a curse poison, it was founded in ancient China and introduced into Japan. To create Kodoku, Onmyoji put a lot of venomous creatures in one vase and let them kill each other until there is only one alive which poison is going to be used as Kodoku. 

That is all about Onmyoji meaning, history, and magics. I hope you find this article helped you learn more about Onmyoji.

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