[Anime] Occult aspects in ‘Kyousougiga’ – Tetragrammaton, esoteric Buddhism and Lurianic Kabbalah

This post assumes prior knowledge of the anime series. Discussions with spoilers after the jump.

<em>Kyousougiga</em> [京騒戯画] (2013) - TV anime produced by Toei Animation

Kyousougiga [京騒戯画] (2013) – TV anime produced by Toei Animation


What a hermetic show is Kyousougiga [京騒戯画]!

And lest you miss how hermetic it is, the producers of this show even give names like “learning preparation” [予習] and “learning review” [復習] to certain episodes, as if to emphasize that you are supposed to be “studying” it. While some shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion throw around cool-sounding occult terminologies in their dialogues necessarily or unnecessarily, other shows like Kyousougiga are free of occult terminologies but the story itself is nothing less than a soul-drama drawing on different spiritual traditions. Below is just a few points I wish to highlight.


Tetragrammaton and the Divine Family

The four main characters in the story are father, mother, son and daughter. Since both father and son have the exact same name, and the names of mother and daughter are pronounced exactly the same but written differently, to avoid confusion I shall refer to them as:

  • Myōefather
  • Myōeson 
  • Kotomother
  • Kotodaughter

This four-character setup runs parallel to some esoteric interpretations of Tetragammaton, or YHWH, in which the mysteries of being and existence are said to be hidden. The four letters in YHWH (yod heh vah heh) symbolize father, mother, son and daughter respectively. The occultist Walter Jantschik (1939 – 2013) explains the hidden magical formula in The Formula of Tetragrammaton (1986) thus:

The Union of the Father and the Mother produces Twins, the son going forward to the daughter, the daughter returning the energy to the father; by this cycle of change the stability and eternity of the Universe is assured.

It is necessary, in order to understand the Tarot, to go back in history to the Matriarchal Age, to the time when succession was not through the first-born son of the King, but through his daughter. The king was therefore not king by inheritance, but by right of conquest. In the most stable dynasties, the new king was always a stranger, a foreigner; what is more, he had to kill the old king and marry the king’s daughter. This system ensured the virility and capacity of every king.

In the story of Kyousougiga, Myōeson was born an outsider to Kyoto Mirror City [鏡都], a virtual replica of the city of Kyoto [京都] created by the magic of Myōefather. In addition, Myōeson is filled with the death wish although he possesses the power of creation, whereas Kotodaughter passionately loves life even though she possesses the power of destruction. Kotodaughter cures her brother of his death wish and also rescues her father from his identity crisis. She gives her energy to the males of her family to preserve cosmic balance.


A Note on Names in the Divine Family (I) – Myōe

What is the significance of Myōeson taking on the name of Myōefather in the story? To the premodern Japanese mind, the change of a person’s name embody a unique worldview of how names are assigned to certain social functions, and while the social functions themselves remain more or less fixed in the river of time, the individuals carrying out those social functions themselves are in perpetual flux as individual human beings.

It works like this: A typical individual in pre-modern Japan would change his name at least half a dozen times in his life. Such an individual would be called by a “childhood name” when he is child; he would take on an “adult name” once he has reached adult age; if he is apprenticed to some art or trade, he would take on a name bestowed upon him by his master; once his apprenticeship is completed, he would take on a new name to signify that he is now a master of his art or trade in his own right. If he inherits his father’s craft or business, he may take on the very same name by which his father was known, signifying that he is now taking over. It is convenient to the outside world that he is known by the same name as his father, because he is performing the same set of functions associated with that name.

Meanwhile, for the father who retires, social convention would oblige him to abandon his old name and use a new name for his retirement. When he dies, social convention would again oblige his relatives to ask a Buddhist priest to bestow yet another new name for him in the afterlife.

The “childhood name” of Myōeson was Yakushimaru (you can tell that it is a childhood name by the fact that it ends with –maru). Myōeson becomes “Myōe” by inheriting his father’s power of creation. In the meantime, Myōefather moves on to another world, taking on a new name (“Inari” in this case) as his new identity.


A Note on Names in the Divine Family (II) – Koto

While Myōeson was only a human boy whom Myōefather resurrected from death and adopted as his own son, Kotodaughter was the one and only biological offspring between Myōefather and Kotomother. The names of Kotomother and Kotodaughter require some elaboration. In Japanese, their names are written as:

Kotomother = 古都 = “Ancient Capital”

Kotodaughter = コト = “Koto”

In the story, Kotodaughter is said to be special in the sense that she is the product of a god and a bodhisattva. Her name “Koto” may be a wordplay on the Japanese word koto [こと], about which no fruitful discussion can be carried out without also mentioning the Japanese word mono [もの].

These are used in complex grammatical structures and the simplest rule-of-thumb (but keep in mind that there are always exceptions) to understand them is that mono is used for objects or person which has a concrete physical existence, whereas koto is used for abstractions such as an idea or a concept.

But the thing that makes mono and koto interesting as indicators of the worldview underlying the Japanese language (similar to the way “the” as definite article and “a” as indefinite article embody a worldview unique to English and similar European languages) is that a lot of things and people have a physical aspect as well as an abstract aspect. For example, you have a physical aspect as a person occupying a certain amount of space, but you also have an abstract aspect – for example, as memory in someone’s else mind. Therefore, even when you are referring to the same person, you are obliged to sometimes use mono and sometimes use koto depending on the situation. This is because you both exist in physical presence and as an abstract concept.

In the story, Kotodaughter is entrusted with a hammer called Aratama, which is said to embody the “heart” and “soul” of her divine father. She travels to Kyoto Mirror City [鏡都], where nothing is ever destroyed and no one ever dies – except with her Aratama, which has the power to cause destruction and death. Could her name “Koto” be a metaphysical metaphor that in order to destroy something (or someone), you must first destroy the thing in concept? Once the concept is destroyed, the destruction of its physical existence would naturally follow? Recall that Myōefather‘s power of creation requires him to draw a picture before the object materializes in the physical world. Once the concept is created, its physical existence would also follow.


Myōe, Esoteric Buddhism and Rishu-kyō

The character of Myōefather is loosely based on the historical Shingon / Kegon-sect monk Myōe who lived between 1173–1232.

In the story, Myōefather has the magical power to make anything he draws materialize. Visual hints suggest that at the beginning Myōefather probably lived near if not right in Tō-ji, a temple of the Shingon sect in Kyoto founded by the great Kukai (774–835). Later, Myōefather is forced t0 move away from Kyoto’s town center to Kōzan-ji (a temple that is today ordained with the Shingon sect). Why do I keep emphasizing the Shingon sect? It is because Myōefather‘s experience of earthly love – as endorsed by the bodhisattva in the scroll painting in his room – surely requires some explanation.

A black rabbit named Kotomother, which was created by Myōefather in a drawing, has fallen in love with him. The bodhisattva, in her wisdom and compassion, sees through Koto’s desire and transforms Kotomother as an avatar of herself, so that the latter can develop a relationship with him. “There is trouble in his heart,” says the bodhisattva, “I can see the future with my eyes but not the past. The love you have for him shall be his salvation.”

So Kotomother goes to Myōefather in human form and declares her love for him. In time, he has become fond of her, and together they start a family. At this point, you may ask if a Buddhist priest is supposed to love a woman and have a family with her. The answer may lie in the Tantric text Rishu-kyō [理趣経], which is held in high esteem by the Shingon sect and is to this day recited by Shingon priests and believers alike on a daily basis. The doctrine of Rishu-kyō takes an affirmative stand with respect romantic love, erotic desire and ecstasies attained by sexual intercourse – even equating these to the state of purity and enlightenment attained by a bodhisattva.

One of the scenes in the OP may be a graphical illustration of this point. In it, Myōefather and Kotomother form an ensō – a circle symbolic of satori or enlightenment. The circle may also be interpreted as the Taoist yin-yang symbol whereby the cosmic masculine and feminine principles complement and complete each other. It may also interpreted as the ouroboros signifying the beginning and the end.


Man as the Saviour of God

Some schools of Jewish mysticism hold that man is actually the saviour of God, and that man completes the unfinished world created by God and therefore man and God are equal partners in creation. The Kabbalah of Isaac Luria (1534 – 1572) may be one of them.

Isaac Luria believed that when God created the world, something went wrong, and He created man in order to correct his mistakes, to repair the damage caused by his blunder. The act of repairment is called tikkun in Hebrew. According to Gary Lachman’s book The Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World (2013):

[Luria] believed that in our lives we encounter those trapped sparks, whether in people, nature, or inanimate things, which we are uniquely qualified to liberate, just as we encounter people and situations that can help liberate our own “sparks”. By doing this, we “repair” the universe.

Gary Lachman further elaborates on this point in this way

We can save the universe, we can repair it, take care of it, redeem it and awaken it from its trance by becoming aware of our creative contribution to reality and by intensifying our consciousness to such a degree that we never lose sight of this fact. […]

Each act of creative consciousness is an act of tikkun, an act of redeeming the universe from pointlessness, and we can perform it any time. In order to save these things from complete oblivion, Rilke said that we must take them into ourselves, and transform them into the furnishings of our interior world. […]

Our task is to stamp this provisional, perishing earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its being may arise again, invisibly in us. […]

By taking the world into ourselves and making it invisible, Rilke tells us that we may actually be creating new worlds, somewhere in the depths of space. […]

When we “complete” the world, when we “represent” the “unrepresented,” when we infuse dead matter with meaning, when we fill the empty forms of reality with the living force of the imagination, we are moving against the tide that is carrying the fallen, physical world into nothingness. Each act of imagination, each moment of creative life stands up to the entire material against the corroding solvents of entropy, dark matter, or whatever else may be dragging the physical world into oblivion.

All of these ideas take a lot of time to unpack, and while I was reading the book, I was especially reminded of the existential crises of both Myōefather and Myōeson when I read the below:

[Max] Scheler came to believe that rather than an omnipotent, omniscient creator God, lording it over the universe, God, or the spirit, was actually weak. As David Lindsay said, speaking of the muspel-fire, it was fighting for its life.

God may actually be very weak and fighting for His life. (The Gnostics also had similar ideas in that they believed whereas the Demiurge is all powerful in this material world, the true Supreme Being is powerless and in any case too distant from the human world.) Myōefather‘s role in the universe is that of a watcher, and yet he also has the power of creation and destruction – which he finds deeply contradictory. He falls into a crisis of self-doubt.

With this understanding, it may seem no surprise that in time Myōeson and Kotodaughter are appointed by their grandfathers (a trio of monkey, rabbit and frog who are the original gods of the universe) as the next generation of gods, taking over the duties and responsibilities of Myōefather.


Some Closing Remarks

Having read this far, you may wonder who is the mastermind behind Kyousougiga. The creation of this story is credited to Izumi Toudou [東堂いづみ], which is the shared pen-name (or “house name”) for the staff at Toei Animation.

It has been two years since I first saw Kyousougiga, and even now I wonder: besides being a showcase for some amazing art direction, what motivated them to produce a show as occult, hermetic and esoteric as this?


5 thoughts on “[Anime] Occult aspects in ‘Kyousougiga’ – Tetragrammaton, esoteric Buddhism and Lurianic Kabbalah

  1. Your last paragraph on the names reminded me a lot of the 2 volume mystery novel series “Kamisu Reina” by Mikage Eiji, which I had read just a few days ago. You could say, it’s basically about this, but with a diffrent take. A phenomenon is given a concept by means of a name (Kamisu Reina) and with it it gets tangible, easier accessable while pressing it into a conceivable, but more restricted form. (Which the name originator intended to be a curse that scatters and spreads.) The novel is written from the first person view of various people, all “victims” of the phenomenon, who are linked to each other one way or another. A lot of the vistims end up refusing the idea/concept of the phenomenon at some point and that drives them into self destruction by suicide. In another of the “victim” stories the first person narrator tries to “kill” the phenomenon and ends up killing somebody in physical reality as a result.
    Each of those “victim” stories are basically about how they more of less get or are insane. It had a bit of some kyoukibi colouring as well. It was quite an entertaining read. (Although the name curse had me think more of a kotodama while reading.)

    As for Kyousou Giga – What do you make of the Alice in Wonderland allusion alongside all of these esoteric things? The original ONA even made a direct citation before the credit roll and it had me think of it as “Don’t think too much of it, just enjoy the randomness”. I was pretty surprise when watching the series, that it turned out so heavily esoteric.

  2. @ Luna

    I looked up ‘Kamisu Reina’ and it seems to be just the sort of thing for my reading list. Thanks for mentioning it!

    Although I have not read ‘Kamisu Reina’ yet, what you described reminds me of something I came across in a book called ‘Spirits Walk with Me’ by Jonathan Back chronicling his experiences with Enochian magick. He mentioned his experience of giving names to thought-form entities:

    ‘In the case of Dr Funk, just providing this hitherto non-existent entity with a name brought him into existence, and further imaginative work that was done to build up a clear picture of him was secondary to this initial act. The esoteric significance of naming explains this importance placed on the act of baptism, which in most societies has a meaning far deeper than differentiating Jim from James.

    Thinking along these lines about a year ago resulted in me conducting a little experiment. As I describe in detail later, I am interested in furthering John Dee’s work on angelic magick, and to this end I decided I needed some help. What, I wondered, if there were little pointers that might help me search in the right direction? I decided that there were (or would be), and that they were called chorkles. Chorkles, as I conceived of them, were patches of colour, sky or electric blue, and they pointed to, or indicated, lines of enquiry that would be useful in my Enochian research. That was it. They were named, and they came into existence at that same moment.’

    As for Kyousougiga and Alice in Wonderland – I can’t say I have any definite opinion at the moment. Lewis Carroll was s charter member of the Society for Psychical Research, as well as a member of the Ghost Society. My guess is that he must have been fairly well-read in esoteric, occult literature.

  3. You could also check out “Zero no Maria to Utsuro Hako” from the same author. (Which is also by far more famous.) It has about all elements of “Kamisu Reina” as well, but not as elaborate or focused on, since it includes a lot of other elements as well. But overall, this one is ramp full with kyoukibi and especially the last volume is pretty strong with this one accompanied with some zankukubi. The writing style also has a few experiments in there. (There are portions like screenwriting to showcase a certain characters past, who is forced to relive them by sitting in a cinema and watching it as a movie.)
    I haven’t read more of the author yet, since he seemed to have ventured outside the light novel department for some more serious literature. (A lot of titles more onto my Japanese-only pile screaming “You should work on your Japanese reading speed already”.)
    HakoMari is easily the most impressive Light Novel I have read so far.

    Oh! And, do you know the Manga of “A Lollypop and a Bullet”? That’s having quite some kyoukibi and zankokubi as well. The Manga is very good. I heard the novel original (which I want to read somewhen, whenever somewhen may turn out) was also released as a light novel, but it really has nothing “light” in it and the author also ventured into writing serious novels as well.

    What you cited here reminds me of how a picture my own little story arcs in my head. Usually it starts off with some main scene and some side character and due to the character interactions statist may emmerge as well. They are about at the level of the vague shapes of the statists in the xxxholic anime or far lesser memorable versions of the figures in Mawaru Penguindrum.
    As soon as I try to give them all names (which obligatory starts, when I have to distinct one statist from another and don’t want to think of them as “the part timer in the ramen shop when the names protagonist had stopped by dead hungry in plotling xyz”) the statist gains an own character just by receiving a name. It’s like the name gives them some colour. And based on that colour, they own story arc emmerges. It’s quite fascinating to see how that unfolds in my head.

    Alice in Wonderland sure evokes strong visuals, but it doesn’t seem to be much of a subject of a lot of interpretations, but rather closer to something like the nursery rhymes, which also aren’t really meant to be taken very seriously. I know a lot of where almost offended by the original Kyousou Giga OVA, because it felt so random and nonsensical and they couldn’t really make out a proper plot but the Alice in Wonderland excerpt made me think, that that may have just been the point. The TV series sure had me get surprised then.

    • How on earth did you hit upon these lucky finds in the Light Novel department? Is there some wise community for this sort of thing or something? The Light Novels all seem like an ocean of sameness in terms of themes, character development, and plot to me. Most recently, I tried to read Kouhei Kadono’s Soul Drop series just because the Japanese covers seem to feature a brainy-looking, oddball character I thought I might like, but it bored me to tears.

      I oppose I have a low threshold to boredom when it comes to fiction these days. I find myself reading non-fiction more. Non-fiction seems to wow me more.

      I had never heard of ‘A Lollypop and a Bullet’ until you mentioned it. I looked up some information about it and… well, I can’t guarantee you that I have much time and (more importantly) mental space for teenage angst. But I will give it a go just because you mentioned it.

      About your little story arcs – the Hong Kong novelist Lilian Lee once wrote about how she gets ideas for her stories. First she gets hooked on a name – it can be anything from a place name or a person’s name – and then gradually images and stories emerge from the name. Not exactly the same mechanism as yours, but you get the idea.

  4. “Zero no Maria to Utsuro Hako” was a mere coincidence when a few die hard light novel people on some forum were all hot about it. But I am sure, I would have crossed ways to it by other means anyway. It was (is?) actually pretty hyped within the light novel community niche. If you look at myanimelist it’s in fact sitting on the #1 spot with a pretty fair margin.
    You might notice the top 50 And with the top list being otherwise completely filled with titles that have an anime adaption promoting it. (Or are otherwise somehow picked up by some US light novel publishing company, which usually pick out only the mainstream stuff.)
    Just looking at this list makes HakoMari exceptionally extraordinary. It’s a title that has no backing of an anime, has no backing of being licensed and some western advertisement to it. But this something nobody’s actually ever really heard of managed to climb up onto the #1 spot in this list. Which usually means, there is some die hard fan community out there loving it. But looking at the members number, which is like 3 times higher then the very much more known Monogatari title from #2, this die hard fan community isn’t restricted to some remote minority grouping, but the title actually even managed to be so good at appealing to such a huge amount of people and it still kept this really high score. Usually with such titles, there is some substance to be found, otherwise they wouldn’t earn themselve such a high spot. It’s something like a rare sorts of mainstreamy obscure gem. (<— This surely sounds paradox, I know no better designation. Hyouka, Mouryou no Hako and Shinsekai Yori would be like this in the anime department btw.) Also, the title also got lucky, because there was somebody, who knows Japanese and became such a huge fanboy to go through the effort of fantranslating it. Fantranslations usually pop up, when a demand is already there to be served, especially with (light) novels, which need a deeper understanding of the language and also more effort than with manga. So, this fact also tells me, this title was good enough to get at least one person so passionate to go and fantranslate the novel volumes and completely at that. (Incompleteness is a factor to drag scores down.)

    So in short, there was also a bit of statistics evaluation involved. Going by that "strategy" (if you can call it so), yes, there is still a lot of rubbish, but some of that rubbish might even be remotely entertaining. (That tactic works very well for Anime for me.) Especially, when I sit in a train, which is ramp full with people smelly sweat and heat I do rather prefer some braindead distraction. Light novels are pretty perfect in that respect, so by that way I also try out a lot of not so really great stuff and get some lucky find or another. (Well, but it's mostly restricted on what's released translated, I can't read Japanese stuff in a braindead mode, although I'd love to…) But yes, a lot have a feeling of sameness, but even within the sameness some neat ideas do pop up. Although it does hurt when there are neat ideas but and the plotting and especially the writing style can't keep up. Kino no Tabi for instance has a lot of great ideas, concepts and idea plays, but the writing style is a real pain to read for me.

    Out of a similiar reason, I am still onto fiction more. Fictional plotting usually gives things frame, so even I got like asleep with open eyes while reading I find myself getting back onto main track pretty easily. (Fiction must be really horrible to not even meet this standard. Usually such things would not pass editorial lecture before publishing.) Non-fiction is seldomly stuctured like that, if I loose track, it's lost and I have to start over. With scientific or philosophical things there is also often an issue with writing style as in like, there is somebody who seems to have some clear picture in their head, but for the love of life doesn't seem to be able to find proper means to express it. Sometimes the concept may just the completely beyond my immediate skills of understanding. (I tried reading Teilhard de Chardin, who actually was one of those whose writing style was engaging, but his concepts were simply beyond me.) This easily bores the hell out of me and once that happens I quickly loose any motivation.

    As with a Lollypop and a Bullet, the manga was released in Germany and France, and, I think, it picked my eye, because the title was like telling me nothing but still being somehow interesting, the cover was featuring rabbits (me being a rabbit nerd) and most importantly was also this sober mature atmosphere and there was this simple emptiness, deliberate blank sort of feel to the cover. That was pretty much exactly 6 years ago, when it was sitting on the manga shelves of the bookstore and the cover of volume stared at me. It was also one of the very few titles I ever bought out of the shelf just like that. (I had just left the teenage time, so the teenage angst stuff wasn't yet so remote.) But even 6 years after, it's one of the top 15 mangas which I every crossed ways with among the list of some 1300 read manga/light novel titles.
    Actually – now that I think of it – when was it that you had written about deliberate blank back on your old blog? It might as well as you writing about this concept that made me pay more attention to it in the back of my mind and sort if indirectly lead me to it. ^^

    I never had heared of Lilian Lee before. If you even read something about the author, I guess, she must be worth reading, I assume? Do you have a title, which would be best for starting? =D

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