Sunday, February 05, 2006


BEANS IN THE DEMON'S EYE


On Friday night, which was Setsubun, the first day of the Lunar Spring, Kaya and the twins got the chance to shout "Out with the devil! In with good fortune!" at the top of their voices over and over while throwing handfuls of soybeans into the darkness from all the doorways of the house. Kaya had done it before, but for the twins it was the first time. A year ago they couldn't throw anything but a rattle, and here they were with a ritual. It was interesting to see how they handled it.

A lot of folks are cynical about the rituals of tradition, especially ancient tradition, such as Setsubun is. Cynicism is cheap of course, requires no real experience or thought. But anyone who has actually lived and perceptively experienced what is out in the world knows that there is value in metaphoric/symbolic reminders (whether specifically factually valid or no) of the ideal and the worth of speaking out for it. There is uplift to ritual (the other side of science) as well, in thus asserting - as in Setsubun - that we have a measure of control over the presence or absence of "the demons" and over our own fortunes. It is of deep worth to remind ourselves of this and to teach our children that they too have individual power (not surrendered power, as to a political or religious organization) that can be personally brought to bear on behalf of goodness and bright fortune not only for themselves, but for their entire household and all its members, and by extension, society itself.

Setsubun
is an anciently tacit – though noisy - erasure of animosities and a rebuke to the untoward. By flinging hard beans in the face of misfortune you are showing the night your strength, shouting out to the darkness without as well as within (the house and yourself) that you care about the entities that reside here, that you are responsible for and will defend this place, for this household and its members are shared in your charge.

However deeply I personally wish to continue on this philosophical tack, let me get back to the kids. Kaya had done Setsubun before, so grabbed goodly handfuls of beans and flung them far, shouting with the great gusto of the newly empowered, as the adults were doing a bit more familiarly; Miasa took a small handful of beans and started eating them while watching the action; Mitsuki sort of stood in the background, shocked by this sudden odd behavior in her elders, unlike anything she had ever seen, her mother and Kaya and Echo shouting at the top of their lungs into the darkness like that and throwing away perfectly good beans, completely out of character. It was a major eye opener for both of them.

It was all over in a few minutes, but it felt great and was impressive in all directions. Then the demons were gone and good fortune came pouring in, in the form of little faces smiling in the light. I'll bet next time M&M both dig right in, both bean and voicewise, now that they've learned what good it can do. Besides, by next year they'll be 50% more experienced.

5 comments:

Maethelwine said...

Well, this is probably a more reasonable, and certainly more interesting, take on Setsubun than I managed.

I find it requires a great deal of very concerted effort to be a fully present participant in rituals that don't figure in my own early history. I do recognize that as a failing. I'll have to make a more careful approach to Setsubun the next time it rolls around.

Robert Brady said...

Finally you get a chance to hand it to the devil, big time...

Mary Lou said...

At least they did not turn run and scream and hide. My Kids saw Santa for the first time and screamed bloody murder!! and at haloween, they were too scared for the candy. Alas, that was 36 years ago, and they are grabby little buggers now!

I see by your Shiga window that you have a boat load of snow!!! Send some my way, but this time make it go the NORTHERN route, Im tired of all your left over snow by way of the Pineapple express!!!

Dalene said...

oooooOH! I so want to do this next year. I believe ritual is exactly as you say in your writing of it. I did not know about this, thank you for sharing another fascinating part of life from the countryside of Japan.

Robert Brady said...

Dalene, you don't have to wait for next year (unless you want Lunar Spring), you could do it at Spring equinox, for this year...