Yudate – the practice of divination by boiling water and cauldron ceremony in Japan

While divination is no longer practised as magical sorcery in Japan today(as with forms of ritual kagura dancing which were once performed religiously as entertainment offerings to the deities), this practice has since become secularized and popularized and transformed over time into a folk practice. Ise-ryū kagura – for example, are a form of dances derived from those performed alongside yudate (boiling water) rituals at the outer shrines of Ise Shrine. Largely associated with Hanamatsuri (April 8), the miko or other group leaders immerse certain objects in boiling water as part of a purification ritual, now primarily used as a ritual prayer for good health.

Yudate ritual elements have thus been secularized and preserved in various ceremonies and incorporated with shrine festivals around the country in the form of:

Yudate:
~ (n) A Shinto ritual in which a shaman or priest soaks bamboo grass in boiling water and sprinkles the water on worshippers (originally a form of divination, later a purification ceremony)

Citing the Encyclopedia of Shinto on Yudate:

“In this ritual, water is boiled in a large pot placed before the altar, then a “female shaman” (miko) or other religious functionary soaks bamboo grass (sasa) leaves in the boiling water and sprinkles it on his or her body or on the other people present. In ancient times, the ritual was also called “divining hot water” (toiyu) and considered a type of divination (bokusen), in which steam was raised before the altar to induce a miko or other medium to fall into a state of spirit possession (kamigakari) from which the medium would communicate a divine message (takusen). This ritual is thought to have been linked to the archaic practices of divine arbitration called kukatachi.and yukishō, both methods of interpreting the divine will on the basis of water boiled before a deity’s altar. In later ages, the boiling water itself was believed to possess the power of purification and exorcism, and the ritual was combined with dance and transformed into a performing art. A description of the yudate ritual performed before the Awataguchi Shinmei deity in an entry from the 29th day, 9th month, 3rd year of Hōtoku (1451) within the Diary of Nakahara Yasutomi (Yasutomi ki) and other sources reveal that ceremonies by miko which combined yudate and dance were performed with increasing frequency in the medieval period and gradually turned into performances for spectators. Moreover, there are many cases of yudate being combined with kagura dance. For the Shimotsuki kagura exemplified by the flower festival (hanamatsuri) held in Kitashidara-gun, Aichi Prefecture, and the Tōyama festival held in Shimoina-gun, Nagano Prefecture, for example, a parasol-shaped “celestial canopy” (tengai) is suspended at the ceremonial site as the “object to which the deity temporarily descends” (yorishiro). A pot is set beneath the tengai and the yudate occupies an important role within the ceremony. ” — Iwai Hiroshi

Yudate matsuri (Yudate Festival)

Cauldron Ceremony – which is a ceremony in which water is boiled in a large cauldron and then sprinkled over participants and worshippers with bamboo fronds. It is a practice that may have roots in or may have been a magical belief that merged with Taoist beliefs in the yin-yang interactions of elements such as water and fire, and as such divination by water rites bear some relation to other heat-generating rites such as firewalking and is sometimes used to enable a miko to become possessed by the kami.

At the Ebisu shrine (see video clip above), the Yudate ritual is performed as part of the Yudate Kagura is a Shinto ritual in which a Shrine Maiden uses a bunch of sacred “Sasa” (bamboo) leaves to splatter hot water around.

In this ritual, water is boiled in a large pot placed before the altar, then a “female shaman” (miko) or other religious functionary soaks bamboo grass (sasa) leaves in the boiling water and sprinkles it on his or her body or on the other people present. In ancient times, the ritual was also called “divining hot water” (toiyu) and considered a type of divination (bokusen), in which steam was raised before the altar to induce a miko or other medium to fall into a state of spirit possession (kamigakari) from which the medium would communicate a divine message (takusen). This ritual is thought to have been linked to the archaic practices of divine arbitration called kukatachi and yukishō, both methods of interpreting the divine will on the basis of water boiled before a deity’s altar. In later ages, the boiling water itself was believed to possess the power of purification and exorcism, and the ritual was combined with dance and transformed into a performing art.

 A description of the yudate ritual performed before the Awataguchi Shinmei deity in an entry from the 29th day, 9th month, 3rd year of Hōtoku (1451) within the Diary of Nakahara Yasutomi (Yasutomi ki) and other sources reveal that ceremonies by miko which combined yudate and dance were performed with increasing frequency in the medieval period and gradually turned into performances for spectators. Moreover, there are many cases of yudate being combined with kagura dance. For the Shimotsuki kagura exemplified by the flower festival (hanamatsuri) held in Kitashidara-gun, Aichi Prefecture, and the Tōyama festival held in Shimoina-gun, Nagano Prefecture, for example, a parasol-shaped “celestial canopy” (tengai) is suspended at the ceremonial site as the “object to which the deity temporarily descends” (yorishiro). A pot is set beneath the tengai and the yudate occupies an important role within the ceremony. (seekukatachi)

 In later ages, the boiling water itself was believed to possess the power of purification and exorcism, and the ritual was combined with dance and transformed into a performing art.

Kiyome no yudate (“boiling water purification”) is also performed at the Tensho Daijinja of Mukagata in Nagano prefecture. The senior priests and miyôdo representative perform divination by boiling water. This ceremony is omitted during the regular annual festival. Mukagata well known is its “Festival of Purification.” At the time of the festival sons and daughters who have migrated outside the Prefecture return, and a number of tourists also visit the village as spectators. The shrine venerates Amaterasu. Between the segments called yachigo (wooden sword) and tsurugi (double-edged sword), the “fan” portion of Ôkôchi’s mitsumai dance is performed by residents of Ôkôchi (about twenty minutes). By the time the “sword” part of the mitsumai is completed, it is already about 1:00 A.M.

Sanbô Daijin no yudate: In the same way as the other boiling water divinations performed until now, the senior priests stir the hot water with the stem of the heisoku, and while reciting an invocation, sprinkle the water behind themselves. The stem of the heisoku is wrapped in bamboo grass stems and the latter is dipped in the hot water. More songs are chanted. With their backs to the shrine decorations, the priests arrange themselves to the right and left of the cauldron and bend their upper bodies gently in a dance (about twenty minutes). “One-Thousand Cauldron” (Senkama): The senior priests, together with all the miyôdo, hold heisoku and perform yudate while surrounding the cauldron. While chanting songs (utagura), they stir the water with the handle of the heisoku numerous times. This action is said to indicate that they have performed the yudate one-thousand times, thus the name “one-thousand cauldron” (about five minutes). Kirichigai no mai is a four-miko or person dance performed the same way as the yachigo portion of the yotsumai, holding heisoku and bells, and wearing a red tasuki (about twenty minutes).

A “Water to the king of the sacred border” (Shime no goô e ageru) rite was performed only at time of festival of purification. Yudate is performed and the sacred border rope (shimenawa) and heisoku emblems are gathered up. The water rites were performed along with the Yonabune or “Rice ship” also a rite performed only at time of Festival of Purification in which the sacred border rope and heisoku are taken to the shrine’s torii.

It should be noted that traditionally, the Festival of Purification was NOT a regular observance, but a ritual performed only on special occasions, when some kind of important change or renewal had occurred in the world, the year of a natural disaster, or as an accompaniment to a prayer for some great boon made by one of the villagers. This may be why the taoist style rite “Exorcism of evil spirits” (gedôbarai) was also performed only for festival of purification: The senior priest swings the sword in the air to symbolically cut the four directions, and ends by making mantric signs in the air (kuji o kiru). In contrast, the normal annual festival is called the “Eleventh Month Festival” (Shimotsuki Matsuri), or the “regular festival” (reisai), or simply “the festival” (o-matsuri), and it can be considered basically an abbreviated version of the Festival of Purification.

The local shrine Tenshô Daijinja is located in the “grove” of the Ue no Taira settlement, and represents the clan tutelary (ujigami) of the house known by the traditional house name of Okata (the Muramatsu family, no longer in residence), who were the legendary pioneer settlers of the area.

Yudate, Jonangu Shrine, Kyoto 湯立 城南宮

“At the beginning of the water boiling ritual (yudate, yutate) the priest purifies the worshippers to become worthy of approaching the deity by waving a branch of the sacred sakaki tree decorated with folded-paper streamers. Then the four shrine maidens perform the ceremonial dance to invite the spirit to become present in the water. The maidens dance with fans, bells, folded-paper streamers, branches of the sacred tree and five-colour silks of blue, yellow, red, white, and purple.

After the dance the senior maiden adds some rice wine, grains of rice, and salt to the boiling cauldron and stirs the water with the stem of a stick with strips of paper offered to a deity. Then she dips bamboo fronds into the hot pot and shakes them with big movements so that the sprays can sprinkle on people who attend the ritual. Those who get the splash out of the leaves could have a good year with sound health. The bamboo frond would also bring happiness if you can take it home.

In ancient times, this ritual was a type of divination, in which steam was raised before the altar to induce the maiden to fall into a state of media to communicate oracles between gods and men. Later, the boiling water itself was believed to possess the power of purification and exorcism, and the ritual was combined with dances.”

A stylised version of the rite which originated at Ise forms part of the kagura repertoire, as yudate kagura (see Yudate ceremony)

The divination by boiling practices appear to be frequently conducted alongside purification rituals of a Taoist nature, the question of whether which practices (miko Central Asian or North Asian shamanism vs. Taoism vs. Buddhism) were originally separate from others, or which practices had an origin in which, is difficult to fathom, due the syncretic nature of Japanese religion, which tends to merge different elements of different faiths. Some of this syncretism began early on the Asian continent, and arrived in their current forms in Japan. There were different movements at different times in Japan to try to separate Shinto from Buddhist religious elements and practices (see The Tao of Shinto as well as A New History of Shinto by John Breen and Mark Teeuwen).

See also the Yudate, yutate shinji ritual ceremony at Jonangu shrine, Kyoto for photos and more.

Judgment (and sometimes execution, the related consequence of judgment) by boiling water or Kukatachi, was a practice imported from the Korean peninsula:

Also pronounced kugatachi, this ritual is a type of trial in which the legitimacy or veracity of a person’s claim is judged by the divine will. After the suspected person is made to swear to the kami, he must plunge and keep his hand in boiling water. A guilty man will suffer severe burns, but a righteous man will not be burnt. The etymology of the word is not clear, but one theory suggests that it derives from a Korean word. As an archaic Japanese method for interpreting the divine will, kukatachi belongs to the category of “divination by pledge” (ukehi ) whereby a person first performs some act of proof to the deities, after which the legitimacy of the claim is determined by the outcome of that act. Kukatachi is also written as 誓湯 or 探湯.

In The Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki ), according to the entry for the 4th month of the 9th year of Emperor Ōjin’s reign, Takeshiuchi no Sukune proclaimed his undivided loyalty after he was nearly killed due to a slanderous accusation by his younger brother, Umashiuchi no Sukune. Unable to judge his loyalty, the emperor made Takeshiuchi no Sukune perform kukatachi at the bank of Shiki River. The entry for the ninth month of the fourth year of Empress Ingyō’s reign is annotated as follows: “明神探湯 refers to 区訶陀智 (kukatachi written phonetically). That is, mud is poured into a pot and boiled, then people bare their arms and grope around with their hands in the boiling mud.” Due to disorder caused by the extraordinary number of people who claimed high pedigree, this ceremony was conducted to rightful from fraudulent claims. It is said that a large vat called a kukabe was placed on Amakashi Hill at Kotomakado Cape, then clan representatives purified themselves by cleansing their hair and bodies (mokuyoku saikai ) and tucked up their sleeves with cords called yūdasuki; truthful men had no problem but dishonest men suffered burns and quickly withdrew, so the good and bad could be immediately distinguished. Moreover, an entry for the ninth month of Emperor Keitai’s reign states that a kukatachi ritual was conducted to reach a decision on a deadlocked suit between a resident of Imna (in Japanese, Mimana) on the Korean peninsula and a Japanese person. In later ages, kukatachi came to refer to the water boiled for purifying one’s body and worshipping before a shrine’s altar, as exemplified in Episode 21 of an essay by Ueda Akinari entitled “Records of the Bold and Timid” (Tandai shōshin roku): “Though on three occasions he entreated the deity to improve the situation, presented kukatachi as an offering, and performed kagura dance, the deity did not heed his prayers.”

Some of the ritual practices of yudate divination practised in Japan, although based on originally authentic practices in ancient Japan, may have been revived to some extent only recently by the Shinto Shinshukyo movement.

The cauldron divination by boiling ritual is a visual reference point and woven into the fictional novel entitled “The Kibitsu Cauldron” by UEDA Akitsu (reviewed in Kyosoul’s Blog, partially excerpted below)

“The Cauldron Purification ritual (Mikamabarai) is held in a small building on the grounds of the Kibitsu Shrine. Inside, a large iron rice cauldron rests on a clay hearth. When the water boils, fueled by burning pine needles, the cauldron makes a rumbling sound, the volume of which is taken to indicate good or bad fortune….

There is a long history of tales similar to “The Kibitsu Cauldron” in China and Japan. Commentators have identified a number of sources on which Akinari drew in writing this story, including, especially, Qu You’s “Mudan deng ji” (Peony Lantern), in Jiandeng xinhua (New Tales After Trimming the Lamp, 1378), and its Japanese adaptation, Asai Ryoi’s “Botan no toro” (The Peony Lantern), in Otogiboko (Talisman Dolls,
1666); 2 “Onna no ichinen kite otto no mi o hikisoite toritekaeru koto” (A Woman’s Vindictive Spirit Comes, Draws near Her Husband, and Takes Him Away with Her), in Zen-aku mukui hanashi (Stories of Karmic Retribution, Good and Evil, ca. 1700?), which combines tales 27:20 and 24:20 of the late-Heian setsuwa collection Konjaku monogatari shu (Tales of Times Now Past, ca. 1120); and Hayashi Razan’s Honcho
jinja ko (Studies of Japanese Shrines). Some of the details in the opening paragraph are derived from book 8 of Xie Zhao-zhe’s Wuzazu (Five Miscellanies, 1618)”

Divination by boiling water in other cultures

Divination by boiling of water may have been an extremely ancient perhaps even prehistoric practice brought with tribes who migrated out of Africa, as the practice is found among tribes of South and Southcentral Africa (see Barrie Reynolds) although this may merely have been carried into Africa as a result of backmigration of certain lineages. Judgment by boiling water was also a common medieval practice in Europe, see Medieval Sourcebook: Trial by boiling water ordeal.

Boiling water divination also practised by Barotse people, see Magic, Divination, and Witchcraft Among the Barotse of Northern Rhodesia, and for southeastern Bantu

It exists in the New World too. The sorcerers of the Lakota people are said to be able to practise divination by boiling water, predict the weather and control it. They practise divination, the heyoka are those who have seen the Thunderbird, and because of this they are able to reach into boiling water with bare hands to take out the pieces of boiled dog-meat Divination through the Ages by Ellen Wallace Douglas Divination Through the Ages by Ellen Wallace Douglas

Divination by boiling water was also practised as magic among the Jewish people. See Divination, Magic, and Healing: The Book of Jewish Folklore by Ronald H. Isaacs (p. 76) in the Talmudic tractate of Gittin 45a, Rav Nachman’s daughters who were experienced in magical procedure were able to stir a pot of boiling water with their bare hands

Divination by boiling water is essentially a form of hydromancy or carromancy, see Carromancy Hydromancy, and forms of it, were practised by the Celts, Romans, Lithuanians, Germans and many other Indo-European peoples in ancient times. Cyclicomancy /ˈsɪklɨkɵmænsi/: by swirling water in a cup (Greek kuklikos, cyclical, circular + manteia, prophecy) – Divination methods (Wikipedia). Gazing and scrying are better known forms of water divination by European cultures.  Steam can also provide divinitory responses. This form requires a mirror hung on a wall and a low table placed before it. Fill a large pot with water and heat to boiling on the stove. Remove the pot and place it on a hot pad before the mirror. As the steam rises, it will cloud the mirror. You may gaze in the misty mirror, or wait for the steam to condense and drip down its silvered face. The drips may form themselves into a letter or letters, which can then be interpreted. Source: Water Divination (Angelfire) See also the Art of Divination: “Water scrying was very popular with the Celts and other Shamanistic traditions. The Cup of Jamshid was used in Ancient Persia to divine. The liquid in the cup was said to be an elixir of immortality and looking into the cup allowed you to view the seven layers of the universe and deep truths were revealed.”

Source and further readings:

Yudate by Iwai Hiroshi, Encyclopedia of Shinto

History: Boiled Alive!

Images of the Sacred

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