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“Acolytes among Gods: The Apotheosis of Children in Medieval Sexual Ritualism”

 

In medieval Japan (12th-16th centuries) sacred children, known as chigo or dōji, were important cultural icons celebrated for their protective and potent power in didactic tales, illustrated scrolls and legends. However, these youths were also undergoing apotheosis as gods and Buddhas through less public means. That is, initiation rituals that involved sexual activity with monks. One of these is the chigo kanjō (15th century), a Tendai ritual consecration that was disseminated to various Buddhist institutions including Mt. Hiei and Jobodai-in in Shiga prefecture, whose symbolic influence extended to Shingon establishments such as Daigoji. The ritual opened a sacred space where child acolytes (chigo) were identified with various divinities in a vast web of associations including the Bodhisattva Kannon and Sannō gongen, who make manifest important doctrinal notions from the Lotus Sutra and the Sanno-Shinto tradition respectively. I shall demonstrate that the two divinities become central to the ritual because of their close affinity to youths and the sexual subject matter in other medieval texts. Utilizing Bernard Faure’s research on Japanese gods, I will also consider how a “de-centered” network of Buddho-Shinto deities nonetheless possessed a symbolical “center” in the form of Sannō, arguing that through the identification with Sannō the chigo functioned as a “macro-sign,” a signifier of endless significations. 

 

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