- 民族學研究 (ISSN:00215023)
- vol.42, no.4, pp.334-355, 1978-03-31
This article discusses symbolic meanings of the belief in which a drowned body becomes deified as Ebisu-gami. Japanese fishermen usually are under a prohibition or a taboo that they should not take pollution caused by death into the sea, because they belive the sea is a sacred place and pollution, especially concerning death, might cause dangers to them. Nevertheless, they pick up a drowned body whenever they find it on the sea and deify it as Ebisugami, a luck-bringing deity. In Japanese folk belief Ebisu-gami is worshipped as a luck-bringing deity by fishermen, farmers or merchant and is also a guardian deity of roads and voyages. A remarkable attribute of Ebisu is its deformity. The deity is believed to be one-eyed, deaf, lame or hermaphrodical. It is also believed to be very ugly. People sometimes say that it is too ugly to attend an annual meeting of all gods which is held in Izumo, Simane Prefecture. In Japanese symbolic system deformity and ugliness are classified Into Kegare (pollution) category as I have represented in my articles (NAMIHIRA, E. : 1974 ; 1976). Some manners in Ebisu rituals tell that Ebisu is a polluted or polluting deity, e. g., an offering to the deity is set in the manner like that of a funeral ceremony, and after a ritual the offering should not be eaten by promising young men. Cross-culturally deformity, ugliness or pollution is an indication of symbolic liminality'. In this sense. Ebisu has characteristics of liminality at several levels (1) between two kinds of spaces : A drowned body has been floating on the sea and will be brought to the land and then be deified there. In Japanese culture, the land is recognized 'this world' and the sea is 'the other world'. A drowned body comes to 'this world' from 'the other world'. (2) between one social group and another social group ; In the belief of Japanese fishermen only the drowned persons who had not belonged to their own social group, i. e., only dead strangers could be deified as Ebisu. The drowned person had belonged to one group but now belongs to another group and is worshipped by the members ; (3) between life and death : Japanese people do not perform a funeral ceremony unless they find a dead body. Therefore, a person who drowned and is floating on the sea is not dead in the full sense. That is, the person is between life and death. The liminality of Ebisu-gami is liable to relate to other deities whose attributes are also 'liminal'. Yama-no-kami (mountain deity) or Ta-no-kami (deity of rice fields) and Doso-shin(guardian deity of road) are sometimes regarded in connection with Ebisu. Japanese folk religion is a polytheistic and complex one. Then, it is significant to study such Ebisu-gami that are interrelational among gods and have high variety in different contexts in the Japanese belief system.