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(also: 'kototama-gaku', 'kotoage', & 'kazudama')
- an attempt at a little clarification ... 
Copyright 2010 James Deacon 

Mantra and Jumon:

We often use the term 'mantra' as a simple way to attempt to explain the Japanese word 'jumon' [ 呪文 ].

Both mantras and jumon can be considered to be 'spiritual formula' which, when vocalised, are intended to bring about a specific effect.

Though, while jumon have many parallels with mantras, the two are not identical on all levels.

For example, a mantra can be a phrase or sentence comprised of words which, in the given language, have a clear intellectually-understandable meaning. Alternatively, the phrase or sentence may appear to be a meaningless series of unintelligible sounds.1 

The same can be true of a 'jumon'.

Yet while a mantra can also be simply a single syllable (eg: a Bija or 'seed' mantra, such as the ubiquitous: om), the same is not true of a 'jumon'.

Technically speaking, a single syllable is not classed as a jumon. Nor is a single word2

Properly, a jumon is a phrase or sentence. Or even a few sentences. 

However, a jumon can be comprised of a series of single syllable-sounds, for example: "a ba ra ha kya".

And while a jumon can be as short as a three syllable phrase ( the jumon associated with three of the Reiki symbols, for example) it can also be can be much longer - in fact, more in keeping with Dharani than with Mantra - and in rare cases, even longer still - Sutra-length (the Heart Sutra for example, can be considered a jumon when it is used in mystical invocation)

The term 'jumon' can perhaps be most simply and clearly be explained as:

 A mystic, spiritual or magical incantation - a 'spell' - a sacred phrase or Invocation.

Just like a mantra, a jumon can be chanted once or many times, eg: 3, 9, 27, 108, 1,080, 11664 (108 x 108) – even 1,080,000 times. 

The term jumon is closely associated with mikkyo (i.e. esoteric Japanese Buddhist) traditions.

Though as over the last 1200 years or so,
Buddhism and Shinto have influenced each others' development so profoundly, each adopting so much in the way of beliefs, rituals, and esoteric practices from the other - and both Shinto and Buddhism have also been strongly influenced by a form of Taoism which, as practiced in Japan, was known as onmyodo3  -  it is often difficult to say precisely where a specific practice, concept, or term originated.

So, rather than  getting caught up in whether jumon is a Buddhist practice or a Shinto (or even an onmyodo) one, it is best to simply consider it as a Japanese one. 

Some 'traditional' jumon are derived from Buddhist (or even Hindu) mantras - their original wording modified to fit with the sounds of the Japanese language. 

For example, a jumon invoking the power of the five elements:  
"a ba ra ha kya"  is derived from: "a va ra ha kha", which was in turn derived from "a vam ram ham kham".  

Others are derived from, or strongly influenced by, invocatory elements of the previously mentioned onmyodo -  and as such are commonly Japanese-language approximations of original, Chinese-language, Taoist incantations

Yet others may take the form of extracts from norito (Shinto prayers), or may contain be recognisable phrases and statements drawn from ancient cultural texts written in classical Japanese.

Certain traditional
kotowaza [ ] (sayings or proverbs) may also be used as jumon. For example the kotowaza: "watari ni fune" -  "a boat for someone wishing to cross a river" -  alludes to good fortune in the form of the timely appearance of a desired or needed thing. Thus, it may be used as a jumon in the hope of actively invoking such good fortune.

New jumon may be created for just about any
specific purpose and intent. Yet, in order to ensure their effectiveness, they are commonly constructed in keeping with certain formulaic rules of composition. 

Kotodama: 言 霊 or 魂 ] "the spiritual  power of words"

At the heart of kotodama theory is the understanding that words and their component sounds, when used in certain very specific ways, have a power to influence reality.

That there is a mystical connection between the sound and the meaning(s) of words, and further, between words and the situation, person, concept, thing or event they describe.

hat ultimately, a thought, idea or desire may be actualised by verbalizing it in a particular way with the proper focus.

We often hear people talking about “the Reiki kotodama

it is claimed by some that Usui-sensei taught something commonly referred to as “the Reiki kotodama” to his early students, and that “the Reiki kotodama” were forerunners to the Reiki symbols and accompanying jumon which are familiar to most Reiki practitioners.

Although it is usually maintained that “the Reiki kotodama” are something quite different from the jumon associated with the Reiki symbols, the former term is nonetheless commonly used to refer to what are still essentially a set of jumon; though jumon comprised of a series of single syllables rather than words.

Here are the four syllable-sequences, each of which is described as being “a kotodama”:

[depending on who you ask you get slightly different 'romanised' forms - and slightly different pronunciation guidlines.] 

1,   “o-u-e-i”
(or:   “ho-ku-ei”)
(or:  "ho-ku-e-i")
2,   “e-i-e-i-ki”
(or:   "ei-ei-ki")
(or:  "ei-ey-ki")
3,   “ho-ha-ze-ho-ne”
(or:   “o-a-ze-o-ne”)
(or:  "ho-a-ze-ho-ne" )
4,   “ai-ku-yo"
(or:   “ai-ko-yo”)
(or:  “a-i-ku-yo”)

In fact, not only do these syllable-sequences constitute simple jumon, but even allowing for a couple of slight differences in the way the Japanese sounds have been 'romanised', it is not difficult to see how they have been formed by extracting particular syllables from a set of more complex, more complete. (and more familiar,) jumon.  For example:

o[k]u [r]ei           [s]ei [h]e(i) ki         [h]o[n] [sh]a ze [sh]o ne[n]       [d]ai ko [m]yo

for those people who hold to the basic principles of kotodama (- even aside from any connection with Reiki), it is indeed true that the particular syllables presented above are genuinely believed to possess kotodama.

In fact, every single word, and even every single phoneme (sound syllable), used by the Japanese language is said to possess kotodama.

Yet, at the same time, not one single word, or even one single phoneme used by the Japanese language is considered to be “a kotodama”.

The way in which the word: kotodama is commonly applied in relation to Reiki - i.e. as indicating the actual syllable-sequences themselves, is simply a little confused.

Technically-speaking, the term: kotodama does not refer to specific words, syllables, (or other vocalised sounds), but rather, to the spirit invoked by the correct use of words, syllables, or other vocalised sounds:

Words (and/or syllables, etc) - whether individually or as phrases - can not properly be described as being 'kotodama'.

Words (
kotoba) and syllables have kotodama  - power.

It is this power which is kotodama: the "spirit of the word" - "the-spirit-inherent-in-words"

and ultimately, the 'spirit'  is inherent in all4 words - all vocalised sounds

- from primal, guttural utterances - to the kiai of the martial artist  - to poetry - to norito prayers - to the words and phrases and sentences of everyday conversations. 

Kotodama is the breath and heart within words.

Kotodama is the spirit - the power - of words to make things happen.

And of course, Jumon also possess 'kotodama'.

Certain jumon may be considered to possess stronger kotodama than others, though much has to do with the person using them, and the way (and skill with which) they use them. 

For example, it is believed that a jumon performed only once, with perfect pronunciation/intonation by a person possessing the correct focus and spirit or ki can have a far greater kotodama-effect than the same jumon muttered a 'million'5 times by someone without that focus and spirit.

The science of kotodama: kototama gaku [言 霊学]

Kototama gaku
is a multi-faceted, complex discipline which has grown out of the central concept of
the power of the 'spirit of the word'.

It is a discipline concerned with understanding the power of the-spirit-inherent-in-words, and ultimately, with the virtuous and skilful use of words to influence 'mundane' reality, and also to effect spiritual change.

(In fact there are actually a few slightly different 'evolutions' of kototama gaku - slightly different 'systems' of application of kotodama theory in order to effect desired influence)

Kototama gaku deals with the power of words on all levels - whether as unexpressed thoughts, or as vocalised sounds, or in their written aspect.

It is concerned with the effect of words  - as physical sound-vibration, and as 'vibration' on more subtle levels - and also, the multi-faceted communicative power of words  - intellectual, emotional, sentimental -  the ability/power of words to inspire, uplift, hurt, heal, etc.

The discipline is intricately interwoven with other elements of Japanese spirituality, mysticism, magic, onmyodo
, numerology, kuji no in, etc.

Jumon are prime examples of the application of kotodama.

Now, as already mentioned, a jumon may appear to be a series of unintelligible sounds, or, may appear to be a phrase with clear meaning.

However, hidden within a jumon there can frequently be several levels of further meaning

And when it comes to uncovering/discovering the different levels of meaning of specific jumon, things can, theoretically, become quite complex.

On one hand, Japanese is a language with a vast number of homophones (words that sound the same, yet have different meanings, and also have different written forms).

And on the other, most written Japanese characters (kanji) have different 'readings' (i.e. a single kanji character can be pronounced in several different ways depending on context)

For example, the word 'san' - as written using this character: , means 'mountain'.  yet 'san' as written using this character: means 'three'.  However, the character 'san' [mountain] can also be pronounced as 'sen'. The sound 'sen' can also be written as [stream or river], or as [before, preceding, etc], or as any one of a large number of other kanji characters, with diverse meanings such as: to feed, to confuse, ringworm, change, a skewer, vivid, meditation, shudder, a lottery, a trapeze, a bird of prey, to trample, a plug, discussion, a fan ,a jetty, to hide...etc.
And in turn, these
kanji characters can also have other pronunciations: eg: 'sen' can be written [meaning: 'a thousand'] and this kanji character can also be pronounced: 'chi'. The sound 'chi' can also be written as which can be pronounced as 'ji'... and so on, ad infinitum...

A primary element of kototama gaku is devoted to the concealing and revealing of deeper levels of meaning of jumon, (and other words and phrases) via a sometimes complex system of kanji-substitution.

For example, this can involve the replacing
of one kanji character with another which, while sharing the same 'reading' (i.e. pronunciation) has a different meaning
e.g. replacing
['san'] , with  [ also pronounced: 'san'] and so changing the meaning from 'mountain' to 'three'.

Or meaning can be concealed/revealed by taking an alternative reading of a particular kanji, and replacing the kanji with one which shares the 
alternative 'reading' 
- e.g.  
the character 'san' has the alternative reading: 'sen', so for example, 山 could be replaced with 千 [which also has the reading: 'sen'], thus changing the meaning form 'mountain' to ' a thousand'.

Yet another approach involves the replacing of one kanji with another having the same 'stroke-count' -  i.e. a kanji written with the same number of brush-strokes - yet having a different meaning.

A further method of concealing/revealing meanings involves converting the written form of the jumon (or other phrase, etc) from kanji characters into one of the Japanese syllabic scripts: katakana or hiragana6.

For example, the previously mentioned word 'san' [mountain], originally written using the kanji character: 
, would in hiragana be written:  さ ん    [ さ = 'sa',  ん = 'n'].

So, initially this would at least seem to simplify things a little.  When the word 'san' was written using the kanji character:
, for example, the alternative 'reading' of that kanji - 'sen', could be used as a stepping-stone in the process of transforming the meaning.  By writing the word using characters representing its sound, this is no longer possible.

However ...

the katakana and hiragana syllabaries were originally derived from something called man'yōgana.
man'yōgana was an early system of writing using kanji characters, not for their meaning, but simply to represent sounds. Each character [kanamoji] in the katakana and hiragansyllabaries is actually based on a kanji character originally used as part of man'yōgana.7

So, having converted the jumon (or other phrase, etc) from kanji into syllabic script, the resulting characters can then be replaced with the 'man'yōgana' kanji from which they were originally derived, leading to yet another new meaning.

As mentioned earlier, kototama gaku - the science of kotodama - is intricately interwoven with other elements of Japanese esoteric belief, including numerology.

In the same way that kotodama refers to "the spirit inherent in words", there is also kazudama:  [ 
霊 ] 
"the spirit inherent in numbers".

One method of concealing/revealing meanings via a combination of kotodama and kazudama principle, again involves converting the written form of the jumon etc. from kanji into hiragana or katakana. However, in this method, each syllabic character is allotted a specific numeric value and alternative meaning is established via a system of numerological association. 

Another combined koto/kazudama method (the final one we will look at here), applies numerological meaning to the 'stroke-count' of any given kanji or group of kanji.

Now, while all these methods of concealing/revealing further levels of meaning, as briefly outlined above, technically allow for mind-boggling levels of complexity, happily, in practice, actual use of the various forms of substitution is generally of a very simple nature.

*  *  *  *  * 

The other primary element of kototama gaku is initially concerned with mastering the art of intoning specific core syllables8 - in order to influence reality, bring harmony, healing, and to effect spiritual change. 

[This is perhaps the one element that most people who are aware of the term 'kotodama' are at least partly familiar with.9 ]

The different 'traditions' of kototama gaku tend to differ in their approach this 'toning' aspect of the discipline.

Some practitioners concentrate solely on toning a limited number of core syllables, while others expand on this initial area of focus, to work with for example: 46-50 syllables, or 71-75 syllables (and in some instances, 107 or 108 syllables).  

Yet there is far more to this 'vocal' element of the discipline than simple focus on the intoning of individual syllables.

When the 'correct' toning of the individual syllables has been mastered, work on intoning combinations of syllables to produce certain 'virtuous' and 'fortuitous' words and phrases may begin.

For example: the first two vowel sounds in Japanese (in the traditional order of sounds), 'a' 
and 'i'  combine to form the simple yet profound: 'ai' ('love').

Other basic syllable-combinations the practitioner may choose to work with include:  'ma-ko-to' ('makoto'  = 'sincerity'), or 'fu-ku-ju' ('fukuju' = blessings, longevity, happiness);  and even '
a-ri-ga-tō-go-zai-ma-su 10

And in time, the practitioner may begin to work with jumon, or with norito, or other ritualistic, incantatory formulae including, for example: authoritative magico-spiritual declarations often phrased in the style of ancient Imperial edicts; or mystical pronouncements, in some instances, taking the form of hokku [ 発句 ]  or tanka [  短 歌  ]..11

This active aspect of the 'science of kotodama' is known as kotoage. [ 言挙 or 言擧 ]

is: “to lift the voice” (i.e. to “speak up”) - to “raise up or invoke (the power of) words”.

kotoage is the active manifestation of kotodama-power to influence and effect other living beings, the world around us, and the world within us.

On some levels, the meaning of the term kotoage can overlap with that of jumon, and norito, and a few other related terms, however while the terms jumon, norito, etc. primarily refer to the actual words (the phrases, prayers, 'spells', vows, etc) to be voiced or intoned, kotoage primarily refers to the actual voicing / intoning itself.

kotoage is the saying of the prayer, the reciting of the poem, the spell, the vow, - the chanting of the jumon.

It is the 
actual 'performance' itself, unleashing the power of kotodama.

can be very formal and ritualised, though it is not always so.

kotoage is undertaken always with the awareness that what is spoken 'with spirit' will have effect - will be actualized (whatever the moral intention)

To engage in kotoage is to become involved in the manipulation of cosmic forces.

Thus, there is a need to be conscious of one's use of the power of language - to be mindful of one's pronouncements – to be aware that what is said carelessly could also be actualized.

kotoage is not just about focus on the affirmative use of words/speech, but also on avoidance of unsuitable use.

There is great importance placed on
choosing one's words with care, on using appropriate expressions, and as far as possible, avoiding speaking negatively about things.  

This has given rise to the concept of: imikotoba [忌み言葉  ]  or taboo words  - words one should refrain from using so as to avoid undesirable consequences.
It is understood that there is a need to be especially vigilant concerning the words that are used on formal occasions, at momentous events, or in certain pivotal situations so as not to be inauspicious or bring bad luck as a result of "accidental kotoage"  (i.e. the unintentional invoking of the kotodama residing within the words)

Such awareness and concern as to unintentional / accidental kotoage has also filtered down into the realm of everyday social belief. 

Generally there is the feeling that, even in everyday life, one should refrain from giving voice to “dark” or discouraging words. That one should be mindful in one's choice of words so as not to hurt another's feelings or cause them embarrassment; and that if it is absolutely necessary to convey a negative message, it should be done in a sensitive, roundabout, and euphemistic, way.

There  are certain phrases to be avoided in certain instances - for example, words alluding to separation or parting, etc, should not be used in formal toasts or blessings at weddings; and phrases which might possibly (even in the most indirect way) allude to miscarriage or other difficulties, must be avoided in any celebratory speeches or toasts relating to pregnancy.

One of the most prominent taboos is that
concerning the number four.
The Japanese word for 'four'
is commonly pronounced 'shi' (though it can also be pronounced 'yon' ) however, 'shi' is also the pronunciation of the word written as:  which means 'death'.  

So, not only is it considered important in the formal ritualised practice of kotoage to avoid the use of 'shi' in, say, a prayer, jumon, etc for an sick person, but, in everyday life, there are also many taboo's relating to its use.

For example, some people will simply refrain from using 'shi' for the number four in any situation they feel might be important. Hotels, apartment blocks and hospitals may not have a fourth floor; or a room number four. People will not give gifts consisting of four pieces;  and so on.

And it is not just the word 'shi' itself, but also certain words containing the sound 'shi'.

A person would not send shikuramen (cyclamen) flowers to someone who is ill, or in hospital - as the name 
shikuramen contains the sound 'shi', immediately followed by the sound: 'ku' (which can mean: 'suffering', 'pain', 'distress', 'hardship', 'worry', etc), this latter, only adding to negativity concerning the word 'shi'.

However, people are also very aware of the beneficial effects of 'good words' and 'good 'speech'. Even in everyday situations there is emphasis on the intentional use of fortuitous phrases and expressions - and a sense of the positive kotodama generated by warm, friendly, enthusiastic greetings.  

This awareness of the positive effects of words also finds expression in the context of the choosing of babies names -  and in particular, the choosing of the specific kanji which will be used to write the baby's name.12 

As mentioned previously, Japanese is a language with a very great number of homophones, and so a person's name can theoretically be written in many, many different ways. As a result, a great deal of consideration may be given to the choosing of a combination of kanji which have positive, auspicious meanings, and which, through the power of the kotodama inherent in those words, may have a beneficial influence on the individual's character, and on the unfolding, development, and overall flow of their life.

*  *  *  *  * 

It has already been mentioned how some jumon are understood to possess stronger kotodama than others.

This holds true not just for complete jumon, but also for all of the individual core syllables, and all of the other individual syllables which are the basic 'building blocks' of every jumon, every prayer, every vow, every poem
- ever
single word in the Japanese language.

While all the syllables (and therefore all words formed with these syllables) are understood to possess kotodama power, not all are considered equal in the degree of power they possess (- or the degree of kotodama-power which can be made manifest by their proper use).

And again, as has already been mentioned when speaking specifically about jumon  - when it comes to working with the individual syllables, (or for that matter, with complete prayers, vows, 'spells', etc), the person intoning them, the level of skill they possess, the way in which the sounds are used (and even the situation in which they are used), all have a strong bearing on their effectiveness.

Jumon, prayers, ritual statements etc, elegantly phrased in a particular archaic style of Japanese (once used for the composing of Imperial proclamations or edicts ) are believed to have particularly strong 'spirit'.

And a specific jumon, vow, etc, performed at a pivotal point in a person's live - for example, at the start of a new venture or undertaking, at the birth of a child, or on another special occasion such as a marriage - is likewise considered to manifest a more powerful kotodama effect than it might if performed at less signifcant times.

manifests when syllables, words and phrases are intoned with spirit - with ki, i.e: with sincerity, with determination, and/or with passion and feeling – when they are intoned charismatically: with 'emotional content'


1 This is commonly because some of the words are approximations/corruptions of words borrowed from other human languages from other places or other ages, or the words are considered part of some magical or Divine language only known to an initiated few.

2 Except in one or two rare cases

3 onmyodo is an almost-forgotten form of the 'magico-religious' aspect of Taoism, which was first introduced to Japan in the 6th century.

4 Some believe it is only the Japanese language that holds the power of kotodama

5 Actually 1,080,000 times

6 As well as using kanji, the Japanese language also makes use of two other writing systems: hiragana, and katakana.  
Whereas kanji represent ideas, Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic writing systems -  their characters representing sounds  rather than ideas

7 Sometimes, another, more obscure variation of hiragana - called hentaigana - is used. The characters of hentaigana are also derived from man'yōgana

Different  'traditions' of kotodama gaku focus on different numbers of syllables

9.And  this is the direct source of the highly simplistic application of kotodama-principles which have been adopted by several Reiki practitioners, and which are commonly referred to as: "the Reiki kotodama"

10  The Japanese expression arigatō gozaimasu ('a-ri-ga-tō-go-zai-ma-su')  is a polite/formal way to say 'thank you'. It can be used to show appreciation for something that has already occurred, or something yet to occur.  In a separate practice, the intoning of 'a-ri-ga-tō-go-zai-ma-su' repeatedly is used to help evoke deep heart-felt gratitude (kansha) for all that is good in one's life. 

11 tanka is what is commonly called waka poetry (originally tanka  was only one of several different  forms of waka). hokku is an even shorter form of poetry, commonly known by the modern name:  haiku 

12 And not just babies names, but also names for new business ventures, spiritual organisations, and  even pop or rock groups.

13 Kotodama also manifests when words/syllables are written with spirit/ki; and so, closely associated with the 'intoning' element of the discipline is a calligraphic (書道, shodō) practice of drawing/writing individual characters and complete phrases,etc, with spirit/ki . However, this does not have to be done with 'brush and ink'.  Characters can be traced in the air (for example,) with the hand, or with the eyes, or with the breath. (Think Reiki Symbols) .  
This particular element of the process of evoking of the power of kotodama is pertinent when it comes to why so many people do not seem to 'get'  the power and importance of the Reiki Symbols.  While they may have learnt the symbol shapes, and even the correct order and direction of the strokes with which each symbol is written, they simply have not learnt how to write them - with spirit, with ki.

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