Onmyōdō: Exploring the Relationship with Shinto in Japan

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Onmyodo, a system of divination and magic unique to Japan, is based on the Chinese theory of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements.

From ancient times to the Heian period, it played a crucial role within the imperial court and among the nobility.

Onmyoji, the specialists in Onmyodo, conducted various practices, including astrology, calendrical calculations, weather predictions, purification rituals, and curses.

They even interacted with supernatural beings like yokai and spirits.

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Origins and Development of Onmyodo

Onmyodo evolved from the Chinese Yin-Yang and Five Elements theory, adapted to Japanese culture and mythology.

The first recorded Onmyoji was Abe no Seimei, who served Emperor Tenmu in the late 7th century, practicing divination alongside his daughter, Abe no Onomu.

During the Heian period, clans like Abe and Kamo performed divination and magic upon request from the court and nobility.

Abe no Seimei, active in the late 10th to early 11th centuries, became particularly famous.

Teachings and Practices of Onmyodo

In Onmyodo, everything consists of Yin and Yang energies, categorized into the Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water).

These elements correspond to directions, seasons, and times, influencing natural and human affairs.

For instance, Wood generates Fire, Fire generates Earth, but Wood is controlled by Earth, and Fire is controlled by Water.

Onmyoji applied these principles in their practices.

  • Divination: Techniques included calendrical calculations, astronomy, geomancy, and the Book of Changes (I Ching).
  • Magic: Rituals for prayer, purification, talismans, and curses were performed to interact with gods, spirits, and supernatural forces.

Influence and Decline of Onmyodo

Onmyodo significantly impacted Japanese society during the Heian period.

Architectural and urban planning considered energy flow and cardinal directions.

Literary works like "The Tale of Genji" and "Konjaku Monogatari" reflected Onmyodo's worldview.

It also had deep connections with Shinto and Buddhism, and elements of Onmyōdō were incorporated into Shinbutsu-Shūgō and Vajrayana.

However, from the Kamakura period onward, Onmyodo gradually declined due to the rise of samurai, changing political dynamics, and the influx of new calendrical methods from China.

By the Edo period, Onmyodo survived mainly in court rituals and traditions, fading from general awareness.


Though largely forgotten today, Onmyodo left an indelible mark on Japanese culture.

Its principles resonate in our customs, festivals, and even modern feng shui and astrology practices.

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