This frightening looking creature is actually a Japanese temple guardian. A lion (shishi) protector, a type of offering called Koma-inu, that once stood guard in the inner sanctum of a temple before the Buddha. Why does such a being exist at the entrance to the holy place?
(Edo Period, dated 1742, Seto ware, H. 40cm. Aichi-ken Toji Shiyokan, Nagoya. from "Folk Traditions in Japanese Art", Kodansha, 1978.)
This highly detailed 15th century Medieval, English stained glass panel shows a dragon or fish man swallowing sinners. He wears a collar because he is really a servant of God in the underworld. He holds a trident sceptre showing his authority within this dark and fiery world. Most notable is his belly or torso showing the fierce face of his digestion which will process the course nature from the souls of those he has caught up. Is it simply retribution or is its purpose refinement?
(West window of the nave, St Mary's Church, Fairford, Gloucestershire, 15th Century. from "English Stained Glass", John Baker, Thames and Hudson, 1978.)
This dark, mysterious face might be frightening to some, but it is a beautiful black faced Okina (old man) - a Japanese Noh mask of a character called Kokushikijo. I found this image on the website nohmask21 he makes me very happy. An Okina dance is traditionally performed at the beginning of a Noh program. To understand why that might be what follows are some quotes from the Fushikaden (The Flowering Spirit) by Zeami, the renowned 14-15th century Japanese Noh actor and playwright.
"I have mentioned the importance of the principle of longevity, happiness and prosperity. If you get caught up in the ways of the world and are consumed by greed, it will be the first cause of the decline of the Way. If you take great care in these things for the sake of the Way, you should have a long life, happiness, and prosperity. Nevertheless, if you do so merely for the sake of a long life, happiness, and prosperity, the Way will surely decline. And if the Way declines, so too will longevity and happiness of their own accord. You should take great care to live honestly and with clarity; this will be the cause of revealing the mysterious Flower of ten thousand virtues to the entire world."
"Playing the role of the old man involves the deepest principles of our Way; as the ultimate level of your ability will be apparent to the spectators, it is of the greatest importance."
Kokushikijo's face is dark because it has been burnt by the fires in the vessel of refinement. Maybe this aspect makes him scary but really he is a happy old man who appears after the deepest trials when one has succeeded after a great inner journey....maybe we should call him the Wizard of OZ.
("The Flowering Spirit: Classic Teachings on the Art of No", Zeami, a new translation of the Fushikaden by William Scott Wilson, Kodansha, 2006.)
C. G. Jung writes in Psychology and Alchemy, "The dread resistance which every natural human being experiences when it comes to delving too deeply into himself is, at bottom, the fear of the journey to Hades." (page 336) The hero has "volunteered to die in order to beget a new and fruitful life in that region of the psyche which has hitherto lain fallow in the dark unconsciousness, under the shadow of death." (page 334) You can see how scared the hero Hercules is in the picture above! The Way is not with out trails.
Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh My!
Follow the yellow brick road, Dorothy, because there's no place like home.