October 31, 2011

The witching hour


To quote Wikipedia, ômagatoki (逢魔時 or "meet demons time") refers to the "moment at dusk when the sky grows dark." Toriyama Sekien describes it as "the time when the evil spirits of the mountains and rivers (魑魅魍魎) attempt to materialize in the world."

When I encountered the word while translating Maohden, my first inclination was to translate it as the "witching hour." Except that the witching hour usually refers to midnight (which never struck me as all that inherently spooky). So I defined it within a parenthetical:

The sepia light of early summer stained the falling dusk. Ômagatoki, it was called, the time when ghosts and demons prowled the earth.

Ômagatoki plays a big role in Serpent of Time, defining the powers of one of its main characters, the personification of a scheming Vedic yoga known as Kala Sarpa. This explanation I (made up but) attribute to the Heian Era diviner Abe no Seimei (Japan's Merlin):

During the uncertain hours of the dawn and dusk, when the stars cast a veil across human eyes and gods and ghosts walk unnoticed upon the earth, Kala Sarpa weaves in and among the worlds. But when the day fully conquers the night, when the waning light finally surrenders to the dark, all things must return to their proper time and place, to their natural homes.

Speaking of Toriyama Sekien, he was an eighteenth-century ukiyo-e artist and a collector of Japanese folk tales, a cross between Charles Addams and the Brothers Grimm. A Google image search on his name returns a rich trove of his delightful sketches and prints.

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