art journal tricks, journaling + mail art, philosophy

Out with the old…

planting broken and bent needles in a bed of soft tofu

“All the things have their own soul.”

From a combination of aspects of Buddhism and Japan’s traditional Shinto religion comes the belief that both living and inanimate objects have a spirit and soul.

The idea is that objects that have had a hard life can, having reached their 100th birthday, awaken to life and acquire souls. These monsters or “artefact spirits” are called tsukumogami, and are largely considered harmless, though many of them can band together and turn into a dangerous mob when they reflect upon how badly they have been treated after so much hard work and loyal service. They then set out to punish people who are wasteful, ungrateful, or who throw their tools away thoughtlessly. Wikipedia has a list of “known tsukumogami” that includes a “possessed tea kettle”, an angry-looking “animated umbrella”, and “A furry creature formed from the stirrup of a mounted military commander that works for Yama Orochi.”

tsukumogami

To prevent any of this from happening, Jinja ceremonies, such as the hari-kuyou, are performed in Shinto shrines of Japan. Kuyou are usually held for the spirits of dead people, but have also been held for things such as toys, weapons, and tools that were used for a long time and have been broken or rendered useless.

The hari-kuyou is a memorial service specifically for old sewing needles (hari) and pins. Prayers are offered to console the bent and broken needles. Each year, on February 8th, broken or damaged sewing needles are stuck into slabs of soft tofu or jelly—sort of as a reward after years of being pushed through tougher material—and these are offered to a Shinto shrine (or taken home and buried, with salt, in the garden). No needlework is done on this day, to give one’s needles a holiday of sorts. This ceremony still brings needleworkers and women together, today; in addition to the original purpose of consoling and thanking their tools, women are urged to take some time to console themselves, as well, and bury secrets too personal to reveal.

An old journal is a somewhat different matter…

Unlike broken needles and tattered umbrellas that have become useless, I think a journal becomes more valued and important with time. It is, after all, time and the act of writing in it regularly that transforms an empty book into a treasured record of life, and an heirloom for future generations. Not so much a useless corpse, your journal is more like your amazing hundred-year-old great-grandmother. She’s been a force of nature for over a century, and what she could really use right now is a cozy, everything-taken-care-of, bells-and-whistles retirement.

A home.

With this in mind, I think that a nice way to retire your used-up journal is by making it a special container of its own to live in…buy a decorative box that fits the book well, or try your hand at making a clamshell (or any of the other boxes bookbinders use to house precious volumes). If you can use archival, acid-free materials, so much the better…preserve your journal for your descendants, if you’re at all into that sort of thing.

A book box too bulky for you? If you’re one of those people that goes through 6 journals a year, perhaps a wooden chest or trunk to store them all in would be better. Or how about wrapping it in a knotted silk scarf, or stitching a simple calico bag with drawstring closure? Just something to keep the bugs from eating the paint off the pages, to confer some dignity on it, and keep it clean.

Any last words?

There’s not much point doing lots more writing in this journal—you probably don’t have any space left to write in, or (like me) your heart is already set on starting the next journal—but if writing a good closure makes you feel better, here are a few things you can use those last pages for:

  • An index…this doesn’t have to be a tedious page-by-page account of what’s in the journal, but you could write down major events and other things you’re likely to need someday (Ex. “Trip to Penang, p. 56-97”, “Peter’s death, pp.48”, or “Sabi’s roti paratha recipe, p.11”) My own journals only feature a practical list of schematic diagrams or design plans for book binding, so I can find them quickly without having to read through all the pages of blah-blah-blah. Which is why I still can’t remember the exact date of Peter’s death…

“Don’t talk about the things you care deeply, or feel intensely, about to every friendly stranger or fair-weather acquaintance. 1) Their insensitive questions or frivolous reactions may hurt, 2) your attempt to put the intangible into mere words will cheapen it, and 3) exchanging confidences in order to “win friends and influence people” is despicable.”

  • Finally, it might be nice to write a short paragraph at the very end, thanking the journal for the time it has served you and the ways it has helped you.
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12 thoughts on “Out with the old…

  1. thegrottyglasgowkitchen says:

    Really interesting about the ceremonies, and you’re right- a journal should be valued. I like the idea of writing down what you’ve learned in the time you were writing the journal as well, as a kind of ‘closure’. Nice piece – thanks!

  2. Pingback: What to do with craft supplies you no longer need? | Life with Crafts

  3. I always feel like my old journals take on a little of the spirit on my 12/ 16/ 20/ etc year old self. Love the idea that after 100 years that spirit may come alive! Jx

    • Thank you! Yes, some things do vibrate with a kind of quiet life…well-made things, things with history, old things. I don’t feel it quite so much with modern things, which don’t seem built to last 5 years, much less 50 or 100. Shame, really, that we have more and more in quantity of less and less quality.

      • I was thinking that we’d end up with a lot of really angry objects–having been created at great cost, and then disposed of so quickly with so little life to accumulate–if they do have any spirits they will be pretty pissed off at us.

        • In the post I looked at about hara-kuyou, modern items are not considered a threat because nothing these days is made well enough to live to be 100 years old :D so yes, thank heavens for the mass-produced crap of China, they are the Ghostbusters of the new world, who knew?

  4. Loved this! I keep many old journals, some finished some not even close but it is fun to look back and see how much has changed. I also love the idea of objects attaining souls. Japan has always intrigued me :)

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