"Spirited Away"

The piece created for this month's theme of the Enchanted Visions Project, "Spirited Away", is finally finished.  The line art was done a while ago, but with holiday shopping season almost upon us, I had a fair amount of listing  updates to do over at my ballet shops and fantasy shops that delayed the completion of this work.  (I was also overhauling the entire AuroraWings.com site earlier this month, which took away my time as well. ^^; )

   The phrase "spirited away" is translated into 神隠し (kami-kakushi), literally meaning "god hidden" ("hidden by god") in Japanese, my native language.  It refers to incidences where someone goes missing without a trace.  When I did my research for this piece on the web, scraping the Japanese language sites, I came across a lot of forum threads discussing the phenomenon of "kamikakushi", which is a euphemism for more common and direct terms, "kidnapping", "abduction", and possibly, "murder" or "human trafficking" for the purpose of "slavery" or "prostitution".  Historically, in old times where many Japanese people lived in smaller, countryside villages,  where everyone knew everyone by their names, crimes of this kind was unheard of, so when a person goes missing, the possibility of 'abduction by spirit' must have been a convincing one.  It often happened to a child or mentally or emotionally disturbed woman who happened to be alone in the woods or in the mountains.  (Interestingly, port cities along the shorelines had high incidences of missing persons within Japan, suggesting the possibility of human trafficking rate being high in these regions.)

   The indigenous religion of Japan, of course, is Shinto, which reveres spirits in all things.  Old trees, certain species of trees, boulders, rivers, springs, lakes, ponds, forests, and mountains can be designated as a spirit's dwelling or a gateway to their world.   Often, these objects are marked with garlands made of straw ropes and/or paper decorations.  Crossing past them or entering into a deep woods can be considered 'entering' into the domain of the spirits.  And there are spirits of all kinds -- some benevolent, some mischievous,  and some malevolent.

   In the old days, when someone is reported missing, a whole village will mobilize in a search effort.  The methods vary by regions.  One of the commonly observed approaches was to go walking, reciting a certain phrase of request for the return of the person while beating on a taiko drum.  There have been cases where the missing have returned after a period of time, usually with amnesia of the event itself and the period while the individual was 'gone'.

   These bits of information and historical accounts were enough to get my imagination going.  I started with a blank piece of paper and the sketch appeared within a short time.  I had a profile (side view) version of the same scene, but I scrapped it in favor of this angle.  During the coloring phase, the darkening of the foreground (I hope) helped to give the feeling that the viewer is a witness to this scene of abduction by mysterious spirits.

*A close-up view of the details of the Celestial

   Within the image, a variety of animals and insects are presented, all of which are symbols in multiple world traditions -- butterfly, bird, fish, dragonfly.   Butterfly is the symbol of transformation.  Bird (as well as winged insects) usually is the symbol of air and different perspective, as well as 'spirit world'.  Fish exists in an entirely different domain, sometimes murky and hidden from our view, ...mysterious, foreign.   So the spirit/celestial being here is a winged mermaid with butterfly ears, suggesting her ability to go freely between different realms/worlds.  Added to the multiple animal features, she wears a bird-face mask.  Mask of any kind suggests mystery, assumed identity, and/or hidden secrets.  Here, the reason for her mask is to imply her hidden intentions.  A beautiful celestial with possibly a malevolent intent.   Incidentally, the child was originally drawn with her hand already in that of the celestial, but I changed to pull it back to suggest that she is hesitant to trust the celestial. Will she take her hand and be abducted easily or will she turn around and run to the viewer who just might be able to get her out of the forest and back in the safety of the human world once again. ^_^



  1. Beautiful piece! I loved reading your description on the term "Spirited Away". It was very interesting to think that it's similar to child abduction/murder - and that in the old days people thought missing people could have been taken by a spirit. :)

  2. Thank you so much, Sasha. I'm glad you found this information interesting.

    The Japanese folklore is something that I tap into often when I'm working on my fantasy art. With this one, I let my imagination run wild and felt I needed to explain a little bit more than usual. ^^;


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