Category Archives: CultCrit

ADOLF LOOS: ORNAMENT AND CRIME, modernist essay/lecture, 1908

“I will not subscribe to the argument that ornamention increases the pleasure of the life of a cultivated person, or the argument which covers itself with the words: “But if the ornament is beautiful! …” To me, and to all the cultivated people, ornament does not increase the pleasures of life. – Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime

Ornament and Crime was an essay and a lecture by modernist architect Adolf Loos, that criticizes ornament in art, first given on 21 January 1908 in Vienna and first published in Cahiers d’aujourd’hui(issue 5 of 1910) under the German title Ornament und Verbrechen. It was under this challenging title that in 1913 the essay was translated into French; it was not published in German until 1929. “The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects”, Loos proclaimed, linking the optimistic sense of the linear and upward progress of cultures with the contemporary vogue for applying evolution to cultural contexts. Loos’ work was prompted by regulations Loos encountered when he designed a tailorshop without ornamentation next to a palace. He eventually conceded to requirements by adding a flowerpot. 

The essay was written when Art Nouveau, which Loos had excoriated even at its height in 1900, was about to show a new way of modern art. The essay is important in articulating some moralizing views, inherited from the Arts and Crafts movement, which would be fundamental to the Bauhaus design studio and would help define the ideology of Modernism in architecture.

In Loos’ essay, “passion for smooth and precious surfaces” he explains his philosophy, describing how ornamentation can have the effect of causing objects to go out of style and thus become obsolete. It struck him that it was a crime to waste the effort needed to add ornamentation, when the ornamentation would cause the object to soon go out of style. Loos introduced a sense of the “immorality” of ornament, describing it as “degenerate”, its suppression as necessary for regulating modern society. He took as one of his examples the tattooing of the “Papuan” and the intense surface decorations of the objects about him—Loos says that, in the eyes of western culture, the Papuan has not evolved to the moral and civilized circumstances of modern man, who, should he tattoo himself, would either be considered a criminal or a degenerate.

Loos never argued for the complete absence of ornamentation, but believed that it had to be appropriate to the type of material.

Loos concluded that “No ornament can any longer be made today by anyone who lives on our cultural level … Freedom from ornament is a sign of spiritual strength”. -wikipedia, ornament and crime


**republished from

Ornament and Crime began as a lecture delivered by Adolf Loos in 1910 in response to a time (the late 19th and early 20th Centuries) and a place (Vienna), in which Art Nouveau was the status quo.

Loos used the essay as a vehicle to explain his distain of “ornament” in favour of “smooth and previous surfaces,” partly because the former, to him, caused objects and buildings to become unfashionable sooner, and therefore obsolete. This—the effort wasted in designing and creating superfluous ornament, that is—he saw as nothing short of a “crime.” The ideas embodied in this essay were forerunners to the Modern movement, including practices that would eventually be at core of the Bauhaus in Weimar.

Extract from Ornament and Crime

The human embryo goes through all the phases of animal life while still inside the womb. When man is born, his instincts are those of a newborn dog. His childhood runs through all the changes corresponding to the history of mankind. At the age of two he looks like a Papuan, at four like one of an ancient Germanic tribe, at six like Socrates, at eight like Voltaire. When he is eight years old, he becomes conscious of violet, the colour discovered by the eighteenth century, for until then violets were blue and purple-fish were red. The physicist today points out colours in the spectrum of the sun that have already been named, but whose comprehension has been reserved for future generations.

The child is amoral. So is the Papuan, to us. The Papuan kills his enemies and eats them. He is no criminal but if a modern man kills someone and eats him, he is a criminal or a degenerate.

The Papuan tattoos his skin, his boat, his rudder, his oars; in short, everything he can get his hands on. He is no criminal. The modern man who tattoos himself is a criminal or a degenerate. There are prisons in which eighty per cent of the prisoners are tattooed. Tattooed men who are not behind bars are either latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. If someone who is tattooed dies in freedom, then he does so a few years before he would have committed murder.

The urge to decorate one’s face and everything in reach is the origin of the graphic arts. It is the babbling of painting. All art is erotic.

The first ornament invented, the cross, was of erotic origin. The first work of art, the first artistic act, which the first artist scrawled on the wall to give his exuberance vent. A horizontal line: the woman. A vertical line: the man penetrating her. The man who created this felt the same creative urge as Beethoven, he was in the same state of exultation in which Beethoven created the Ninth.

But the man of our own times who covers the walls with erotic images from an inner compul­sion is a criminal or a degenerate. Of course, this urge affects people with such symptoms of degeneracy most strongly in the lavatory. It is possible to estimate a country’s culture by the amount of scrawling on lavatory walls. In children this is a natural phenomenon: their first artistic expression is scribbling erotic symbols on walls. But what is natural for, a Papuan and a child, is degenerate for modern man. I have discovered the following truth and present it to the world: cultural evolution is equivalent to the removal of Ornament from articles in daily use. I thought I was giving the world a new source of pleasure with this; it did not thank me for it. People were sad and despondent. What oppressed them was the realization that no new ornament could be created. What every Negro can do, what all nations and ages have been able to do, why should that be denied to us, men of the nineteenth century? What humanity had achieved in earlier millennia without decoration has been carelessly tossed aside and consigned to destruction. We no longer possess carpenters’ benches from the Carolingian period, but any trash that exhibited the merest trace of decoration was collected and cleaned up, and splendid palaces built to house it. People walked sadly around the showcases, ashamed of their own impotence. Shall every age have a style of its own and our age alone be denied one? By style they meant decoration. But I said: Don’t weep! Don’t you see that the greatness of our age lies in its inability to produce a new form of decoration? We have conquered ornament, we have won through to lack of ornamentation. Look, the time is nigh, fulfilment awaits us. Soon the streets of the town will glisten like white walls. Like Zion, the holy city, the metropolis of heaven. Then we shall have fulfillment.

But there are some pessimists who will not permit this. Humanity must be kept down in the slavery of decoration. People progressed far enough for ornament to give them pleasure no longer, indeed so far that a tattooed face no longer heightened their aesthetic sensibility, as it did with the Papuans, but diminished it. They were sophisticated enough to feel pleasure at the sight of a smooth cigarette case while they passed over a decorated one, even at the same price. They were happy with their clothes and glad that they did not have to walk about in red velvet pants with gold’ braid like monkeys at a fair. And I said: look, Goethe’s death chamber is more magnificent than all the Renaissance grandeur and a smooth piece of furniture more beautiful than all the inlaid and carved museum pieces. Goethe’s language is finer than all the florid similes of the Pegnitz Shepherds.[1]

The pessimist heard this with displeasure and the State, whose task it is to retard the cultural progress of the people, took up the fight for the development and revival of ornament. Woe to the State whose revolutions are made by Privy Councillors! A sideboard was soon on show in the Vienna Museum of Arts and Crafts called The Rich Haul of Fish, soon there were cupboards called The Enchanted Princess or something similar, relating to the ornament that covered these unfortunate pieces. The Austrian government takes its task so seriously that it makes sure that puttees do not disappear from the borders of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. It forces every civilized twenty-year-old man to wear puttees instead of knitted hose for three years. For every government still labours under the supposition that a nation on a low standard is easier to govern.

All right, then, the plague of ornament is recognized by the State and subsidized by State finds. But I look on this as retrogression. I do not allow the objection that ornament heightens a cultivated man’s joy in life; I do not allow the objection: “but what if the ornament is beautiful…” As far as I am concerned, and this goes for all cultivated people, ornament does not give zest to life. If I want to eat some gingerbread, I choose a piece that is quite plain, and not in the shape of a heart or a baby or a horseman, and gilded all over. The man from the fifteenth century will not understand me. But all modem people will. The advocate of ornament believes that my urge for simplicity is equivalent to a mortification of the flesh. No, my dear art school professor, I’m not mortifying myself. I prefer it that way. The specta­cular menus of past centuries, which all include decorations to make peacocks, pheasants and lobsters appear even tastier, produce the opposite effect on me. I walk though a culinary display with revulsion at the thought that I am supposed to eat these stuffed animal corpses. I eat roast beef.

The immense damage and devastation wrought on aesthetic development by the revival of decoration could easily be overcome, for no one, not even governments, can arrest the evolution of mankind. It can only be retarded We can wait. But it is a crime against the national economy that human labour, money and material should thereby be ruined. This kind of damage cannot be put right by time.

The tempo of cultural progress suffers through stragglers. I may be living in 1908, yet my neighbour still lives in 1900 and that one over there in 1880. It is a misfortune for a country if the cultural development of its people is spread over such a long period. The peasant from Kals lives in the twelfth century. And in the jubilee procession there were contingents from national groups which would have been thought backward even in the period of the migrations of the tribes. Happy the country that has no such stragglers and marauders! Happy America! In our country there are old-fashioned people even in the cities, stragglers from the eighteenth century, who are shocked by a picture with violet shadows because they can’t yet see violet. They prefer the pheasant on which the chef has had to work for days, and cigarette cases with Renaissance decoration please them better than smooth ones. And how is it in the country? clothes and furniture belong entirely to earlier centuries. The farmer is not a Christian, he is still a heathen.

Stragglers slow down the cultural progress of nations and humanity; for ornament is not only produced by criminals; it itself commits a crime, by damaging men’s health, the national economy and cultural development. where two people live side by side with the same needs, the same demands on life and the same income, and yet belong to different cultures, the following process may be observed from the economic point of view: the man from the twentieth century becomes ever richer, the one from the eighteenth ever poorer. I am supposing that each lives according to his inclinations. The twentieth century man can pay for his needs with much less capital and can therefore save. The vegetables he likes are simply boiled in water and then served with a little melted butter. The other man doesn’t enjoy them until honey and nuts have been added and someone has been busy cooking them for hours. Decorated plates are very dear, while the plain white china that the modem man likes is cheap. One man accumulates savings, the other one debts. So it is with whole nations. Woe to the country that lags behind in cultural development! The English become richer and we poorer…

Even greater is the damage ornament inflicts on the workers. As ornament is no longer a natural product of our civilization, it accordingly represents backwardness or degeneration, and the labour of the man who makes it is not adequately remunerated.

Conditions in the woodcarving and turning trades, the criminally low prices paid to em­broiderers and lacemakers, are well known. The producers of ornament must work twenty hours to earn the wages a modern worker gets in eight. Decoration adds to the price of an object as a rule, and yet it can happen that a decorated object, with the same outlay in materials and demonstrably three times as much work, is offered for sale at half the price of a plain object. The lack of ornament means shorter working hours and consequently higher wages. Chinese carvers work sixteen hours, American workers eight. If I pay as much for a smooth box as for a decorated one, the difference in labour time belongs to the worker. And if there were no ornament at all – a circumstance that will perhaps come true in a few millennia – a man would have to work only four hours instead of eight, for half the work done at present is still for ornamentation.

Ornament is wasted labour and hence wasted health. That’s how it has always been. Today, however, it is also wasted material, and both together add up to wasted capital.

As ornament is no longer organically linked with our culture, it is also no longer an expression of our culture. Ornament as created today has no connection with us, has no human con­nections at all, no connection with the world as it is constituted. It cannot be developed. What has happened to the decorations of Otto Eckmann and those of Van de Velde? The artist always used to stand at the forefront of humanity, full of health and vigour. But the modem ornamentalist is a straggler, or a pathological case. He rejects even his own products within three years. To cultivated people they are unbearable immediately, others are aware of their unbearableness only after some years. Where are the works of Otto Eckmann today? Where will Olbrich’s work be in ten years’ time? Modern ornament has no forbears and no descendants, no past and no future. It is joyfully welcomed by uncultivated people, to whom the true greatness of our time is a closed book, and after a short period is rejected.

Mankind today is healthier than ever, only a few people are sick. But these few tyrannize over the worker who is so healthy that he cannot invent ornament. They force him to make the ornaments they have invented in the greatest variety of materials.

Changes in decoration account for the quick devaluation of the product of labour. The worker’s time and the material used are capital items that are being wasted. I have coined an aphorism: The form of an object should last (i.e., should be bearable) as long as the object lasts physically. I shall try to clarify this: A suit will change in fashion more often than a valuable fur. ball gown for a lady, only meant for one night, will change its form more speedily than a desk But woe to the desk that has to be changed as quickly as a ball gown because its shape has become unbearable, for than the money spent on the desk will have been wasted.

This is well-known to the ornamentalists, and Austrian ornamentalists try to make the most of it. They say: “A consumer who has his furniture for ten years and then can’t stand it anymore and has to re-furnish from scratch every ten years, is more popular with us than someone who only buys an item when the old one is worn out. Industry thrives on this. Millions are employed due to rapid changes.” This seems to be the secret of the Austrian national economy; how often when a fire breaks out one hears the words: “Thank God, now there will be something for people to do again.” I know a good remedy: burn down a town, burn down the country and everything will be swimming in wealth and well-being. Make furniture that you can use as firewood after three years and metal fittings that must be melted down after four years because even in the auction room you can’t realize a tenth of the outlay in work and materials, and we shall become richer and richer.

The loss does not hit only the consumer, it hits the manufacturer above all. Today, ornament on items that need no ornament means wasted labour and spoilt materials. If all objects were aesthetically enduring for as long as they lasted physically, the consumer could afford to pay a price that would enable the worker to earn more money and work shorter hours. I don’t mind spending four times as much for an article which I am certain I can make use of and use up completely as I would for one inferior in shape and material. I don’t mind spending forty kronen for my boots although I could get boots for ten kronen in another shop. But in trades suffering under the tyranny of the ornamentalists, good or bad work­manship does not count. The work suffers because nobody wants to pay its true value.

And that is a good thing, because these decorated objects are only bearable in the cheapest form. I can get over a fire’s havoc more easily if I hear that only worthless rubbish has been destroyed. I can enjoy the tripe in the Künstlerhaus because I know that it has been put up in a few days and will be torn down in a day. But throwing gold coins around instead of pebbles, lighting cigarettes with a banknote and pulverizing a pearl and than drinking it is unaesthetic. The most unaesthetic decorated objects are those made of the best materials with the greatest care, those that have demanded hours of work. I cannot deny having asked for high quality work above all-but not this kind.

Modern men who revere ornament as a sign of the artistic expression of earlier generations, will immediately recognize the painfully laboured and sickly ornament of today. No-one can create ornament now who lives on our level of culture.

It is different for people and nations who have not yet attained this level.

I am preaching to the aristocrats; I mean, to the people in the forefront of humanity who still fully appreciate the needs and strivings of those beneath: them. They understand the native weaving ornaments into textiles to a certain rhythm, which can be seen only when torn apart, the Persian knotting his carpet, the Slovak peasant woman embroidering her lace, the old lady crocheting wonderful objects in beads and silk. The aristocrat lets them be, for he knows they work in moments of revelation. The revolutionary would go there and say “This is all nonsense.” Just as he would pull the old woman away from the roadside shrine with the words: “There is no God.” But among the aristocrats the atheist raises his hat on passing a church.

My shoes are covered over and over with decoration, the kind made up of pinking and perforations. Work done by the shoemaker but not paid for. I go to the shoemaker and say: “You want thirty kronen for a pair of shoes. I’ll pay you forty.” In this way I have raised the man to a level of happiness which he will repay me for by work and material of a quality absolutely out of proportion to the extra cost. He is happy. Good fortune rarely comes his way. Here is a man who understands him and appreciates his work and does not doubt his honesty. In his imagination he can already see the finished shoes before him. He knows where the best leather is to be had at present, he knows which of his workers he can entrust the shoes to. And the shoes will boast perforations and scallops, as many as can possibly be fitted on an elegant shoe. And then I add: “but there’s one condition. The shoe must be quite plain.” With that I’ve toppled him from the heights of contentment into Tartarus. He has less work, but I have robbed him of all his pleasure.

I am preaching to the aristocrats. I tolerate ornaments on my own body if they afford my fellow-men pleasure. Then they are a pleasure to me, too. I put up with the ornaments of the natives, the Persians, the Slovak peasant woman and my shoemaker’s ornaments, for these workers have no other means of reaching the heights of their existence. We have art, which has replaced ornament. We go to Beethoven or Tristan after the cares of the day. My shoemaker can’t. I must not take away his joy as I have nothing to replace it with. But whoever goes to the Ninth Symphony and than sits down to design a wallpaper pattern is either a rogue or a degenerate.

Lack of ornament has pushed the other arts to unimagined heights. Beethoven’s symphonies would never have been written by a man who was obliged. to go about in silk, velvet and lace. Those who run around in velvet nowadays are not artists but buffoons or house painters. We have become more refined, more subtle. The herd must distinguish themselves by the use of various colors, modern man uses his clothes like a mask. His individuality is so strong that he does not need to express it any longer by his clothing. Lack of ornament is a sign of spiritual strength. Modern man uses the ornaments of earlier and foreign cultures as he thinks fit. He concentrates his own powers of invention on other things.

A society founded in 1644 by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer and Johann Clajus, devoted to ennobling the German language.

Shugendô & Japanese Mountain Asceticism, pt 2: Self-Mummifying Monks, the Sokushinbutsu Documentary, 50min

Sokushinbutsu (即身仏) refers to a practice of Buddhist monks observing Asceticism to the point of death and entering mummification while alive. This process of self-mummification was mainly practiced in Yamagata in Northern Japan between the 11th and 19th century, by members of the Japanese Vajrayana school of Buddhism called Shingon (“True Word”). The practitioners of sokushinbutsu did not view this practice as an act of suicide, but rather as a form of further enlightenment.

It is believed that many hundreds of monks tried, but only 24 such mummifications have been discovered to date. There is a common suggestion that Shingon school founder Kukai brought this practice from Tang China as part of secret tantric practices he learned, and that were later lost in China.

Shugendō practice

A mountain-dwelling version of Buddhism called Shugendō emerged in Japan as a syncretism between Vajrayana, Shinto and Taoism in the 7th century, which stressed ascetic practices. This tradition continued through the Edo period. One of its ascetic practice was Sokushinbutsu (or Sokushin jobutsu), connoting mountain austerities in order to attain Buddha-nature in one’s body. This practice was perfected over a period of time, particularly in the Three Mountains of Dewa region of Japan, that is the Haguro, Gassan and Yudono mountains. These mountains remain sacred in the Shugendō tradition to this day, and ascetic austerities continue to be performed in the valleys and mountain range in this area.

In medieval Japan, this tradition developed a process for Sokushinbutsu, which a monk completed over about 3,000 days to ten years. It involved a strict diet called mokujikigyo (literally, “eating a tree”). The diet abstained from any cereals, and relied on pine needles, resins and seeds found in the mountains, which would eliminate all fat in the body. Increasing rates of fasting and meditation would lead to starvation. The monks would slowly reduce then stop liquid intake, thus dehydrating the body and shrinking all organs. The monks would die in a state of jhana (meditation) while chanting the nenbutsu (a mantra about Buddha), and their body would become naturally preserved as a mummy with skin and teeth intact without decay and without the need of any artificial preservatives. Many Buddhist Sokushinbutsu mummies have been found in northern Japan and estimated to be centuries old, while texts suggest that hundreds of these cases are buried in the stupas and mountains of Japan. These mummies have been revered and venerated by the laypeople of Buddhism.

One of the altars in the Honmyō-ji temple of Kyushu prefecture continues to preserve one of the oldest mummy of the Sokushinbutsu ascetic named Honmyōkai.

Related practices

There is the existence of at least one “self-mummified” 550-year-old corpse of a Buddhist monk named Sangha Tenzin in northern Himalayan region of India, visible in a temple in Gue village, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. This mummy was discovered in 1975 when the old stupa preserving it collapsed and it is estimated to be from about the 14th century, well after Islamic rule had arrived in India, and Buddhism had practically vanished there. The monk was likely a Tibetan dzogpa-chenpo practitioner and similar mummies have been found in Tibet and East Asia. The preservation of the mummy for at least 5 centuries has been possible due to the aridity of the area and cold weather.

According to Paul Williams, the Sokushinbutsu ascetic practices of Shugendō were likely inspired by Kūkai – the founder of Shingon Buddhism, who ended his life by reducing and then stopping intake of food and water, while continuing to meditate and chant Buddhist mantras. Ascetic self-mummification practices are also recorded in China, but it is associated with the Ch’an (Zen Buddhism) tradition there. Alternate ascetic practices similar to Sokushinbutsu are also known, such as public self-immolation (auto cremation) practice in China, such as that of Fayu in 396 CE and many more in the centuries that followed. This was considered as evidence of a renunciant bodhisattva.


The Mysterious World of Shugendō (修験道) and the Japanese Mountain Ascetics, Pt 1


Little is known in the West about the the mystical practices of Japanese Mountain Asceticism: the Yamabushi, mountain-wandering warrior monks.

The Yamabushi believe that to become spiritually enlightened, you have to commune with nature over a long period of time, and that communing with nature will give you mystical powers.  They often trained in the martial arts to protect themselves in their journeys.  For the past 1400 years, these mountain ascetics have been engaged in a tradition of spiritual practice which evolved from the combination of number of separate teachings, ultimately becoming codified into a defined religion: Shugendō. 

“Shugendō” literally means “the path of training and testing.” It is an old Japanese practice of being outside using special awareness.  It centers on an ascetic, mountain-dwelling lifestyle and incorporates teachings from other eastern a form of Japanese folk religion, based on primitive mountain worship, and formed under the influence of Buddhism, Daoism, Onmyōdō, and other religions. The name shugen is derived from the term genriki, which refers to special powers acquired as the result of religious practice (shugyō) performed within the mountains. In the past, such persons were frequently referred to by such terms as sanga (one who beds in the mountains) or the more common yamabushi (one who retreats to the mountains).

While Shugendō provides abstract theories regarding the meaning of such terms, they are generally used to refer to those who supranormal magico-religious capabilities by sheltering in the mountains, in other words by retreating to the mountains and engaging in concourse with mountain spirits. Shugen practitioners are also called yama no hijiri (holy-men of the mountains), genja (men of power), or gyōja (ascetic practitioners).

The 7th century ascetic and mystic En no Gyōja is widely considered as the patriarch of Shugendō, having first organized Shugendō as a doctrine. Shugendōliterally means “the path of training and testing” or “the way to spiritual power through discipline.”

In modern times, Shugendō is practiced mainly through Tendai and Shingon temples. Some temples include Kimpusen-ji in Yoshino (Tendai), Ideha Shrine in the Three Mountains of Dewa and Daigo-ji in Kyoto (Shingon).

Shugendō practitioners are said to be descendants of the Kōya Hijiri monks of the eighth and ninth centuries.

The world of Shugendo and the Yamabushi is one filled with arduous spiritual discipline,  supernatural powers, other-worldly forces and creatures & rigorous warrior training. The following are articles & videos which begin the explain this nearly inexplicable and mysterious religious sect and it’s esoteric culture.

Shugendō & Japan’s Mysterious Mountain Monks

 From the comfort of the bullet-train, Japan’s countryside appears picturesque and benign.




Shugendō (修験道)

Crow Tengu, the Yamabushi Ninja martial instructor

Crow Tengu, the Yamabushi Ninja martial instructor

is an old Japanese practice of being outside using special awareness. “Shugendo” literally means “the path of training and testing.” It centers on an ascetic, mountain-dwelling lifestyle and incorporates teachings from other eastern philosophies.In modern times, Shugendo is practiced by the Yoshino Yamabushiof Dewa Sanzan (Tendai sect), Kinpusenji and Ishiyama-dera Shingon sects, but it retains an influence on modern Japanese religion, Culture of Japan and many outdoor practices.


En-no-Gyōja is often considered the founder of shugendo. Shugendō evolved on the cultural background of state-sponsored Buddhism and other religious influences in Japan around the 7th century, including but not limited to Taoism and Shintō. During the Meiji restoration, Shugendō was banned as a superstition not fit for a new, enlightened Japan. The Shugendō temples were converted into imperial Shintō shrines.


Those who practice Shugendō are referred in two ways. One term, shugenja (修験者), is derived from the term “Shugendo”.

The other term, yamabushi (山伏) means “one who sleeps in the mountains”. Supernatural creatures often appeared as yamabushi in Japanese mythology, as is evident in the legendary monk warrior Saito Musashibo Benkei and the deity Sojobo, king of the tengu (mountain spirits).

Modern Shugenja in Japan and throughout the world are known to practice through challenging and rigorous ritualistic tests of courage and devotion known as shugyo. Walkabouts involving mountain treks (Mts Ominé, Dewa, Hakusan, etc in Japan) are embarked upon by the aspiring Yamabushi, and, through the experience of each trek, as well as years of study, experience and insights are gained.


Yossi Sheriff,Shugendo,



Shugendō is a form of Japanese folk religion, based on primitive mountain worship, and formed under the influence of Buddhism, Daoism, Onmyōdō, and other religions. The name shugen is derived from the term genriki, which refers to special powers acquired as the result of religious practice (shugyō) performed within the mountains. In the past, such persons were frequently referred to by such terms as sanga (one who beds in the mountains) or the more common yamabushi (one who retreats to the mountains). While Shugendō provides abstract theories regarding the meaning of such terms, they are generally used to refer to those who supranormal magico-religious capabilities by sheltering in the mountains, in other words by retreating to the mountains and engaging in concourse with mountain spirits. Shugen practitioners are also called yama no hijiri (holy-men of the mountains), genja (men of power), or gyōja (ascetic practitioners). 

The History of Shugendō
The history of Shugendō can be roughly divided into four periods. The first period extends to the end of Heian period before the two schools of Honzanha and Tōzanha were formed. It can be called pre-Shugendō or primitive Shugendō. Based on early views of mountains as sacred space or gateways to the other world (takaikan), the number of ascetics using mountains and forests as sites of religious practice gradually increased. With the rise of mountain-centered Buddhism and esoteric Buddhism in the Heian Period, groups of shugen gradually coalesced, and by the end of the Heian period, sacred mountains throughout the country had become well known as sites of ascetic religious practice. Beginning with the pilgrimage to Mount Yoshino (typified by the Fujiwara Michinaga’s 1007 pilgrimage to Mitake or Mitake mōde) and the pilgrimages to Kumano (Kumano mōde) by retired Emperors Shirakawa, Go-Shirakawa and Go-Toba, pilgrimages to the “three mountains of Kumano” (Kumano sanzan) flourished to such a degree that the parade of visitors came to be known as “pilgrimage of ants to Kumano.” 
       The second period extends from the formation of the two Shugendō branches Honzanha and Tōzanha to the forcible “separation of Shintō and Buddhism” or Shinbutsu bunri in 1868 and the abolition of Shugendō itself in 1872. This can be called the period of sectarian Shugendō, and can be divided into early and late halves centering on the Bakufu’s issuance of the Shugendō hatto(Ordinance for Shugendō) in 1613. Shugendō flourished during the early half of the period, with Mount Ōmine, including the peaks of Yoshino, Ōmine and Kumano, considered the religion’s central place of training and practice and En no Ozunu coming to be viewed as patriarch. Periodic intensive mountain retreats (nyūbu shugyō, or buchū shugyō) were practiced, and the Honzanha and Tōzanha branches developed organizationally. Furthermore, various sacred mountains throughout the country—from the “three mountains of Dewa” (Dewa Sanzan) in the northeast to Hikosan in Kyūshū—displayed independent development as places of Shugendō practice. The Shugendō hatto of 1613 represented an official recognition of the dual existence of the Honzanha and Tōzanha branches, and both groups continued their organizational development through the early modern period, but unfortunately the practice of mountain retreats (nyūbu shugyō) tended to become formalized. Ritual spells and invocations (kaji kitō) performed for the common people became the primary religious activities, and yamabushi practitioners commonly began residing in villages (sato yamabushi) instead of mountains. From the mid Edo period, lay people commonly participated in mountain retreats as well, and Fuji gyōja (Mount Fuji ascetics) in the line of the founder known as Miroku, and Mitake gyōja (Mount Mitake ascetics) in the tradition of Fukan and Kukumei became active. 
       The third period of Shugendō history extends from the Meiji-period separation of Shinto and Buddhism and abolition of Shugendō, to the end of World War II in 1945, when the new Religious Corporations Ordinance (Shūkyō hōjinrei) was promulgated. With the Meiji-period abolition of Shugendō, practitioners went in three directions: they either grew their hair and became Shinto priests (shinshoku), joined the Tendai or Shingon sects of Buddhism, or returned to secular life, and Shugendō ceased to exist as an organized religion. Shugendō practice continued to be observed, however, within the Tendai and Shingon schools of Buddhism, and within sectarian Shinto (kyōha Shintō) groups such as Fusōkyō, Jikkōkyō, and Mitakekyō.
       The fourth period of Shugendō history runs from the promulgation of the aforementioned postwar Religious Corporations Ordinance to the present. A wide variety of new Shugendō organizations exist with an equally wide variety of affiliations, from the old Honzanha and Tōzanha groups and independent practitioners who formerly were associated with individual mountains, to new religions of a Shugendō nature. 

The Similarity of Shinto and Shugendō —
The historical process of Shugendō’s development is similar to that in the history of Shinto: from primitive Shinto to Ryōbu Shintō, Ise Shintō, Yoshida Shintō, and on to Jinja Shintō and Kokka Shintō (State Shinto). The resemblance between the two is reflected in the fact that widespread feuding and rivalry occurred between adherents of Yoshida Shintō and Shugendō in the early modern period as a result of the expansion of Yoshida Shintō throughout the period, and the fact that the Meiji-period separation of Shintō and Buddhism and subsequent abolition of Shugendō resulted in many practitioners converting from Shugendō to Shinto.
       Viewed from the contrary side, it might be said that factors lying behind the conflict with Yoshida Shinto and the Meiji-period conversion from Shugendō to Shintō priesthood include the fact that shugen practitioners vastly outnumbered Shinto priests during the early modern period and Shudendō rituals included Shintō-type elements, and the fact that most yamabushi who resided in villages formed groups of clients for their thaumaturgic invocatory practices and frequently performed Shinto rituals in the status of supervising intendent priests (bettō) over Shinto shrines. 

Shugendō Religious Practice— 
Originally, Shugendō based its practice on a “transmission beyond words” (furiyūmonji), and aimed at the acquisition of spiritual powers through ascetic practice, but from the medieval into the early modern period numerous works of doctrine were authored. These works, however, were mainly explications and descriptions of mountain retreats, vestments and ritual procedures based on theories of esoteric Buddhism. Although four seasonal mountain retreats are postulated in Shugendō (one each in spring, summer, autumn and winter), only the Haguro sect continued to observe all four throughout the early modern period. And while Shugendō evolved its own object of worship called KongōZaō Gongen, various other deities are also worshiped, including natural phenomena such as sun, moon and stars/planets, various Buddhist divinities and the kami of Shinto. Overall, however, practice focuses on the cosmic buddha Dainichi Nyorai and its “disciplinary manifestation (kyōryō rinshin)” as Fudō Myōō (demon-quelling form with scowling countenance), and ritual practices likewise focus on the adept’s visualizing his unification with the deity Fudō Myōō. Frequent use of the Buddhist goma fire ritual is seen in Shugendō during the performance of various rites, including mountain retreats and rites for Buddhist deities and kami. While many of these adopt the goma rituals of esoteric Buddhism such as the sokusai goma(ritual for exorcizing disaster), Shugendō also makes use of its own unique hashiramoto gomaduring mountain retreats, and saitō goma is frequently performed both during mountain retreats and in various other rituals. Religious activities performed for the common people mainly comprised thaumaturgic spells and invocations (kaji kitō) and purificatory harai rituals that utilized a variety of sacred texts, amulets, and ritual implements. Such activities ranged from exorcisms of possessing spirits (tsukimono otoshi), to thaumaturgic healings, all-night vigils held on specific days of the lunar calendar to worship the moon or sun, and rituals dedicated to deities of home and grounds (ie no kami and yashikigami). Among the rites of Shugendō, many of those of Shinto lineage have been compiled in the Shugendō shoshin kanjō tsūyō edited by Gyōson and the Shugenshū Shinto jinja injin edited by Jinkan, while the Shugen shinpi gyōhō fujushū and Shugen shinpi gyōhō fuju zokushū reproduce numerous Shinto-derived kirigami, ritual transmissions originally written on small slips of paper.

-Shinto and Shugendo, Minamoto Kesao, Encyclopedia of Shinto,


Below is a trailer for the feature film, Shugendō Now, directed by Jean-Marc Abela & produced by Mark Patrick McGuire.


This feature documentary is an experiential journey in to the mystical practices of Japanese mountain asceticism. In Shugendō (The Way of Acquiring Power), practitioners perform ritual actions from shamanism, Shintō, Daoism, and Tantric Buddhism. They seek experiential truth of the teachings during arduous climbs in sacred mountains. Through the peace and beauty of the natural world, practitioners purify the six roots of perception, revitalize their energy and reconnect with their truest nature — all while grasping the fundamental interconnectedness with nature and all sentient beings.

How does one return to the city after an enlightening experience in the mountains?

More poetic than analytical, this film explores how a group of modern Japanese people integrate the myriad ways mountain learning interacts with urban life. With intimate camera work and a sensual sound design the viewer is taken from deep within the Kumano mountains to the floating worlds of Ōsaka and Tokyo and back again.

WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS :: A MAN WITHIN, directed by Yony Leyser, documentary, 85min.

This particular video of the film is intact, minus the end credits.  Please see credits below.

Directed by Yony Leyser
Produced by Carmine Cervi
Scott Crary
Ilko Davidov
Yony Leyser
Written by Yony Leyser
Starring Laurie Anderson
Jello Biafra
David Cronenberg
John Giorno
Thurston Moore
Genesis P-Orridge
Iggy Pop
Patti Smith
Gus Van Sant
John Waters
Distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories

Notes about the film, from PBS’s Independent Lens:

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within investigates the life of the legendary beat author and American icon. Born the heir of the Burroughs’ adding machine estate, he struggled throughout his life with addiction, control systems, and self. He was forced to deal with the tragedy of killing his wife and the repercussions of neglecting his son. His novel, Naked Lunch, was one of the last books to be banned by the U.S. government. Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer testified on behalf of the book. The courts eventually overturned the 1966 decision, ruling that the book had important social value. It remains one of the most recognized literary works of the 20th century.

The film features never before seen footage of William S. Burroughs, as well as exclusive interviews with his closest friends and colleagues including John Waters, Genesis P-Orridge, Laurie Anderson, Peter Weller, David Cronenberg, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant, Sonic Youth, Anne Waldman, George Condo, Hal Willner, James Grauerholz, Amiri Baraka, Jello Biafra, V. Vale, David Ohle, Wayne Propst, Diane DiPrima, Dean Ripa (the world’s largest poisonous snake collector), and many others, with narration by actor Peter Weller, and soundtrack by Sonic Youth.

William Burroughs was one of the first to cross the dangerous boundaries of queer and drug culture in the 1950s, and write about his experiences. Eventually he was hailed the godfather of the beat generation and influenced artists for generations to come. But his friends were left wondering if he had ever found contentment or happiness. This extremely personal documentary pierces the surface of the troubled and brilliant world of one of the greatest authors of all time.