Ox-Bezoars and the Materiality of Heian-period Therapeutics

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This article addresses the issue of sacred materiality by exploring the production, extraction, and circulation of ox bezoars in the late Heian period. Bezoar, a highly-valued concretion found in the stomachs of bovines, was renowned for its healing properties and employed by Daigoji ritualists as part of safe childbirth practices. Although the bezoar was empowered by Buddhist monks before its therapeutic applications, I suggest that its efficacy is only in part the result of empowerment. The article thus analyzes the ritual, medical, symbolic, social, and organic dimensions of ox bezoars, and assesses them against the broader intellectual context out of which the practice emerged. In so doing, I wish to draw attention to those characteristics that made bezoars uniquely effective in granting a safe and easy parturition. Ultimately, the article also aims at taking this practice as an occasion to probe alternative ways in which materials employed for healing purposes in premodern Japanese Buddhist rit- uals were conceptualized, thought to be efficacious, and eventually adopted for specific therapeutic purposes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)227-268
JournalJapanese Journal of Religious Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2019


  • Ritual, Japan, Medicine. Safe-childbirth


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