Lifting the Curse

"Hello Spirit" | Art by Chasing Artwork. Used with permission.
A youth living as a princess among wolves.

Giant boars possessed by demons.

An elk-like spirit who gives life and takes it away.

A monk who fights and curses as well as any warrior.

“Distinctive” describes Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece depicting humans at war with nature. But perhaps lost in the spectacle of gods and demons is a challenge that I find speaks directly to me. The film’s protagonist seeks to live a life free of bitterness and scorn, and that’s something I can relate to because I daily struggle to do the same.

Ashitaka, the prince of a small tribe, has been cursed by a vengeful boar god who is driven mad by an iron pellet buried deep in his body. Ashitaka’s journey to find a cure for the fatal curse leads him to Irontown, an island settlement erected by Lady Eboshi, a shrewd and fearless businesswoman. She asks the prince why he’s there, to which he responds, “to see with eyes unclouded by hate.”

As it is with Ashitaka, grace is the power to cast out hate, the power to absolve the curse.

But his eyes are clouded by hate. Ashitaka’s eyes burn with loathing toward Eboshi as she proudly explains how her warriors chased off the bordering mountain’s boar gods through fire and gunpowder, all in the name of making her town the richest property in the world. They are the ones who shot the boar god, and thus are responsible for Ashitaka’s predicament. After his cursed arm begins to move on its own, attempting to assassinate the woman, he says of it, “If it would lift the curse, I would let it tear you apart, but even that wouldn’t end the killing, would it?”

And Ashitaka isn’t the only one who abhors Lady Eboshi. Irontown’s success has drawn other unwanted attention, including the ire of ferocious wolf gods led by the titular princess, San, a human raised by a wolf god. She invades the village and confronts its leader, leading to a knife fight between the women. The hatred between San, representing the gods of the forest, and Eboshi, representing the humans of Irontown, is palpable. San hates Eboshi for destroying nature and leading to the death of so many animals, spirits, and trees, while Eboshi hates San because she kills her men and stands in the way of her success. Both are resolute in their anger and neither can begin to see the other’s point of view. As an outside observer, though, Ashitaka can see more clearly than they, and with the power of his cursed arm, intervenes in the fight, knocking both women unconscious. He declares that there’s a demon inside both of them and leaves the village, carrying San.

By this point, frankly, I understand the women a lot more than I do Ashitaka. I think the prince has beautiful ideas about peace and all, but he’s a bit naïve; San and Eboshi have real grievances against one another. Each is destroying the other’s way of life, and killing in the name of their ideal. They are enemies at war. Sometimes, I feel similarly about people I have conflict with, thinking of them as my enemies.

When a driver cuts me off in traffic, I want to shout at them. When a co-worker blames me for something that went wrong on the job, I want to lash out in return. When a loved one lies to me, I want to stay angry forever.

But I don’t want to live my life that way, with pride, hatred, and comeuppance. Even though everything within me seems to want to rain down sarcastic and angry diatribes against those who “just don’t get it,” I’d rather be a peacemaker. I believe that making peace when it’s unearned or undeserved has the ability to mend fences and repair hearts. And when I reach out with an olive branch to someone who has hurt me, I also discover that my own heart is the one that receives restoration.

Each is destroying the other’s way of life, and killing in the name of their ideal. They are enemies at war.

And so it is in Princess Mononoke, that as Ashitaka tries to dispose of the hatred he carries in his heart, he impacts San and Eboshi, and finally himself.

It begins with the princess, who harbors such hatred against humans that she unfairly pours out her anger against Ashitaka, chastising, threatening, and even stabbing him. But he responds only with gentle words and loving action, which eventually transform San’s heart and helps her to let go of much of her anger.

Eboshi changes, too. Her meddling with the gods eventually goes too far, and a divine force devastates Irontown. If not for San’s intervention, it would have also killed all of the town’s inhabitants. Eboshi realizes as much and is thankful. And when she states that they’ll rebuild Irontown, and make it better, Eboshi means in part that she will be better, initiating peace with her neighbours rather than focusing simply on financial gain.

Perhaps most subtly, but also most significantly, Ashitaka transforms as well. The mottled purple-and-black spots on his forearm have disappeared, signifying that he’s finally lifted from his curse, but something even more miraculous has occurred. Ashitaka’s body isn’t just healed—his soul is cured. A shift towards loving Eboshi instead of holding her in contempt removes the true curse inside that was symbolized by his rotting flesh. He even decides that he’ll permanently settle in Irontown and help the settlers rebuild.

It’s that deep, lasting change that my soul desires as well. When a driver cuts me off in traffic or when I’m hurt by someone close to me, I want to look at those people with “eyes unclouded by hate,” quick to love them for all their faults and weaknesses, rather than to judge and condemn. When I act with a gracious love, I discover that loving sacrificially isn’t just a good way to live. As it is with Ashitaka, grace is the power to cast out hate, the power to absolve the curse. And it will change not only the receiver of love, but most profoundly, the giver as well.

Charles Sadnick

Charles Sadnick

Guest Writer at Area of Effect
Converted from the moment he first heard Han Solo reply, “I know,” Charles resisted his nerdy urges until Hayao Miyazaki, Spike Spiegel, and Evangelion Unit-01 forced him to confront the truth of his inner geekery. Baptized into otakudom, Charles masks himself in the not-so-secret identity of TWWK as he blogs endlessly about anime and faith.

He can also be found, however, feeding his other nerd habits, including A Song of Ice and Fire. Charles also remains hopelessly stuck in the 90's, maybe best demonstrated by his unexplainable passion for The Phantom Menace.

A historian and director at a government agency by day, Charles joins in the work of college and digital ministry is his off-time, while growing each day in the round-the-clock charge of being a husband and father.
Charles Sadnick

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