Hannya - The Horned One and The Devil

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Horned One and The Devil

Hannya are Japanese horned female spirits and they are dangerous. No iron club is necessary for the Hannya as it is for her male compatriots, the fierce, horned spirits known as Oni (see page 575)—she wields the power of a woman scorned and is fearsome indeed!

Hannya are frequently defined as female Japanese demons or as female Oni but, most famously, Hannya names a mask. The Hannya mask, perhaps the best known of Japanese Noh masks, has sharp fangs and horns and bears the name of the spirit it portrays. Hannya may originally have been snake spirits and are still sometimes described as “snake demons.” Older Hannya masks appear more serpentine than modern ones, whose emphasis is on her horns.

The association between Oni and Hannya may derive from the tenuous alliance perceived between human women and Oni. When Oni wish to hide their identity, they transform into human women and so, in theory at least, the sweetest most innocuous woman might really be an Oni in disguise.

It’s a one-way street, however: Oni transform into women but women don’t transform into Oni. They can however transform into Hannya, although this is an involuntary and permanent transformation. Once a Hannya, there’s no going back.

Women who die consumed with rage and jealousy transform into Hannya, vengeful, powerful spirits. In particular, those women spurned and scorned by lovers, especially if they then commit suicide, are believed potentially likely to become Hannya. The Hannya lingers on Earth, a malicious, destructive spirit, her anger overriding any residual human emotions or conscience. Hannya are perceived as negative, dreadful creatures; it is a terrible fate to become a Hannya and so the implicit message is that women must avoid, suppress and sublimate rage, anger, jealousy, and other dangerous emotions.

The most prominent feature of the Hannya mask is its horns. Horns, in Japanese cosmology, have strong associations with female anger. The Japanese gesture of two index fingers sticking up from a man’s forehead traditionally indicates that his wife is angry with him or jealous. Although the Hannya is now typically portrayed in Noh drama as a (sometimes-tragic) villainess, she may have once been viewed with more ambivalence: the traditional Japanese bride was styled with her hair in a tall, vertical, structured hair-do, further enhanced by a large, tall, structured head-covering. This was intended to cover her horns and protect her privacy, just in case she was really a hannya. Why the Hannya was permitted, perhaps even encouraged, to keep these secrets remains mysterious.

See ANIMALS: Snakes.