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An itako (イタコ?) is a traditional, blind, usually female shaman from northern Japan. Itako are said to have the ability to communicate with the dead, even to evil spirits due to their intense spiritual power. They also are said to have the power to remove evil spirits from one's body and mind. Usually, older Itakos are considered more powerful than younger Itakos.
In training for initiation, itako dress in a white kimono 100 days before the ceremony. Austere purification is obligatory to achieve an extreme state of mind. Rites where she must pour cold water over herself, usually in the cold of winter, occur and she is required to practice chanting. Three weeks prior to the ceremony, she is not permitted to consume grain, salt, meat and must avoid artificial heat.
During the ceremony itself, the itako trainee is dressed as a bride to indicate that she will marry a god. The ceremony is accompanied by continual drum and bell sounds to help the itako achieve the concentration required to enter into a trance. Older itakos sit around to assist the chanting; the ceremony may go on for days until the trainee has entered the said trance. Once she has entered a trance, the master itako will determine which god has possessed the trainee. Trainees are not permitted to sleep and food consumption is kept to a minimum. As a result of being blind, itako must learn the obligatory scriptures by heart and may even know the scriptures better than some less motivated priests.
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