Simona Lazzerini: "'Hārītī Will Always Protect You': Healing and Cursing Practices in Two Amoghavajra Texts"

Friday February 19th 2021, 12:00PM
Virtual via Zoom
Simona Lazzerini


This talk is by invitation only.



Former child-eating yakṣiṇī Hārītī is well known throughout the Buddhist world for her fertility powers. Like many converted demons, she can also grant mundane wishes, including healing disparate ailments. Because she was once a demoness who devoured children, caused women to have miscarriages, and drained people of their vital energy, goddess Hārītī is skilled at curing a great range of illnesses, particularly pregnancy and childbirth-related issues and demonic possession. Two eighth century texts translated by Amoghavajra, the Sādhana of the Great Yakṣiṇī Mother Joy and Priyaṇkara (Da yaochanü Huanximu bing Aizi chengjiufa 大藥叉女歡喜母並愛子成就法, T. v. 21, no. 1260) and the Sūtra of the Mantra of Mother Hārītī (Helidimu zhenyan jing 訶利帝母真言經, T. v. 21, no. 1261), enumerate several practices that heal diseases involving the use of offerings of food and other goods, accompanied by dhāraṇī, mudrā, as well as other ritual procedures. These practices often prescribe the concoction of medicines, the use of impure substances, and divinatory rituals to discover which demons caused the possession. The texts also include a few methods that can cause people to fall severely ill.

In this talk, I examine the mediating roles of ritual and materiality presented in these two texts to shed light on the intersection between medicine and religion in medieval Chinese esoteric texts. I also investigate the role of Hārītī as a powerful healer and argue that her demonic past and new role as a Buddhist goddess allowed her to become a specialist when dealing with demonic possession, miscarriages, and other pregnancy-related problems.



Simona Lazzerini is a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies specializing in East Asian Buddhism. Her fields of interest include demonology, female deities, Chinese and Japanese visual and material culture, and the intersection between religion and popular culture. Her dissertation, titled Mother of Demons and Dharma Protector: Tracing Hārītī’s Worship in East Asia, explores the worship(s) of Buddhist goddess Hārītī in East Asia, covering a period spanning from the 4th century CE to modern times.


Hariti image from a scroll










"Two Views of the Buddhist Deity Harîtî"

Digital image: © Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum