First the caveats: I don’t read even modern Japanese, far less 7th C Japanese, far less ancient Chinese, so my sources are all at one remove. I have tried to find ones that are not obviously biased in their translations and interpretations. Since this is a web essay, I have also tried to refer to web-sources, where I could find ones that seem reputable or are backed up from reputable paper sources. Nevertheless, this is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, and there are places where I had to make assumptions and guesses. Do not take this essay’s conclusion as an attested source, because it isn’t.
The Twelve Divine Commanders (Juuni Shinshou) who appear as the shikigami of Abe no Seimei and his alternates in current popular literature such as Yami no Matsuei and Shounen Onmyouji seem to have started life as a group of tutelary deities or personifications in the five element system, settling into twelve figures with elemental powers based on the ten heavenly stems and the twelve earthly branches.( Read the full account )