Shintoism

10

Here’s your regularly scheduled reminder that cats are awesome. A couple weeks ago we shared photos of cats throughout Thailand who’ve made homes out of Spirit Houses. Today we travel to Japan to pay a visit to some sage and serene kitties who’ve claimed a variety of Shinto shrines as their personal domain. People have been known to speculate that cats can see ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. All of these photos are beginning to make us wonder if there might be something to that idea after all.

Head over to RocketNews24 for even more photos of cats keeping the spirits company.

[via RocketNews24]

Shinto 101

Hello!
As someone who grew up with Shinto (along with Buddhism and Catholicism) and also currently a miko at my local shrine (of the Konkokyo branch) I figured I would like to give a basic intro to Shinto most online sources (Even books) are misinformed about or lack, or misunderstood in a Western setting.

Any other Shintoists/Konkos/etc. that would like to contribute to this guide, please feel free and reblog to your heart’s content! :)



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What is Shinto? Am I allowed to join? Are non-Japanese people who worship native Japanese gods (*kami) still considered Shinto? 


Shinto is not really a religion, but a system of Japanese pagan worship of the local nature/worldly deities. Basically just a system to honour the spirits of Japan and the world. People built shrines for these spirits/gods (called kami) and left offerings for blessings. Eventually, shamans began to communicate with the kami and learned more about them, and are recognized as the current kami of today. 

Presently, Shinto is majority traditional than spiritual in Japan. Many people only go to shrines out of tradition (Festivals/Matsuri, New Years, Weddings, etc) , an excursion, or a “good luck wish” place (Asking to pass an exam, asking for a baby, etc). Many people, even the priests or mikos at some shrines, aren’t even sure the god of that shrine really exists. But that’s not the point. The point is just to continue on tradition and go by feeling and energies of that place. Indeed, shrines are also good for the soul to visit. 

However many spiritual people inside and outside of Japan still exist. These are shamans and people who can hear and feel the gods and act as their caretakers  and devotees. 

YOU ARE ALLOWED TO BE SHINTO! ANYONE IS! :) Even if you don’t have a drop of Japanese blood in you or you’ve never even been to Japan!!!! 

(Rev. Koichi Barrish, of Tsubaki America Jinja and  visitors)

I cannot stress this enough!!!!! Many materials on Shinto are ruined by the Western understanding of Shinto from World War II era, namely Kokka Shinto. This Shinto was Japanese propaganda to exclude foreigners. PLEASE understand, this is not true Shinto

Shinto is simply the worship/reverement and appreciation of nature and/or the kami of Japan and giving them an altar/shrine and (optional) offerings. Even if you just feel close to a kami and adore them, or just feel the vibrations of nature and adore nature, you are already (or can be considered) a Shintoist! It’s as simple as that :) Many people are Shinto without realizing it. 




Are only men allowed to be priests? What are miko? 


Men and women are allowed to be priests/priestess. They can also get married and have children! Their role is to command the rituals and maintenance of the shrine. It gets a little more complicated though.



Every shrine has a head priest. Their role is to set service dates, give special services, process requests and paperwork, prepare offerings, and overall caretake for the kami and shrine.

Then, there’s associate priests who assist with these duties, and also with administrative work, such as treasurer or secretary. Sometimes in smaller shrines, these are left to a certain group of trusted laypeople to work as volunteers. 

After that, there’s the miko (me!). In olden days, these were women who ranked higher than the priest and could channel the gods and either be possessed (kamigakari) by, or be the mediator between god and man and deliver oracles.



I do those things now; but many miko do not. The role of a miko in modern times is simply to help clean up the inside/outside of the shrine, help serve naorai lunch and tea (lunch made from offerings), perform Kagura/Kibimai/Miko Mai sacred shrine dance offering (what I do), or sometimes even play the instruments in dance like koto or flute. (what my friends do). They also watch over omamori and ofuda that are for sale, or assist with events. 


Also, as a side note, one thing Western writers write that bothers me: Virginial miko. Mikos are NOT required to be virgins, and never have. Ame-no-Uzume is the patron deity of all miko, as her dance is the origin of Kagura among other things. Ame-no-Uzume is also the goddess of revelry and sensuality, including sex. Sex is seen as a divine act and also enables one’s spiritual senses to heighten. A miko that has to be a virgin doesn’t make sense.

In the end, it doesn’t matter! Mikos were virgins, some weren’t. In fact some are even married with children. (There’s no age limit either) What matters is their heart is devoted to the kami of their shrine, and has sincere intentions to caretake for that kami. 


How many kami are there? What exactly is a kami? Why are there shrines to kami? 

There is an infinite number of kami, for every little thing in the world, even man-made things. Even including yourself and your body, you are a part of kami.  Some kami are more powerful in nature (have more energy) than other kami, simply because they are more ancient, a spirit of a powerful physical thing (like Amaterasu and the sun) or they receive a lot of devotion and prayer (and thus, strength and support).



A kami is not necessarily a god/deity, though commonly kami = god/deity. However, kami also can mean the spirit of a thing, or the energy surrounding a place, like the kami of a tree, is a spirit of a tree, and the kami of the sun, is the goddess of the sun Amaterasu. Kami is a complex word, but in essence the best way to understand it is the context in which it’s referred to. 

“The kami of the tree seems happy” - the spirit of the tree is happy
“The kami of the sun is shining brightly” - the goddess of the sun is shining brightly
“Kami are everywhere” - the gods/spirits are everywhere


Now, there’s titles to add onto the word “kami” - O-Kami, means “Great God” usually reserved for only powerful gods like Amaterasu-Omikami (greatest goddess) or Sarutahiko-no-Okami (Great god Sarutahiko). There’s also Kami-sama, which can either refer to a general deity, or, in my case, to Tenchi Kane no Kami, the deity that is the spirit of the universe itself. Thus, this Kami encompasses all the other kami as part of it. So it’s Kami-sama!

We have shrines for kami not because they really “enshrine” in the sense the kami is cooped up in their shrine and cannot leave lol. But they act as “power spots”. In the sense the kami’s essence is felt very powerful at shrines. And/or, the kami’s spirit can travel or be split to reside in the area of these shrines. Essentially, shrines are like wi-fi hotspots, the place where you’ll feel the most connection to the kami enshrined there. Home shrines/altars work the same way. The kami’s presence will be there. Usually this is done through the power of ofuda (tablets which contain the kami’s essence or have the kami’s name which draws them towards it)

(torii - that big red gate, acts as a symbol to a more spiritual area)

Do ofuda/omamori or other shrine paraphernalia really “expire”?

This is a bit controversial, so bear with me, and it’s a little secret information from a miko. They do not lose their power with time. However, they are good to keep buying to support the shrine. 
The reason however shrines say to burn and renew them each year is not for only donations. Over time, the power does not lessen, but grows more powerful. If the owner is a layperson than does not know how to purify or bless, this ofuda/omamori can absorb other energies, and often can become a Tsukumogami (a youkai/spirit of an object) and loses the essence of the kami you want to worship. Therefore, you should only keep using an old ofuda/omamori if you yearly purify/bless it with the essence of it’s original kami. (I will explain in another post) If not, please just buy new ones! ;w;



How do I begin practicing Shinto or worshipping a kami? What do I need to do? Any special ritual? Do I need to go to a shrine?


Alll you need to do is feel connected to a kami, and you practice Shinto. There is no special ritual like Baptism or Buddhist vows,  (well, there’s a variation, but its absolutely not a requirement). And you do not even need to a visit a shrine in your life to be Shinto.

All you need to do really is go outside and appreciate the beauty of nature. Not even that, just appreciate all you have in your home and all of your blessings. Focus on the good and positive, realize the nature of the universe, and that is practicing Shinto. 

If you want to get more into it, please build or set up an altar (there are home shrines called Kamidana you can buy, but they are not necessary) And use an ofuda to attract the essence of the kami. Or even just a paper with their name, or their image. At the altar, you can leave offerings or not, but common offerings are rice, salt, water, and sake. You can leave whatever you like though, as long as you offer it with sincerity (I will go more into it on a future post)



Shrines are scarce outside of Japan, but there are a surprising number. The famous one in America is Tsubaki Jinja in Washington. Let me list a few

  • Tsubaki Jinja, in Granite Falls, Washington
  • Ki-no-Mori Jinja, in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada
  • Shrine to Amaterasu-Omikami on Shambhala mountain center in remote Northen Colorado
  • Small Inari shrine in Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York (the National Shinto association is in New York as well)

There are also a handful of shrines in Hawaii! Taken from wiki

There are also many Konko shrines/churches (the branch I belong) all across North America, you will find a complete list here (Spans from East to West coast, across US, Canada, Hawaii, Brazil, and Korea) www.konkofaith.org*

*Note of respect: While Konkokyo has origins in and worship style of Shinto, which may be good for you in terms of spirit and comfort, it is also it’s own religion. If you visit a Konko building, please be respectful and do not assert it’s a Shinto shrine! Please have an open heart and mind :) 

If you live in Europe, there’s a hokora (shrine foundation/worship hall) in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam. Konkokyo also has yearly London gatherings/services.



Hopefully this guide could help you be acquainted with Shintoism outside of Japan! If you have more questions, please feel free to ask me! There are also many great Shintoists already here on tumblr you can ask :) 

The Paantu (パーントゥ?) festival is an annual festival on the island of Miyako-jima in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture.[1]

Every year during the ninth month of the Chinese calendar, male villagers will dress up as paantu, supernatural beingsmeant to spread good luck and scare away evil spirits. The common feature is a wooden mask with a large forehead, small eyes, and a thin mouth, and the spreading of sacred mud onto newly built houses or onto newborn children’s faces. In some villages, the Paantu are accompanied by traditional animist noro priestesses.[2]

In other villages, the Paantu will chase after small children, making them cry, or chase after people who are avoiding having their faces smeared with the sacred mud.

MYTHOLOGY MEME || Legendary Creatures (3/8) Kitsune

In Japanese mythology, Kitsune are fox yōkai. One group of Kitsune, known as zenko, are benevolent servants of Inari Ōkami, the god of agriculture, fertility, rice, sake, and tea. The other group, yako, on the other hand, range from mischievous to outright malicious.

All Kitsune are said to have the ability to shapeshift, which the yako use to their advantage. Their favorite guise is as a beautiful woman, though they can choose any form they wish. Another common folk belief is that rain during sunny weather is a sign of a wedding of two Kitsune.

7

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto uses salt to create awesomely intricate and captivating interactive art installations. Most of us think of salt as a kitchen staple, but in Japan it’s also one of five elements in Shintoism that symbolizes purification and is used as a ritual offering. Yamamoto began working with salt a as a way to honor his sister after she passed away from cancer.

“And for the last several years Yamamoto has traveled the world creating sprawling installations of poured salt that resemble mazes, tree roots, whirlpools or the universe. Figuratively and literally one can easily get lost in the intricate installations that are the result of hours of meticulous pouring.”

Yamamoto created his latest installation, entitled Return To The Origin, back in January at the Pola Museum Annex in Tokyo. As is the case with all of his salt creations, at the end of the exhibition visitors are invited to help carry away the salt and return it to the sea, its place of origin.

Photos by Cédric Riveau

[via Spoon & Tamago]

How do I take care of my god, and how does my god take care of me? (Aiyo Kakeyo)

*Note: this is in the context of Konko style worship, though it applies to gods of many pagan traditions and religions as well.

One of the best concepts I love in Konkokyo is the teaching of Aiyo Kakeyo (Interdependence). This really helped me understand the kami, and become closer to them.

Essentially, kami/gods are not all powerful. They are powerful indeed, but, they need us, as much as we need them. It’s the law of nature and the universe; everything depends on each other to live. In my belief and experience, this applies to all gods. Even the god that is the spirit of the universe itself. 

Now, how do we take care of our gods, and how do we help them? And in turn, how do they do the same for us? Or why are they even wanting to?


1. A relationship together



This all begins when you build up a relationship with a god. You can worship any god you like; but the real devotion and relationship begins when the god essentially calls out to you. When you feel drawn to a particular god or spirit or entity, this is the most powerful connection. 

I could visit a Susanoo shrine, and I respect Susanoo and am on friendly terms, and I could leave an offering and pray, but we’re not connected. (Though this doesn’t mean Susanoo will ignore my prayers, he still has this duty as a deity). However, if I visit an Inari shrine, it will feel like home since Inari and I are very very close! 

Essentially, when you have this relationship, you begin a path on being able to have an aiyo-kakeyo type relationship easily. 

If you don’t feel connected to any particular god or spirit, there’s always nature/the universe (I refer to as Kami-sama). In this case, the universe still depends on you, and if you treat it kindly and with care, you will realize more blessings and lead a happier and peaceful life.

2. Creating the altar



An altar is an important space for deity and you! The altar or shrine is essentially the powerful place where your worlds meet and it is the focus of your daily worship. Also, it acts as a nice resting place for a deity when they would like to call to you or visit you in your home.

The altar is important because without it, you have no place to focus prayers, and the deity you are close with has nowhere specific to use as a temporary landing to listen to prayers or requests or even visit. :( However, if circumstances mean you cannot build one, it’s best to build an altar in your heart, meaning, always keep the god in your heart.

An altar is like your god’s guest room. So it’s good to decorate with their ‘things’ like images, objects with their name, objects relating to them or their favourite things, and offerings for food and comfort! You can have an altar for more than one deity, and that’s fine, just make sure there’s space and the deities get along pretty well, in most cases, they do. But always do reasearch :) (Can you imagine sharing a room with someone you didn’t enjoy’s company? yikes!) For example, having an altar to Aphrodite and Eos…they don’t quite see eye to eye. They wouldn’t take it out on you, but for their sake, it’s best to be respectful.



(As a side note, a blatant, intentional disrespectful altar or shrine will be completely ignored by the god/goddess. Possibly even incur the anger of them. But that’s obvious!)

3. Offerings

Gods enjoy offerings! Why, they don’t eat, right?
Well, offerings are good because they reflect your heart. 
The important thing about ANY offering….

Offer it with a sincere and true heart


you could have worked your hardest to make chocolate chip cookies, but they came out a funky shape. But since you poured your heart into it, and you really wanted to make them for your deity, they will see those cookies as the most decadent morsels ever!

Likewise, if you think of it as a chore, and offer store bought cookies you bought while annoyed and frustrated, they will think those are horrible and stale.

This is the nature of offerings. You have to be sincere. 
Giving offerings properly connects you to the gods. After we offer food, we eat the food, and so we connect with the kami and gods! Both of us are mutually happy.

Offerings aren’t mandatory, but it makes both god and human happy, so why not try? :) More blessings are realized and more connection is established. We also become aware of the blessings of where our food comes from and how it sustains us

You don’t have to offer food though, you can also offer up artworks, objects, items, plants, and the kami will happily bless them ! (I have a bamboo I offered, it’s been healthy for 10 long months!)

4. Daily life 

Having a relationship with your god and having nice offerings at the altar and communicating with them and doing spirit work all day sounds super nice and ideal, but the truth is as a human we have responsibilities

Many of us work, have school, have family, friends, pets, that all need attending to! With all these, how do I have time to talk to gods or spirits? 


Well, the gods are always with you, or at least keeping tabs on you. But you may not always realize it because we’re so wrapped up in our lives. That’s fine! 

But, if we can find a way to invite the gods into our physical lives, and not just talk to them at the altars or alone, our life improves as well. 

Basically, I used to go to school, come home, offer, eat, say some prayers, then go back to things I had to do

Now….I go to school, but I communicate/pray to my gods at school in my heart/mind. I ask their opinion on things, and the feeling I get is where I go from there. I am always trying to communicate with them or invite them into my daily life, and things are more fun and interesting. If I’m in trouble, I call on them for help, or for advice, or anything. They are helping me, and in return, I go home and help them as well by caretaking their altar/shrine and leaving offerings and prayers of thanks and appreciation. (Prayers/devotions to a deity lift up their spirits and thus power). Don’t you feel stronger when people praise you?  And I do the same routine, but then after still ask them to be in my life daily.

You can try too! Step by step, just try. Ask your god, if you’re at work, just random things, let’s say you’re waiting at the cash, and you can ask, for example, “Hey Loki, what do you think of today? Pretty quiet?” You may not hear anything, but you may get a feeling of happiness or an emotion, and it’s your deity trying to connect. Sometimes even funny things may happen at work or school. Try it out :) Don’t be distant or seperate! 

5. Answering requests


This may either be a specialized listing or one reserved for a deeper connection. But sometimes the gods will ask you to do something for them.

Remember: you can always refuse if you are not ready or uncomfortable. Some gods may not know what you are quite ready to do. And, never accept a request from a deity you are not super close with or work with often!

For example, a deity you are not close with may ask you to do something mean, like try out a dangerous spell or steal objects or buy certain things to do a ritual. If you feel uncomfortable, never do so. You are under protection naturally by the universe itself (Kami-sama) so never feel afraid to refuse.

Now in my case, Inari asked me to help someone understand that Inari was the one calling out to them. That was fine for me to assist Inari with!! In fact I was happy to do so, and as a result we grew closer.

But let’s say you’re not cool with talking to someone about spirituality; you don’t have to do it! If you are close to that deity, they will understand! :) 

If you agree to a request a deity asks of you, and it’s for a good cause, you will grow closer to that deity, and they will be grateful to you! :)

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With all these things, you’ll be taking care of your god, and helping them, and in return they do their best to help you and take care of you in your daily life. Like with any type of relationship with people, with gods it’s the same. Treat others as you want to be treated!