Reflections on “Shinto Norito: A Book of Prayers,” Anne Llewellyn Evans

ImageThis book is a rarity – a collection of Shinto prayers collected by an actual non-Japanese Shinto priestess trained at one of Japan’s oldest shrines, and translated beautifully into English.

At over £8.00 on Amazon for the properly bound printed version, it might seem a little steep for quite a slim book, but I would say it’s been worth every penny. And here’s why:

– It features a good Foreword and Introduction that include some really insightful and interesting thoughts on Shinto ritual

– It’s authentic. The prayers have been written down just as they are used at the shrine from which they come, without any attempt to adapt them to make them more “universal.” For example, there are prayers in there that refer specifically to Evans’ shrine (Tsubaki Okami Yashiro), so they can hardly be considered “general purpose.” But the fact they have been left unchanged and intact is what gives these prayers their rarity and uniqueness. And there’s plenty in there which are more general in nature.

– In addition to the English translations, each prayer is transliterated into romanised Japanese, and the original text is included too. For readers like me who can read Japanese but only as a second language, this is perfect. What’s more, in Shinto it’s believed that the very words of the prayer written down have a spirit of their own. And for anyone who’s not fluent in Classical Japanese (which is probably most people reading this), you will be relieved to know that hiragana readings are included for all the kanji.

– The prayers themselves are beautiful and would no doubt serve as inspiration for even non-Shinto Pagans. I was particularly pleased to see that there was one in there specifically for Inari Okamisama! I also like the short prayer for purification (which consists only of sacred syllables and has no literal meaning), which I intone when creating shide or otherwise want to purify or consecrate something,

– Right at the end, there’s an appendix (complete with illustrations) that explains how to perform certain Shinto rituals. These range from the commonplace (etiquette for visiting a Shinto shrine, making an offering at a kamidama household altar) to the more unusual (Misogi waterfall purification, chinkon meditation).

The only small problem this book has (and it is small) is that while the English and romanised Japanese passages are formatted to fit neatly on to the page so the text does not cut off mid-sentence, this has not been applied to the original Japanese. So if you’re reading the original Japanese out loud during ritual and have to turn the page mid-phrase, it does disrupt the flow. It might also make it harder for beginner-level Japanese learners to follow the Japanese text by comparing it with the romanised and English versions. But this is only a minor issue.

I highly recommend this to anyone interested in Shinto who wants to go beyond the usual “What Is Shinto” books and learn prayers and techniques for real-life Shinto worship.


Filed under Reviews, Shinto / Japanese Religion

11 responses to “Reflections on “Shinto Norito: A Book of Prayers,” Anne Llewellyn Evans

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  4. EmilyAnn Frances

    Hi. You’re right about the Japanese belief that words possess a life of their own. It is called Kototama. I read “Inochi” by Masahilo Nakazono on this subject but got lost along the way. If you ever read and review that book I’ll have many questions for you.

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