Tag Archives: 神道

Celebrating the Neopagan Wheel of the Year in Japan

WotY-Japan

This Monday July 18th is a public holiday in Japan known as Umi no Hi, or “Ocean Day.” It’s one of 16 public holidays in Japan, which is quite a large number compared with many other countries (on the flip-side, few Japanese take annual leave from work for a variety of reasons). Fortunately for Neopagans living in Japan, not only do many of these public holidays fall on or close to the eight Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year, but several lend themselves to Pagan celebrations in their own right.
So let’s look at how Neopagans in Japan can work their Wheel of the Year around Japan’s own calendar…[Read more]

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Shinto: Some Basics

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A long-overdue article on the question, “What is Shinto?” Click here to read at Patheos!

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Inari makes an Imbolc appearance

WhiteFox

Inari Okami has a habit of springing up unexpectedly in my life, and today He seemed to make a very auspicious appearance!

I’d popped into the supermarket this morning to find some suitable cheese as an Imbolc offering at both my Inari and Neopagan altars. And that’s when I found these one, “White Fox.”

I’ve never heard of this brand before!  Seeing as the white fox is Inari-sama’s most familiar symbol, what could be a more fitting offering?

Who knows, perhaps it might be a little nudge of encouragement as I have just finished writing my latest Patheos article all about Inari-sama…. (please do have a read!)

Happy Imbolc everyone!

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Happy 2016: The Year of the Monkey

sanzaru

The Three Wise Monkeys (Sanzaru) at a Shinto shrine. By そらみみ (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

 

2016 is the Year of the Monkey – specifically, the Red Fire Monkey. But what does the monkey signify in Shinto? Read more here!

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Pagan and Spiritual Book Round-Up November 2015

 

greenmantle Greenmantle, Charles De Lint

I have to admit – the main reason I bought this book was because someone posted the cover art on a Pagan-related Facebook group, and I loved it. There’s something almost Miyazaki-esque about the colour, lighting and subject matter. That’s what prompted me to track down this fantasy novel. But you know what they say…never judge a book by its cover, and sadly, this book was a good example of this rule for the most part. Although the blurb describes it as a fantasy novel about magical forests and ancient gods, there’s rather little of this in the book. Most of it is focussed on a rather dull story of Mafia warfare and an equally dull family caught up in it all. The more fantastical parts of the novel are quite interesting, taking direct inspiration from Pagan ritual, worship of the Horned God and the concept of the resurrected Green Man but they are completely overshadowed by the aforementioned main plot. Disappointing, I’m afraid to say. Still, that cover though!

ExperiencingtheGreenManExperiencing the Green Man, Rob Hardy & Teresa Moorey

I bought this while getting Christmas presents at the fantastic Hedingham Fair online shop; I have a particular fondness for the Green Man but haven’t read books specific to him (apart from Greenmantle above). This is one of these books made by a small publishing house, and it feels it – it’s cheaply printed and bound and the text inside is amateurishly written, poorly edited and riddled with typos. Thankfully, there’s also something charming and nice about it – with its friendly tone and focus on local traditions, it feels very British. For such a little book, it’s also got a surprising amount of varied content on the subject of the Green Man, including legends, guides on local churches and landmarks where Green Men can be found, rituals for honouring the Green Man, craft ideas, and even the full script for a short Mummer’s play featuring the Green Man. I additionally liked the attention paid to the Green Man within Christianity – I much prefer it when Pagan texts emphasise the links between Paganism and Christianity rather than focussing solely on the differences. It may not be a slick product, but for lovers of the Green Man, this book would probably make a welcome addition to a collection of literature about this mysterious figure.

 

LookingForLostGods Looking for the Lost Gods of England, Kathleen Herbert 

This really more of a bound essay than a book – you can read it very easily in one sitting. Herbert investigates the beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons, drawing from the writings of Roman settlers, the Venerable Bede, and texts of the Anglo-Saxons themselves (runes and Old English a-plenty). It’s a very detailed, interesting and academic piece, but due its length I can’t help but think the general reader would find this more appealing as part of a larger collection of essays on Heathenry, rather than as a stand-alone essay.

DictionaryShinto A Popular Dictionary of Shinto, Brian Bocking

Exactly what it says in the title – an A-Z of Shinto-related, Japanese terminology. I flicked through the whole book, which was very interesting and meant I discovered a lot of new aspects of Shinto, such as obscure kami and practises. Generally, I thought the explanations were pretty good – clear and easy to understand. But there were two things I thought could have been added to improve it. Firstly, it could perhaps do with a few simple illustrations to help those unfamiliar with Shinto tools and architecture; this is pretty common in Japanese dictionaries. Secondly, there isn’t a single Japanese character in the whole book. I thought this was a considerable oversight – the kanji used to write Japanese words is very important, especially in matters pertaining to religion. Including kanji for each entry should have been an obvious thing to do, and would have greatly aided understanding for those who can read Japanese (and there’s a lot of non-Japanese people interested in Shinto who can).

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Action needed! Save the sacred trees of Shimogamo

shimogamo

An ancient, sacred grove of trees by the Shimogamo Shrine in Japan are being threatened with destruction in order to make way to build luxury apartments – which will help to finance the shrine.

It is unacceptable for a Shinto Shrine, a place designed specifically for reflecting upon the sacredness of the natural world, to be causing such devastation to the surrounding environment.

For more information, please see Green Shinto’s post here.

You can sign a petition to the Shinto priest of the Shimogamo Shrine, the Mayor of Kyoto and JR west real estate & development against this development here.

 

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Reflections on “Oriental Ghost Stories,” Lafcadio Hearn (compiled and edited by David Stuart Davies)

orientalghostWhy did I choose to read this book?

I really like the Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural books, which are reprints of classic horror and gothic stories published cheaply by Wordsworth Editions. I have several of them – their collection of vampire short stories and their Edith Nesbit collection, to name a few – and I was delighted to see that they’d also released some of the works of Lafcadio Hearn. All erudite Japanese people, and a large percentage of people who’ve studied Japan, know the importance of Hearn – he emigrated to Japan in 1890 and was responsible for much of the West’s understanding of Japanese culture through his writings on Japanese customs and folklore. I’ve long been familiar with Hearn but have never owned a collection of his writings, and being a lover of all things Japanese, folky and ghostly, I knew I had to get this book. And with Samhain coming it, now felt like a perfect time to reflect on it!

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

This book compiles stories from Hearn’s books – Kwaidan, In Ghostly Japan and Some Chinese Ghosts – into one volume, with a very nice introduction by David Stuart Davies. The stories are essentially folktales – old, spooky “urban legends” that Hearn came across during his time in Japan, as well as a few other writings about China and Europe. All the stories feature elements of the supernatural, from ghosts to demons to inexplicable magic.

What did I particularly like about it?

To begin with, I LOVE the idea of presenting Japanese ghost stories first and foremost as simply that – horror stories. All too often, East Asian writings (and writing from other non-European cultures) get pigeonholed into “East Asia” or “Oriental” as a genre in itself, as if their literature cannot be appreciated alongside or compared with similar literature from the West. This adds to the myth that Japan and other countries are “inscrutable.” Publishing Japanese ghost stories alongside those by European writers as part of the Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural series, in a cheap, almost pulpy, paperback format, is an excellent way of introducing Japanese stories to the masses who may not have any initial interest in Japan, which helps to shatter that “inscrutable” image.

Then there are the stories themselves. Hearn is a wonderful storyteller, who manages to keep a balance of making these stories appealing to the Western reader and retaining their eerie and mystical atmosphere without completely losing their sense of “Japaneseness.” Naturally, I liked some stories better than others; some of the highlights for me included:

  • “The Story of Mimi-Nashi Hoiichi” – The opening story of the book, which has as its protagonist one of Japan’s most fascinating stock characters; a blind lute-player.
  • “Yuki-Onna” – The legends of the mysterious and potentially deadly “snow woman” are well-known to lovers of Japanese folklore, and this version is full of elegance and mystery.
  • Jiu-roku-zakura” – A short but moving tale of a man devoted to his cherry tree. It reminded me a little of Oscar Wilde’s beautiful “The Nightingale and the Rose.”
  • The Dream of Akinosuke” – Something of a mystery story. The real meaning is revealed at the end, but clever readers might be able to guess what’s going on before then…
  • “A Story of Divination” – A neat and somewhat spooky tale exploring the idea of predestination.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

Oriental Ghost Stories has a very eclectic feeling, with strange little essays and extracts included among the stories which add variety. Some people might be put off by this “jumbled” feeling, but I rather liked it. The rather archaic language (especially the old ways of romanising Japanese words) might be a bit jarring to some, but again, I thought this added to the book’s charm.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

I actually learned an awful lot of things I didn’t know about Japanese religion from these stories (I suppose that’s not so surprising – folktales can sometimes offer the greatest insight into spiritual beliefs). Due to the nature of the stories, most of the religious elements described are Buddhist (as Buddhism is associated with funeral rites in Japan), which I liked because I am less familiar with Buddhism (especially on the popular level) than Shinto in Japan. I also learned a few things about Shinto that I didn’t know – for example, I had no idea that incense is considered “unclean” in Shinto and isn’t generally burned at Shinto shrines until reading this book! This made me re-consider my current practise of occasionally offering incense to Inari Okami.

Additionally, I was fascinated to read about the concept of “nazorareru.” Hearn claims that this word “…cannot be be adequately rendered by any English word” but describes it as “…to substitute, in imagination, one object or action for another so as to bring about some magical or miraculous result,” for example, laying a pebble before the image of Buddha instead of building a Buddhist temple in order to evoke the same feeling of piety. I immediately realised that what Hearn is describing is the very same “sympathetic magic” that forms the basis of the theories in The Golden Bough! I realised that the concept of sympathetic magic exists in Japan (as it does in all human cultures), but I had no idea that the Japanese had their own term for it. I was really excited to discover this.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes – whether you want to read it to learn more about Japanese folklore, or simply want a good scare, I’m sure you would enjoy this book.

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New Moon September 2015

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My Inari altar. The picture behind was painted for me by the art teacher at the school I used to work at in Nagasaki. It’s a view from the school window, which overlooks Mount Inasa (in the centre of the painting). At the foot of this mountain is Fuchi Shrine, which includes an Inari shrine on its grounds.

As mentioned in a recent entry, I have decided to start commemorating the New Moon by offering extra dedications to Inari Okami, and to ask Him and the other kami for help with specific things (as the New Moon is associated with wishing in Japan). And tonight I did so by practising chinkon-gyo meditation for the first time before my altar. Chinkon gyo is a form of Shinto meditation that involves both chants of norito (prayers) and gestures as a form of purification and a way of honouring the kami.

I followed the instructions for chinkon-gyo in Shinto Norito. I have to admit that looking up the instructions (and then looking up the corresponding norito) meant that I could not fully immerse myself in the spirituality of the experience, but it was my first time. I know now from previous experience that the first times you hold a new ritual or say a new prayer, you never quite feel spiritually “in tune” – it takes considerable practise before you are comfortable enough with the ritual in order to let yourself be absorbed by it, rather than focussing on simply getting it right. I therefore felt really pleased to be starting something new, and the New Moon seemed to be the perfect time to do it!

In the period of silent meditation that closes the ritual, I offered my prayers and wishes to Inari Okami. I asked Her to heal and watch over particular members of my family who are suffering health problems, as well as to aid and protect the many, many refugees and migrants who are experiencing such difficult times throughout Europe and the Middle East at the moment. I also asked Him to grant our leaders the wisdom to give appropriate help, and to give me such wisdom too.

hypnos

After my prayers to Inari-sama were over, I took the opportunity to offer some incense to my statue of Hypnos, who sits atop a wardrobe in my bedroom to promote peaceful sleep. Both my husband and I have had some troubles sleeping lately, so I asked Hypnos to make us sleep better so we could awaken refreshed the next day. The incense I offered was “Opium” scented, which seems appropriate as the classical deities related to sleep are associated with poppies.

I hope my wishes and prayers will be granted!

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The Full Moon and New Moon in Japan

nozomuOne day at work, I happened to be checking alternative readings for the kanji character 望. This fairly common character, which students of Japanese language will come across at about intermediate level, is usually read “nozomi” or “bou,” and is usually translated as “wish” or “aspiration.” But then I discovered that it also means “Full Moon.”

I was really surprised that this kanji could have two such different and beautiful meanings. I asked my Japanese colleague about it, and she confirmed that it is a fairly common way to signify the Full Moon (the even more common way to write “full moon” in Japanese is 満月, pronounced “mangetsu”). She even pointed out a Japanese calendar hanging up behind her desk, in which all the days of the Full Moon were marked with 望.

So I asked her, seeing as 望 also means “wish,” do Japanese people make wishes at the Full Moon?

Her answer really surprised me. She told me that actually, the best time to make wishes is at the New Moon. This is because the night is so still and the sky so clear that your wishes are more likely to reach the heavens at the New Moon than at the Full Moon.

I’d never heard of this before. While I try to make an occasion of the Full Moon (I try to hold a solo ritual for the Esbats), I do nothing to commemorate the New Moon. But now I’ve heard that the Japanese associated the New Moon with making wishes, I’ve now decided to use the New Moon to make extra prayers and offerings to Inari Okami and the other Shinto kami. So the Full Moon will be the time I devote most to the Western Pagan deities, and the New Moon will be for the Shinto ones.

The next New Moon will be on Sunday. I’ll see how my plan goes!

(Incidentally, the character for “New Moon” is 朔, pronounced “saku.” It’s made up of the characters meaning “moon” 月 and “inverse” 屰. I really like the idea of the New Moon being an “inverted” moon!”)

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My New Inari Altar

inari-new

Followers of my blog may know that I have recently moved house, and as such the old Inari altar that I maintained outside is no more. I’m still in the process of making lots of decisions about my home altars – both my Pagan and Shinto ones – but in the meantime, I have set up this temporary shrine to Inari Okami in our smaller spare room.

The biggest difference for me is that this new altar is indoors. I placed the one at my old house outdoors specifically in honour of the local foxes who often came into our garden. Our new house doesn’t seem to have a community of foxes nearby (I think I’ve seen just one in the neighbourhood so far, and not in our garden), and more to the point, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere “safe” in our new garden for the shrine to go where it would be protected from the elements and the many cats that jump over the walls into the garden.

So I’ve put the temporary altar in the spare room, which I plan on turning into a “Japanese” style room, with a partially tatami floor and other Japanese elements. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to put it above eye-level (kamidana should always be placed above eye-level), so when I make prayers to Inari-sama, I prostrate myself on the floor.

There are of course advantages to having an indoor altar – I don’t have to worry about cold or rain, it’s easier (and cleaner) to give offerings, and indeed most Japanese people keep their kamidana indoors. But I do miss the feeling of praying to Inari-sama outside; the wind against my skin, the sound of birdsong, the scent of plantlife. I felt I could connect more deeply to Inari-sama when I prayed to her outside. However, the practicalities of an indoor altar are overwhelming for now.

I do eventually want to get a proper kamidana set, complete with an o-fuda (the centre of my altar currently has the o-mamori that my colleague brought back from Fushimi Inari Taisha, which is the best substitute I have), and put it up on a shelf above eye-level. But I feel bad about spending money on a kamidana which only I will use (my husband isn’t a Shintoist), when we still need to buy lots of things for the house for both myself and my husband to use. If I happen to come into a bit of extra money, perhaps that’s how I should use it!

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