Tag Archives: inari

Paganism and Shinto: Podcast Interview

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I have been interviewed by the lovely Rev. Gina Pond for her podcast This Week In Heresy, in which I talked about my path as a Shinto-Pagan, interfaith, and religion in Japan in general. Check it out!

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Inari AGAIN at Hatsuuma 2016!

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Today is Hatsuuma, which is the feast day of Inari Ookami. I was a bit sad because although it fell on a Saturday which would usually mean I’d be off work and have more time to celebrate, it just so happened that I had to work this Saturday at an anime convention.

However, O-Inarisama still found a way of making an appearance! At the convention, I happened to find the stand of the artist who had drawn the picture above, which I had seen before circulated on the Inari Faith International Facebook page, originally from Fur Affinity. This image is so beautiful and so full of Inari symbolism that I knew I had to buy it straight away.

I talked a little with the artist, who has apparently been to Fushimi Inari Taisha but she seemed unaware that O-Inarisama is in fact a revered deity. It’s amazing that she could produce something so meaningful to Inari devotees even without some of the background knowledge – perhaps it just shows her sensitivity as an artist! My print is now proudly displayed above my Inari altar along with my Inari-zushi and mochi offerings for Hatsuuma.

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Inari makes an Imbolc appearance

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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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Celebrating Japanese New Year in the UK

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Kagami-mochi (Japanese New Year decoration) at Japan Centre, London

Shogatsu, or New Year’s Day, is probably the most important day in the Shinto calendar. But celebrating it in the Japanese way in the UK can be rather challenging, partly because there are no Shinto shrines to visit and food and goods associated with Shogatsu are hard to come by, and partly because the British was of celebrating the New Year can be difficult to mix with the Japanese customs. In Japan, New Year’s Day is a time for getting up early and celebrating with the family by eating a large meal and visiting the local shrine. [Read more...]

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Winter Solstice 2015

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Today I celebrated Yule (I prefer to celebrate on the date of the actual Solstice, rather than on the 21st). I began by climbing the local Windmill Hill to “see” the Solstice Sun rise. It being a very cloudy day, I couldn’t actually see the Sun (typical!), but I enjoyed being there as the light grew brighter. I made some offerings of sherry to some of the trees on the hill, including a very large Oak tree. There were a couple of dog walkers around, and I think they were somewhat bemused to see this strange girl out on the hill spilling a chalice of sherry around the tree roots!

When I came home, I placed offerings of a satsuma, chestnut and mochi (in addition to the usual offerings of water, sake, rice and salt) at my Inari altar and recited the Hifumi and Inari Norito. As you can see from the photo above, I’ve recently started using the old Hindu shrine I picked up at an antiques fair as a makeshift Kamidana, until my finances mean I can get a genuine Shinto one. I think it works pretty well for the time being.

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I also made offerings at my Pagan shrine. The posters on the wall behind are prints from Brian Froud’s Good Faeries, Bad Faeries, which is an excellent book that I highly recommend. Unfortunately, I discovered that the cover of my copy and some of the inner pages had become utterly ruined by damp and had gone really mouldy, but not wanting to throw away the whole book, I cut out some of the pictures that were still OK. I plan to change them on my altar according to the season; I think the ones above look quite wintry.

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I also added some of the salt dough Green Men that I’d made and hadn’t given away yet to the altar. I put one Holly King mask on the God side of the altar, an Ivy Queen mask on the Goddess side, and another Holly King hanging in the centre.

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Finally, in the evening I made some “rune cookies,” just like I did last year (but with additional clove and ginger this year). Although the first batch turned out well, I unfortunately burned the second batch! Today’s been a bit of an unlucky day for cooking actually – the oven’s been playing up a bit as well. Perhaps I need to pay more attention to the Goddess of the Hearth and let her know that I appreciate her work for us! I did place an offering of the best (non-burnt) biscuits on both the Inari shrine and Pagan shrine – I hope the Powers That Be like them.

Have a Magical Yule everyone!

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October 2015 New Moon Chinkon-gyo

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Last night was the New Moon, and so I held chinkon-gyo meditation in front of my Inari altar for the second time, after deciding to do this every New Moon back in September.

Before meditation, I took a shower. This functioned as a kind of o-misogi purification, although admittedly I didn’t do it with cold water as you’re supposed to do. The days are getting colder, and a warm shower is all I want. Eventually, I hope I can pluck up the courage to drench myself in cold water – perhaps then I’ll truly understand what o-misogi is all about.

Following this, I turned off the lights and lit candles in my Inari altar room. I also put on some traditional Japanese koto music, which has the dual function of putting me in the right frame of mind as well as making me feel less self-conscious about chanting; my husband was in the bedroom not far away and he’d be able to hear me chanting if it wasn’t for the music, which I still feel a bit self-conscious about (silly I know, but…).

My local supermarket is now stocking persimmon, a traditional autumn fruit in Japan, so I bought one to offer to Inari-sama before beginning. I also refreshed the other offerings, something I admittedly don’t do often enough. Although the offerings of water, rice and salt will be fine to leave out for a week, the sake goes mouldy very quickly because the altar gets a lot of light. I really need to be a little more mindful and refresh the offerings more often. I can’t imagine Inari-sama appreciates mouldy sake on His altar…

Finally I performed the furitama, prayers and gestures of the chinkon-gyo as prescribed in Llewellyn Evans’ Shinto Norito book. The main change I made was to substitute one of the longer prayers with the Inari Okami Norito, which naturally seems more appropriate. I feel I am getting better at Norito – I can recite the HI FU MI by heart easily now, and although I have not memorised the Inari Okami Norito, I can read it a lot more fluently than when I first started and I have parts of it memorised.

Once again, this felt more like learning a new skill than a real spiritual experience, but I know that as I get better and more practised at chinkon, the spiritual aspect will come. As some consolation, when I finished and came to join my husband in the bedroom, his mobile phone was randomly playing a track by BABYMETAL – a band whose members are all devotees of Inari Okami. I can only take that as a sign that Inari-sama was listening after all!

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September 2015 Full Moon Esbat (O-tsukimi, Blood Supermoon Eclipse)

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Last night was a particularly special Esbat. It was the Japanese Moon Viewing festival of O-tsukimi, a “Super Moon,” and a “Blood Moon” eclipse. On top of this, it was the first Full Moon ritual I have performed at my new house.

In preparation for o-tsukimi, I had collected grasses from our garden (we have a garden now!) to display on my Inari altar. I also changed the altar cloth to one depicting a traditional o-tsukimi design of rabbits making mochi (that is what the Japanese believe they can see in the patterns on the moon’s surface).

I couldn’t have wished for better weather for an outdoors ritual – it was a mild, dry, still evening and the sky was very clear. The supermoon shone almost dazzlingly bright. I performed the ritual on the deck in front of my lawn, and it became clear to me that my garden is in many ways much better than the courtyard in our old flat. It’s much quieter, and the moon was directly overhead, which never happened during my rituals in the old place. The only disadvantages are that it’s a little more exposed (several other houses directly overlook the garden and we also have neighbouring gardens to consider) meaning that I’m more likely to be seen by the neighbours, and I no longer get to see the foxes who lived by our old flat. But I did see a bat flutter overhead!

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We don’t yet have any garden furniture, so I used a rolled mat on the floor instead which actually worked quite well. I started the ritual by chanting the names of Goddesses of the Moon (Artemis, Ceridwen, Diana, Hecate, Luna, Melinoe, Phoebe, Selene) and, because the Japanese kami of the Moon is male and O-tsukimi is a Japanese festival, Gods of the Moon (Aphroditus, Khonsu, Thoth, Tsukuyomi). I offered a mochi rice cake, which seemed appropriate because mochi look rather moon-like as well as their association with the moon-rabbits, and sake, which is a traditional o-tsukimi offering. I asked for the Moon deities to give healing to my relatives who need it, and since the Blood Moon is associated with conflict, prayed for peace. I spent a few moments meditating in the moonlight before partaking in the simple feast of half the mochi and a sip of sake.

I went inside and said prayers at my Inari altar, making an offering of the other half of the mochi. I was delighted to see that the moon was shining through the window.

I did stay up until gone 1am to try and catch a sight of the Blood Moon eclipse, but there wasn’t really much to see so early. I would’ve done better to have woken up at 3 to see it at its height! But to be honest, I was just happy to see the supermoon shining in her full glory.

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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.

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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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My New Inari Altar

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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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Lammas Moot with Medway Pagans 2015 (My first group ritual!)

Lammas2015 Last night, I had the honour of leading my first ever group ritual for Lammas/Lughnasadh with Medway Pagans. It was such a hugely significant event for me and I’m so glad I did it!

Preparation

As with all rituals, it began with writing it. I’d never written my own group ritual before (my handfasting one was a combination of the one pre-written by Dode with additions from my friend Phoenix Rose), so I felt intimidated the task at first and it took me a long time to actually get down to writing anything! But after reading up on rites for Lammas in my books and online, I got an idea in mind for what to do. I decided to focus on the Golden Bough-esque theme of the Corn Spirit sacrificing himself for our food, and additionally I adapted an old Anglo-Saxon spell in which the Lammas loaf was cut into quarters and each quarter placed at the four corners of a barn to protect the grain. I also incorporated the words from the song “Corn King” by Inkubus Sukkubus and the poem “John Barleycorn” by Robert Burns!

While writing the ritual, it occurred to me that Lammas was a really suitable Sabbat for me to hold my first ever group rite. I was assigned Lammas because it’s perceived as fairly “minor” by several members and it’d therefore be a good one for a beginner, but I actually thought it was perfect for me for several other reasons:

  • It’s the Sabbat closest to my anniversary, which is a very spiritually significant event for me
  • It’s a festival of grain, a key attribute of my patron deity Inari Okami
  • An awful lot of the Lammas concepts, such as the sacredness of bread, and the idea of the God sacrificing himself (and “eating the God” in the form of bread), are shared in Catholicism – and I’m a former Catholic. Indeed, Lammas is one of those Sabbats that is syncretic between Paganism and Christianity.

In fact, once I’d finished writing it, I was struck with how similar so many of the elements of my ritual happened to resemble those of a Catholic mass. One day I shall have to write a post exploring the similarities between Catholicism and Paganism – despite their history of antagonism, there’s a lot they have in common.

I found myself in two minds about whether to begin the ritual with the HI-FU-MI Shinto norito, which is generally what I do at the beginning of my own solo rituals these days. On the one hand, I felt that I wanted to share Shinto with other members…but on the other, the Shinto norito is quite removed from anything in Western Paganism that I thought it might be a little weird, or that people would think I was trying to push Shinto too much. Because I was so undecided about it, I decided to leave it off the ritual script that I printed for participants.

Before leaving for the moot, I did offer norito to Inari-sama at the shrine I’ve now set up for him in the new house (I’ll do a post about this sometime soon). I asked her for guidance and to give me confidence. It also seemed appropriate as I’d included him under the many deities to be invoked at the ritual.

The Ritual

On the day of the moot itself, I was predictably pretty nervous. I had hoped to hold it outside, but the news had forecast rain so rather than take the risk I thought we’d have it inside (actually it turned out to be a very clear night, but never mind!). I had asked everyone to bring something as an offering from the altar, and was overwhelmed by everyone’s enthusiasm and generosity. People brought bread, home-made cakes, biscuits, fruit and flowers, to name but a few. The photo above shows just a small portion of what people brought. It made for a very impressive altar to the Gods and Goddesses!

I’d said on previous occasions that if I ever led a Medway Pagans ritual, I would incorporate a little Shinto somewhere. So people were a little surprised that the altar I’d set up was very traditionally Western Pagan with not much in the way of Japanese things. I took this as an indication that people would be be open to me beginning the ritual with the Shinto norito, so I did!

And I’m really glad I did. Not only was it really well-received, but I think it actually did help to build up the right kind of atmosphere – it certainly helped me to calm my nerves and to feel more in tune with the ritual’s energies, and I hope it made other people feel that way. I do think that norito, when chanted well, really does exert a strange kind of power.

The rest of the ritual went pretty well for my first time – largely thanks to everyone’s support. I’d picked four members to play the roles of North, South, East and West, as they were integral to the Lammas loaf spell, and they were really good at their role. Moreover, Abi Normal (one of the founding members), who has many years’ experience doing this, was really supportive and helped the ritual along by carefully directing people where necessary and reminding me of things I might have forgotten!

After the Lammas ritual, Abi Normal also held a cleansing-charging spell, as the energies of the upcoming Blue Moon made it the perfect occasion for this. In a similar way to our cleansing ritual last year, we purified our crystals, wands, talismans and other tools (I took the opportunity to cleanse my athame) in Earth, Water, Fire, Air (incense) and anointing oils, ready to set out before the Full Moon.

We ended by closing our circle as usual! Everyone was so nice afterwards and gave me some really nice comments on how the ritual went.

After the Ritual

It’s become something of a tradition that when we hold indoor rituals, we take a little of the cakes and ale outside to offer to the trees (there’s some lovely oak trees outside the club). When we went out this time, something amazing happened – we spotted a fox! This is the first time I have ever seen a fox by the club post-ritual and it was incredible – not only are foxes the messengers of my patron Inari-sama, but we had specifically called upon Inari-sama during the ritual. This fox was really bold, and watched us with an unusual intent; he was sat bolt upright on his haunches, rather like a cat. This is in fact the post that many fox statues at Inari shrines take. I took this as a very significant sign that Inari-sama was happy with how the ritual went and was pleased that I had included the norito and mentioned her.

Once we all went indoors, there followed the rather long task of dismantling the altar and tidying up.

Reflections

As I said, I was so, so happy to have led a ritual for the first time. It’s really hard work – holding a ritual, including research, writing, getting materials, setting up the altar, and tidying up, takes hours. But it was so rewarding, I would very gladly do it again. Yes it was nerve-wracking, and it’s certainly much calmer and more relaxed to have someone else take the lead, but I am so proud to have done it. And it certainly made me appreciate the level of dedication and enthusiasm that other people put into their rituals – I realise now that they only made it look easy, when in fact it’s not so easy at all! When the circle closes around you and you’re the centre of attention beside your altar, it’s easy to get stage-fright. It’s also made me realised the importance of a kind, supportive and enthusiastic group – without everyone’s encouragement and guidance, it definitely wouldn’t have been as successful.I have learned a lot from the experience and I can’t wait to do lead my next one!

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