Tag Archives: jizo

Pagan, Spiritual & Magical Book Reviews February 2016

Feb16

This month I’ve read…

  • Pagan Planet: Being, Believing & Belonging in the 21st Century, ed. Nimue Brown
  • Practical Candle Burning: Spells and Rituals for Every Purpose, Raymond Buckland
  • Pagan Portals – Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well, Morgan Daimler
  • Tales of Unease, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (compiled by David Stuart Davies)
  • The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism, Hank Glassman
  • Whispers from the Earth: Teaching stories from the ancestors, beautifully woven for today’s spiritual seekers, Taz Thornton

Click here to read the reviews!

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People as Gods

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Statues of O-Jizo-sama, the Japanese divinity of compassion and kindness. By Vanvelthem Cédric (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Worshipping forces of nature comes naturally to Pagans, as does worshipping plants and animals. But what does Paganism say about how we should treat other human beings?

I believe the clear answer is that Pagans should be just as respectful towards people as they should be towards any other part of nature. Just as other animals are seen by some Pagans as divine, so we should see human beings as sacred.

In Japan, there is the phrase “okyaku-sama wa kami-sama” – “The customer is a god.” Although on the surface it simply means that customers should be treated with the utmost respect (compare with the American phrase “the customer is always right”), I think there is a slightly more literal interpretation of this. For merchants, customers provide money, which in turn provides food, and therefore customers are life-givers. Conversely, when they do not buy items, this gives them the power to take life-giving food away. In this way, customers really are “god-like” from a merchant’s perspective.

In my daily life, I try to extend this thinking not only to the people I serve at work, but to all human beings – especially those to whom I am grateful. I owe my happiness, health and indeed my life to my family and friends, as well as others in my community who have a positive impact in my life – doctors, teachers, cleaners, bank tellers, shop keepers, postmen, street sweepers….and many hundreds more. I’m sure that I am in fact completely unaware of many people’s positive effects on my life.

For these reasons, I try to treat people in my life with respect, as I would a deity. Just as I give my deities thanks for their blessings and offer them physical tributes in their honour, in the same way, I try to remember to always show gratitude to people around me and to do nice things for them, which sometimes means presenting them with a gift as I would a deity. I don’t always succeed as this, and I know I can be neglectful of other people, but I ask my deities to help me to remember my duties to other people and to show kindness always and gratitude whenever due.

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Nature Gods verses Human Gods

"Fujinraijin-tawaraya" by 俵屋宗達 (Tawaraya Sotatsu, ? - ?) - Brother Sun , Sister Moon. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Fuujin and Raijin, the fearsome and inhuman Shinto gods of wind and thunder. “Fujinraijin-tawaraya” by 俵屋宗達 (Tawaraya Sotatsu, ? – ?) – Brother Sun , Sister Moon. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In all the Pagan religions I can think of, practically all the deities have some kind of darker, fearsome aspect to them. And there is a very good reason for this – they represent the forces of nature. [Read more]

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My first attempt at working with salt dough

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Inspired yet again by Ozark Pagan Mamma’s blog, I decided to try making some things out of salt dough. I’d actually never heard of salt dough before reading her blog, but I’ve since learned it’s something that mothers like to make with children as it’s really simple, cheap and harmless if swallowed (but pretty foul tasting – believe me, I tried!). I loved the idea of crafting with something so easy to make and environmentally-friendly, not to mention that it’s a combination of basic, sacred ingredients in Paganism (water, flour, salt) so I thought I’d give it a go!

I was surprised at how easy it is to make the dough to the right consistency. It’s similar to working with clay, but it’s more brittle and small-scale fine detail is hard to achieve. It also tends to collapse under its own weight a bit, hence most salt dough ornaments you see are flat. Yet it’s easier than you would think to shape and smooth. And it took less time than I thought for them to harden as well; baking them on a low heat, I’d say about 2 hours is sufficient (but I left them in for two hours longer for good measure). Again, I was surprised at how well the figures fared in the oven – they didn’t develop any cracks, but they did lose their shape a little.

I’d had the idea of making some little salt dough kodama figurines from Princess Mononoke (one of my favourite Pagan-friendly movies!) as they’re so cute and appealing, plus my husband really likes them as well. Not to mention that their design is really simple! The above photo shows my attempt – they were really fiddly to make with the right proportions and still sit upright without crushing themselves under their own weight. None of them turned out looking brilliant, but for a first attempt I’m fairly satisfied with them; I learned a lot about how to use the dough in the process.

saltdough1I also made this little statue of Jizo which I thought would be good to place in our spare room – Jizo is the guardian of travellers, which seems appropriate for a room used for guests. Unfortunately, he fell over in the baking process which now means he can’t stand up on his own (he’s being propped up in the photo!) I could give him a base, or try and make a better one next time.

I finally made a miniature mask of Otafuku, a figure representing luck at Setsubun, the Japanese “bean throwing” festival held about the same time as Imbolc. I haven’t featured a photo because she won’t look anything like Otafuku until I paint her. I plan to display her on my altar during Setsubun/Imbolc.

I’ve found working with salt dough really enjoyable and I definitely want to try again! It’s a bit of a shame that it seems generally considered something for kids, as I can see so much potential for adults to enjoy working with it as a serious craft tool. And seeing as you only need three common ingredients that most people usually always have in the house, there’s no reason to just start making some salt dough right now!

Finally, seeing as the kodama are tree spirits, I thought they’d look great on our Christmas tree! So here they are enjoying their new home…

saltdough3 saltdough5 saltdough6
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Brigid and Jizo

Entrance_to_St_Brigids_Well

St Brigid’s Well in Liscannor, which has a distinctly Pagan feeling. “Entrance to St Brigids Well” by Liscannorman – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In modern times, Paganism and Christianity generally tend to avoid each other. Although there are such people as “Christian Pagans,” I would say that they are in the minority. Indeed, it can be hard to see how the eclectic, spontaneous, nature-orientated polytheism of Paganism could blend with the rule-bound, human-orientated monotheism of Christianity – and that’s without considering the bitter history between the two. [Read more…]

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A Blessing for O-bon

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Statues of Ojizo-sama, the bodhisattva who protects the souls of the living and the dead

Tonight is the final night of O-bon, the Japanese festival of the dead.

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Hokora – Japan’s “Faerie Shrines?”

800px-Hokora_in_Yokohama

More than any other, the type of shine that fascinates and enchants me most in Japan is the hokora, or miniature shrine. You can find these practically anywhere in Japan – on the grounds of larger jinja shrines, on country roadsides, on city street corners, or out in the middle of nature. Unlike jinja, these shrines are not necessarily under the control of any Shinto institution, and therefore represent a very pure form of folk Shinto.

Hokora can take many forms – just perform a Google image search to see. Some can be fairly large (the size of a cupboard or there abouts) and have many of the features of a formal jinja – of box for offering money, a bell to ring to summon the kami, shutters and so on. Others resemble kamidana in that they are miniaturisations of a full-size jinja, complete with tiny torii and suitably sized offering vessels (like the  hokora pictured above). The main difference between hokora and kamidana seems to be that kamidana are purely for inside worship, and also seem to have more rules about their layout and position than hokora.

800px-Mount_Iimori(Misaki,_Osaka)_hokora

From Wiki Commons

Others, like the one pictured left, are incredibly simple – just a tiny stone “house” with a few sacred items inside. Most rural hokora make use of the natural beauty around them and are made from natural materials such as stone or wood. Although varied, the defining characteristic of a hokora seems to be some sort of house-shaped enclosure, as if providing a home for the kami.

Typically, hokora enshrine minor kami of protection, although more major deities may be venerated in hokora too. The fox statues surrounding the hokora pictured on the top of the page indicate a connection with Inari Okamisama, while the hokora above (and many of the hokora I have personally seen in Japan) enshrine Jizo Bosatsu. Jizo is a very interesting deity, as he is originally a Buddhist Bodhisattva, who has come to be venerated as a protector of children and travellers as Japan. Often depicted as small and rather endearing, Jizo is a popular deity among the Japanese, and he is often worshipped in a similar manner to the Shinto kami. This is another example of the syncretic nature of Japanese religions, where at the folk level, Shinto, Buddhism and other folk beliefs merge so much that trying to separate them becomes very difficult and, arguably, meaningless.

This deceptively casual and humble nature of hokora is one of the things that I find so appealing about them. Unlike jinja, they do not represent any kind of mass institution with deep social and political links – instead, they are an individualistic expression of the spirituality of the common people.

I also find small size of hokora, particularly those with scaled-down versions of shrine features such as torii, of great interest. When I see these tiny houses out in nature, I am reminded of the numerous legends of faeries, pixies and “wee folk” that have existed throughout the British Isles. I cannot help but think that the kami venerated in these small hokora are somehow linked to the “week folk” – perhaps it would even be fitting to translate kami in this context as “faerie.”

Hokora remind me of something else quite familiar in Britain: Garden gnomes, and other such garden statues. But while hokora are sincerely revered as sacred spaces for kami (and the proliferation of offerings at hokora is proof of this), garden gnomes and their ilk are simply seen as whimsical, even tacky, decorative ornaments, and nothing more. Yet I cannot help that somehow, people place gnomes in the garden out of a deeply-seated, subconscious feeling that there are mysterious and benevolent forces of nature at work, and a desire to somehow reach out and revere this force. Gnomes, after all, were once respected as elemental spirits of the earth.

I do wish that something akin to hokora existed in British forests, fields and roadsides, even as just a reminder to respect our natural world (my own goal at the moment is to transform my rather drab Inari altar into something more like a hokora). I have a feeling that if we did try to make little Western Pagan-style hokora venerating the fae or other nature spirits, they would end up being vandalised. But if it did become a tradition here to set up small places for offerings to nature spirits, I think we would perhaps learn to value our diminishing places of natural beauty. And moreover, it would make us feel more spiritually fulfilled too.

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