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Pagan, Shinto & Spiritual Book Reviews September 2016

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We have now entered autumn, the month of reading according to the Japanese. Not sure what to read? Take a look at September’s reviews and see if any of them take your fancy – this month we even have a book by the managing editor of Patheos Pagan! [Read more]

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The “HI FU MI” Norito – A Shinto prayer for beginners

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The HI FU MI Norito can be found in “Shinto Norito: A Book of Prayers.”

An important part of Shinto worship within the home is the offering of Shinto prayers, or norito, to the kami. But this can be tricky for non-Japanese Shintoists, as norito are, naturally, written in Japanese. Moreover, the norito use rather archaic and poetic Japanese that’s even trickier, and they’re also intoned in a particular rhythmic, sing-song style that can be hard to imitate, even for proficient Japanese speakers. [Read more]

 

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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.

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Religion and Healing

Image For about six years now, I’ve had a condition called POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), which basically means I develop a very rapid heartbeat when I stand up, making me dizzy and (occasionally) faint. It’s not a life-threatening condition and luckily I only have it mildly, so it’s just a nuisance more than anything else.

Although there isn’t a cure for POTS, in most cases it does go away very gradually, and over the past year I have noticed my symptoms improve little by little. But even more recently, since I’ve started practising paganism, I’ve noticed my symptoms improving a lot. I haven’t had a near-fainting episode for months (I used to have them several times a week),  and it used to be the norm for me to experience visual distortions or have moments when I couldn’t understand what someone was saying to me – this is really, really rare now. I’ve been experiencing more normality than I have done for the past six years, and it’s really only been this good since I started following the Pagan path.

Now, I don’t think that the gods have miraculously healed me as some kind of “reward” for my new-found devotion; not at all. I am neither important enough not devout enough to warrant that! And there’s plenty of other people out there with far more serious conditions out there who live a far more pious life and they never recover. I don’t honestly think we can give the gods 100% responsibility for our own personal well-being.

What I do think is that the very act of following a religion can be extremely beneficial mentally and physically. Performing ritual and prayer is relaxing, comforting and at the same time invigorating. Prayer gives you the opportunity to reflect on your day, your life and your loved ones, which is all very healthy. And the feeling that you are actually in contact with the divine, and getting in touch with the spirits of the earth, nature and the universe itself, is wonderful. And this feeling of serenity, inspiration and purpose is excellent for stimulating the brain’s pleasure centres, giving your body a big old healing dose of endorphins.

What’s more, the Pagan lifestyle is inherently a healthy one. It encourages healthy eating, getting outside the house, and staying active through ritual, crafts and other activities that help to connect you with nature’s forces. Since getting into Paganism, I’ve been taking more walks in nature, gotten into to a little gardening, attended more Pagan-related moots and events, and generally been more active. And all of this, I believe, has really helped me recover.

Of course, all this can be applied not just to paganism, or even to religion – any way of life that makes you passionate and inspires you to live a more healthy and fulfilling lifestyle is inevitably going to make you feel good. But different things work for different people, and for me, it’s paganism.

And if, just if, the gods really do help those who try to help themselves (as I mentioned in my previous Earth Day post), perhaps I have been lucky enough to have been blessed by the powers that be with a helping, healing hand. If that is the case, I thank you.

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