A lot of the time, I am asked ‘What do Shintoists believe?’. In this post I hope to discuss some of the core beliefs in Shinto, as well as my own personal take on these.
Shintoists can either believe in these concepts as truth, or as metaphors. What is important is that they follow Shinto for a pure reason, and not as a trend or fad.
The Universe is a Single Unified Creation
We believe that spirit exists in the same world as us and is not seperate. Therefore, as we revere nature and kami, this world is sacred. There is, however, considered to be a visible world (kenkai) and an invisible world (yukai). The invisible world is considered to be an extension of the visible world, and not a separate realm.
It is possible to see the kami if we are attuned enough, and also in our dreams and meditations. Even if we cannot feel them, we can sense their energy in this world.
Reverance of Great Nature
Great Nature is everything natural that exists in this world. Shinto is a nature-based faith and so nature is incredibly important to the daily lives of its followers. Shintoists understand that Great Nature is deserved to be revered for its beauty. We see the beauty in all things and are aware of the balance and harmony in nature. It is when things become unbalanced that disasters can occur.
Belief in Kami
Kami are spirits/forces of nature which exist in everything that is natural. They are not the same as the Western idea of a god, though this is often used to translate the word kami.
Kami are not separated from nature – kami are nature, the energy of the Universe. There are kami for rocks, trees, forests, oceans, lakes and such. There are also kami associated with fertility and harvest, natural disasters and weather patterns.
Kami are believed to be manifestations of this Universal energy. They can appear to followers in many different forms but something we can agree on – there is a special, intense energy when we speak with kami.
Unlike many other deities, kami can also be good or evil. They possess the same qualities of humans and are as reliant on us as we are them.
Many kami are considered to be the ancestors of entire clans, and different sects of Shinto may be based around that. Under special circumstances humans and animals can also become kami when they die.
Kami are enshrined in Shinto shrines across Japan (and a few outside of Japan). These shrines act as a centre focus for worshippers to visit and pay their respects to the kami. Many shrines hold ceremonies and ritual for the general public on behalf of the kami.
Kami are also prayed to from home with the use of a kamidana and an ofuda. Usually, the kami worshipped is determined by their or their ancestors relationship to the kami.
The Concept of Purity
Purity is an important concept in Shinto. In Shinto, we do not believe that humans are born inheritantly bad and that we are instead born pure. We are a child of the kami and so this reflects that.
Impurity is picked up through normal life activities and we must make sure to purify ourselves of this negative energy. Impurity can be caused by various things, but most often pollution – physical, moral or spiritual, disease, disaster or contact with the dead.
We can purify ourselves through ritual and prayer. A common purification ritual is Misogi Shuho, where we wash our entire body (usually in a natural body of water) to remove impurity.
The Importance of Ritual
Shinto ceremonies and ritual are considered sacred to the kami. By performing ritual and norito (prayers), we show our appreciation and reverence to the kami.
Shinto ceremonies can be done either in large groups, such as Misogi Shuho, or privately at home or in nature.
Ceremonies and ritual can include purification, reading of norito and the making of food for offerings to the kami. These are done by priests, who are usually male – who are assisted by a female ‘shrine maiden’ – miko. The miko is often also a shaman and is able to communicate with the kami.
Sincerity is at the heart of Shinto belief. As long as we are sincere and honest, then the kami will help us. It is possible to pray to the kami without the usual means such as a kamidana, especially if you live in the Western world. After all, these items are simply tools designed to make us closer to kami.
Kami can see into your heart and will know when a request of them is pure. So we can pray to kami at any time, even when we are away from home.
I hope that this post helped you make sense of the core beliefs of Shinto, or reminds you of what we strive to uphold. Although many of us spiritual Shintoists do believe fully in these concepts, there are many practitioners of Shinto, even priests, who do not truly believe in the kami.
This is pretty normal for modern Japan – Shinto is a tradition that has shaped the very way of Japanese life. Many people only visit shrines when they need something and then only do so out of tradition, rather than belief.
Despite this, there are an increasing number of people who are finding ‘the way of the kami’ again, including Westerners. I feel that this time is a good time for Shinto as through the internet and community we can share the energy of the kami and show people how Shinto can help them.
References and Further Reading:
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