The Concept of Purity in Shinto
Purity is an important concept in Shinto. It is believed that humans are not inherently bad and are born pure. We pick up impurities throughout life in various ways. This pollution is caused by physical pollution, disease, negative energies, people, events and things associated with death.It can also be picked up through general day to day life. If you think about it, we spend a lot of our time in close proximity with other humans, even talking online!
Each person has energy that vibrates at different levels and it is possible to pick up on how they are feeling and to become empathic with them. For instance, how many times have you felt fine and then spoken with another person who perhaps said or did something which made you feel awful? You then may have felt that negative energy following you around all day. Another good example of feeling bad energies is when two people have an argument – the atmosphere feels tense and heavy afterwards. This is because of the negative energies that have manifested. They will then cling to people and must be purified in order for us to heal from this burden.
In Shinto, we believe that it is necessary to purify ourselves on a regular basis in order to live a full life and to become closer with kami.
Harae/Harai (祓 or 祓い) – Methods of Purification
In Shinto, we can restore our purity by taking part in purification rituals. These are designed to cleanse mind, body and spirit. The most common agents used in harae are salt and water.
Harae should always be performed at the beginning of Shinto ceremonies, in one form or another.
Temizu is the rinsing of the hands and the mouth with pure water at the beginning of a shrine visit. This is to ensure that the visitor approaches the kami with a pure heart and a clean aura. Most Shinto shrines will house a chōzuya (or temizuya) (手水舎) which is a sacred water basin dedicated for this very purpose.
Ōnusa (大幣)/Haraigushi (祓串)
Another method of harae is where a Shinto priest will shake and wave a ‘wand’ called an Ōnusa (大幣), also known as a haraigashi (祓串) over the object of purification. This could be a person, location or objects such as cars. These wands are made from a stick of bamboo or wood and shide, a type of sacred zig-zagged paper or unprocessed hemp fibre which can be seen all over Shinto shrines and worship sites. You can find more on shide and haraigushi here.
This ritual cleansing is usually performed at the beginning of a ritual to ensure that any negative energies are taken away before offerings are made to the kami.
Misogi Shuho (禊)
Misogi Shuho is the cleansing/purification of the body, mind and spirit. It is the act of purifying oneself by washing away the impurities that we have accumulated in water – preferably a natural source, though misogi shuho can also be done in the shower. I will not go into full detail about the process and ritual involved with it here, but there is a very useful page about misogi shuho at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America’s page here.
This is another cleansing ritual performed in Shinto. This is when salt is used in front of restaurants with the purpose of warding off evil and attracting patrons.
In addition to this, it is common in Shinto tradition to sprinkle salt over a person after attending a funeral. Many people also sprinkle water at the gates of their home, both morning and evening.
Shrine Ritual Purification
In June and December Shinto shrines hold a large public purification ceremony. The purpose of this is to rid oneself of the negativity and pollution that has attached to us in the last six months. These are Nagoshi-no-Oharahi Taisai (Great Mid-Year Purification) and Oharahishiki (Great Day of Purifying the Root of Misfortune).
For those of you in the United States, Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America in Granite Falls, Washington performs these ceremonies.
The Effects of Harae
There are many positive effects of harae, and so it should be something which we strive to keep on top of. These effects include:
- Calmness and appreciation for the kami and for our own lives
- Improving our ki (life force), as well as the ki of our family
- To receive the ki of kami as a blessing
- To boost your past/presence/future ki – to feel more optimistic and more spiritually aware
- Understanding co-existance and to reduce greed and ego
- The raising of your spiritual senses and your ability to feel kami
- To sharpen the mind and physical senses
- To feel revitalized in mind, body and spirit
- To boost creativity and energy in daily life