This seems to be a toxic opinion I’ve seen around tumblr and facebook. It’s common for younger members of the Shinto faith, or those who are simply dabbling in it to be told be older, ‘more experienced’ people that they are wrong. That they must obtain an expensive kamidana and attend shrines all over the World in order to be sincere. In my opinion, and with the back up of Inari-Okami and Kamisama, I feel this is wrong.
Please note: When I use the term ‘kamisama‘, I refer to all kami as one or many.
Now, it is lovely to have a nice kamidana, ofuda and various Shinto items and trinkets. Imagine going to Japan to Shinto shrines and partaking in ceremonies, perhaps even obtaining a wakemitama (a divided soul of a kami) or training to become a Shinto priest or miko. Sounds amazing, right? Well, it is probably every Shintoists dream! But it’s not cheap.
Who has thousands of pounds or dollars (or whatever your currency) to spend on these things! Some of us are unable to work due to health or disabilities, or cannot find a job. If Kamisama only gave blessings to those of us with a fat pay slip, that would not be a very compassionate kami at all.
Religion is both Personal and Cultural
A lot of Western Shintoists come from strict religious backgrounds such as Catholicism, but others (more and more it seems) come from other more open religions such as Paganism, Buddhism and Taoism. I come from a Pagan background and I was actually introduced to Shinto like many of us, through anime and manga. I immediately started to research the faith before I even made a kamidana, as I was worried about appropriating Japanese culture. Many people seem to believe that the only way you can properly be Shinto is to be born into it or take part in many ceremonies and pilgrimages before you gain the right to be called Shinto.
At the same time, these people claim that Shinto is a Worldly faith and that it is open to everyone. Kami are Universal; they do not exist just in one place, they are everywhere. I have noticed that it seems to be mainly Shintoists outside of Japan who hold these more negative opinions, coming from countries where religion is a more structured and serious thing than in Japan.
In Japan, Shinto is somewhat of a vague faith that is so integrated into Japanese culture and history, it can be very difficult for us foreigners to make much sense of it. Many, many elements of Shinto are mixed with other religions such as Buddhism and Taoism. In fact, it has been said that many Japanese do not consider themselves religious as all, instead it is just what they do. How many of us celebrate holidays like Easter and Christmas without a thought to the religious connotations? Modern Shinto is very much like that in most of Japan.
Shinto lies in Nature
Shinto, in its heart is a nature-based religion which reveres nature, kami and our ancestors. If you respect these things, you can be Shinto. You do not need to undertake training, or even attend a shrine. Kamisama is everywhere. Of course, Kami can be enshrined in different places – think of these more as small churches or altars that act as a focus for worship. We treat them as the kami’s houses, they live there, we lay offerings there and keep them clean and tidy for them. But kami is truly omnipresent – they are everywhere, all over the World.
Please know that this structured and strict Shinto pushed upon us by many Westerners is not true Shinto. If you feel that you are closer to kami by worshipping at a shrine and following each rule by the book then that is fantastic! But newcomers to Shinto often are not sure they want to do this and simply wish to communicate with Kamisama and get a feel for the faith.
If you wish to experience Shinto for yourself, just go outside into the woods. Maybe you live near an ocean? Or even a desert. Wherever you are, there are myriads of kami all over. Feel their energy and thank them for your food, water, the air you breathe. Maybe sometimes when walking in a forest you feel spiritual and at peace. The kami there are around, and you can talk to them. They may even leave you a sign.
Shinto is such a deep and personal faith. I like to refrain from using the term ‘religion’ as I feel that Shinto is more of an experience, a faith in things larger than ourselves. It is incredibly hard to describe what it is like – Shinto is largely something which you must work with yourself so you can draw on your own personal experiences.
So, How Can I Become Shinto without a Kamidana/Shrine visit/ETC
If you want to become Shinto, just try the things I stated above. If you want to build a kamidana, do so as you please! The most important thing in Shinto is that you are sincere. Please, do not create a kamidana or altar if you are following it because of a fad, because you are pressured into it or even because your favourite anime character is a miko and you thought it would be cool to recreate that. Only make the time and space for Shinto in your life if you are sincere about your wanting to get to know the kami.
Creating your own personal kamidana is not as expensive as you might imagine. You can get by with just an ofuda if you’d like. If you have no money for this, perhaps you can simply make a space with items that remind you of the kami, or even print out some representations of them. All you want to start with is something which will allow you to make a connection. The rest is inside of you – meditate and pray before the kamidana or altar you have created.
There are many English resources online now for Shinto, as well as many books on the subject. Please do not be disheartened if you have people saying that you are not worshiping the “correct way”, or your kamidana is inappropriate or wrong. Again, this is a personal place that you can connect with Kamisama – it makes sense that it will reflect you.
If you do want to expand your kamidana and purchase the supplies, you can of course! I am merely saying that you do not need to buy into Shinto in any way. I will make a post this week about the various kinds of kamidana, along with resources and links of places to buy the various items.
I just wanted to make this post to explain these things. Yes, it is wonderful if you can attend a shrine regularly and buy everything you want. But those things are not as important as your own personal devotion to Kamisama.
An excellent book you can read on the subject of the feel and spiritual aspects of Shinto is ‘The Essence of Shinto‘ by Yamayage Motohisa. Yes, I know it costs money. I have seen it in various libraries though, or maybe you have a friend who can loan it to you! In any case, I will be re-reading it once again and will share some of the information here as well as it is an excellent book.
I hope this post helped some of you out there who feel inferior when compared to many people. If you have any questions or comments, please do not be afraid to contact me!
Have a lovely week!
Images all from https://pixabay.com (Public domain)