Kami of the Sky

Tanabata night (7th July-8th July) I had a very vivid dream in which I found a small shrine inside a children’s playground. The playground itself seemed to be rather old with paint peeling off the animal characters, the old playground painted in pastel shades of pink, purple, yellow and green.

The shrine itself had a natural coloured wooden torii, as well as some signs in Japanese about the kami. I recall that I was able to read enough that I found out the kami was one of the sky and the stars. There was also a depiction of the kami; a stocky male character, almost reminding me of Overwatch’s Hanzo, with a touch of the kami Tenjin. I defiantly felt a strong masculine force from the shrine, one I have not felt before.

I know that this was a kami reaching out, but despite the lack of a name, I still thought ‘Tenjin’ when I woke up the following morning. Strangely, I had prayed for help from the kami with my Japanese studies on tanabata and so Tenjin would indeed be an ideal kami to assist me with this. In fact, the kanji written to spell Tenjin’s name, 天 and 神 actually do mean ‘Sky god/deity‘, although Tenjin himself is a kami of education. and scholarship.

In fact, while writing this post, I am becoming more convinced that it was indeed Tenjin who called out to me and perhaps the ‘sky’ part of his name is what I had read in the dream. Could it also be a coincidence that the offerings I made on Tanabata were plums, with Tenjin’s associated tree being the Chinese plum tree? 

The ‘image’ of the kami I saw could be created from my mind’s library of Shinto kami, and resulted in a much younger looking kami, but with the same ‘feel’ as Tenjin. In any case, I aim to try to contact Tenjin through prayer and see if it was indeed him who made this calling.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

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The flag of Wales featuring our amazing dragon mascot Y Ddraig Goch (The Red Dragon)

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! Happy St. David’s Day!

March 1st is the national day of my home country, Wales! Although this is not a Pagan holiday, it is a holiday that is very important and special to me as a Welsh person, and so I thought I’d write a little about it here!


Who Was St. David?

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St. David portrayed on a stained glass window in Cardiff. Image Credit.

St. David was born in the year 500 AD in Caerfai, Pembrokeshire allegedly during a fierce storm. Both of his parents were believed to be Welsh royalty and in medieval times it was even believed that he was the nephew of King Arthur. Many stories about St. David can be found in the Buchedd Dewi (Life of David) written by Rhygyfarch in the late 11th century.

David grew up to become a priest being tutored by St. Paulinus at Hen Fynyw monastery. According to Welsh legend, David performed several miracles in his lifetime, including restoring St. Paulinus’ sight. During their battles against the Saxons, it is believed that David advised his soldiers to wear leeks in their hats so they could be distinguished from enemies – hence the leek as a national symbol of Wales. His best-known miracle was said to have taken place at Llanddewi Brefi where he made the ground he was standing on raise into a hill in front of a crowd of spectators. A white dove then settled on his shoulder – a sign of God and afterwards seen as St.David’s emblem.

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The white dove – A universal symbol of peace and the emblem of St.David

David lived a very simple life eating only vegetables, breads and herbs and drinking only water, refraining from drinking beer and eating meat. He became known as Dewi Ddyfwr (David the water drinker) in Welsh. Sometimes as a form of personal penance, he would stand submerged up to his neck in a lake of cold water and recite scripture. It is also believed that the milestones in his life were marked by the appearance of springs of water.

David became a missionary and traveled throughout Wales, Britain and even to Jerusalem where he was consecrated bishop. He founded 12 monasteries including Glastonbury Abbey and one at Minervia, now known as St. Davids. He was named Archbishop of Wales at Llanddewi Brefi, Cardiganshire in 550.

Depending on the stories, St. David died in 589 or 601 AD. His remains were buried in a shrine which was later plundered by Viking invaders in the 11th century. After his death, David’s influence spread far and wide. In 1120, Pope Callactus II canonized David as a Saint and was declared Patron Saint of Wales. In the following years, many pilgrimages were made to St. Davids and these continue even to this day. His name is truly spread all over Wales; Fifty churches in South Wales alone bear his name.


St. David’s Day Traditions

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Wearing a daffodil is one of the most common traditions

900 years after St. David’s Day became an official day, Wales still celebrate the day with enthusiasm and vigor. Growing up in Wales I remember a lot of colours, crafts, singing, dancing and good food on the day – a really happy time to look forward to, especially with Winter finally receding! Here are some things that are traditionally done on St. David’s Day in Wales:

  • Wearing a Daffodil or Leek: Wearing one of the emblems of Wales is a symbol of both pride to be Welsh, as well as a sign of respect for St. David himself. Around this time it’s common to see lots of synthetic daffodils and leeks which you can purchase, or you can use real ones or even make your own! Although traditionally Welsh people would wear a leek, people more commonly now wear Daffodils as it both resembles a leek flower, and is a whole lot less smelly!
  • Eisteddfordau/School Concerts: Eisteddfordau (Festivals) and school concerts are very common around St. Davids Day and usually involve singing, poetry and performances in Welsh and English. I remember these vividly and yes, we had to dress up as daffodils!
  • Arts and Crafts: For anyone who grew up in Wales, you probably remember the large amount of arts and crafts around St. Davids day! Sometimes we would make props for the eisteddford, make our own daffodils from paper plates, draw our own dragons (so many dog-shaped red blobs) or make our own leeks. Sometimes we would even bake our own welsh cakes or bara brith!
  • Traditional Costumes: Ah the traditional ‘welsh lady’ costume. It’s extremely common to see many young girls wearing this costume on St. Davids day, as well as performers on stage. The costume itself has a very interesting history which you can read about here!
  • Good Food!: St. David’s day is an excellent time to indulge in some of the wonderful Welsh food out there! It’s common to see food stalls at the eisteddfordau selling many traditional foods such as lamb, leek soup, bara brith and welsh cakes!
  • Spring is Here: With the many wild flowers blooming and the lambs bouncing through the fields, St. Davids day is also seen to mark the beginning of spring in Wales. The day marks the beginning of March and the run up to Easter.
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St. Davids Day also marks the beginning of spring time

So with that, I again wish you a Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! Diolch i chi am ddarllen! (Thanks for reading!)

 

I hope you enjoyed this little insight into my home country’s culture and traditions! If you’d like to learn more about -Wales, particularly the mythology, please let me know as I’d love to write about it here!

 

References:

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofWales/St-David-Patron-Saint-of-Wales/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_David

My Faith and Chronic Illness

Recently I read a particularly inspiring post called ‘Devotional tips for those with chronic illnesses and limited energy‘ by Michelle at Northern Tamarisk. It really helped me remember that I am certainly not alone with chronic illness and it also encouraged me to write about my own illnesses and how I deal with it interfering with my faith.

About my Illnesses

I suffer from chronic pain diagnosed as fibromyalgia, but due to the ‘catch-all’ diagnosis associated with this illness, I am making sure to get tested for everything. In fact today I went to the GP asking about it yet again, again they just said it is fibromyalgia. It’s frustrating for me as it developed only a few years ago and has gradually been getting worse and worse. It started off as a soreness and tightness in my calves when I walked to work, then last year it got so bad I had to start using a cane to walk, and now I cannot walk more than about 5 minutes without intense leg and back pain.

It affects every aspect of my life from sleeping to eating. It’s amplified by having type 1 diabetes (the needle kind!) and mental health problems. I basically have a big cocktail of illness which affect me greatly and really brings me down a lot. The ‘chronic’ part is what upsets me the most – if there was any way I could cure these ills, I would.

Michelle’s post popped up on my feed at a very relevant time for me; my pain has been getting worse and I’ve been unable to do many things as of late. It’s all been getting me very down and so the post really spoke to me. It reminded me that even though some days I can barely move, I can still write, meditate or do anything else which will further my knowledge and devotion to Shinto and my path.


What I Do on ‘Bad Days’

Like Michelle’s post (please do check it out if you haven’t already!) I’m going to make a list of things I can do even when bedridden. This is partly to share my experiences, but also  way to remind myself when I am having the dreaded ‘fibro fog’ that I can still show my devotion no matter what.

  • Lighting candles and incense: The simple act of lighting a candle or some incense can really change my mood. If I am experiencing mental fog or feeling low this can change my whole outlook. There’s just something about the flickering flames and the strong scents which can snap me out of any self-destructive mood and bring me back to the here and now.
  • Talk to the Kami/Spirits: Sometimes just talking to Inari-sama is enough for me to feel that I can get through this. Although I do norito (Shinto prayer) in the original Japanese, when I casually talk to Inari-sama it is always in English – I wish my Japanese was that good! I have what I’d call a casual relationship with Inari-sama. Even though I do formal ceremonies in her honour, she also feels very much like a mother figure to me and so I often find myself chatting and joking with her. On bad days I apologize to Inari-sama and the other kami I hold shrines for and let them know how much they mean to me. The fact I can see the main kamidana from my bed helps me a lot!
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My kamidana is view-able from my bed acting as a visual reminder of my dedication

  • Blogging/Writing: What I’m doing right now from bed! Thanks to the advent of technology such as laptops, it’s possible for me to write from anywhere! In fact I could even blog from my phone if I wanted to! If I am not in the mood to blog, I can just write in a notebook or somewhere like Evernote. Sometimes the brain fog seems too much for me, but I’ve found that just writing and letting it flow will often help with that.
  • Daily Offerings: Usually I put out daily offerings of water, rice and salt for Inari-sama and the other kami I have shrines to as well as reciting norito. Sometimes my pain and mental fog is so bad that I either forget or are unable to and I feel bad for this. I know that the kami do not mind as I am not deliberately mistreating them or anything, but I do feel like I fail as a devotee when this happens. As mentioned above, I will sometimes just light candles instead and/or apologize to the kami. If I cannot stand up due to pain, I will recite norito sitting down. All in all, I try to at least change the water in the shinki containers every day.
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I try to replace offerings every day, even if it’s just the water

  • Prayer beads/Mala: Although not actually a Shinto practice, I sometimes use prayer beads to focus my concentration when feeling bad. I sometimes say what I am thankful for, recite the words ‘arigatou gozaimasu/ありがとうございます (thank you) for each bead or recently, Inari Shingyou (Inari sutra). As Inari-sama is also a deity in Buddhism and the fact I am eclectic in my practices, I feel no bad energy doing this. In fact I feel Inari-sama really appreciates this. And so even when I am ill I am able to pray, no matter what form.
  • Make Art: I am an artist and enjoy drawing and sketching no matter what. When I am stuck in bed it can be very therapeutic to just sit and draw. By drawing in dedication of Inari-sama or a particular deity or animal it really helps the energy flow. Plus Inari-sama really loves hand-made gifts of any sort!
  • Read relevant books/blogs: This is something I need to do more often, especially when I have brain fog or generally feel down. Reading stimulates me a lot and learning new things is what I live for! There’s nothing like discovering new things about your faith, patron deities or anything else. I have a large collection of Shinto and spiritual books so my down time is a perfect time to dig in!
  • Meditation: Meditation is good for many things from stress-relief to spiritual journeys. I have my own sacred space which I visit when I meditate and this is a powerful way to cleanse myself of a negative mood or even inspire me to create something.

So this was just a quick post about what I do when I am having off days! Thanks again to Michelle for the inspiration behind this and if you haven’t already, please check out her fantastic blog at Northern Tamarisk!

Do you have a chronic illness or something which stops you with spiritual work? I’d love to hear from you! You can either comment here or send me an email at foxofinari@gmail.com!

Thanks so much for reading and have a fantastic Tuesday!

Inactivity – Hiatus

Hey everyone!

I just wanted to apologize for the lack of updates and articles lately. As you may, or may not know, I am a self-employed artist and have convention season coming up soon. This means I am working long days and barely have any free time right now, so I haven’t had time to update this blog.

As my biggest convention is over at the beginning of June, I am going to say I will be on hiatus at least until mid or late June.

In the meanwhile, if you have any questions or ideas for articles on Shinto, please email me at foxofinari@gmail.com

See you soon!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! I need to apologize for the long silence – I was very busy with art work and visiting family and friends. I will try and update this blog at least once or twice a week! I have a few new ideas for posts and such, so things should be back and active very soon.

I will make a longer post soon, but this is simply one to say that I am fine and I will be returning to posting very soon!

Lack of Updates

Hi all! Sorry for the lack of updates! I did plan to start various weekly features but this past fortnight has been hectic with medical appointments and other goings on. I’ll try get a bunch of posts done soon and stick some on queue as I will be going away for a week from the 30th July to the 3rd August.

So yes, just to let you all know!

Hope you are well!

Faith and Prayer

Due to the traditional, inherited nature of Shinto, many practitioners do not have what would be described as ‘faith’. Instead, they follow the customs due to national identity rather than any personalized spiritual experience. Shinto is so deeply ingrained into the Japanese psyche that it can be hard to even know where to start from a Spiritual point of view.

My Personal Experiences in Faith

Since first becoming a devotee of the deity Inari, my faith has only grown. I think a big part of this is down to the type of relationship I have with her. Its mostly casual, though I do feel I know when its appropriate to be formal. Usually my daily prayers begin with changing offerings, a formal prayer (a norito) and then a casual ‘chat’.

I also meditate at the shrine and also before bed and enjoy the overwhelming friendliness of Inari-sama. At times, I felt it was rude to ask the kami for anything, especially Inari. It wasn’t long before Inari told me to stop being so silly and just ask! So I prayed for financial stability, for good health and for the kami to guide me on to the correct path.

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Illustration of Inari by Ashley Stuart

2014 has already been a huge year for me. My faith in Inari has increased tenfold and I feel her everywhere in my life. If I am having any problems I know that Inari will be there – I am her child and she would never let me go without.

I also have a small ancestor shrine in my home to my late grandmother; a relative I was very close to and I really feel that she has been somehow absorbed into the force I call Inari/Kami. I am a believer in a great Universal energy and that all deities and spirits are part of this. In Konkokyo, we call this energy by the name Tenchi Kane no Kami, the god/spirit of the Universe. All energies come from and return to this great kami.

My Blessings from Inari

Some recent examples of where Inari has helped me include when I was really struggling for money; I needed £500 in order to pay off a hotel for a holiday and the date was looming. I was becoming increasingly stressed and work wasn’t flowing in (I am a self-employed artist). Inari told me to not worry about this, and ensured me that the money would be there when I needed it. So I just lived day to day, and towards the end of the month, close to the date, large orders just came from nowhere. In the end, I had the £500 plus more. And I cannot thank Inari enough.

Other events seem to happen when I carry my omamori from Fushimi Inari with me (a gift from my good friend Gary). Buses seem to always come on time, I find exactly what I am looking for on that day, and other good things happen. I always put them down to the kindness and generousity of Inari.

A particularly strange incident that happened involved a power-cut. After a really stormy night, our lights went out. We walked into the living room where my kamidana was, and there was light emitting from Inari’s candles. These candles had been blown out at least 30 minutes before, and yet here they were in full flame. Surely Inari!

This event also reminds me of a spiritual dream I had at the age of 14 in which I was controlling flames in a room, and one candle at the time was particularly bright. When I approached this candle, the others extinguished themselves and a kind and calm voice surrounded me. It was an energy that felt like a huge warm hug. This voice – I knew it was what others called God, and what I now call Inari, or Kami.

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My home kamidana to Inari, including kitsune statues.

 

The Kindness of Inari

Finally, the most recent event happened in the midst of preparing for a convention. I was very stressed and had not changed the offerings for several days. Finally, I cleaned the kamidana and changed the offerings and prayed for help with money. At that EXACT moment, and order came through for £175 – after days of nothing.

That event in itself was overwhelming and I felt like crying. I know that no matter what happens, Inari will be here to guide me and love me. I have to remember that Inari will not let me starve, or be on the streets, It goes hand in hand with positive thinking – by combining these together, I feel that this is the basis of my faith.

I hope to write more on this topic in the future as my life and faith unravels!

I also hope that you enjoyed reading this and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

Be well!

My Life Plan – Visiting Japan and Shinto

Late Night Thoughts

So last night my partner Charlie and I were brainstorming about what we’d ideally like to do. I know that a lot of money would be involved, and I really think that I’d like to try affiliate marketing again and make some passive income.

I guess part of fear is that I have next to no money to even start with – and I know this is not really a problem in terms of writing content and such, but it removes the safety cushion. So if my affiliate marketing fails badly then what do I do then? It’s a scary thought.

We proceeded to make a kind of ‘life plan’ based on our hopes and dreams, rather than logic associated with money. The hopes and dreams came first tonight, the money later.


神道 – かみのみち (Shinto – The Way of the Gods)

Ever since I was 14, I have been fascinated with Japan. I found out about the culture and folklore through manga and anime, and researched it extensively. I did my A level art project on Japanese culture, especially Shinto.

At the age of 20 I became involved in the Shinto faith, and bought my first pair of Inari-kami statues and set up a shrine in my bedroom. Since then, my shrine (kamidana – 神棚) has grown, as has my passion for the Shinto faith.

Practicing Shinto outside of Japan is a difficult – but not impossible affair. There are several Shinto shrines outside of Japan in the Netherlands, North America and Hawaii, and proposals to build others elsewhere. Although Shinto is over 2000 years old, probably much older – it seems that the World is shifting it’s thoughts to those of our Ancestors and nature gods (Kami – 紙) are once again being revered and respected.

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I’m a Shintoist – Get Me Out of Here!

Currently, I live in a small village in North Wales, United Kingdom. We have our fair share of lovely scenery and amazing folklore here, but I have felt for a long time that Shinto is my calling in this life. (And yes, I also believe in multiple lifetimes and reincarnation).

I know that to really further my studies in Japanese Shinto, folklore and language, it would be beneficial for me to move to Japan. Now, at this stage in my life I am certainly not considering living there permanently. I want to first go for around 4 weeks, visitFushimi Inari – the main Inari shrine in Japan, experience the culture and language first hand.

Of course, I also do not intend to just arrive in Japan blindly. I have set various language goals for myself in order to be able to chat with the locals – and importantly for me, receive a wakemitama (a divided spirit) of Inari-kami.

So we decided that first, we need to get out of Wales.


Moving to Manchester – Late 2014

We selected Manchester as our first goal because we have a lot of friends there already, we’re familiar with the city and there is also a lot of Japanese-related cultural events, stores and such. In fact, Manchester has a Japanese Society. It also has a Chinatown and many social events that incorporate East Asian culture.

As well as the above, Manchester offers a variety of courses in Japanese language and culture. I hope to eventually do that BA (Hons) in Japanese course offered by Manchester University. I know that there are substantial fees involved (and I have already been to University once) so I also intend on some vigorous self-study to improve my Japanese before then. If I can pass the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test at N2 or N1 before then, I will probably not do the course.

My partner Charlie is interested in learning to become an English teacher in Japan for the future, and so he is looking at courses in Manchester also.


日本への渡航 – Travelling to Japan – 2015 – 16 (?)

We selected Kyoto as our destination for a few reasons, but the main reason is the fact I intend on regularly visiting Fushimi Inari in Fushimi prefecture. We aim to go to Japan for at least 4 weeks to begin with, as a cultural experience as tourists. We plan to take at least £2000 with us, preferably £5000 for the month.

We’re aware that many places in Japan will not rent to foreigners, but hopefully we can find a hostel or hotel that will be within our budget. I also aim on communicating with Fushimi Inari via email and/or phone before we go so that our shrine visit will run smoothly.

Hopefully, I will be earning enough passive income by then that money should not be a problem. But saving doesn’t hurt anyone!


Eventual Goals

We are big dreamers! Here are some of our future goals that we’re still fleshing out:

  • Earn at least £2000/month in passive income, £5000/month would be even better!
  • Live in Japan for 12 months, around Fushimi area
  • Study Shinto in Japan
  • Volunteer at Fushimi Inari – I know this is a big, big shot but I believe I can do it!
  • Eventually set up a Shinto shrine and group in the United Kingdom

Big goals I know, but all of you inspire me on a daily basis – I know I can do this! And by writing them down, I know I have put my intent out into the Universe.

If you read all of this – then thank you! If you have visited or lived in Japan, your feedback is very much welcome! If you are Japanese yourself, 友達になりましょうね?^_^

I hope this wasn’t too boring! I would love to hear your life goals too!

Your friend,

Matt

Blessings of Water and Shetler

This morning I realized something quite profound and wanted to share it with my followers. Upon praying at Inari-sama’s altar (also dedicated to Kami-sama), I prayed as usual in the morning. I prayed that Inari-sama would help me with my debt problems and also my health. I thought about the blessings I thought I needed and soon realized… I already had them.

I have clean water that flows through my taps that I may drink at any time of day and night. I have food staples such as soup, noodles and some frozen things. I have clothes that cover my body and a roof that protects me from the weather.

Although I may not have, say, the new printer I need, I DO have blessings. I have what I need to essentially keep me alive and well. I am looked after well by Kami-sama and I feel that the only way I can really achieve more in my life, as well as prosperity is to fully realize the blessings I already have.

I am so grateful and I felt a warm ‘hug’ of energy all of today after I realized this fact.

かみーさまといなりーいま,ありがとございます!

Kami-sama and Strengthening my relationship to Inari-sama

Recently I received various texts on Konkokyo in the mail from a friend in the UK and also from Japan. I feel humbled and honoured that these individuals sent me the material and I have enjoyed reading it thoroughly. I will make a post on what Konkokyo is and what it is not, but this post serves to act as a reflection on what I have learned, and what I already have been working with.

Since I was young I have believed in a Universal energy. I could feel it within the land, the trees, the streams and within every living thing. However, this energy seemed ‘green’ and alive and I did not associate it with the idea of the Christian God. From attending church as a child I built up an image of God as a stoic, old, bearded man on a cloud somewhere, dictating the human race. This did not align with my beliefs and it took quite a few years for me to figure out that I was Pagan.

This green, Universal energy to me, is Kami. It is the force that controls the Universe and is made up of everything, living and dead. It is not just Gaia – The Earth energy, it is the Universe. All the forces and elements belong to it. It is the energy that causes time to move, flowers to bloom, living things to be created and also for them to die. Without this energy, there would be no elements. Without elements, we would cease to exist.

I believe that Kami-sama, known as Tenchi Kane no Kami (God of Heaven and Earth) in the Konkokyo faith, is this energy. I do not believe that Kami-sama is sat on a cloud. I believe that Kami-sama is everywhere, in everything. The Universal energy. Within this energy, I believe that many other kami and Gods exist due to humans having built them up, so to speak; a reflection of ourselves. As humans worship particular Gods, I believe that those Gods exist because of the prayers, and because of the worship.

I believe Kami and man are the same, and they we are interdependent on each other; Like in Wicca, how some believe the God and Goddess rely on us to celebrate the sabbats to help turn the wheel of the year. We cannot exist without each other.

I have always believed these things but Konkokyo really brought it back to the forefront of my mind. I felt as though I was reading a guide to myself, a guide to my faith that I had forgotten due to modern noise and business. I cannot thank Kami-sama enough for bringing Konkokyo into my life.

Through this renewed understanding of Kami-sama, I believe that my relationship with my patron God and my Spiritual mother, Inari-sama has grown stronger. I see her as both Inari-sama and Kami-sama, and I do not see a problem with this, as nor does she. I feel I should add some things to her altar that also signify Kami-sama too, but they are one and the same to me.

I sense that Inari-sama is pleased with my Spiritual development and has been very generous to myself and my family as of late. I have made sure to make her offerings on a daily basis as well as praying for good health.

I feel so honoured to have a good, positive relationship with Inari-sama, and through her, Kami-sama.

I will leave you today with a message from the Konkokyo text ‘Voice of the Universe: Selected Teachings of Konkokyo’:

“Kami thinks only of saving people, nothing else. Therefore, Kami will never let you have an experience which has no meaning. You should continue to practice your faith. Your experiences will result in divine blessings.”

– III Jinkyu Kyogoroku 12

If anyone has any questions regarding Inari, Konkokyo, Shinto, Paganism and the like, I would love to hear from you. Please drop me a comment and I will get back to you as soon as I can!