creation myth in the Shinto religion is a beautiful and poetic. The gods in the story appear out of nowhere and form the foundations of life. The story portrays Japan as the first land to be created. The story reads as follows (from a translation by Philippi and Joseph Campbell):
“When heaven and earth began, three deities came into being, The Spirit Master of the Center of Heaven, The August Wondrously Producing Spirit, and the Divine Wondrously Producing Ancestor. These three were invisible. The earth was young then, and land floated like oil, and from it reed shoots sprouted. From these reeds came two more deities. After them, five or six pairs of deities came into being, and the last of these were Izanagi and Izanami, whose names mean “The Male Who Invites” and “The Female who Invites” … The first five deities commanded Izanagi and Izanami to make and solidify the land of Japan, and they gave the young pair a jeweled spear. Standing on the Floating Bridge of Heaven, they dipped it in the ocean brine and stirred. They pulled out the spear, and the brine that dripped of it formed an island to which they descended. On this island they built a palace for their wedding and a great column to the heavens.” (Philippi & Campbell, 1962)
Japan was created by the union of Izanagi and Izanami and through sexual intercourse, their offspring created the other islands of Japan.
The entire Shinto religion can be thought of as the worship of the Kami. The “kami” can be roughly defined as to mean spirits; however this is something of an oversimplification because the term refers to a concept that represent a complex and dynamic relationship between landscape and nature (BBC, 2009). The Kami represent something similar to the concepts of God found in the West in the sense that they are “personal” Gods and can be influenced by prayer to change natural forces and the course of human events. These spirits can be found in virtually everything and are believed to represent the very essence of existence. To honor these spirits, believers would worship at a Shinto shrine which required their attendance and offering which consists of various rituals. The shrines were thought to be a medium of communication in which the Kami could be reached.
There is some evidence, both through oral tradition and archeology, that many of the early Shinto practices include Shamanism. A “shaman” is something of an intermediary individual that can bridge the gap between people and gods to perform various types of worship or that can provide healing practices. A shaman is a person that can enter a trance of some kind through the use of dancing, drumming, meditation, or even in some cases drugs. One interesting fact about the Shinto shamans were that they were largely women whereas in other cultures this position was heavily male dominated. There seem to be many theories about how shamanism was introduced to the Shinto religion and culture. One theory is that it was introduced through an external culture that spread the practice through Korea. Whatever the case may be, it became embedded into the Shinto religion.
The development of Shinto mirrored that of many other religions around the globe. In the beginning of the development the practices and beliefs were largely fragmented and were different from place to place. However, Shinto is different in some regards because the religion was never canonized; there was never a text like a Bible produced. Although many feel that Shinto is not technically a religion, it is similar to a religion in the sense that it has a unifying effect. To this day, a majority of Japanese people still identify as being Shinto and have a special connection with the cultural heritage that it offers. Another interesting fact about Shinto is that it can coexist with other religions whereas the Western religions tend to believe that there is only one true religion.
BBC. (2009, October 9). Kami. Retrieved from Religions: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/shinto/beliefs/kami_1.shtml
Philippi, D., & Campbell, J. (1962). The Origin of Japan and her People. Retrieved from Princeton University: http://www.gly.uga.edu/railsback/CS/CSJapan.html
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