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In the Spirit
Shinto and Animism

In the Spirit
  • Shinto: the way of the gods (by )
  • Shinto, the ancient religion of Japan (by )
  • Primitive culture: researches into the d... (by )
  • The Political Philosophy of Modern Shint... (by )
  • Body and Mind : a History and a Defense ... (by )
  • Influence of Animism on Islam; an Accou... (by )
  • Animism, The Seed of Religion (by )
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For thousands of years, people have taken comfort in various forms of a higher power. In many religions, these superior powers revolve around the ideas of worship, purity, and morality.

Although Buddhism is Japan’s religion, it coexists and complements the country’s indigenous religion, Shinto or “the way of the gods.” The Japanese believe that gods known as kami are sacred spirits that take the form of various elements from nature. The religion relates to all aspects of life, including family, politics, ethics, and even sports. 

In Shinto: The Way of the Gods, William George writes,

The term Kami is applied in the first place to the various deities of Heaven and Earth who are mentioned in the ancient records as well as to their spirits (mi-tama) which reside in the shrines where they are worshipped. Moreover, not only human beings, but birds, beasts, plants and trees, seas and mountains, and all other things whatsoever which deserve to be dreaded and revered for the extraordinary and pre-eminent powers which they possess, are called Kami. (p. 9)

Purity is valued. The Japanese believe that it reestablishes balance among nature, humans, and deities. Ritual practices are integral to the faith. Most include prayers, offerings to the kami, and purification rites or harae,which intend to ward off evil spirits. Ceremonies involve the Ohoharahi (great purification), annual tasting of rice, and the Toshigohi (praying for harvest), among others. 
In Shinto: The Ancient Religion of Japan, author William George writes, “Kiu no matsuri (praying for rain) was a service in which the gods of eighty-five shrines were asked to send rain. To some of these a black horse was offered as a suggestion that black rain clouds would be welcome.” (p. 71)

Like Shinto, animism (Latin for breath, spirit, and life) denotes a view that is consistent with a range of religious beliefs and practices. Defined as the attribution souls to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena, animism predates organized religion. The belief is that animals, plants, rivers, rocks, and weather are animated and alive. 

Animistic beliefs were first competently surveyed by Sir Edward Burnett Tylor in 1871.  In Primitive Culture, Burnett Tylor writes:

In this state of religious thought, prevailing as it does through so immense a range among mankind, one of the strongest confirmations may be found of the theory here advanced concerning the development of Animism. This theory that the conception of the human soul is the very ‘fons et origo’ of the conceptions of spirit and deity in general has been already vouched for by the fact of human souls being held to pass into the characters of good and evil demons, and to ascend to the rank of deities. (p. 247)

By Regina Molaro

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