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May 16, 2013

Totem badges Old and New

Totem badges Old and New
Top row: Shinto shrine amulets (omamori)
Bottom row: Kamen Rider OOO medals, Kamen Rider W Gaia Memories
Please see also an even longer history of totem badges from Australian bull roarers, through shrine amulets, seals (mitokoumon's inro) to the seal of the Shinkenja- Super sentai.

My son plays with various totem badges that are said to transmit the spirit of a supernatural entity to a person allowing them to transform into a superman of sorts. These "totem badges" seem to have much in common with the good luck amulets (omamori) available at shrines.

The seem to contain some information (written - omamori, in an RFID chip - OOO's medals, in a USB memory - gaiai memory), connected with a super-human spirit (in the case of the omamori a shinto spirit or kami, in the case of OOO's medals and gaiai memory a super animal or 'ancestral' kamen rider). This information acts as a vector between the super-being and the holder, endowing the latter with power to conquer foes, such as exams diseases and enraged aliens. They often make a noise. Rattles are popular totem badges in North America (Levi-Strauss has a page of rattles in one of his books on totemism). Bull-roarers or Churinga roar when waved around ones head. Omamori are often fitted with bells. OOO's medals, and various transformatory cards make a noise when read with a special purpose reader. Gaiai memory (and engine souls) make a noise when a button is pushed or when inserted into a sort of reader.

Do amulets change (henshin!) people? Surely not?

They all contain a message, information, or symbols, representing a supernatural entity as noted above. They are also the double of their owners. Masked Rider OOO is the double of Hino Seiji. Shoutaro Hidari uses two Gaiai memory to transform into Kamen Rider "W" (double), his double, in more ways than one. Omamori are said to work as a self-replacement (migawari), taking on the bad luck that might otherwise befall their owner.

Shintoists believed that getting a totem badge from their shrine, the sacred space of their religion, gave them a life or self or spirit. The spirit was themselves and also it was the spirit of the shrine. About 70 years after they die, the spirit merged with the spirit of the shrine, or now Buddhist temple since the cycle of spirit has been broken.

Christians have "Christian names." My name is "Timothy", which is a name from the Bible. It is primarily a phoneme. I get it from the sacred space of my ancestor's religion, and I apply it to myself, thereby perhaps taking on board bit of the God, maybe. Does having a name change me? Does it give me anything, such as a self or life (no way, surely?).

The symbols, in all cases, come from the supernatural to give something special to their recipients.

One of the first Japanese superheroes that appeared on TV, was Mirror Man (Mira-man, 1971). Appearing at the same time as the original Ultraman, he shared many of the typical characteristics of Japanese superheroes, and with Shinto. He used a Transormatory item (henshin aitem) to transformed (henshin). Mirror man use a Shinto shrine amulet (omamori). He could only transform when in front of a reflective surface, usually a mirror. He was possessed, as it were, not by a giant from outer space, but his super-human father who lives in the world of two dimensions. (Thank you James)

Image top row far left: 貝で作られたお守り :) by kozika and far right: ハローキティのお守り :) by kozika

Posted by timtak at 06:28 AM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2012

Shinto Symbols as Totemism/Bricolage

Shinto shrines are covered in pieces of paper, often zigzag strips of paper. They hang from the rice straw ropes (shimenawa 注連縄) that mark a sacred site. They are attached to the sacred branches that people give as an offering in Shinto ceremonies (tamagushi 玉串). They are used as a tool for purification, when swung to and fro in bulk at the end of a wand (大幣/祓い串). They stand next to mirrors at shrines as gohei(御幣).

In addition the the zig zag strips however, there are other pieces of paper that Shrines give out, specifically the pieces of paper that people take home to put in their household shrines (ofudaお札), and the pieces of paper that are contained inside Shinto lucky charms (omamoriお守り).

However, in many case, as Yanagita (1990) bewails, the same things are at once offerings to the gods (like money today) and invested of, containing the gods themselves (note 1).

It seems to me that essentially they are all the same, the vector for the sacred symbols of Shinto: the offerings which start out as simply pieces of paper become sacred as a result of their use as symbols. When they are in their zig-zag form, the form which is usually given to shrines, they have yet to have been cut or torn into their individual form for distribution to worshippers as sacred tags (fuda札) or lucky charms (omamori).

This video shows you how to make the zigzag strips and how I propose they were originally used, to create strips of paper for distribution to the faithful.

There is strong evidence to suggest that these strips of paper evolved from the use of branches, leaves, and grass as is recorded in the ethnology of Kunio Yanagita(1990), and as is suggested by the form of the tamagushi, which like the composite forms recorded by Yanagita, may be the old form of the Shinto symbol (a branch with leaves) combined with new (the zig zag strips shown in this video). For ethnographic evidence that these strips of paper were once branches and leaves, and that they were distributed, please notes in Japanese at the bottom of this post.

Bearing in mind the natural origins of Shinto symbols, I think that Shinto can be interpreted as a form of totemism, that is to say, a religion that values, structures, distributes a certain type of sign. Levi-Strauss (1966) redefined totemism as "bricolage," (DIY) or "the science of the concrete": the use of things to hand, things in the world to signify their gods *and themselves*. The importance of this observation is that it provides a hint to a non-logocentric (i.e. hearing yourself speak) form of self.

The problem with this interpretation is that, while Levi-Strauss(1966) concentrates on the use of natural articles for thought, he does mention the use of manufactured articles (such as gourds) used as totems, and even mythical articles (mythical creatures) used for totems. This considered, the distinction between "savage thought" and Western thought (using mental images of phonemes) becomes very vague. If Shinto is a form of totemism then it has moved beyond using solely natural articles to using seals printed on pieces of paper. In what sense if any are such symbols "concrete" or part of the world any more than phonemes are part of the world? I suggest that these symbols, that are organised, distributed and valued by the Shinto religion are above all visual, understood by the eye rather than ear of the mind.

That visual signs can mean by themselves without the vector of the phoneme is argued persuasively by Hansen (1993) but runs directly against the Western tradition (Barthes, 1977) and is attacked vociferously by scholars such as Unger (1990).

That Japanese may have used branches, leaves, and grass as important religious symbols may be the reason why they are recorded as saying things in the "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves" (Manyoushu) and why, as recorded in the same book, as a result of the imperial government being so effectively organised (and I suggest the use of paper and ideograms) that the same trees and grass stopped saying things. I need to find those two poems.

Sorry it was not poems. In the great purification ritual in the Shinto book of prayers and rituals (engishiki) it says
国内にあらぶる神たちをば、神問はしに問はし給ひ、神掃ひに掃ひ給ひて、語問ひひ磐ね樹だち、草の片葉をも語止めて、天之磐座放れ、天の八重雲をいつの千別に千別きて、天降りし依しまつりき (Toyota, 1980, p74)
Which may mean something like. To all the wild spirits throughout the land, impeaching them and sweeping them away, the rocks and trees and the leaves of grass that before called out to us, stopped speaking, when (and) the imperial ancestors left the rock of heaven and parting the clouds came down from heaven.

By performing the purification ritual (which these days is accompanied by a lot of waving of paper, but in those days seemed to use tablets or pieces of wood that are washed away in a river) the ancient Japanese felt that their ritual provided by the new imperial system enabled them to rid of their wild spirits, and prevent the rocks, trees, and grass from speaking despite the fact that they had done so hitherto. I argue that what we are seeing here is the gradual transformation (or subjugation) of a purely natural science of the concrete (totemism), wherein rocks, trees and grass where used as symbols - hence they 'spoke' - into a ritualistically structured legal, political religious system eventually using Chinese characters stamped on pieces of wood, cloth and paper. By way of analogy imagine if some deposed EU bureaucrats from Brussels, went to live with the Nuer (as studied by Evans-Prichard, 1940), and rather than converting them to Christianity, ordered and persuaded the Nuer to formalise their belief system. "No, there is no need to cut scars into your face any more. Please use these ID cards instead. Don't worry, the same information will be contained in the bar-code here. Yes, the bar-code reader will be available at all marriages and festivals." And so the science of the concrete evolved, but it did not become logo-phoocentric (Derrida), or alphabetical (Hansen, 1993).

Implications for Non-Shintoists Recent Westerner psychologists have with increasing frequency, claimed that it is the practice of using 'inner speech' or internal self-narration that is constitutive of self. Descartes cogito has been modified from "I think, therefore I can be sure that I am," to "I think, or speak to myself, and listen to myself speaking to myself, therefore I come into being." But what sort of being can come into existence as a result of speaking? Only a fiction surely? Over this question Western psychologists and philosophers (see Dennet, 1992; Velleman, 2005) are divided, but as long as there is only one method of symbolic-self-creation, then it may seem as if humans are bound by some imperative (Kant, 1785), or hard-wired (Pinker, 1994), to narrate themselves into existence. But what if there were other ways of symbolising oneself? What if there were indeed some race of 'Cretans' who consistently prevaricated, who did not care about, certainly do not identify with, and perhaps even despised language, and who, at the same time, functioned, and created a stable society? Then the 'imperative,' 'hard-wiring' would be swept out from under the feet of the fiction, and once again perhaps we'll be 'falling, backward, sideward, forward, in all directions', unless God, of one type or another, were still alive.

Barthes, R. (1977). Elements of Semiology. Hill and Wang.
Dennett, D. (1992) "The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity." in F. Kessel, P. Cole and D. Johnson, eds, Self and Consciousness: Multiple Perspectives, Hillsdale, NJ:Erlbaum. Hansen, C. (1993). Chinese Ideographs and Western Ideas. The Journal of Asian Studies, 52(02), 373--399. doi:10.2307/2059652
Kant, I; translated by James W. Ellington [1785] (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed.. Hackett. pp. 30. ISBN 0-87220-166-X. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1966). The science of the concrete. In G. Weidenfield (Trans.), The Savage Mind. University Of Chicago Press. Retrieved from
Toyotai, K. 豊田国夫(1980)『日本の言霊思想』講談社学術文庫
Velleman, D. J. (2005). "The Self as Narrator". In "Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism: New Essays". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Unger, J. M. (1990). The Very Idea. The Notion of Ideogram in China and Japan. Monumenta Nipponica, 45(4), 391--411.
Pinker, S. (1994). "The language instinct: How the mind creates language". New York:William Morrow and Company Inc. (Recommended!) Yamada, T. (n.d.). Shinto Symbols. Contemporary Religions in Japan, 7(2), 89--142.
Yanagita, K. 柳田国男. (1990). 神樹篇-柳 田国男全集.
Note 1
Yanagita (1990, p214) confused as to how an offering can be holy. My comments in [brackets]
これは日本の神道の解きに くい問題の一つだが、[神の憑代である]シデと[お供えされた]ヌサのとの区別がはっきりとしていない。[神の憑代である]ミテグラは明らかに手に執る祭の木の名であったに もかかわらず、[お供え物の意味のある]幣帛(ミテクラ・へいはく)という漢字の古訓として久しく用いられ、今でも俗間では[神の憑代である]斎串(いぐし)を[お供え物]御幣と呼んでいる。幣は、贈遣でありま た財物このことであって、むしろ今日の貨幣の用法が正しいのに、どういうわけがあってわが邦(くに)でばかり、これを神々の依りたまう木の名にしたか、と いうことがまた説明せられていないのである。
On the one hand these things (natural or strips of paper) are things that are given to shrines somewhat like money is today, and at the same time are things that the deities are said to possess (such as fuda, which are containers of spirit). At some point in their history, as argued in the video above, the transition from mere offering or artefact to vessel of the sacred may have been achieved by stamping pieces of paper with a shrine seal but it is not the stamp that is important, rather the way that the artefact is used. A branch from a special tree given to a shrine may be just a branch. Leaves from the same branch given to worshippers can be symbols signifying group membership, the ability to marry (see recent post on other types of "omamori"), and identity. By their symbolic function they are transformed from mere leaves to very special things.

That these strips are given to people not just to shrines/gods
p50 棒の上端に藁苞を取り付け、それへたくさんの幣を指すベンケイのような形になる家々にその幣を配って、軒に指させ全をもらった。

That this distribution of strips of paper is not only in the paper form but also in the natural form.

p51 稲荷山の杉・伊豆さ山の梛(なぎ)[tt常緑高木、榊に少し似ている]の葉のごとく、信者が神木の枝を折って行く慣習と、著しく類似する点があるのである。

Again that originally it was not paper but branches that were used
p70竿の尖に取り付けた藁苞(わらづと) に、たくさんの小さい御幣を押し、それを抜いて家々に配る風習は前に述べておいたが、天然の神木において、祭りのたびごとにこれと類似した小枝の分配があった。その最も古­い出処は、『貞観儀式(じょうがんいしき)』巻三、大嘗祭の儀式中に、舞人八人、布の帯末額(おびまっこう)[はちまき?]を着け、おのおの阿札木(あれき)を執るとあるのがそれであろう。。。。阿札木・ミアレキは[玉串・御幣のように]神の降りたまうことである。

Prior to the use of paper, things made out of trees and their bark were used, and before that branches and grass were used as is.
白紙を細かく剪(き)ったものをシデとする以前、こちらにもすでにいろいろのシデがあった。最も著名であったのはユウシデである。このユウにも木綿 という漢字をあてているが、いまあるモメンとはまったく別なもので、何か楮(こうぞ[used in Japanese paper making, of mulberry family])の類の木の皮の繊維、またはその織物の白く晒したのを祭りの木の端に結び垂れていたろうと思われる。近世は朝の苧糸をもってこれに代用 し、紙の流行もまたこれに基づいたものらしいが、そのユウシデとても工芸品であるからには、やはり最初からの習わしとは見ることができないのである。
い ま一段と古いころのシデとしては、イトススキの葉などが想像せられる。。。。今でも稀ならず各処に伝わっている。たとえば、大井、大竜の二川の流域など を、夏の祭りのころに汽車で通ってみれば高い幟(のぼり)の竿の頂上にははきっと芒(ススキ Silver grass. )が結びつけてある。東北地方の燈籠木(とうろうぎ)には、三 ところに杉の青葉をつけたものが多い。

These strips that hang from shimenawa are called Shide (or hanging-down things) but Yanagita suggests that they originated in a word for flora.
213 (シデは垂れるのではなく) 繁きを意味する言葉で、たださまざまの木立ち草立ちの中にあっ[た」。

213 Process of using man made things instead of natural articles. This is one step away from the bricoleur who uses natural things as symbols, but it is a symbolism that is still using things as symbols.

Posted by timtak at 02:20 AM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2004

Prayer and Gregory Peck

There are several different forms of prayer in Shinto.

1) Omairi (Coming and Clapping at a Shinto Shrine)
The most common individual form of prayer is to bow twice, clap twice, and bow once before a shrine. I think that the attitude is probably very important but it would be difficult to say what exactly, that attitude is. Humility is probably important.

I like to think that Shinto shrine prayer in its purity is wordless but at shrines in Japan, one sees many people put their hands together, close their eyes, and (presumably) mentally voice silent prayers in the style of Christianity or popular Japanese Buddhism. Perhaps they are doing it right. 
2) Norito (High Prayer)
Shinto priests read prayers from the book of prayers out loud in to the spirits. They have an unusual pauseless style that makes it very obvious that they voice the text, rather than speak it, or even read it out. You can see some video's of a Shinto priest reciting Norito and listen to a audio file in one of the interviews on this page, this interview

Roland Barthes (in Empire of Signs) came to Japan and listened to a performance of Noh Drama. He said of the Noh drama that the actors presentation of their lines preserved the written text, in what he calls "the grain of the voice." I think the same is true of Shinto prayer in the sense of Norito.

Imagine the worst-possible style of giving a public speech, from a Western perspective. The good speach give has memorised the major drift of the speech so much so that it does not even look memorised, the speech flows from their lips as if they are thinking it up as they go along. This might be case even if they have some cue cards, or even the full draft of the speech, but which they would glance at but stillmake it sound as if the words are coming from their mind, not off the surface of the page. Someone who is not so good at giving a speech will just read the manuscript of the speach, adding some emphasis, occasionally looking up from the speech to the audience. The Shinto priests reading norito seem to want to make it plane that these words are not their own, and read them straight off the page breathlessly, *voicing the text,* the sacred prayers, not "reading and speaking" them. This is not to say that Shinto priests are bad at making speeches, but that the text of norito is so sacred that it should not go via the priest.

So while shinto priests "sound out" Norito, it may be difficult to say that they speak them.

One might even go so far as to argue that the act of "voicing texts" in this way, is common to the Buddhist technique of chanting. Many Buddhists, from Japan to Tibet, chant sacred sriptures or the name of the Buddha. The way that Japanese chant Buddhist scripture is very similar to the way that Norito are "voiced." The reason both Buddhist chanting and the voicing of Norito be to attain a mental purity by destroying speach in mind and turning off the process of mental signification, to come face to face with the immediate, and become one with the spirit.

In this light Shinto prayer might be interpretted as being anti-logo-phono-centric, not only wordless, but seeking to extinguish the word.

But what of Gregory Peck?

Ema (Pictures of Horses)
It is common for people to write their prayer on back of a wooden picture of a hourse and hang it in the vicinty of a shrine. Here prayers are not spoken but written. Again the written or visual form of prayer is prefered over the phonic form of prayer - prayer as speech.

C.f. A scene in the film  "Roman Holiday," after the bit where Gregory Peck pretends to have his hand bitten, where it would seem that Italians are doing the same thing.

Joe and Ann visit a wall covered with inscriptions:
Joe: Each one represents a wish fulfilled. It all started during the war. There was an air  raid, right out here. A man with his four children was caught in the street. They ran over against the wall, right there, for shelter and prayed for safety. Bombs fell very close, but no one was hurt. Later on, the man came back and put up the first of these tablets. Since then, it's become a sort of a shirine. People come and whenever their wishes are granted, they put up another one of these little plaques.
Ann: Lovely story.
Joe: Read some of the inscriptions. (Ann moves closer toward the wall) Make a wish? (Ann nods). Tell the doctor?
Ann: (declining) Anyway, the chances of it being granted are very slight.

4) Life and everything else
Perhaps kagura, misogi, making offerings, or just cleaning your shrine might also be considered a sort of prayer. Perhaps a Shinto life is prayer.

Posted by timtak at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2004

Holy Sake : Rice Wine & Shinto

Rearding the position of sake in Shinto, it seems as if the two are inseperable. Jichinsai: Sake is along with salt and water used for purification, particularly since spooshing it about placates the spirits. The stable bread and butter work of many shrine priests today is the jichinsai or "ground pacification ritual" that is carried out prior to the construction of any form of building. In the jijinsai a liberal amount of sake is spread upon the ground. Similarly sake is poured into water to pacify the gods of the sea and rivers by fishermen. Here is A ground purification festival in pictures. in particularly please see jitin9.jpg for the sake and tamakuji at a ground purification festival oToso a sort of medicinial sake

is a traditional drink on the third day (or first) of the new year. I have seen many a Japanese family drink sake but originally and properly "oToso" is a herbal medicinal alcohol originally imported from China. It first became a New Year's Tradition in the reign of emperor Saga in the Heian Period. Omiki is the name of the holy sake that one can imbibe when one visits a shrine. It is also put into the Heiji - white lidded bottles -- on the Kamidana. This very pleasant Japanese site shows food at shinto festivals, the first being sake, and this is my page, now old. Omiki, or the ingredient thereof (as yet un holy sake) is also a popular thing to give to shrines and barrells of sake will be seen on display at most shrines. Kagamibiraki (mirror breaking or unveiling) is the tradition of breaking open the top of a barrel of sake when something auspicious happens. The mirror that is unveiled in this case is presumably the surface of the fluid. Kagami biraki originally refered to the breaking open or taking down of the round rice cakes that are put on display over new year. Please see the last photo on this page for some people doing Kagami biraki on some Gekkeikan sake Sansankudo (three three nine) is the process by which the bride and groom in a Shinto Marriage ceremony take three sips to drain three shallow cups of sake, to ceal their marital vows. I have thought that the wideness of the cups is to provide a reflective surface so that as well as drinking sake one is also drinking a reflection, possibly of oneself and ones bride. (see this photo of Tsukimizake) Amazake: (sweet sake) The partically fermented "oatmeal" rice paste gruel that is traditionally served at some Shinto festivals and shrines. There is festival somewhere in Kyuushuu where it traditional to sit down and paste this over each others faces, while imbibing some of the finished product. Kadomatsu (gate pines) I have a personal theory that the acutely sliced, pointed bamboo poles, with a little pine added for good measure, are in fact sake cups. This is because I have had the experience of drinking warmed sake from items almost identical at Shinto festivals. I have not seen this argued eslewhere, but if one had a large appetite for sake, it would be possible to use Kadomatsu in this way. Please see the photos of cut green bamboo poles. Tsukimisake (moon watching sake) The tradition of drinking sake in which the moon is reflected at a moon watching (Tsukimi) festival. I have read that if maidens drink sake in which the moon is reflected they become pregnant. Here is a picture of the moon relected on a traditional sake bowl. While writing this mail I came accross this page all about sake traditions in Japan, in Japanese. There are plenty more sake customs than the ones I have outlined above.

Posted by timtak at 08:13 PM | Comments (1)

May 26, 2003

Salt and Shinto

In short, in shinto, salt is used to purify.

Left outside of houses in little pile of "mori shio" (piled up salt) generally to the right of the door (left maybe okay too?) so that people who pass through the door are purified. People that come back from a funeral use this salt or other salt to purify themselves by scattering salt upon their body.

Some say that the origin of mori-shio piles outside restaurants was to encourage the arrival of rich and noble customers such as a "daimyo," who would come on horseback since horse love salt. Another more probable theory is that this originates in a Chinese story that an emperor who had
many wives would visit them by turns. To encourage the emperor to visit one of the wives spread salt out side her house, which the cows pulling the emperors carriage stopped to lick, forcing the emperor to stay at that particular house. Either way, it is said that should a rich or noble customer arrive at the restaurant then the owner should scatter the mori-shio, as if eaten by a horse or cow,
to signify that an important customer is inside.

Maki-shio (scattered salt) will be scattered around the boundary of a house on the first day of the month so that impurities do not enter the house.

Mori-shio may be put at the four corners of a plot of a land to purify that area, especially when one moves in.

Salt will be scattered on the ground in the pacifying the spirits of the land ceremony held on the empty plot before buildings are erected. See

Salt is also scattered in quantity by sumo wrestlers before each bought to purify themselves and the sumo ring ( "dohyou") which is considered to be a sacred place (women are not allowed to enter it because they are considered to be impure. One young female wrestler who won a regional school sumo competition for primary school children was not allowed to go and collect her prize in the ring from a famous sumo wrestler for this reason ). Here is a primary school children’s sumo contests showing a teacher scattering salt in the first picture.

This page claims that sumo wrestlers scatter the salt also because it helps to kill germs that might otherwise infect cuts and that 45 kilos are scattered every day at the national sumo tournaments. The crowd seems to like it when a wrestler scatters a lot of salt since such action is often met with a cheer.

This page shows a sort of joke on the idea that salt is necessary to purify people after a funeral, with a sumo wrestler scattering salt on people wearing black and grey. The title of the page is "Funerals are not scary" and the suggestion is that scattering salt is an unnecessary superstition.

White things (such as salt) are considered pure. So all the utensils (pots) and the things
that are generally offered on the household altar (kamidana) are salt, rice, water, rice wine
and sometimes strips of paper are usually white or transparent. Red and blood are the signs of
impurity but red and white are the colours of celebration.

Salt is also an offering made to the spirits (kami) on the household altar in a little dish (again
in a little conical pile) and at shrines again in piles, sometimes enormous conical piles
and sometimes even in bags of household salt.

In Shinto mythology we are told that the first land mass Onogoro Shima, (self-congealing island) was formed when the salt separated from the brine when Izanagi(-nomikoto) stirred it up with his jewelled lance.

Salt is very popular in Japanese culture. A great deal of Japanese food is salt, especially shoyu (soy sauce) and miso (curdled soya bean paste) which is eaten at almost every traditional meal. There are also salt saunas were people rub salt on themselves as they sweat to make themselves sweat more and to purify the skin.

Posted by timtak at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)