Shinto Notes - guest post by the Moody Minstrel

When I took that orchestra from Garfield High School in Seattle on a tour of Kashima Shrine last July I had the opportunity to talk to the high priest there, and I learned a lot of things about Shinto. Some were things I had never heard before, others were additions and corrections to what I had learned elsewhere.

Shinto was originally a shamanistic faith (rather like Native American or Australian Aborigine religions) and its practitioners were exclusively women. Every village had a priestess (or order thereof) both to perform the necessary rituals and to consult the counsel of the spirits before any major undertaking. Quite often the high priestess was the true ruler of the tribe (something you can see in the movie Princess Mononoke ).

During the Asuka Period (5th to 7th century), when Buddhism was brought over from Korea and became firmly established, Shinto was literally absorbed into the "new" religion, considered separate yet part of it. When that happened, the original priestesses were eliminated (because Buddhism was strictly paternalistic in those days), and the Buddhist priests served dual roles. This continued until the two religions began to separate again after the end of the Heian Period. (Perhaps that's why Shinto priest robes look like Heian Period courtly dress!)

Even though it was more or less a distinct religion again, Shinto continued to be subservient to Buddhism until the Edo Period (late 16th to 19th centuries), when it was given new recognition by the shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, who practiced any religion he could find (including Christianity, apparently) in order to give himself as much divine aid as possible. Tokugawa was the one who had Kashima Shrine fully restored as a pure shrine, as it had mainly served as a Buddhist/Zen monastery from the 7th century.

Interestingly, after the Meiji Restoration, when Imperial rule was restored, Shinto actually came to be the dominant Japanese religion again as the newly-empowered emperor was believed to be a Shinto deity (a direct descendent of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu-no-Omigami, to be exact). This continued until the end of World War II. Now it seems to be more of a mere custom than a religion people actually believe in and practice.

I had a Shinto wedding. The Heian Period courtly music they played was eerie!

- Moody Minstrel


Happysurfer said...

Pandabonium, as commented on MM's post earlier, this is a superb post and worthy of a second posting. Good of you to stretch it some so that more people will benefit from the info.

MM, great job! again.

Pandabonium said...

Happysurfer -

Thanks. I didn't get an OK from MM, but didn't get a "don't you dare" either, so there it is. I have some friends and family who print out the posts without the comments and really thought MM's comment added a lot. Glad you agree.

YD said...

moody had a Shinto wedding? cool!
any wedding photos? :-)

The Moody Minstrel said...

Wedding photos?
Wow...I'll have to dig in the photo album cupboard...

Actually, Pandabonium, I'm flattered that you considered my "ramble" worthy of a more public posting.

Happysurfer, you're welcome! :-)

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

Eerie? Reminds me of buddhist monks chanting when me granpa passed away some 10 years back.

Religions embedded deep inside worlds culture, yet not many understand them as a whole. I mean how many actually compare and study hem before choosing one?

Job well done! If yours are "ramble", mine would be "tumble"!!! :)

We have a humble "hero" here! :p

The Moody Minstrel said...

Religions embedded deep inside worlds culture, yet not many understand them as a whole. I mean how many actually compare and study hem before choosing one?

I've been doing that very thing since I graduated from high school. In my early college days I was seriously practicing both Christianity and Buddhism while actively studying other religions. I got harassed a lot because of it, too (mainly by the Christians). In my later college days I wasn't really practicing any one religion, but I continued studying them (including Islam, Taoism, native American shamanism, Zoroastrianism, and others...) I mainly do it because it fascinates me, but I guess I have also always tried to look for commonality among world religions. After all, if there is a common theme that tends to pop up among most faiths, odds are that it's closest to the truth.

Recently one of my more devout (fundamentalist?) Christian friends told me my biggest problem is that I think and know too much. Apparently I'm supposed to be blind and dull in order to be "saved". I don't buy it.

YD said...

Your friend's comment sounds familiar, moody. I have bee under attack too for inquiring too much, and trying to learn about other religions, and going to both temple and church to observe.

Many times, people prefer to demand blind faith of believers rather then giving them enlightened knowledge. Seems faith is easier to be explained than truth is.

The Moody Minstrel said...

How can anybody be enlightened?
Truth is, after all, so poorly lit.

-from the song "Turn the Page" by Rush (lyrics by Neil Peart)

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...


It's a bird? It's a plane?It's...Wow.

Can we immediately exchange sake and you'll be my sensei? Or i should swear to God of Heaven with 3 joss-sticks, that you'll be my si-fu?

Some people cannot handle more than what they can take, but obviously, Moody, you are different. Yd, just don't give too much problem to your old man, ok? :p Now, i have to buy two books.

One by Moody and one by Pandabonium :)