RSS

Category Archives: Shintoism

Posts relating to Shintoism

We Reflect Nature, Nature Reflects Us

One of the main parts of practicing Shinto is to revere, honor and pay attention to the natural world around us. Many Japanese have received inspiration from observing the natural world around them, while also drawing strength and renewed vigor by taking a cue from nature.

Arizona isn’t noted for it’s seasonal changes. We really only have three seasons: room temperature, pits of hell and humid pits of hell, but there are still small changes in the natural world that I try and pay attention to and draw from. As I get older and pay more attention to my own rhythms and changes, the more I see similarities in the natural world in comparison to myself and other people I know. I don’t know if it matters to other people, but I honestly find that seeing that nature is a lot like us, and that we’re a lot like nature is kind of reassuring.

treeAn example of this can be seen with some recent weather in Arizona. We had a pretty heavy rainfall last week that brought down almost an entire year’s worth of rain (7 inches is standard for us) in a single night. The result was pretty intense. There was a fair amount of flooding and a lot of property damage. The water caused so many problems that most people couldn’t get to work the following day. Needless to say, we were pretty smashed up around here.

And yet, despite the strife caused by the storm, there is new growth everywhere you look. Trees are showing new growth. Seeds that got scattered on the wind have produced baby trees. The water soaked ground provided our birds with a bunch of yummy worms to eat.

Despite the destruction, growth is everywhere. And life can be that way, too. We talk about that with Set- who razes your building down to it’s foundations in order to make a bigger, better building. And that happens with nature, too. Humans and nature mirror one another with growth after destruction. It’s just that nature is less grumpy about it.

Another similarity I’ve noticed is cycles. We all have cycles- cycles of growth and cycles where we get nothing done. Periods of time where we flourish followed by periods of fallow. For those who live in more places where seasons follow the European “standard”, you’ll see that your period of decay and stagnation largely happens in winter. Everything freezes over and nothing grows- only to be hit by a new phase of growth and rebound come spring. For those of us in the desert, our seasons mirror that of Egypt where the stagnation and decay often happens in late spring when the sun burns everything to a crisp, which then shifts into new growth come fall.

I often see this occur in many places and many ways in my life. My ability to create art comes and goes. My desire to sew comes and goes. My spoon count comes and goes. Everything ebbs and flows (just like the moon and the tides, for another nature reference). This also shows up for many of us in our religious practice. I personally see this manifest as I try to balance myself between two deities. Set is known for being the predominant deity during the decay of summer, where as Osiris oversees the planting and growing periods of winter. And my religious practice mirrors this in a lot of ways, where I tend to be more Set oriented in the summer, and more Osiris focused in the winter.

And while sometimes when I’m in the thick of being more focused on one over the other (or finding myself unable to create anything worth a damn), I will fret about whether I’m doing a good enough job. But then I remind myself that everything has a cycle, everything has a season, and everything that slips away from me will likely come back to me in its own good time. I look out my window and remember that the hot hot summer will eventually give way to the cooler winter (and that the cooler winter will eventually end and bring back the hot hot summer). So too with life.

But not everything is all sunshine and daisies when I look outside at nature. I mentioned above that there is a lot of new growth from the seeds that were scattered in the storm. And while its true that there are lots of seeds taking off and growing, there are a number of seeds that are not, and will not ever form a tree. There is a lesson in this too, however. If you are the tree, and the seeds are endeavors to better yourself or the world around you- you’re going to not only have success, but also failure. However, despite some of these seeds not ever sprouting, that doesn’t stop the tree from producing them all the same. We have to remember that even when are we beset by failure, we must keep trying to move forward.

And I think that is one of the largest lessons I pull from nature. Despite how harsh the weather is down here in Arizona, nature keeps persisting to the best of it’s ability. Despite how much humans may try to control nature- where it can exist, how it looks and appears – nature continues to persist, despite our efforts. While this doesn’t give humanity a free pass to dick nature over, we all have to admit that nature is a persistent bugger that isn’t easily bested. And I take that lesson very close to heart. I remind myself that even when things are not looking up, or when life is rubbing me raw, I must do what I can to try and persist. We can see this mirrored in Egyptian mythology  by the company of gods and their persistent efforts to keep a/pep at bay. The balance between Order and isfet is very fragile and ongoing with no real end in sight. Life here is the same way – the sun cooks the ground into dust, and yet the plants still try to thrive. Nature tries to remind humans that we are tiny things that can’t control nature, and yet we try to anyways. Both sides continue to try and fight to live to see another day.

On days when I am not doing so well, I remind myself to look to nature, for I am a part of nature and a part of this planet. Despite the differences in appearance, humans and nature (or plants) are not all that different. Between our cycles of growth and decay and our ongoing struggle to survive, I am reminded that I am not the only one fighting to keep going. I draw some strength from the plants and animals working to survive in my own front yard and I remind myself that I am capable and will get through whatever I’m facing.

Relevant Posts:

 

Tags: , , ,

How Do I Pagan Without Gods?

It probably seems pretty contradictory for a polytheist to be talking about having a polytheistic practice without any main deities in it, but it’s not as confusing as it first seems. Just because our religious practices have a tenet that states that multiple deities exist in some capacity or another doesn’t mean that they necessarily have to be the focal point of your practice.

And just because you don’t have a patron deity doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have a viable polytheistic/pagan practice that functions well.

For this post, I’d like to discuss having a deity-free practice and what that might look like.

Why write about this?

The blog-o-sphere is filled to the gills with posts about talking with gods and working with gods and patron this and main squeeze deity that. I think that many people who don’t have focal deities are sometimes at a loss as to how they can even approach their practices without gods in place. This is my attempt to give people some ideas about how to practice their religion without gods being at the forefront. This is not me saying that you can’t have deities in your practice, or that you shouldn’t have deities in your practice. This is me giving people ideas on how they can make their practice work when they don’t have gods for whatever reason (whether that be that you haven’t found a main deity yet, or you don’t have a working god phone, or you don’t have a patron, etc).

What is the foundation of a deity-less practice?

The foundation of your religious or spiritual practice is going to vary. While there tends to be some unifying factors amongst people (such as the concept of ma’at for Kemetics), how these concepts play a role in your practice and how you perceive them is going to be different from how someone else does. For Kemetics, the foundation of the religion is ma’at- order, truth, balance. For a Shintoist, the foundation is kannagara which is to work together with Kami or with Great Nature. Additionally, Shinto has a large emphasis on gratitude and purification. None of these concepts- ma’at, kannagara, gratitude, purification- require deities to be enacted. They are orthopraxic in nature, which means its about what you do and less about what you believe, or who you believe in.

Before I became a Kemetic and started to work with deities heavily, my foundation was centered around elemental work and learning about myself. I placed a heavy emphasis on staying grounded and stable while I plowed through my college finals and looked for a job. For that time in my life, I needed to take the center stage, and so it became the foundation of everything I did in my practice. When I performed rituals, I called upon local spirits or elementals instead of gods. Or I just fueled my rites with my own energies instead of relying on the juju of others (my practice was heavily influenced by Wicca at the time).

In all of these situations, the way of living takes the center stage of the religion or the spiritual practice. Deities may or may not play a role in this- it’s really up to you. Don’t let the lack of deities scare you away from figuring out what you need out of your religious practice and how it will effect how you live.

What about rites or holidays? Don’t you need gods for those?

My answer would be- not necessarily. Most Kemetic holidays are about the seasons, ancestors or mythological events that are occurring. In truth, I don’t celebrate many Kemetic holidays because they aren’t tied to the gods I work with. So you don’t have to worship the deity in order to celebrate the holiday. For Shinto, most of the holidays are about purification and cleansing everything around you- no kami are required to make that happen.

So depending on what the focus of your religion is- you may not need to worry about gods in order to have a good time. Celebrate the seasons and the changing of the weather and world around you. Mark important times in your life with a holiday. Celebrate yourself or the universe as a holiday. Any day can become an important event if you deem it so. Get creative in deciding what works best for your religious calendar- if you even need a religious calendar at all.

Rituals can be more tricky, and will depend heavily upon what types of rites you perform. As I mentioned above, many Kemetic rituals and holidays call upon specific deities. However, you don’t have to worship these deities to call upon them in a ritual format (many Kemetic rites have specific deities you call upon- regardless of your relationship with them). And in some rituals, you can swap out deities for other entities, or a ritual can be formatted to omit the necessity of a deity all together. Remember that a religious practice needn’t be set in stone. You can work with things, try things and experiment to see what gives you the best results.

And when in doubt, I always turn to local spirits for ritual work. I figure if I help the local land spirits then they might be more willing to help me. They show up and help me in a ritual, so I leave them a pile of goodies afterwards- so that they are more willing to help me the next time that I ask for help. It’s all reciprocal.

Shrines, Altars and Places to Worship

This can always be a little bit more difficult to address. A lot of stuff that discusses building shrines and altars usually does so with the notion of gods in mind. However, a shrine can be whatever you want it to be, and you don’t necessarily have to have a shrine in order to be a “legit” Pagan/polytheist. If you’re wanting to create a shrine space, I’d ask you to consider why it is that you’re wanting to create this space for yourself. Is it because you want to honor someone? Is it because you want a place to reflect? Or are you doing it because its what all of the books and websites say to do?

Once you’ve ascertained your reasoning, it becomes much easier to figure out what you need to do. When I first started, I had an altar space- I needed a location where I could work on magix and other projects and I wasn’t interested in venerating anyone, so I created a small corner shelf where I could have space to work as well as having lit candles and incense out and wouldn’t have to worry about them getting knocked over. My initial altar spaces had a lot of candles and rocks on them. That is what I connected with most at the time, and so that it what I went with. However, keep in mind your own needs when creating your own special spot.

If you’re aiming to venerate someone or something- try to put things that remind you of that someone or something in that space. For example, a Kemetic could create a generalized Kemetic shrine and include things like libations of water, candles, ankhs, an eye of Horus, the symbol for NTRW or something similar. You don’t necessarily need a deity icon in order to create a space that works well for you. For someone who is into Shinto and wants to create a space sans a specific Kami, I’d recommend an area that is clean and simple. Possibly include omamori or ema boards for the space. Or maybe something from your location- such as rocks, branches or flowers that help to bring the outside in.

Like always, get creative. Don’t be afraid to experiment (see my post on shrines for more ideas).

Sometimes we like to create a space that is for worship or self-reflection. In these situations, I recommend filling the space with things that remind you of your path and put your mind at ease. For myself, this always involves big fluffy pillows, nice scents, and calming music. You can also rely on imagery that helps remind you of your path or goals, or possibly items and books of people and practices you wish to emulate.

Basically, it comes down to figuring out what you need from your practice, and what your religion places an emphasis on, and making a space that enables you to live and walk with those tenets in mind.

So I’ve got some of the basics of my practice working. What do I do from here? How do I find my place in the community if I don’t have a deity to write about?

I think that this is probably the biggest problem that most people have. So many people are busy writing about their experiences with the gods, that a lot of folks aren’t sure what to write about or discuss in regards to their deity-less practice. I discussed some ideas in my post here, but let’s go over a few more possibilities for people to utilize in the community.

  • Talk about your shadow work or personal growth.
  • Talk about how your practice has helped you grow and improve, or how your methods could help someone else improve.
  • Write about the community at large.
  • Talk about that ritual you did last night.
  • Take awesome pictures of your shrine space, or that cloud that reminded you of some religious thing, or maybe that piece of jewlery you found in a second-hand shop that was just what you were looking for.
  • Write about your day to day life, and how your practice influences that- or doesn’t influence that.
  • Talk about how you get through the day, through your life, without gods.
  • Discuss historical aspects of your religious practice (if applicable).
  • Talk about various moral structures or ethical structures that exist in your religious practice
  • Talk about concepts that exist within your religious practice and how they do or don’t apply to your religion today.
  • Talk about the mundane moments in your life that made you think of your spirituality/religion
  • Talk about some awesome magix you are working on.
  • Or how your fandom influenced your religion.
  • Or maybe how that fanfic influenced your religion
  • Or maybe write a fanfic modern myth in regards to your religion.
  • Or anything- I mean, really, anything is game.
  • Answer questions about other people who are lost on their path. Even if you don’t have an answer, sometimes its good for people to realize that they aren’t alone in their situation. Sometimes a “I feel ya” is more than enough.
  • Or you could collect resources, and help other people by directing them to those resources.

There are lots of options and ways to be active within the community and your religion without relying upon gods. It is my sincere hope that people will begin to write more about their “mundane” religious experiences. I would love to hear more about what other people do in their religious practices and love to see more day to day stuff discussed. Because even those of us with “woo” and gods do have our days when the phone is silent and our times when the practice is in a fallow season. The more we can discuss and the more we can learn from one another- the more we can begin to bridge that gap.

How would you practice your religion without gods? Did you see any areas that I missed? If you see any parts of this guide that need expanding, or if you’d like to discuss more ideas, hit me up in the comments section below!

Relevant Posts:

 
11 Comments

Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Kemeticism, Rambles, Shintoism

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Know Thyself

One of the things I think we pagan folk don’t discuss enough is knowing when enough is enough. And with that, knowing your limits and what you truly can and can’t handle or take on.

Let me illustrate an example.

This year when I went to renew my Sukeikai membership, I didn’t get a new ofuda. For those who don’t know what an ofuda is, it’s something that goes inside of the kamidana. It’s more or less the Shinto version of an open statue. The Kami alight on top of it, or from it. They use it as a door to visit you, your house, this realm, etc. Because of this, you need to treat it like an open statue and take care of it daily. This is part of what makes Jinja Shinto Jinja Shinto. And, well- I’ve been really bad about doing this lately.

In fact, I’ve been bad about all of my daily ritual stuff lately. Why? Because I just don’t have the time or spoons for it. When you’re busy tracking down astral crack for 5 hours after you get home from working your full time job- things like putting out some salt and water for the Kami at 5am just stop being appealing (Jinja Shinto has you place offerings out in the morning, and take them in in the evening). I don’t even do my stuff daily for Netjer anymore. And while I’ve been able to strike a deal with them (part of my astral crack is their doing- so in trade of physical offerings, I work on their crack every day instead- and they’re okay with that), I don’t have the ability to do that with Kami- we just don’t talk like that.

And so, in knowing that I was unable to uphold my responsibility of having an ofuda in my house- I decided against getting a new one this year. I knew myself, my limits- and I knew that it was time to take a break for now.

Many people seem to lack this ability – the ability to say no, or to drop something that is important to them. However, its my firm belief that all of us really need to sit down, look at ourselves in the mirror and learn what our limits are, and the effect that sticking our head in the sand could be having on the gods and ourselves. How not saying no can be of detriment to the things we really care about. To use the example from above, most people I have seen would tell themselves that they could make it work somehow. They’d continue trying to figure out a means to go in front of the kamidana and try and do offerings, or half-ass the offerings, or keep it up a few days out of the month- etc etc. Basically, they’d stick their heads in the sand and try to make it work somehow- all while slowly eating up their spoons and becoming more and more disheartened with their progress (which leads to self loathing and other fun stuff).

And in the end, who does it benefit?

The kami would not be properly cared for (in this case). The follower slowly begins to associate their faith/religion/practice with negativity, its a chore, it’s something you have to do, or you avoid doing because of the shame you feel from it. It takes something that is supposed to be empowering and cripples it.

Sometimes, we need to understand when to say no. When to say enough is enough.


Now this isn’t necessarily about quitting at the first sign of problems, struggle, or strife. Oh no. And I’m not saying that there won’t be days when you half-ass your rites or duties, because that will happen from time to time- we all have fallow periods. I’m talking about honestly being able to examine your practice, what you’re doing, and being able to look at it and realize if it’s actually creating something useful and good long term (such as pushing through a fallow period or going through painful shadow work that a deity has handed you), or if it’s only going to be a detriment to yourself or the gods. In the case of the ofuda, it seems highly disrespectful to bring a living being into the house, only to ignore it. It’s like buying your kids a puppy- with no intention of properly caring for it. That makes you irresponsible. This is no different. Sure, it’s a bit of a dent in my pride. I can’t maintain this anymore. I don’t have the capacity to, and that really sucks. But as it has been said here– it’s not always about us. It’s about them. It’s about something larger than us, and I have to be able to swallow my pride and look at myself and the Kami and say “Hey, I can’t really do this right now, and to pretend like I can is not only disrespecting you, its disrespecting myself.”

Sometimes, we need to learn when to walk away from something. Sometimes, we need to realize that it’s okay to walk away from something. And sometimes, it really does us (and the gods) more good to let go of something than to try to hold onto it out of fear, shame or pride.

The only way you’ll ever know the difference is to take an honest look at yourself, and learn your needs and limits. Perhaps as this new year sets out and we’re busy creating ‘to do lists’ for the coming year, we should all take some time to get to know ourselves a bit better.

Relevant Posts:

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shyu-ki Taisai: The Great Fall Ceremony

We are finally moving into the last phase of this year. At each quarter point within the year, there are Taisai, or great rites and festivals which occur. The last one was at the beginning of summer, where everyone got to walk through the Chi-no-Wa And now we are hitting the last major festival before the big shabang at New Years.

From what I can tell, this ceremony involves the opening of the inner doors of the shrine, which only happens twice per year. Another strong element for this time of the year is harvest- as the rice harvest happens in Sept and October.

For myself, I did what I always do for any Shinto observance- I cleaned. I cleaned everything. Dusted. Vacuumed. Rearranged the pantry, under the sink, my desk. Everything gets a good cleaning.

And of course, there are offerings. The kami got a nice bottle of sake and a longer norito.

Offerings for the kami.

The netjer got cupcakes.

They are called “Tuxedo Cupcakes”. For gentlemen only.

I also finished up some magix I was working on, and started some new magix. One of the things I worked on was a type of bowl magix. In Shinto, it’s suggested that we leave some of the salt we’ve offered in the Northeast and Southwest corners of our houses- for cleansing, prosperity and happiness and all that. I normally replace this salt with each quarter point of the year. This time, though, I decided to add some extra oomph to my salt bowls. I got these ramekins from the Gu keylime pies that I bought last week.

The pie inside of them was good, too.

And as I looked at them, I was like ‘man, I need to do some magix with these’. And so my bowls were born.

They contain sand/dirt from a special location. A feather, ground up incense sticks, salt, leaves, bark, some cactus bits and rosemary.

I then walked around my house, cleansed in a less physical manner. Re-amped up my wards and all of that. Like normal, there was good food in the afternoon and evening- because every holiday has to have good food! I look forward to what the rest of the year will bring. I feel like big things are on their way- for better or worse. And I will do my best to meet these things head on!

What are your plans for the rest of 2012? Are you excited to see what the end of the year will bring?

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Shintoism

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Wish Upon a Star (Tanabata)

Today is the 7th day of the 7th month, otherwise known as Tanabata. This is often called the star festival, and it relates to wishes. According to Barrish-sensei, here is the back story to the festival:

Two stars, Weaver Princess Star and Herd Boy Star were in love. The Weaver Princess Star was very good at weaving, and her father was a heavenly king. Although the Herd Boy Star was a boy of lowly birth, the king, kind-hearted, let them marry. But because they were in love so much, they forgot to do their work. The Weaver Princess Star did not weave the cloth and the Herd Boy Star did not take care of the herds of sheep. The king became so angry that he decided they must be separated. They were told to live at the opposite sides of the Milky Way, the Sparkling River of the Heavens. They were only to meet on the night of July 7th, when they cross the sky.

There are multiple versions out there. As always, wikipedia has something to say on the matter. No matter which story version you follow, today is the day for making wishes. This is usually done by writing your wish on a piece of paper, a tanzaku. You then tie this wish to a bamboo plant or pole. Little Tokyo has a couple of bamboo plants that always have wishes on them. To the point that the bamboo looks like it is stunted from it.

Me and SO decided we would participate this year at home (we participated last year in Little Tokyo). We took out some of our special origami paper and cut a nice piece for ourselves. We focused on what we wanted as we wrote. We then took our papers outside to hang on our wisteria plant (I know, it’s not quite the same). I also left some offerings out for the local fauna, so hopefully they will like it.

Tanzaku on our wisteria.

The offerings are tea and water- the only two beverages on tap in our house anymore, and cookies. Back when I offered to the fae regularly, they seemed to like sweet baked goods- sugar cookies and mini-cupcakes were the most common. Since I had some lying around, I decided to offer them up. If I would have had any, I would have offered daifuku as well.

Offerings

If you could wish for anything right now, what would you wish for?

Relevant Posts:

 
6 Comments

Posted by on July 7, 2012 in Shintoism

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Great Mid Year Purification

Today, the Tsubaki GSA is celebrating the Great Mid-Year Purification or the Nagoshi-no-O-harai. This event is usually held in the 6th month, and it corresponds with the last day of the 6th lunar month and the protection and purification needed to get through the second half of the year.

As with all rites in Shinto, there is a heavy emphasis on purification and clearing out tsumi, or impurities, and this is done with katashiro and the chi-no-wa.

Katashiro take different forms, but typically, they are little paper people. You take these pieces of paper, and you rub them all over your person. In so doing, you soak up all impurities and negativity. To finish it, you breath out a long breath to get rid of impurities inside and out. After this is done, the Head Priest takes all of the katashiro from all of the Shrine members, and throws them into water to be purified. The source of water is different for each shrine. For Tsubaki, it’s a river. In other places (as stated in A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine) it could be a small pond or font of water.

Walking through the chi-no-wa is usually done last. I’ve seen a couple of different stories as to the origin of the grass circle. In the book mentioned above, the story goes:

It was a hot day in summer during the rainy season and a traveler was passing the last two farmhouses before the trail lef into the mountains. Being late, he stopped at the first and politely asked for a night’s lidging but was rudely refused. As the second house, however, they kindly took him in and treated him well. As thanks the next morning, he revealed himself as a Kami and foretold of an epidemic soon to come. “But don’t fear,” he told the terrified farmer and his family, “if you make a ring out of the long-stemmed grasses growing near your house and put it above your door, you’ll all be spared.” And so it came to pass.

As per Barrish-sensei, the story goes:

Susano-no-Mikoto was traveling incognito and was offered the hospitality of a poor but sincere man named Somin Shorai. In gratitude, Susano-no-Mikoto taught Somin Shorai how to make the Chi-no-Wa as the ward against disease and misfortune.

In the Mid-Year ceremony, all of the participants walk through the Chi-no-Wa. In the book mentioned above, everyone makes a figure-8. For Tsubaki, you will walk through it 3 times (I have never been to this festival, so it’s possible they walk in a figure-8 as well). Walking through the chi-no-wa will bring you health and harmony for the rest of the year.

I have yet to actually make it to a Mid-Year purification, but Tsubaki Jinja has made it possible for us long distance members to participate in the rite. We are all sent out own katashiro in advance, and we take them and rub them over our persons to soak up negative energies. I was a little rough with mine- and nearly bent the arms completely off of the little paper person. We then sent out katashiro back to the Shrine, and they will be cast into the river today.

For our own personal purification, today will be busied with cleaning the house and clearing our minds for the future ahead. Usually, there would be special offerings for the Kami, but I currently don’t know what to offer them. With my current limitations in diet, I can’t offer any juices or alcohols… so instead, I decided to give the birds outside extra seed (I feed the birds at the behest of the Kami). Beyond that, it will be a day of rest and mindfulness about the rest of the year to come.

What do you wish to see in the next 6 months?

Posts about Mid-Year Purification:

Some videos on it:

 
7 Comments

Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Shintoism

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When the Well Runs Dry


I have spent a great deal of my Pagan life with my well overflowing. I’ve lived with someone with a broke open head. I work for a deity that will throw things at you and tell you to learn how to juggle… while riding a unicycle on a tight rope. So I know all about the well overflowing.

But, for one very very very long year- I had a barren, dry well. A well so dry, that the ground at the bottom cracked and turned to powder at the slightest touch. Ground that choked and begged for any moisture at all.

What frustrated me most about this time was that I could see the water disappearing. I knew it was being soaked up by the earth, evaporating into the air. But as I would look at my well day after day, watching the water get lower and lower- I knew there was nothing I could do. All I could do is watch the water disappear slowly but surely. And as I watched the water disappear, I got angry. Very angry. I felt betrayed by the world. I had been handed the bare necessities to make ends meet- but just barely. I was frustrated that despite my best effort, things were falling apart.

And to top it all off, at the time, I felt like the gods just didn’t care. I couldn’t reach them. I couldn’t hear them. It’s as if they had simply vanished from my life.

This, my friends, is what we call a Fallow Time. It’s a time when the water runs out, the land becomes parched, and in many cases- all of the plants you had growing seem to shrivel up and die. It can be a time of complete frustration, utter despair, and can result in a complete lack of faith in not only your gods or guides, but yourself.

I think it’s common for every person to hit dry spells- whether in a religious context or not. We all have times when things just aren’t working. When we are out of our groove, and nothing seems to be panning out. And the biggest question I often see is- what do you do when these times hit? How do you handle it?

My best answer comes in the form of a quote from Avatar, the Last Airbender (series, not the movie):

“I don’t know the answer. Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel- you can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving you will come to a better place.”

When your water runs out your initial reaction is to stare at the ground. The plants are gone. The growth is gone- and all you are left with is a barren field. And usually when this happens, we all sit there- and just stare. We get angry that all we can do is look at the ground as it looks back at us- mocking us. And we stomp our feet, scream, throw fits- all at the ground. And for what? That doesn’t bring the growth back.

But what does bring the growth back? If this metaphor was a garden- the answer would be easy. The master gardener would tell you to clear out the old growth. Plow and fertilize your soil. Gather your seeds, and prepare to plant them. You could try to plant them now, and bring in water from afar- or you could wait until the rainy season comes back, and plant them then. Either way, the best way to spend your time in the interim is preparation.

So why can’t we take this metaphor and use it when the Fallow Times hit? Your practice is dead and barren right now. You might be having a hard time focusing. You could be preoccupied with other problems and mundane situations. There could be financial hardship. Any number of reasons can cause a well to suddenly lose it’s water. However, the best thing to do once the water is gone isn’t to rail at the land which sustains you. It’s to prepare the land to be able to grow again. Slowly, take a step forward, then take another and another. It could be a while before you reach fertile times again- but at least you know that when you get there, you will be ready for the rain. Your seeds will be in hand, and your practice will be primed and ready for growth.

Relevant Posts:

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Equal.

I have heard Barrish-sensei say many times that we are “All equal under the sun”. To me, this is such a beautiful concept. Equality. Something that we all strive for. Something that everyone wants to feel – to be an equal among their peers. Yet despite this, there are many times that I have seen many people treat other beings on this planet as lesser, due to a variety of reasons.

The concept of being un-equal is mind boggling to me. It is at the core of all three of my practices that everything is equal. All things are divine, and everything you see is on an equal playing field.

In FlameKeeping, literally everything is Divine. I am of the Divine, you are of the Divine. Anything you eat is Divine. Your carpeting is Divine. Even your feces is Divine. We are all Divine, and we all strive to uphold that divinity. To work to make everything better. And to live up to the fact that we are of the Divine.

In Kemeticism, we are also Divine. Everyone and everything came forth from the Nun. We all came from the Creator god (pick your myth). His tears. His fluids. His spit. His clay. We all came from the same place, we all share a Ka (at the core). We are all Divine. And in that right, we are all equal. You, me, the carpet.

And in Shintoism, we are told that we’re all equal under the sun. Because we all receive Divine ki from the sun, it’s solar energy. Due to the pantheistic nature of Shintoism, Kami can exist in anything in everything. You. Me. The carpet.

Yet despite the emphasis on equality, there are so many who do not seem to embrace it. There are those who think themselves higher than their peers. Those who think that they are better than what they eat, the people they interact with, and the general world around them. And in many of these situations, their reasons for feeling as such are very superficial. They have a special ‘title’ or membership to a group. They have nicer cars and clothes. They hold a job, or a ‘better’ job. It seems that everyone is out to make themselves feel better, by making everyone around them feel lesser somehow.

Every time I see this, I cry a little inside. There is so much more to life than being above or below someone (or something). There are so many much more important and larger problems out there, yet we allow ourselves to get trapped in this game of greater than and less than. Unlike the carpet, a tree, or a dog- we people have a greater opportunity and ability to enact change in this world. We are able to create beauty and change in this world. To leave it a better place than we came into it. As it is said in FlameKeeping, we are the eyes and hands of the Divine. It is our job to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of hating on others. It’s our responsibility to keep respect in our mind at all times, because everything is Divine, and we must respect that.

Can you imagine how different the world would be if we all had honest respect for one another? If we all lived in equality with the world and nature around us. If we as a species suddenly got over our “we’re here to dominate everything” complex? I think it would be interesting to see how the world could change. And while much of the world might not practice equality on the by and large, that isn’t going to stop me from trying to keep it in my mind on a daily basis. The idea that something out there is lower or higher than me just doesn’t jive in my mind.

How much equality do you keep in your day to day life? Is it something that your religious/spiritual practice places and emphasis on? Should it?

 
5 Comments

Posted by on April 29, 2012 in Flame Keeping, Kemeticism, Rambles, Shintoism

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hanami, Desert Style

There is very little that Arizona and Japan share in common. Japan is an island that has the standard four seasons. Arizona is in the middle of the desert and is lucky if it has two seasons (hot, and less hot). However, despite their differences, there is one thing that they share in common: Hanami.

Hanami means flower viewing. Traditionally, this could cover a range of flowers, but in the modern sense, it almost always is in reference to sakura- or cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms hold a lot of meaning to the Japanese people. These trees bloom very suddenly in the Spring, and the blossoms die out very quickly. In the short amount of time that the flowers are in bloom, thousands of people will flock to gardens, parks and orchards to view them and hold hanami parties.

The flowers themselves symbolize transience. Many times, it is said that soldiers were like sakura. They bloom suddenly, and die suddenly and beautifully on the battlefield. They are a symbol for our own existence- we live a short life, and our lives can be taken at any moment. It is best to enjoy the beauty of the here and now, because here and now is all that you have.

I love these flowers. They are beautiful and graceful. In the movie The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, the man who runs a very old sakura orchard mentions that sakura is a very empathetic tree/flower. It brings out of us what we want brought out of us. It reflects our own feelings. If you are sad, you will see sadness in the flowers. If you are hopeful, you will see hope in the flowers, etc. And for all of the people who lost their lives last year, many of them see hope in the return of the sakura. Nature continues despite setbacks, and so should we.

Arizona’s answer to the sakura is the Palo Verde (green tree). These trees are all over AZ, and usually they aren’t much to see. However, for a few brief months in the Spring, these trees light up with bright yellow flowers. Usually, the palo verde is mixed in with other desert trees, and you will see these swarms of yellow amidst a sea of green. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see a whole bunch of palo verde trees grouped together, and it turns into a sea of yellow.

I look for the sea of yellow every Spring. I personally feel that these trees are perfect for this time of year, because the Arizona Spring is beyond transient. We’re lucky if we get a Spring at all (usually, it goes from super cold to 100 degrees outside), and I think it definitely is in the desert dweller’s nature to relish in what few mild months (weeks) we get in any given year. I know that soon these flowers will die off, and in a matter of weeks I will not even want to step foot outside due to the heat. For me, this time of year is bitter sweet- because the weather is great, but it’s only a matter of time before the heat sets in, and I’m forced back into my AC driven house. Great Nature is always shifting, and so I shift with it.

I always try to spend a little bit of time every year enjoying these trees. Hopefully, you will enjoy them too!

(Ignore this, this is for Technorati: PSDYN7Q9DDVE)

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Spring Flows In

This past weekend marked the beginning of Spring in the Shinto calendar. Spring, called Risshun, began on Satruday and Setsubun marked the day before spring on Friday (the day before the start of a new season is always called Setsubun). In the old calendar, this was the time of the new year. A time of renewal, much like with any other major holiday. So I set out to see what I could do to celebrate this at home.

Typically, in a shrine the activities include shooting three arrows to help purify your mission, your life and your fate (one arrow for each) for the next year. Afterwards, at least at our shrine, you’ll take your soybeans and throw them at oni (closest word I know is ‘demon’). These oni will become purified by the soy and help to make your next year successful (as I understand it). While doing this, you will shout “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” or “misfortune out, Come in happiness”. Afterwards, you’re supposed to eat as many soybeans as you are old, plus one extra to represent the next year of good health. Unsure what to do to bring these activities home (honey, I need to go buy a bow…) I asked Barrish sensei what would be the best activities to do at home. He told me to clean my house thoroughly, to open the windows to allow fresh air in, to pray to the kami, and to toast, throw and eat roasted soybeans.

Slowly I am learning that every Shinto holiday consists of at least three things:

  • Cleaning your house
  • Praying to kami
  • Eating/offering a food that is specific to the holiday

So on Friday and Saturday, we cleaned the house up. We dusted, picked things up off the ground… made sure everything was in fairly good order. We left the windows open most of the weekend to allow the nice cool breeze to come in. And on Sunday, we got down to business with making roasted soybeans.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d like these beans. It really was a tough call, but I thought I’d give them a shot for tradition’s sake. First you need to get your beans, we bought the prepackaged kind. You’ll need to de-hull them. For us, that meant taking off a layer of clear-ish skin. Then, you’ll place them onto an ungreased baking sheet. Afterwards, put them in the oven at 350F. You’ll need to keep a close eye on them. We had to roll them around every few minutes to ensure that they wouldn’t stick or burn.

Once they look as brown as you want them, you’ll pull them out of the oven. Spray some oil on them, and follow that up with salt.

After that, we placed them onto our ‘honorary ozen’ and took them over to the kamidana. We also added some Vitamin Water to our offering cups. Not necessarily the healthiest, but at least the Other could partake of it, unlike sake. After we said our prayers, we took a few handfuls of beans and threw them around the house, chasing out hidden demons. We then sat and ate our 26 beans. They were actually quite tasty.

I personally love that Shinto has spring so early. Down here in the desert, it’s already warming up. You can go outside in your shorts and sandals. It’s almost like winter doesn’t even happen down here. So for me, it’s great timing. I also like the reinforcement of renewal. I feel like many things are on the cusp of change, like spring is going to bring a lot of awesome stuff. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Shintoism

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,