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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 mythologyĀ  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.

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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?

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Shintoism

 

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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:

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Shintoism

 

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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?

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

 

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A Child of Chaos

Most people know me as being a child of chaos- a follower of Set. And even if you don’t know who I worship, or that I even have a religion, if enough time is spent around me- you’ll describe me with the same words and phrases that most of my fellow Kemetics do. Despite my attempts to change people’s perceptions of me, it seems that the same traits always come forward. I’m hard, mean, no nonsense. I am cynical, snarky, and sarcastic. And you can’t forget that many people think I’m a dude (and if they know me in person, I’m treated as a male, not a female).

Even recently, in a discussion with a friend of mine, thoughts about the Kemetic community came up. Kemeticism doesn’t really have a large community. There isn’t a whole lot of selection (it’s pretty much KO or nothing), and many of the different temples seem to hate one another. Basically, our community sucks, and is pretty non-existent. To my friend, it almost seemed odd that a follower of Set would want to be in a community. Let alone run one. I mean, Set is the outsider, the foreigner. He’d rather stick to himself than deal with people right?

I can’t help but wonder- Why?

Why is it that following Set means that I don’t want to fit in? Why is it that because Set is cast out to the deserts that he doesn’t want friends? And why is it, that despite my attempts to show that I’m not a complete ass, that I have softer sides, people only seem to see that one aspect of me?

Why?

I am more than just the ass you see. I do have a need to belong. A need and desire to be a part of the group, and to not question my role or position in that group. To feel that people genuinely want me around. And to be able to be myself in that group. I would also like for people to see that I have other aspects. That I am more than just “that Set follower”. Oh yeah, and I can hurt just like everyone else too. I’m more than just stone. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why it is that the other parts of me get ignored.

When explaining this to my friend, I related to Asar. There is a part of me that is like him. Kind. Quiet. Fertile. Soft. Yet for whatever reason, no one ever sees that. I joke, a have fun, and I try to show people that I can be light hearted, I can be happy and nice. Yet, no one ever sees it.

I have always had a fancy for Asar. And really, he has been around me since this whole thing started. I figured he hung around because of my s.o.- who also happens to have a thing for Asar. However, I’m beginning to wonder if Asar hangs around not because of my s.o.- but because he wants something to do with me. Set told me to make the two halves whole. If Set is the side that everyone sees, could Asar be the side that no one sees? Could acknowledging him help me to equal out the halves? If he is the other half, the way he approaches me could easily be the same as the way my other half is. It’s very intangible, and hard to grasp. It’s there, but it’s not. It’s a feeling that you can’t describe. And in many ways, Asar is the same. He influences me in ways that I barely notice. A little touch here, a little nudge there. Words aren’t needed, but if you’re paying attention you can see that it’s him.

The other piece in this puzzle is Shinto. Set sent me to look into it, to help with the halves. I think part of this is in the Japanese culture. I shared my thoughts on this with my s.o. last night, and he seemed to think it could be a factor.

When I go to Little Tokyo, or I sit in a Japanese restaurant (that is run by Japanese people), or I go to the local Japanese market- I change. Entirely. I didn’t think I changed that much, but after listening to my s.o. last night, apparently it is like night and day. For those of you who don’t know, Japanese culture is very different from us in America. The mannerisms, the way you talk, the way you look at people, hold your hands, hold items- it’s all different. And when you stick me around a bunch of Japanese I try to follow these rules. I thought the change was there, but according to my s.o. the change is like a slap to the face. You just can’t miss it. I told him last night that it’s a case of “When in Rome, do as the Romans”. He said that it was more “Don’t do as the Romans, I AM a Roman”. I guess I almost become one of them in my actions.

I think these little interactions are important. That these little moments are the times when my other half gets to shine through. I love interacting with the Japanese culture (here in Phx, and in LA). I will seek out festivals and locations where I tap into this feeling, into that half of myself. Where I can let this yin side through. And because Shinto is so intertwined with the culture of Japan, perhaps that is how Shinto plays a role in making me whole.

But then there is this whole Asar thing that I need to figure out. And still binding everything back together is important. I feel I’m onto something, but I’m not positive what to do with it. All I know is that while I love working with Set, and I love being a hard ass in his name, I do get tired of constantly fighting these labels people put on me. I’m tired of always being considered hard, and unbreakable. I’m tired of only one side of my nature being acknowledged.

And I wonder if Set feels the same way some days.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2011 in Kemeticism, Rambles, Shintoism

 

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