Archive for the ‘practice vs. belief’ Tag

A Triad on the Mighty Ones

triskele“Three reasons for supplicating the Mighty Ones: because it is a pleasure to you, because you wish to be a friend of the Wise, because your soul is immortal” — traditional.

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Like many I revere Brigid. This time of year it’s easy in our house — the fire in our woodstove reminds me of one of her domains, and the lovely orange and blue flames of well-seasoned wood could wake any heart to poetry. I honor her in thought whenever I recall her, I honor her in action by lighting the fire, a daily practice this time of year. To see the wood take flame, to feel the house temperature begin to rise each morning once a good burn gets going and I can close the flue — how could these not be a pleasure, a cause for celebration?

the_godsI love that none of the usual default reasons that our monotheistic culture provides for supplication or prayer come up in this Triad: to save your soul, or to avoid hell, or to please a god or God, or to make up for some human weakness. No, the reasons here are splendidly other, and the first — the first! — is pleasure. Ask yourself, “Do I actually like the company of the Divine? If not, why spend time pretending I do? But if I do … ‘Can I have some more, please?'”

Or perhaps I don’t know either way. So why not find out? One reason to revere and honor and supplicate — lovely old word! — the Mighty Ones is find out what happens if I do.

immortals-the-godsAnd to be a friend of the Wise? For me that means I value wisdom, value those who aspire to it, and aspire to it myself. It’s a measure of our times that wisdom isn’t a word we hear very much. Maybe because it’s fallen out of favor. Maybe because many have abandoned it for cheaper thrills online and off. The company and friendship of the Wise! This, too, is a pleasure I hope you’ve had.

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s-la-lost-horYesterday out of a mix of nostalgia and procrastination at improving my Nanowrimo word-count, I was skimming through James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, which gave us the fabulous Shangri-La. (I first read the novel in high school, at the insistence of an English teacher who also pulled us through Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. You can practically determine my age to within a few years just by those details, if you happen to follow — or yourself suffered through — trends in U.S. secondary education. You can find Hilton’s work online at Project Gutenberg Australia here.)

Hilton gives us the following wonderful exchange between Roberta Brinklow, a British missionary, one of a number of Westerners stranded in the Himalayas at the monastery of Shangri-La, and the English-speaking Chinese monk Chang, who is the principal go-between for the little band of Brits and the Tibetan natives.

“What do the lamas do?” she continued.

“They devote themselves, madam, to contemplation and to the pursuit of wisdom.”

“But that isn’t DOING anything.”

“Then, madam, they do nothing.”

“I thought as much.” She found occasion to sum up. “Well, Mr. Chang, it’s a pleasure being shown all these things, I’m sure, but you won’t convince me that a place like this does any real good. I prefer something more practical.”

“Perhaps you would like to take tea?”

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy stories that deal with the meeting of cultures and the delightful misunderstandings that inevitably result. Of course, my sympathies in this instance lie where Hilton’s also appear to — with the long-suffering Chang.

What good does wisdom do?! Oh darlin’, if you have to ask …

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And the best reason of all which the Triad gives us (if like us the Celts saved the best for last)? Because we recognize the gods are our kin — because what is immortal in us answers the call of what is immortal in them.

I don’t need to have any belief about this either way (“More slackness!” as Hilton’s Miss Brinklow might have said).  I can experiment instead. Am I immortal? Let’s see if I can actually get some inkling either way. Do the gods have something worth my learning, something that may touch on just this issue? Why not supplicate them and find out for myself? Could there be a connection between an experience of the divine and a greater understanding of what it is to be human?

Wherever did we begin to imagine that such questions ought to be matters of belief rather than personal experience?! As if we were asked about the taste of fresh berries and cream on the basis of our knowledge of somebody else’s report, rather than the bowl of them sitting right in front of us! Here’s a spoon. Dig in …

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IMAGES: triskelegods of war — Deviant Art; immortals — the gods; Shangri-La.

Shinto — Way of the Gods

[Related posts: Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3 || Shinto — Way of the Gods || Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2 || My Shinto 1 | 2 ]

hikonejoAlmost two decades ago now, in the early 1990s, my wife and I lived for a year in Hikone, a medium-sized city in central Japan, about an hour’s train ride north of Kyoto.  The city’s most visible claim to fame is Hikone Castle, a 380-year-old wooden fortress that dominates the downtown skyline.  But the most  enduring memory I took from Japan and have never forgotten is the profound impression of its many Shinto shrines — roughly 80,000 of them, according to various sources — that dot the landscape and invite the casual visitor as well as the reverent worshiper.  I usually found myself somewhere between the two.  But this wasn’t ever a problem. Visitors, including foreigners, are welcome.

Shinto shrines are impressive for their openness.  Many (especially the smaller and rural ones) are free to visit (though of course donations are gratefully accepted), wonderfully peaceful, and lovingly tended.  Not once did I see any graffiti or vandalism in the dozen or so shrines I frequented, in either countryside or city.  Often enough I was the only person present, which allowed for a meditative experience of the grounds and atmosphere. Here’s a shot of the entrance to Taga Taisha, about 20 minutes from our apartment in Hikone.

During matsuri or festivals, however, a shrine can be absolutely mobbed, and that’s a wholly different experience, also not to be missed!  You can catch something of the energy of a festival in this shot below of Tenso Jinja shrine.  The celebrants in the background carry a mikoshi, a portable shrine, back to Tenso Jinja after a day of parading it around the town.  Usually there’s a musical accompaniment, and the bearers of the mikoshi can get very enthusiastic in their chants, drawing quite a crowd.  In retrospect, the experience felt very Druidic — all that energy, all the communal good feeling, everyone included.

Shinto is the “way of the kami,” the Japanese word used to translate both English “god” (and “God”) as well as “spirit,” “ancestor” or “essence.” From the Shinto perspective, the world of the kami overlaps with ours.  Everything has its kami, and the natural world is full of places that manifest the particularly strong presence of kami.

Thus, natural objects pervaded with kami often receive a small marker shrine and sometimes other identifying signs, like at Hatagoiwa just off the coast in Ishikawa prefecture.  Note the rope linking the large ocean rocks, as well as the small red shrine atop the larger rock.

Shinto focuses on practice more than belief. One of its key practices is purification, so that we can participate in the world of the kami more consciously and harmoniously. For that reason, the entrance to a Shinto shrine typically includes a temizuya (literally “hand-water-spot”) or basin for ritual washing before proceeding further.  Here you can see the basin and the bamboo dippers for washing.

The marker signalling the sacred space of a shrine is the torii gate, through which all visitors pass.  The torii may be simple, like this wooden one at Ise, one of the oldest and most famous shrines.

Or it can be wonderfully elaborate, like the main entrance of Fushimi-Inari Jinja near Kyoto, and inside, its sloping corridor of seemingly endless red torii.

Lest you feel this is all well and good, but for all that still remote from your life, there’s a major Shinto shrine in Washington state, near Seattle, named Tsubaki Grand Shrine.  And among its kami is Kokudo Kunitama-no-Kami, who protects the North American continent.

Here’s a shot of the interior of a shrine, featuring dosojin, or kami representing an ancestral married couple.  Dosojin are protective spirits, and often placed along borders and boundaries.

The last shot is of a dosojin more recognizably human, marking a field border.

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Images:  Hikone-jo; Taga Taisha; Tenso; Hatagoiwa; Ise torii; Fushimi-Inari; Tsubaki; dosojin; dosojin2.

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