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Silver Wind
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PostSubject: Deities   Fri Sep 21, 2007 12:16 pm

Deceased People
Ujigami, Clan Deities


Deceased individuals are sometimes deified and thereafter worshipped as Tenjin (lit. "heavenly spirit"). Shrines devoted to Sugawara Michizane and to Emperor Meiji are the two most prominent examples. Michizane (courtier in the Heian period) was deified after death, for his demise was followed shortly by a plague in Kyoto, said to be his revenge for being exiled. He is commemorated in the Gion Matsuri (religious festival). Michizane is worshipped as the god of calligraphy and learning, and every year on the 2nd of January, students go to his shrines to ask for help in the school entrance exams or to offer their first calligraphy of the year.

There are also the Ujigami (clan or village deities). These kami are responsible for a particular community or locality, and in many cases, they represent the ancestors who founded the village (e.g., Fujiwara Shrine, Kasuga Shrine, Tachibana Shrine, Umemiya Shrine). The protective deity of one's birthplace is called ubusunagami, and all the people living in one locality worshipping the local deity are called ujiko. In the Buddhist realm, there is a related term called danka. These are families who select a temple based on their own individual convictions, and thereafter they rely on the temple for funeral and memorial services in exchange for monetary donations to the temple. There are also two famous human guardians who stand at opposite ends of many Shinto halls, Udai-jin and Sadai-jin.

Dosojin

Deities of Roads and Borders. Also called Sai no Kami or Dorokujin in some areas. These deities reside in stone markers found at village boundaries, in mountain passes, and along country byways. In urban areas today, dosojin stone markers are often placed at street corners and near bridges to protect pedestrians. As the deity of the village border, the dosojin wards off evil spirits and catastrophes, and protects the village from evil outside influences. As deity of the road, the dosojin protects travelers, pilgrims, and those in "transitional" stages. These stone markers may bear only inscriptions, but often they depict human forms, in particular the images of a man and woman -- the latter manifestation is revered as the kami of marriage and fertility. In some localities, the dosojin is worshipped as the kami of easy childbirth.

Japan's popular Fire Festivals, held around January 15 each year, are known as Dosojin festivals. Shrine decorations, talismans, and other shrine ornaments used during the local New-Year holiday are gathered together and burned in bonfires. They are typically pilled onto bamboo, tree branches, and straw, and set on fire to wish for good health and a rich harvest in the coming year. The practice of burning shrine decorations has many names, including Sai-no-Kami, Sagicho, and Dondo Yaki. According to some, the crackling sound of the burning bamboo tells the listener whether the year will be lucky or not. Children throw their calligraphy into the bonfires -- and if it flies high into the sky, it means they will become good at calligraphy.

The origin of dosojin stone markers is shrouded in the mists of uncertainty, and no exact date can be given. But precedents are ample in the Buddhist world. Here again we meet one of Japan's most popular and beloved deities, Jizo Bosatsu. In the early centuries following the birth of Buddhism in India (around 500 BC), Jizo became known as the guardian of travelers and pilgrims, and statues of his image could be found along pilgrimage routes and mountain passes in India and Southeast Asia. Buddhism was introduced to Japan much later, in the 6th century AD. The tradition of stone markers was also eagerly adopted by Japan, where even today one can find groupings of six Jizo statues standing guard on the high roads or at busy intersections. Among the many trails zigzagging the foothills of Kamakura, and elsewhere throughout Japan, one can also find solitary figures of Jizo guarding the way.

Kami

The term KAMI can refer to gods, goddesses, great ancestors, and all variety of spirits that inhabit the water, rocks, trees, grass, and other natural objects. These objects are not symbols of the spirits -- rather they are the abodes in which the spirits reside. The abode of the kami is considered sacred, and is usually encircled with a shimenawa (rope festooned with sacred white paper).

The Japanese believe this world is inhabited by myriad kami -- nature spirits that can do either good or evil. These spirits are constantly increasing in number, as expressed in the Japanese phrase yaoyorozu no kami -- literally "the eight million kami," which can also be translated as "ever-increasing innumerable kami."

Kami are not necessarily benevolent. There are numerous Shinto demons (Oni) and spirits (Kappa) that must be appeased to avoid calamity, but there is no absolute dichotomy between good and evil -- all phenomena manifest "rough" and "gentle" characteristics. The noted Japanese scholar Motoori Norinaga defined kami as anything that was "superlatively awe-inspiring," either noble or base, good or evil, rough or gentle, strong or weak, lofty or submerged -- there is no definitive standard of good and evil, there is no moral code. Things are as they are. Even the evil bloodsucking Kappa has some redeeming qualities -- i.e., when benevolent, the Kappa is a skilled teacher in the art of bone setting and other medical practices.

Says Alan Watts in "The Watercourse Way: "The term "kami" presents problems for the translator, for the usually chosen meanings -- spirit, god, divine, supernatural -- are unsatisfactory. I take it to mean that innate intelligence (or li 理) of each particular organism. Li is translated as "organic pattern," an ideogram which referred originally to the grain in jade and wood, although it is more generally understood as the "reason" or "principle" of things. <Author's Note: Of course Watts is talking about the Chinese term Shen, which in Japan is pronounced either Shin (as in Shinto) or Kami.

Kamikaze

Literally "divine wind" or "wind from the gods" that blew the invading Mongolian fleet off course, saving Japan from invasion in the 13th century. Also the name of the suicide bombers of Japan's imperial armed forces during World War II.

http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/shinto-concepts.shtml

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