Many Shinto practitioners are from outside of Japan and may not have access to a local shrine or priest. Then we ask, how can we be practice Shinto if we are outside this community? We look upon photos and media of those attending shrines in their masses with jealously and wish we were there. Well the good news is that solitary Shinto is very much a thing, even in Japan.
The heart of Shinto lies in nature itself. Although it would be nice to worship in groups, this is not always possible. Here are some things you can do yourself to practice Shinto in your own home.
Revere the Cycles
Nature has a lot of cycle – day and night, the seasons, the moons. As Shintoists, we can take special notice of these special times and celebrate them. It is not uncommon for Western Shintoists to merge Shinto with the pagan Wheel of the Year. We can light candles for the different kami in power at that particular time, make offerings and find peace without ourselves and Great Nature.
You can greet each sunrise by waking up to experience it, stay up all night on Summer Soltice, eat seasonal foods – there are many things that you can do to simply make yourself more aware of the seasons and times.
Make or Buy a Kamidana
A kamidana (‘God shelf’) is an important aspect of solitary Shinto, but it does not need to cost you out of house and home. Actually, the kami would not want this and so your sincerity and gratitude are the most important things. Although it is widely agreed that one should always purchase an ofuda directly from a shrine, the rest of the kamidana is really up to you.
For purchasing the ofuda, if you are outside of Japan you can purchase ofuda directly from Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America who ship Internationally.They also sell kamidana! Otherwise you can get someone to pick one up for you who lives or is visiting in Japan.
If money is an option, you can look at making neopagan-eque shrines with candles, crystals and symbols of the kami or even just have the ofuda in a stand if you wish to be minimalist. You can decorate the kamidana with artwork, printed pictures – whatever makes it a sacred place to you.
The kamidana should be on the highest shelf in the room if possible. However I have seen others that are not. This is traditional but also personal preference – whatever makes it feel sacred to you. The kami will likely give you signs if they don’t approve!
Purification is a very important aspect of Shinto and should be done with the utmost sincerity. However it is not required of you to go to a waterfall or natural body of water to do this – though if you can, even better!
Misogi (purification) can be done at home in the shower under cold water. You can find more on shower misogi here.
You can also purify yourself by waving a haraigushi over yourself. To make one, see here.
Offerings are made to the kami to express our gratitude for life and all that exists within it. Daily offerings can be made to the kamidana in the form of water, salt and rice. Saké can also be offered for matsuri or as special thanks. These foods are the staples of life and by offering them to kami we show that we are in receipt of them – therefore we have received the kami’s blessings.
Seasonal offerings of fruits, vegetables and other foods (even confectionery) can also be made as a huge thank you to kami for allowing to Earth to be fertilized and the food to grow.
Other offerings that can be made are incense, candles, artwork and other ritual items. Donations to shrines can also be made for the kami.
Ancestor worship is another important aspect of Shinto and also something that I feel benefits us as a whole. You can set a dedicated area for your ancestors and pray to them to thank them for the gift of life.
Burning incense is heavily associated with ancestor worship in Buddhism, and many Shinto practitioners will have an ancestor shrine in their home. You can fill it with photos of them, items they owned and foods/drinks they liked.
There are an increasing number of English language books in Shinto that are being released on a yearly basis. Each person writing also has their own personal opinions and beliefs on the faith and so there is a lot of material for discussion.
As well as books, you can also look at blogs (like this one!), wikipedia and videos. You can create your own Shinto version of a ‘Book of Shadows’ with notes on what you believe Shinto is, information about kami and practices and what does and doesn’t work for you.
Run out of material? You could pay a translator to translate some of the thousands of Japanese information on Shinto all over the web.
Many religions use meditation as a basis – and for good reason too! Meditation is an ancient practice which reduces stress, induces inner reflection and increases spiritual awareness. There are many quotes and norito you may meditate on, or even the images of a shrine or favourite kami.
You can visualize yourself moving through a torii into the World beyond. Make sure to keep notes of your meditations: this is a prime time for kami to show signs to you that may mean something important.
Explore the Natural World
Japan isn’t the only place with stunning natural beauty. In fact there is most likely a place closer than you think! Explore the country you live in, visit the sacred spaces and feel the kami’s heartbeat.
There are so many beautiful places in this World that it seems ignorant to get caught up in a single country. Yes, Shinto is centered in Japan and always will be but the kami exist throughout the entire Universe. Every place on Earth is beaming with kami and you can visit them.
In fact, by studying Shinto online – sitting at our computers for hours at an end – we are forgetting one of Shinto’s most important aspects – reverence of Nature. We need to go out into the World and experience it. The cleansing energy will be good for you and the kami will appreciate it. Remember that kami are omnipresent – they exist in nature, not just in a single shrine or area.
And with that, I hope you all have a fantastic and blessed day!