Why Shinto? Aren’t you a Westerner?
Yes indeed I am – I am Welsh. I was born in North Wales and grew up there. Only 6 months ago I moved to Leicestershire to escape some negative aspects of my life and now I am much more grounded and positive. However, I have considered myself Shinto for perhaps at least 5 years and have incorporated it into my neo-pagan practices for the past 12 years or so.
My interest in Shinto, like many, started with Japanese anime and manga. I recall reading Inuyasha by Takahashi Rumiko and finding the folklore and youkai characters absolutely fascinating. I especially fell in love with the Japanese fox – the kitsune, and they soon took over my life! I started to research them and stumbled across Shinto. I never really seriously started thinking about becoming part of Shinto until I had finished University. Part of the reason was because again, like many, I was unaware that Westerners could even be part of Shinto – I had always thought that was impossible.
The Calling from Inari Okami
In 2007 I met someone (well, a pair of brothers inhabiting the same physical body) online who also was Shinto to a degree – they identified as an occultist, but they did indeed have a kamidana to Inari Okami. I then met a friend of theirs who is now Buddhist, but still has a kamidana, also to Inari Okami. I will not disclose their details unless they give me permission, of course. Both these people lived in the United States and I learned a lot about Shinto, Shamanism and the kami from them.
This sparked my interest back up and I was recommended several books on Shinto and Inari Okami, who I had always had a strong pull to. I bought the Fox and the Jewel by Karen Ann Symers in 2008 and began to read. However, at this time I found the writings to be too complex for me to understand and with some frustration, put the book away on my bookshelf for several years.
I felt that Shinto was out of my reach, too far away for me to truly understand. But the calling from Inari Okami did not stop. They would appear in my dreams, my meditations, provide me with blessings and just be a constant presence in my life. At the time, I had just been praying to them in a normal pagan way, creating an altar for them. I did already have a pair of kitsune statues though, which had been gifted to me from a friend.
I began to have a different type of feeling towards Inari Okami. It was not so much one of talking to a great deity (though Inari Okami is, of course!) but more a feeling of talking to a parent, or friend. Once I became more relaxed talking to Inari Okami, I found that things flowed so much better.
After all this, Inari Okami had clearly made their presence known in my life. I wanted to really honour them in the best way I could. I started to recite Inari Norito as part of my practice, and immediately felt the power increase. Over the following years I purchased a kamidana, torii, shinki set and other items of importance for Inari Okami.
For a while, I used a home-made ofuda created from rice paper and with Inari Okami’s name written on with a calligraphy pen. Now, I know this is actually considered not sacred, or even appropriation to some Shintoists, but it truly did work for me.
Two years ago, I was lucky enough to actually be given an ofuda from Fushimi Inari Taisha from my friend Myoubu. It really is due a renewal, but having Fushimi Inari Taisha so so far away, I have actually been charging it yearly, and it seems to work absolutely fine. When I am able though, I plan to mail it back to Fushimi and purchase a new one.
The last two years has been spent researching, asking questions and practising Shinto at a more traditional level. I find that this has brought much needed structure into my life.
What Shinto Does For Me
So, I’ve explained how Shinto came into my life, but not what it does for me and why I feel that I am Shinto. Well, for a start I have always sensed nature spirits/kami around, since I was a child. I have always revered Great Nature and really felt how powerful it is. Shinto brought these to the surface for me in a practical and respected way.
Shinto gives me a structure in which I can truly relate to Great Nature and others. It reminds me to purify myself and my home and to express gratitude each and every day. I love reading about the ancient traditions in Japan, and even comparing them to Welsh mythology. They are pretty similar in parts!
I love teaching others about Shinto and what it can help with (with their permission of course), and just generally being involved in such a deep and spiritual path. I am so grateful to the kami for allowing Shinto to slowly spread and find its place in the hearts of the non-Japanese. I feel that the reason Shinto has managed to survive so well is the Universal message it contains – to be grateful for daily blessings and to revere Great Nature.
I cannot really find the words to express how much I love Shinto and the kami, so I will leave you with this excerpt from a translated Shinto norito – Ryaku Nippaishi:
Sweep the impurities from my being and purify my spirit;
Grant me protection; grant me happiness;
Restore brightness to my soul and give me guidance.