Prayer, or norito (祝詞) is a central and important part of the Shinto faith. To an outsider, Shinto prayer most likely seems highly ritualised and even a bit ‘stiff’, but as you’ll find out, there is a meaning for every action. This post aims to talk about what Shinto prayer is, what it looks like and the deep meaning behind it.
What Are Norito?
The act of prayer is done to appeal to the kami, thank them for offerings and as a form of self-healing and religious expression. Norito have a particular sound and rhythm to them that emphasises the aspect of kotodama (言霊), an important part of Shinto. This means that each syllable and word is believed to have a particular sacred energy and so norito must be clear, with equal attention to each part in order to read it properly. This gives norito an almost monotone, sing-songy sound that can sound quite unusual to beginners or outsiders. Here is an example of a norito (Ryujin Norito) and here is another example (Amatsu Norito). As you can see, norito have quite a unique sound and composition.
Norito are usually written in archaic, poetic Japanese and it is common for even native speakers to be unsure of the meaning of particular norito. Most norito are untranslated and written only in Japanese, but an increasing number are receiving translations into English thanks to scholars, translators and various groups. Traditionally norito are read by priests at shrines who lead the prayer and it is common for larger shrines to use microphones and speakers so that all can hear. Many people follow along with the norito if they have learned it by heart or with a prayer booklet often supplied by the shrine.
Should I Recite Norito In Japanese or English?
It is advised that if you can speak Japanese or have access to a romaji version of a norito, you recite it in the original language. This is because this is how the norito is intended to sound, as well as preserving the kotodama. However there are many translations available in simple and poetic forms and if reciting it in your native language makes more sense to you, there is no harm in that. It is suggested that if you do this, you also recite the Japanese alongside it. This will help cement the meaning of the norito, as well as help you form a deeper connection to the kami.
An excellent book for anyone who practices Shinto in the West is the book Shinto Norito by Ann Llewellyn Evans. This book lists the Japanese form, romaji and English translations of many popular and common norito.
Megan of Pagan Tama suggests that you could start with the ‘hi-fu-mi’ norito written about here, due to its ease of pronunciation and simplicity for beginners to Japanese and norito. This is an excellent way to ease yourself into norito and understand the sounds and importance of kotodama.
When Is Norito Recited?
Norito is recited at shrines on a daily basis, most often multiple times a day. These may be public or private ceremonies but they are all for the kami. At home, it is advised to recite norito at least once a day in the morning before you begin your day, and in the evening if possible.
You do not need to attend a shrine or have a kamidana to use norito. Norito are simply a way of clearing your heart, tightening your focus and for paying respects to the kami. They are a powerful tool in which to become closer with your particular kami and with Shinto in general.
What Norito Should I Recite?
What norito used in personal practice is very much up to the individual, the kami they revere and also if they are connected with a head shrine or not (such as Fushimi Inari Taisha, Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, etc) As I am Inari Shinkou (Inari Faith), I cannot comment on all types of Shinto but there are some norito used quite often.
Ōharahi-no-Kotoba 大祓詞 (Great Words of Purfication) is a very important and central norito. It is a purification prayer and is often recited on special days but also privately as a focus and cleansing chant. Here on the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America Facebook page you can find more about this Norito, as well as the romaji. The only downside of this norito is that it is very long and so perhaps not suited for beginners. There is a shortened version available in the book Shinto Norito.
Hi-Fu-Mi No Harae Kotoba (Hi Fu Mi Words of Purification) is the aforementioned norito which is excellent for beginners as it focuses purely on the sounds. It doesn’t really have a particular meaning but instead is used to attune your voice to the divine.
Inari Norito 稲荷祝詞 (Prayer of Inari) is the core prayer of Inari worship. This is one of the norito I have learned by heart through constant repetition over the last decade. It is a lovely and powerful norito. You can find this in the book Shinto Norito and also here.
What Are Offerings In Shinto?
Offerings are a daily practice that is done by many Shinto practitioners and all shrines, usually with accompanying norito. The usual offerings you can except to see at a shrine or kamidana are salt, rice, water, sakaki (an evergreen tree sacred in Shinto) and sake. Other offerings include fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, fish, grains and gifts from vacations and such. Some people also offer up their paychecks and lottery tickets as a pledge or a thanks for prosperity.
Where Can I Find Norito?
As previously mentioned, the best current place to access a range of popular norito is the book Shinto Norito. I would say this book is absolutely essential to getting started in norito. Aside from that, there are many good places to find norito.
If you speak Japanese, your local shrines may have norito booklets available for free or for purchase. If you are not in Japan, you can find many norito with a google search and even on youtube.
English speakers, some Facebook pages which readily have norito available are Shinto, Religion of The Forest, Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, Inari Faith International and Fushimi Inari Faith International Dojo.
Hopefully this post helped you learn a little about norito and what they are used for. If you have any questions please let me know! I will add to this post in the future if wanted.
Previous posts I have written on prayer and associated topics in Shinto: