Thursday, 22 June 2017

Shinto – Norito prayers

On Tuesday the 20th of June Jenny Raper presented an introductory paper for the Spiritual Reading Group on the ancient Japanese religion of Shinto. This included a reading and discussion of Norito prayers, reprinted below.

Norito – Words or prayers addressed by worshippers to a deity.  The efficacy of the prayer is founded on the concept of koto-dama, the spiritual power of words.  Words that are beautiful and correct bring about good.  Words that are coarse or ugly bring about evil.  So, the words used are profoundly important. Words that were classical and elegant were always used. 

Here are some prayers from the Engi-shiki (927 CE) written from the Heian court.  They are highly 'formulaic, ritualized and repetitive.  They consist of an invocation of a god or gods, a recollection of the founding of the identification of the recitant and his status; a list of offerings, a petition for certain benefits or blessings, a promise of recompense to be made in return; and a final salutation.’  (Sources of Japanese Tradition, edited by Theodore de Bary,  page 31)

Here are excerpts from The Great Exorcism of the last days of the sixth months.

First, the heavenly sins:
   Breaking down the ridges.
   Covering up the ditches,
   Releasing the irrigation sluices,
   Double planting,
   Setting up stakes,
   Skinning alive, skinning backwards,
   Defecation –
    …..are called the heavenly sins.

The earthly sins:
   Cutting living flesh, cutting death flesh,
   White leprosy, skin excrescences,
   The sin of violating one's own mother,
   The sin of violating one's own child,
   The of violating a mother and her child,
   The sin of violating a child and her mother.
   The sin of transgression with animals,
   Woes from creeping insects,
   Woes from the deities on high,
   Woes from the birds on high,
   Killing animals, the sin of witchcraft -
   Many sins (such as these) shall appear.

When they thus appear,
By the Heavenly Shrine usage,
   Pronounce the heavenly ritual, the solemn ritual words.
When he thus pronounces them......the Heavenly deities
   Will hear and receive these words.

When they thus hear and receive,
Then, beginning with the court of the Sovereign Grandchild,
   In the lands of the four quarters under the Heavens,
   Each and every sin will be gone.
As the gusty winds blows apart the myriad layers of Heavenly clouds,
   As the morning mist, the evening mist is blown away by the
   morning winds, the evening wind....
As a result of the exorcism and the purification,
   There will be no sins left.
They will be taken into the great ocean
   By the goddess called Se-ori-tsu-hime,
   Who dwells in the rapids of the rapid-running rivers
     Which fall surging perpendicular
     From the summits of the high mountains and the summits of the low mountains.
When she thus takes them,
   They will be swallowed with a gulp
   By the goddess called Haya-aki-tsu-hime...
When she thus swallows them with a gulp,
    The deity called Ibuli-do-nushi,
     Who dwells in the Ibuki-do   (breath blowing entrance)
   Will blow them away with his breath into the land of Hades,
   The underworld.
When she finally loses them,
   Beginning with the many officials serving in the Emperor’s court,
   In the four quarters under the heavens,
   Beginning from today,
   Each and every sin will be gone.

After the great exorcism come the propitiatory offerings.

With this prayer I present offerings,
   Providing garments of coloured cloth, radiant cloth, plain cloth and coarse cloth,
   A mirror as something to see clearly with,
   A jewel as something to play with,
   A bow and arrow as something to shoot with,
   A sword as something to cut with,
   A horse as something to ride on;
   Wine, raising high the soaring necks
     Of the countless wine vessels, filled to the brim;
In rice and in stalks;
That with lives in the mountains -
   The soft-furred and the coarse furred animals -
That with grows win the vast fields and plains -
   The sweet herbs and the bitter herbs -
As well as that which dwells in the blue ocean -
   The wide-finned and the narrow-finned fishes,
   The sea-weeds of the deep and the sea-weeds of the shore-
I place these noble offerings in abundance upon tables
   Like a long mountain range and present them
Praying that the Sovereign Deities
   Will with a pure heart receive them tranquilly
     As offerings of ease,
     As offerings of abundance,
   And will not seek vengeance and not ravage,
But will move to a place of wide and lovely mountains and rivers,
   And will as deities dwell there pacified.
With this prayer, I fulfill your praises.  Thus I humbly speak.

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