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Pilgrimages in Shinto: A journey into nature

Foto de Mat Kedzia en Pexels

Shinto can be said to be the indigenous Japanese religion. As writing arrived in Japan with the spread of Buddhism, early Shinto practices predate any historical records. Most Shinto traditions revolve around the Japanese landscape, nature, the seasons, and their relationship to the human inhabitants.

Pilgrimages in Shinto thus seek to bring pilgrims in contact with nature, with the divine forces dwelling in it, and with their own selves. Through pilgrimage, Shinto practitioners seek:

1.- Spiritual cleansing and renewal: Shinto shrines are considered sacred places where the spiritual energies of the kami dwell. Kami are deities, divinities, spirits, mythological, spiritual, and natural phenomena deemed worthy of veneration. They can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, beings and the qualities expressed by those beings, and even the spirits of revered dead people. Many kami are considered to be the ancient ancestors of entire clans. By visiting these shrines and participating in purification rituals, pilgrims cleanse their minds of impurities in order to resume and deepen their relationship with these divine forces.

2. Connection with nature: being a nature religion, Shinto principles include deep reverence for the natural world, understanding nature itself as either divine, or as a visible manifestation of invisible divinities. Shinto pilgrimages thus imply visiting and circumambulating mountains, forests, and waterfalls to honor and partake in the kamis’ vital energy and wisdom.

3. Gratitude and offerings: Shinto pilgrims express their gratitude to the kami for the blessings received by making offerings. These offerings include prayers, amulets, donations, or food. Indeed, kamis must be properly fed in order to maintain balance and peace –nor too much, nor too little.

4. Seeking knowledge and wisdom: Shinto pilgrimages imply self-discovery and the quest for knowledge. Pilgrims get to re-evaluate their relationship to the world, the kami, their communities, their values and, ultimately, their own personal existence, while seeking guidance from the kami.

5. Community Experience: The pilgrimage is often done in the company of others, creating a sense of community and mutual support. Pilgrims share experiences, prayers, and rituals, strengthening their ties to the Shinto tradition and other practitioners.

Shinto pilgrimages include:

  • O-mairi: Regular visits to local shrines to offer prayers and offerings.
  • Junrei: Pilgrimages to important shrines such as Ise Jingu or Izumo.
  • Taisha: often performed on specific dates or as part of a religious vow.
  • Meisho: Visits to sacred sites associated with Shinto history or mythology.
  • Shugendo: An ascetic practice that combines Shinto with Buddhism, which includes pilgrimages to sacred mountains.

As in other religious traditions, pilgrimages in Shintoism vary according to the beliefs, motivations, and needs of each individual. And still, they all seek connection with nature, the divine, the surrounding community, and one’s own self, fostering purification, gratitude, and wisdom.

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