I felt the world reenchanted and a reconnection to sacred time when I was transported out of mundane time by participating in the Tenjin Matsuri Festival in Osaka July 24-25. A festival that is considered one of the top three festivals in Japan and has been held at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine for over 1,000 years, it allows young and old to cut through the one-dimensional rationality that dominates our consumer society and momentarily restore the sacred connection to the cosmos.
In Japan, there is still a living mythology that sustains its people, even though the Japanese are losing interest in Buddhism, and recently 60 traditional festivals were cancelled due to population decreases. An official at the Chiba Prefectural Government said that rural communities are struggling to find people to inherit the traditions as their population grays and declines. That’s me! There’s open immigration to Japan in all categories! Wanna join me?
Because as capitalism and consumerism dominate culture, and depression and suicide increase worldwide, indeed this loss of soul connection to the cosmos seems to be directly contributing to the decline of the world and the spirit of Japan’s folk-life and the Japanese people, as Japan now has a record low-birth rate, and needs foreign workers just to fill jobs and keep consuming to fight its chronic deflation. Literally, this death of ritual and culture and the need for ecstasy and to participate in the mysteries of the universe in favor of politics and economics and consuming our experience and world rather than participating in it is contributing to human extinction. How did this happen?
During the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th Century era of the Enlightenment, scientific consciousness separated mind from body. Myths that guided society were seen as false, and the relationship that for 99 percent of recorded history people had to the world was no longer “enchanted” or animated with spirit. People no longer had a participatory consciousness to the world with a belief in the sacredness or meaningfulness in the cosmos, but rather an alienated consciousness as an isolated observer of nature, Science Historian Morris Berman says in his book, The Re-Enchantment of the World.
Morris’s book was highly influential for me when I read it years ago, seeking to participate more fully in my world rather than just consume it. Baptized Catholic, growing up I didn’t feel much connection to the mysterium tremendum by its way of guilt, sin, suppressed sexuality (nuts!) and threats of hell, for a myth is supposed to sustain your life to cope with its crises of birth, adolescence, disease and death, according to Religious Scholar Charles H. Long in his book, Alpha, The Myths of Creation.
I’ve marveled at the religious processions to Mother Mary in Latin America I’ve seen, but the only thing in the United States I experienced was as a correspondent for the Bakersfield Californian, covering a small Our Lady of Guadalupe procession. Then there’s Mardi Gras I participated in 1987, but that was about getting drunk, not a religious experience! And after Vatican II took away a lot of the mystery by ending mass in Latin and facing parishioners, the ritual lost its ability to pitch people out of ordinary consciousness into the sacred. But it’s making a comeback!
Since it was my first mythology, I did take Jesus’ stories of teaching little kids, healing the sick, loving your enemies, healing the poor and kicking out banksters to heart though! And yoga provided me with ritual via the body practicing asana, as well as connection to the cosmos that as a confirmed Buddhist, daily meditating peeled away the separating ego mind to allow me to sink into the ocean’s depths of everything and be in union with it. For the purpose of myth, according to Mythologist Joseph Campbell, is to put the mind in harmony with the body and the body in harmony with the environment. That’s when the boons come.
So heading down to the festival in the intense heat and humidity of Osaka at midsummer with fans flapping furiously everywhere, I indeed felt enchanted, connected to something wonderful, just by participating in it. Tenjin Matsuri literally means “festival of the gods” in which the kami 神, or gods, are transported by Shinto followers in mikoshi 神輿, a divine palanquin paraded through the streets.
Kami are the spirits or phenomena that are worshipped in Shinto religion. Kami are not separate from nature, but are of nature, possessing positive and negative, good and evil characteristics. They are manifestations of musubi 結び, the interconnecting energy of the universe, and are considered exemplary of what humanity should strive towards. Kami are believed to be “hidden” from this world, and inhabit a complementary existence that mirrors our own, shinkai 神界 “the world of the kami.” To be in harmony with the awe-inspiring aspects of nature is to be conscious of kannagara no michi (随神の道 or 惟神の道, “the way of the kami.“
Now I don’t need to appropriate this religion, but I can appreciate it and make it part of my Mythic Yoga Journey of individuation and personal mythology to find meaning in my own life in these modern times. Just being in a shrine compound with its rich details, rituals and symbolism is an experience to pass from profane time to sacred time, as one passes through a Torii gate, just as one passes through a Catholic cathedral’s mandorla shaped doors, or participating in a purification ritual by washing at a temizuya 手水舎, water ablution pavilion for ceremonial purification, many times protected by a dragon.
Shinto has ritual of clapping and bowing when praying, as well as participatory activities of talismans; buying plaques, called ema 絵馬, and writing wishes on them before tying them to ema stand and making offerings. Again, it’s not that it’s about belief in superstition, but a conscious effort at making something real, the purpose of ritual, which in Latin means repetio materi descendi, repeatedly descending into matter. Because the psyche doesn’t know the difference between real or imagined, so what you believe can be powerful! That’s why they call it make believe! Create your world! And I believe in living in accord with nature, for nature in Latin literally means birth. So the destruction of nature by the West is a mere suicide cult in my opinion!
I paid 1000 Yen for a towel (you need it during humid Osaka summers!) and to be blessed by the lion, Shishi, 獅子 which included the wooden, lacquered shishi-gashira, lion’s head putting its mouth over my head for good luck, as I have been having lion dreams for a while, so I honor my personal mythology and here a lion shows up! They have been showing up in powerful, synchronistic ways for a while! And when synchronicities appear in your life, that means you are on the right path!
I had no idea before I investigated this festival that a lion would appear! I received a O-fuda 御 talisman as well from the blessing, and an elderly man handed me an official fan from the shrine, maybe because he thought this Gaijin, western woman, had the courage to go up and do it! And was interested enough in participating in this wonderful ritual that I can find my own courage, luck and power from the experience.
Flutes, drums, umbrella dancers and gamelan sounding music and dance were everywhere, as were endless parade of different mikoshi carried by children or adults. I marveled at the beautiful parade of Miko 巫女, shrine maidens, who used to play a more important part in the religious ceremony of its original matriarchal culture, acting as priests, soothsayers, magicians, prophets and shamans in the folk religion, and they were the chief performers in organized Shintoism, according to William P. Fairchild’s book, Shamanism in Japan. I’m sure I am a reincarnated priestess of some sort…..
After 1867 the Meiji government’s desire to create a form of state Shinto headed by the emperor—the shaman-in-chief of the nation—meant that Shinto needed to be segregated from both Buddhism and folk-religious beliefs. As a result, official discourse increasingly repeated negative views of Miko and their institutions, according to Gerald Geomer in his book, “Female Shamans in Eastern Japan during the Edo Period.”
The Shishi-mai, or lion dance, was extremely interesting to watch, the protective powers of the animal. I watched several lion dances, which is a form of Kagura 神楽, かぐら, “god-entertainment,” traditional dancing at Shinto Shrines, and found out the main Lion dance wasn’t until 3:30. But by noon it was getting REALLY HOT and my left foot started cramping after two hours there, and these activities go on and on and on morning, noon and night, and it was only the 24th!
More activities happen on the main day of the 25th, which my hubby, Steve, and I wandered over to along the river and experienced the intense crowds and activity of festival goers to see fireworks and the boat parade. We were exhausted and the crowds overwhelming, but I got a good experience of this festival and will be back next year more informed and more prepared.
Going home on the afternoon of July 24th, I walked through a shopping district and more Lion’s dances were going on as the performers would enter businesses and shops to bless them. What a nice tradition! One doesn’t have to literally believe in it, but it brings something magical and other-worldly suspension of time and space to our psyches, a respite from the flat, mundane world paved over by “progress.” For religious historian Mircea Eliade in his book, The Myth of the Eternal Return, says that suspension of time and space via ecstatic ritual is a form of spiritual renewal. Something our society doesn’t get much these days. Unless you practice yoga!
Psyche means soul in Greek, so our psyches stuck in only the intellectual function are dying, literally, without ecstatic experience in a mechanized world, hence all the addiction problems, and even karoshi 過労死 death by overwork. I can’t help but wonder if modern people can incorporate some ritual, from whatever religion or tradition or from their dreams, to ease the malaise in their lives and society these days and find renewal to help them cope with life’s challenges.
In his review of Berman’s The Reenchantment of the World, Essayist George Scialabba says, “Drawing on Marcuse, Laing, and many others, Berman persuasively and soberingly depicts the modern landscape as a scene of “mass administration and blatant violence,” widespread anxiety, depression, alienation, and despair. The metastasis of drugs, television, tranquilizers, therapy, consumerism–all are symptoms of a contemporary sickness of the soul, which only a new world view can heal.
Arguing that the holistic world view must be revived in some credible form before we destroy our society and our environment, he explores the possibilities for a consciousness appropriate to the modern era. Ecological rather than animistic, this new world view would be grounded in the real and intimate connection between man and nature.
Only by recovering those aspects of the prescientific worldview that enabled premodern men and women to live in union with their surroundings and in harmony with their unconscious, can we survive. Science and capitalism have broken that harmony and disenchanted the world. Somehow, we must reenchant it.”
Reenchant it we must! Connect to something in your life deep within beyond the outer world of consuming every holiday dominated by buying and selling these days. Visiting a Shinto shrine, cathedral or participating in a festival, taking a walk in nature and connecting to animals, or participating with mindful, personal meaning in the rituals of the religion of your choice that helps you cope with life, (religio in Latin means re-link) not just consuming a lot of commercialized merchandize and food at a western festival, may be just the prescription needed for what ails you and the world!
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” – Joseph Campbell