Developments of Shinto
Developments of Shinto
The greater gods of the people, those figuring in popular imagination as creators, or as particularly directing certain elemental forces, represent a later development of ancestor worship.
Ancestral ghosts, considered more or less alike when primitive society had not yet developed class distinctions of any important characteristic.
Subsequently these ancestral ghosts became differentiated, as a society itself differentiates into greater and lesser.
Eventually, the worship of a single ancestral spirit, or group of spirits, overshadowed that of all the rest, and a supreme deity, or group of supreme deities evolved.
However, the differentiations of the ancestor community must be understood to have proceeded in a great variety of directions.
For example, particular ancestors of a family engaged in hereditary occupations developed into tutelar deities presiding over those occupations, patron gods of crafts and guilds.
Indeed, out of other ancestral cults, through various processes of mental association, there evolved the worship of deities of strength, health, long life among others.
Besides the Ujigami, there are also a myriad of superior and inferior deities.
There are the gods of creation, who gave shape to the land.
They’re also the gods of earth and sky, and the gods of the sun and the moon.
There are gods, beyond counting, supposed to preside over all things good and evil in human life, birth and marriage and death, riches and poverty, strengthen and disease.
You can scarcely suppose that all this mythology was developed over the old ancestor cult in Japan itself: more probably in evolution began on the Asiatic continent.
However, the evolution of the national community that form of Shinto which became the State “religion” seems to have been Japanese in the strictest meaning of the word.
This State community is the worship of the god from whom the emperor claim descent; the worship of the “Imperial Ancestors.”
It appears the early emperors of Japan, the “Heavenly Sovereign,” as they are called in the old records (Kojiki) were not emperors at all in the true meaning of the term, and did not even exercise universal authority.
They were the chiefs of the most powerful clans, or the Uji and their special ancestor community had probably in that time no dominant influence.
But eventually when the chiefs of the great clans really became supreme rulers of the land, and their clan community spread everywhere without overshadowing or abolishing the other Domestic community or Communal.
Then arose the national mythology, or State community.
We therefore see the course of Japanese ancestor worship, like that of Aryan ancestor worship, exhibit the three successive stages of development as one have been exploring in the Land Of The Rising Son.
It was the community of the supreme ruler that first gave to the people a written account of traditional Japanese beliefs.
The mythology of the reigning house furnished the scriptures of Shinto, and established the ideas linking together all existing forms of ancestor worship.
All Shinto traditions were blended into one mythological history, explained upon the basis of one legend.
The entire mythology of Japan is contained in two books.
The oldest, Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), supposed to have been compiled in the year 712 CE.
The other, Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan), a much larger work dates from around 720CE.
A large portion of both books describe the mythology of Japan, and both begin with a story of creation.
Of the higher forms of Shinto worship, that of the imperial ancestor proper is the most important, being the third stage of Japanese spiritual evolution the State community.
The evolution of a mythology from superstitious to a practical moral code to live one’s life by is a long and painful process.
Indeed, in this ancient Japanese mythology, the man of old Japan found himself truly in a world of spirits and demons.
They spoke to him in the sounds of tides and waterfalls, in the moaning of wind in the whisper of leafage, in the crying of birds, and in the trilling of insects, in all the voices of nature.
For him all visible motion, whether the waves or grasses, the shifting mist, or drifting clouds, was all ghostly.
The mythology of the Japanese and the tenets embodied within, continue to hold influence over, and guide Japanese society today.
Regardless of the general consensus among the Japanese that they are not “religious” this can not mitigate the continuing influence of the Shinto gods upon the people of Japan.
Whether a minor god, like a recently departed beloved grandmother now dwelling in the Domestic family kamidana, an Ujigami of the Communal shrines, or the State community, which is lead by the Emperor of Japan, our beloved Sun Goddess Amaterasu will continue to shine upon the Japanese in The Land Of Gods.
Patrick Lafcadio Hearn
DEVELOPMENTS OF SHINTO