Customs and Rituals

Are there any Shinto divination rituals?

Bokusen is the Japanese term for the complex process of divining auspicious times for agriculturalists. Divination encompasses a variety of specific devices. As in Chinese Community Traditions, people often draw lots—the Chinese shake bundles of numbered sticks and pull the one left protruding, and Shinto worshippers draw numbered bits of paper. Sometimes they will read the angle at which an arrow sticks in its target, or read the designs on a turtle shell, or hold a deer’s shoulder blade in a flame and observe how it cracks. (A similar ritual uses arrows for slightly different purposes. People purchase white arrows at shrine shops, especially around the New Year, and use them as amulets, protective devices, at home throughout the year.) Divination is required for setting the dates for many major festivals. Ritual leaders invite certain divinatory kami to be in attendance as the diviner kindles a sacred fire on which to heat a turtle shell. Specialists then read the relationship of the cracks to lines and characters predrawn on the shell.

A ritual cousin of Chinese feng shui is called kaso. It involves a set of geomantic calculations to establish optimal conditions for all sorts of human habitations. Another type of divination has worshippers write on small pieces of paper their various options as they prepare to make a major decision. In what may be a variation on a contemporary popular Chinese practice, people typically pull a stick from a bundle, read its number, and take a piece of pre-written advice from a correspondingly numbered drawer. Numerous Shinto shrines provide racks where people who find the advice unpalatable can tie their paper to be rid of the effects of the bad news.

A couple consult the divining arrows they have purchased at the Shinto Shrine shop, Meiji Jingu, Tokyo.


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