Does the shaman have a place in Shinto?
Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles
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In ancient times shamanesses were very important in Shinto circles. Today the shrine maidens, miko, may represent a vestige of that ritual specialization of long ago. Blind female shamans called itako still ply their trade in various parts of Japan. Strict asceticism marks the apprenticeship of young blind girls to older teachers. After lengthy training the aspirant marries a kami symbolically to secure spiritual power and protection. Shamanesses perform the service of connecting with the kami world, sometimes functioning as spirit mediums. Some of the so-called “New Religions” with Shinto roots give prominent roles to shamanesses. Ancient Shinto tradition associates certain forms of spirit possession with shamanesses, explaining their extraordinary powers in special circumstances. Newer sects such as Tenri-kyo acknowledge that male or female shamans experience a “kami descent” (kami-gakari) in which the deity totally takes over the human being.