Customs and Rituals

What rites do Shinto practitioners perform in their shrines?

When worshippers go to their local or larger regional shrines, they may engage in several types of rituals called “worship gestures” (omairi), depending on the occasion. A simple list of “Four P’s” sums up the essential ingredients of Shinto ritual: purification, presentation (of offerings), petition (or prayers for blessing), and participation (of the assembled worshippers). For ordinary, everyday prayers, in which they express a whole range of needs and concerns, worshippers typically perform a simple offering before the sacred presence. Alone or in small groups, they enter the shrine precinct and proceed along the path, passing beneath perhaps several torii gates, to the purification font. There they take some water to cleanse the mouth and hands as necessary preparation (a ritual action called misogi) for approaching the holy place. Moving to the front of the shrine, worshippers announce their arrival by ringing a bell that hangs over the threshold of many shrines. Ringing the bell may be either for quieting the mind or summoning the kami. With or without the bell, all toss a coin in the offering box, then bow and clap their hands twice to summon the deity. After making a brief prayer, they bow twice (one deep and one slight bow) and then depart.

For some occasions, individuals or small groups can arrange for the services of the priestly staff. Rites that last from ten to fifteen minutes take place inside the front worship hall (haiden). Various spiritual purposes of the rituals include divine blessing and protection, the opportunity to communicate with the kami about countless daily happenings and concerns, and expressions of personal dedication to the divine beings. These services are available most days in shrines with larger staffs, for the tradition has set aside no one day of the week as a canonical day of worship. In larger shrines, the priestly staff also make daily morning and evening offerings to the kami. In addition to the various daily rites, shrines host numerous events throughout the year for special occasions,called matsuri.


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