Shinjo Religion

The Universe

Natural World v Supernatural World Shinjo does not split the universe into a natural physical world and a supernatural transcendent world. It regards everything as part of a single unified creation.

Shinjo also does not make the division between body and spirit – even spirit beings exist in the same world as Dwarves.

Visible and Invisible Worlds Shinjo does distinguish between the visible world (kenkai) and the invisible world (yukai), but the invisible world is regarded as in some way an extension of the everyday world, and not a separate realm.


Shinjo is based on belief in, and worship of, kami. Kami provide a mechanism through which the Dwarves are able to regard the whole natural world as being both sacred and material.

The best English translation of kami is ‘spirits’, but this is an over-simplification of a complex concept. Kami do include gods and spirit beings, but also include many other things that are revered for the powers that they possess. Oceans and mountains are kami, so are storms and earthquakes.

The Gods of Shinjo are the life forces of the natural world in all its rich variety. The sacred does not lie outside of life but is one with it. Kami are close to dwarven beings and respond to dwarven prayers. They can influence the course of natural forces, and world events.

Concepts of kami Shinjo belief includes several ideas of kami: while these are closely related, they are not completely interchangeable and reflect not only different ideas but different interpretations of the same idea.

Kami can refer to beings or to a quality which beings possess. So the word is used to refer to both the essence of existence or beingness which is found in everything, and to particular things which display the essence of existence in an awe-inspiring way.

But while everything contains kami, only those things which show their kami-nature in a particularly striking way are referred to as kami.

Kami as a property is the sacred or mystical element in almost anything. It is in everything and is found everywhere, and is what makes an object itself rather than something else. The word means that which is hidden. Kami has a specific life-giving, harmonising power, called musubi, and a truthful will, called makoto (also translated as sincerity).

Not all kami are good – some are thoroughly evil.

Kami as Gods The idea that kami are Gods stems in part from the use of the word kami to translate the word ‘God’ in some translations of the Prophecy of Zurvan into Dwarven. This concept gained greater power when the Itachi clan theologean Sosaku Otsuke proposed the hypothesis that the Bounteous Immortals of the Onnic pantheon correspond to the Great Immortal Dragons of the Shinjo.

This caused a great deal of confusion even among Dwarves. Several hundred years later, Otsuke’s descendent; Sosaku Orokana took this idea a step further and suggested that there were two great Kami- one of pure good and one of pure evil. This theory was fervently rejected by the highest eschelons of dwarven society, for it was percieved as a corruption of traditional dwarven beliefs by human (Onnic) theology.

At this time many of the Itachi clan, fearing punishment for Orokana’s outspoken criticism of imperial narrow-mindedness fled the dwarven lands and settled near Ha’th. Orokana was brought before the Imperial court and ordered to recant his teachings. He refused and was executed on the spot. Within weeks, all those of his kinsman whom had remained behind were put to death when the Emperor declared the Itachi clan traitors to the dwarven people.

Yet, today, even though the theory has officially been declared treasonous, the Shinjo theologian Ueda Kenji estimates that most Dwarves associate the term kami with some version of the concept of supreme beings.

Kami as beings The concept of kami is hard to explain. Shinjo priests would say that this is because Dwarves are simply incapable of forming a true understanding of the nature of kami. To make understanding easier kami are often described as divine beings, as spirits or gods. But kami are not much like the gods of other faiths:

  • Kami are not divine like the transcendent and omnipotent deities found in many religions.
  • Kami are not omnipotent.
  • Kami are not perfect – they sometimes make mistakes and behave badly.
  • Kami are not inherently different in kind from Dwarves or nature – they are just a higher manifestation of the life energy… an extraordinary or awesome version.
  • Kami don’t exist in a supernatural universe – they live in the same world as Dwarves and the world of nature

Kami include the Great Immortal Dragons that created the universe, but can also include

  • the spirits that inhabit many living beings.
  • some beings themselves.
  • elements of the landscape, like mountains, oceans, forrests and lakes.
  • powerful forces of nature, like storms and earthquakes.
  • dwarves who became kami after their deaths.

The term kami is sometimes applied to spirits that live in things, but it is also applied directly to the things themselves – so the kami of a mountain or a waterfall may be the actual mountain or waterfall, rather than the spirit of the mountain or waterfall.

Not all kami are sufficiently personalised to have names – some are just referred to as the kami of such and such a place.

Three types of kami are particularly important:

  • kami of natural objects and creatures, and of the forces of nature. The highest of these are the Great Immortal Dragons.
  • Ujigami: the ancestors of the clans – in tribal times, each group believed that a particular kami was both their ancestor and their protector, and dedicated their worship to that spirit
  • the souls of dead dwarves of outstanding achievement

Who’s who of the kami

Ojisandemo (All-father) Ojisandemo is the creator of the world and of the dwarves. He is the patron of courage, honor, justice and rulership.

Shigoto (Labor) Shigoto is the dragon of work, industry, endurance, wealth, respect, perseverance, duty, loyalty and obedience.

Hanabi (Heart) Hanabi is the dragon of passion, invention, creativity and light. He is the divine source of fire.

Shokunin (Mastery) Shokunin is the patron dragon of the craftsman.

Chie (Thought) Chie is the dragon of the intellect, and the bringer of wisdom. His domain is knowledge, prophecy, literature, poetry and magic.

Shujinko-shiou (Death) Shujinko-shiou is the ruler of the lands of the dead. He is associated with time, ancestors, life, rebirth, renewal, water, fate and destiny.

Tsuchi-haha (Earth) Tsuchi-haha is the earth. She is the mother of all living things and patron of strength, healing, nature, fertility and agriculture.

Omoiyari (Peace) Omoiyari is the dragon of prosperity, good fortune, beauty, love, marrage and family.

Kyoki (Joy) Kyoki is the sky dancer. She is the patron of art, the seasons, song and dance and happiness.


Purity is at the heart of Shinjo’s understanding of good and evil.

Impurity in Shinjo refers to anything which separates us from kami, and from musubi, the creative and harmonising power.

The things which make us impure are tsumi – pollution or sin.

Dwarves are born pure Shinjo does not accept that Dwarves are born bad or impure; in fact Shinjo states that dwarves are born pure, and sharing in the divine soul.

Badness, impurity or sin are things that come later in life, and that can usually be got rid of by simple cleansing or purifying rituals.

The causes of impurity Pollution – the Dwarven term is ‘tsumi’ – can be physical, moral or spiritual. Tsumi means much the same as the English word ‘sin’, but it differs from sin in that it includes things which are beyond the control of individual Dwarves and are thought of as being caused by evil spirits. In ancient Shinjo, tsumi also included disease, disaster and error. Anything connected with death or the dead is considered particularly polluting.

Purification – Harae Purity can be restored through specific Shinjo rituals and personal practices which cleanse both body and mind. Water and salt are commonly used as purifying agents, and a hiraigushi (see below) can also be used. Purifying rituals are always performed at the start of Shinjo religious ceremonies. One of the simplest purifications is the rinsing of face and hands with pure water in the temizu ritual at the start of a shrine visit in order to make the visitor pure enough to approach the kami.

The concept of purification originates in the legend of Ojisandemo who washed himself free of pollution after visiting the Land of the Dead.

Hiraigushi This is a purification wand, and consists of a stick with streamers of white paper or flax fastened to one end. It is waved by a priest over the person, place or object to be purified.

Misogi This term covers purification rituals in general, or purification rituals using water to free body and mind from pollution

Oharae This is the “ceremony of great purification”. It is a special purification ritual that is used to remove great sin and pollution. It is performed by a group of twelve priests.

The ritual is performed at the end of Sylvia and Domecia in the Imperial Household and at other shrines in order to purify the whole population.

Oharae can also be performed for special occasions such as the aftermath of a disaster.

Shubatsu Shubatsu is a purification ritual in which salt is sprinkled on priests or worshippers, or on the ground to purify it. One notable use of salt in purification is found in Sumo wrestling when the fighters sprinkle salt around the ring to purify it.

Holy Books

The holy books of Shinjo are the Kojiki or ‘Records of Ancient Matters’ and the Nihon-gi or ‘Chronicles of Dwarves. These books are compilations of ancient myths and traditional teachings that had previously been passed down orally.

Political purpose Some of the myths have a very clear political purposes. In a wide sense, to establish the primacy of Kobitokuni and the Dwarves over all other countries and peoples. In a narrow sense, to give divine authority to the ruling classes of the dwarves, and to some extent to establish the political supremacy of the Zo clan over the Tsuru clan.

Moral purpose the myths teach a number of truths

  • Kobitokuni and its people are chosen and special to the gods (kami)
  • the kami have many qualities in common with Dwarves
  • the kami are very different from God in the Western sense
  • the kami have a duty to look after humanity
  • humanity should look after the kami
  • purity and purification are important if humanity is to thrive
  • purification is a creative as well as a cleansing act
  • death is the ultimate impurity

Core stories of Shinjo These texts set out the traditional story of the foundation of Kobitokuni and its people, and demonstrate the very close relationship between the gods and the people of Kobitokuni. The stories also demonstrate many parallels between Dwarves and the kami.

The stories make the following points:

  • sexual union is a holy creative process
  • if certain rituals are not properly followed bad things may happen
  • if the natural order of things is disturbed bad things may happen
  • the female should be subordinate to the male
  • imperfect children can be abandoned
  • kami are not immortal – they are vulnerable to injury and can die
  • when kami die, they rot just like Dwarves
  • kami have feelings; they suffer from bereavement like Dwarves
  • death is a bad thing that disrupts the harmony of the community
  • death and decay are the most potent forms of impurity
  • the spirits living in the land of the dead are malicious and lonely.
  • Dwarves should keep away from anything to do with death
  • life is more powerful than death
  • kami are not all-powerful – pollution can affect them too
  • pollution causes bad fortune to the person who has become impure
  • pollution can be removed by purification
  • water and salt are powerful agents of purification
  • kami have the human characteristics of behaving badly, sulking, curiosity, and laughing
  • kami enjoy bawdy entertainment
  • one of way of pleasing kami is to entertain them
  • crudity has a place in entertaining kami
  • dancing has a place in entertaining kami

The imperial family This part of the story establishes the divine ancestry of the Emperors of Kobitokuni.

Interestingly, it also acknowledges the power of the female, something that is at odds with earlier parts of the myth, and which doesn’t seem to have played much part in setting gender roles in Dwarven life.

Tsuchi-haha had children and grandchildren. She sent one grandchild from heaven to rule Kobitokuni. He took with him a sword His grandson, Kubito, is regarded as the first Emperor of Kobitokuni from whom all the Emperors right up to the present day have been descended.

The politics of myth These stories have a clear political consequence. They establish the powerful Zo clan as descended from the gods and having been given authority to rule Kobitokuni by the gods.

The rival Tsuru clan is descended from Tsukaikami, and so it can be seen as part of the divine plan that they should have a subordinate role.

The legend that the Dwarves are loosely descended from the Earth Goddess is shown by the symbol of the mountain on the Dwarven flag.

Forms of Shinjo:

Shinjo exists in four main forms or traditions: * Zoshitsu Shinjo (The Shinjo of the Imperial House): This involves rituals performed by the emperor, who the Kobitokuni Constitution defines to be the “symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.” The most important ritual is Niinamesai, which makes an offering to the deities of the first fruits of each year’s grain harvest. Male and female clergy (Shoten and Nai-Shoten) assist the emperor in the performance of these rites. * Shuha (Sectarian) Shinjo: This consists of 23 seperate sects which were founded by individuals since the start of the 4th century. Each sect has its own beliefs and doctrines. Most emphasize worship of their own central deity; some follow a near-monotheistic religion. * Minzoku (Folk) Shinjo This is not a separate Shinjo group; it has no formal organization, priesthood or creed. It is seen in local rural practices and rituals, e.g. small images by the side of the road, agriculture rituals practiced by individual families, etc. A rural community will often select a layman annually, who will be responsible for worshiping the local deity. * Jinja (Shrine) Shinjo: This is the largest Shinjo group. It was the original form of the religion; its roots date back into pre-history. It is closely aligned with Zoshitsu Shinjo. The Emperor of Kobitokuni is worshipped as a living God. Almost all shrines in Kobitokuni are members of Jinja Honcho. It currently includes about 800 shrines as members. The Jinja Honcho urges followers of Shinjo

1. "To be grateful for the blessings of Kami and the benefits of the ancestors, and to be diligent in the observance of the Shinjo rites, applying oneself to them with sincerity. brightness, and purity of heart." 
2. "To be helpful to others and in the world at large through deeds of service without thought of rewards, and to seek the advancement of the world as one whose life mediates the will of Kami." 
3. "To bind oneself with others in harmonious acknowledgment of the will of the emperor, praying that the country may flourish and that other peoples too may live in peace and prosperity."

These four forms are closely linked. Shinjo is a tolerant religion which accepts the validity of other religions. It is common for a believer to pay respects to other religions, their practices and objects of worship.

Shinjo Religion

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