Rituals to Pledge Love – Learning about Shintoism

The longer I officiate weddings, the more I recognize and appreciate the commonalities, connections and universalities of the human experience. As the old saying goes: ‘you learn something new every day,’ to which I might add: I hope so.

I recently worked with a couple who followed a Buddhist spiritual path alongside Shintoism. These belief systems are the two major religions of Japan, are not incompatible in the least. In fact, they are very interconnected. So I was anxious to learn more and see what elements might be incorporated into their wedding ceremony.

Shintoism is a religion that may go back as long ago as 1,000 BCE and is still practiced today by at least five million people. The basic tenants are a belief in spirits known as ‘Kami’ that live in our natural world, in plants and animals, even mountains, rivers or rocks, and people here and gone. In other words, all of the world is sacred. All of these spirits are important but the most important kami is called Amaterasu, the sun goddess.

There is no strict doctrine or dogma in Shintoism, but there are teachings, grouped into scriptures that include (as do all religions) creation stories, and instructions for life. Much of this wisdom centers around respect for ancestors, the virtue of being sincere and doing good in the world.

A Shinto wedding incorporates some awesome elements, including a sakéritual, something I can readily relate to, having created many wine (or other beverage) sharing rituals. The saké, which is rice wine, is very traditionally Japanese – and here we see that deep intertwining of Japanese culture and Shinto ritual. The couple drinks the sacredsakéfrom the same glass to symbolism their promise. I am also a fan of having the couple drink from the same glass, because it clearly represents sharing your future. You are drinking together from the cup of life! You are promising to share all the sweetness and whatever bitterness it contains, which is what marriage is all about.

Some of the other rituals in Shinto wedding also feel familiar and appealing. The‘steps to pledge love’ I found extremely cool. This is simply when the couple walks together up the steps to the Shinto shrine, where the priest will marry them. A shrine maiden carries a red umbrella, also familiar in non-Shinto Japanese weddings. The color red in Japan is important, symbolizes life, and wards off evil spirits, plus it conveniently keeps the bride dry if it happens to rain. The umbrella is quite large but carried by man in non-Shinto weddings. But in either case they follow the bride in a wedding procession.

Another element is the purification ceremony, where the priest purifies the couple, cleansing them of the unconscious sins of daily life. I like this because it’s valuable to recognize that we don’t always do or think the right things, sometimes without even realizing it. Not surprising, many faiths incorporate ritual washings, too, including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, the Bahá’í Faith, Taoism, and even the Rastafari movement. I just recently worked with a Christian couple who washed either other’s feet as part of their wedding ceremony. It was beautifully humbling.

The ‘norito’ is the Shinto document declaring the couple’s marriage intent, and promising a happy lifetime. And again, most every culture and religion has something similar.

Brides usually wear a traditional kimono, in all-white, representing purity. And men, too, wear a traditional kimono with their family crest. Yes, men have kimonos.

Shinto shrines are quite beautiful and there are about 80,000 in Japan. They can be visited by tourists, and if you travel to Japan you don’t want to miss seeing at least one. These shrines are not to be confused with Buddhist temples. All entering the shrine must purify their hands and mouths at the water pavilion. At the altar, bow and clap your hands twice, then bow once to pray.

Previously knowing so little about Shintoism (how did I miss this in religious studies in college?) I am now inspired by their rituals and will be influenced by them in the future, no doubt.


This entry was posted in Wedding Ceremonies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives