Saturday, February 09, 2013


PURIFIED

We all got purified not long ago, when Echo and I, daughter Kasumi and granddaughters Kaya (12), Mitsuki (10) and Miasa (10) went for a purification ceremony up north at Shirahige, the storied old shrine on the western shore of Lake Biwa with the iconic tori out in the water before the shrine gates.

We go to Shirahige most years for hatsumode, but the purification ceremony is a different thing altogether. I didn’t think standard all-purpose purification would be possible in my case, given my checkered past, but I was party to the event, so there it was...

I figured the Shinto priest would have to get another haraegushi - a bigger one - to wave over me, a special one of my own; I was thinking the standard one might turn black like fax paper on a hot plate, he’d have to get a megawand maybe, or more than one; it could get expensive...

We sat there in the unheated little anteshrine as the silversilked priest with his tall black-lacquer hat began the intoning ritual, mentioning from the scroll our names one by one to the Gods, importuning Amaterasu and the others to intervene on our behalf regarding purity of body and soul, seemed like he got into a bit of an argument there when he reached my name, raised his voice a bit, and was that really thunder up there, a god arguing -  maybe it was just a really gargantuan truck going by, or a landslide - the clouds also seemed to be getting pretty dark and roily, but that might have been psychological... The mood had been a lot milder when everybody else was being mentioned, sweet little birds were tweeting from gentle little clouds in a high blue sky at the girls’ names, so guess it was best I went last when we had to get the roiling and stuff over with...

In any case I guess the priest had some pull, things calmed down eventually and the deities allowed him to proceed. He put down the scroll and got out a pretty sizable haraegushi - broke out the two-hander - swished it over us moving from head to head, finishing up over me for quite a while, sort of a full historicospectrocorporeal cleansing, down to the roots. Nobody else present really had those kind of roots.

As the priest wrapped it all up at the end while we sat facing the simple wooden altar with its twinkles of gilt and brocade, my new purity evoked in me the sudden contrasting of old catholic memories; I began to wonder if the fulminant church laughter I remember so well could also occur in an ancient and revered Shinto shrine, or was it a cultural thing after all? (Those devils never depart.) So when the ritual handclapping rhythms came around - and this being KMnM’s first time getting purified - Miasa wasn’t expecting the slowness of the latter rhythm and, clapping loudly and prematurely in the deep holy silence, she began to manifest that seedgiggle I remember from my long-ago altar boy gigglejelly days. To help things along, I leaned over and with one raised eyebrow wagged a stern finger in her face, saying one must not laugh in the shrine, so she did not surface again for quite a while, doubled over and biting her knees that way... I was feeling purer by the minute in the great and unremitting gigglejelly that is the universe...

I remember thinking as I became purer, gazing at the carpenterial detail of the small chapel: they cared so much, the carpenters of so long ago; every joint, every curve, every scroll and support, the selected and honored wood grain, the complexity of curvature was phenomenal, how much they cared was evident everywhere in that structure, ancient as it was, and where in the neoworld do you see anything approaching that selfless level of spiritual intensity manifested for the common man from the life time of several anonymous individuals, working alone with their own craft for meager reward, unknown even now for the inspiring beauty of their work. Nor did distant future renown matter to them, nothing mattered but the utmost beauty and quality of which their hands, minds and skills were capable, the “How could it be otherwise” character of their timeless craft...

The whole experience made me as pure as can be expected, purity in later life being, after all, an acquired quality...

4 comments:

Tabor said...

So, do you think differently now? Do you feel a little lighter? Do you still have a shadow?

Xibee said...

This reminds me so of the sculptor David Nash, with whom I spent two days as a student, helping him move, haul, and strip logs for one of his pieces. He said that everytime he was in Japan and selected helpers for making his pieces, the interpreters only got in the way. The Japanese woodsmen and he both spoke wood, and never misunderstood each other until the interpreter showed up. : )

Robert Brady said...

Yes, Tabor, the first two are manifest; the shadow too seems to be gaining strength...

Xibee, I get that same sense every time I look at the traditional carpentry here... It's a language of its own, a tacit philosophy... Inspiring every time.

vegetablej said...

So alike the ideas of purification and catholic penances and equally mystifying to me.

The level of artisanship, if that's a word, in Japan is just awe-inspiring. Perhaps it is a kind of prayer to become that much one with what you are making. to offer everything to the process and maybe purification of a kind that I can understand.