Aramitama and Nigimitama

Aramitama and Nigimitama

Kami traditionally have two aspects, called the aramitama and the nigimitama. “Mitama” means spirit or soul, while “ara” means wild and violent, and “nigi” means calm and peaceful. “Aramitama” could be translated as “wild spirit”, and “nigimitama” as “calm spirit”.

As kami are often thought of as spirits, it might look as though the aramitama and nigimitama are almost separate kami. Indeed, they are sometimes treated that way. At the Naiku of Jingu in Ise, for example, there are separate jinja for the nigimitama and aramitama of Amaterasu. The main jinja enshrines her nigimitama, while Aramatsuri no Miya enshrines her aramitama. The Geku is similar; the main jinja enshrines Toyouke’s nigimitama, while Taga no Miya enshrines her aramitama. The jinja enshrining the aramitama are a few minutes’ walk from the main jinja in both cases, and Kashima Jingu, in Ibaraki Prefecture, has a similar arrangement. At Kashima, the jinja enshrining the aramitama is a few minutes’ walk into the woods behind the main jinja. The jinja can be even further apart: the nigimitama of the Sumiyoshi kami are enshrined in Sumiyoshi Taisha, in Osaka, while their aramitama are enshrined hundreds of kilometres away in Sumiyoshi Jinja in Shimonoseki, at the western tip of Honshu, the main island of Japan.

Jinja that enshrine the nigimitama and aramitama separately are, however, the exception, rather than the rule. I suspect that a large part of the reason is practicality: to enshrine them separately, you must have two jinja buildings, and space to build them, which doubles the cost of a jinja.

The nigimitama is the peaceful aspect of the kami, bringing blessings to people, while the aramitama is violent and active. Some matsuri directed at the aramitama have the goal of calming it down, and returning the kami to her nigimitama. However, sometimes violent action is necessary, and in those cases a matsuri would be directed to the aramitama. Because people do not, in general, want their lives to be violently disrupted, the nigimitama is generally more popular, and regarded as the main aspect of the kami. The aramitama is not, however, any sort of evil spirit.

I would like to make these two aspects an important part of the game, in the following way. A kami’s nigimitama favours the status quo. The nigimitama is a force for stability, but not stasis. Kami are fundamentally concerned with growth, so even the nigimitama is in favour of growth and development. However, that growth and development happens within the boundaries that are already set.

The aramitama, on the other hand, favours change. The change doesn’t have to be instant, but it goes beyond what was expected and predicted. This change disrupts the established order, makes plans impossible to carry out, and creates new options.

Most people want to avoid too much unexpected change. It is hard and stressful to deal with, even if it is ultimately good. The rulers of a country like unexpected change even less, as it almost always reduces their power. Further, many of the obvious examples of unexpected change are negative: natural disasters, plagues, deaths. This explains why the nigimitama is, and always has been, more popular. On the other hand, it is obvious that, sometimes, the aramitama’s intervention is what you want or need.

The powers of a kami will be divided between the two mitama, and the next post will look at those powers in more detail.

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