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What’s In A Name?

This blog is called “Mimusubi”, which is also the name for my general project of publishing about Shinto (and my trademark for both). Why did I choose that name?

“Mimusubi” is taken from the name of two of the first kami to arise in the creation myth found in the Kojiki, the oldest surviving record of Japanese legends. According to this text, the first three kami to appear were Amenominakanushi, Takamimusubi, and Kamumusubi (or Kamimusubi). Amenominakanushi promptly disappears from the legends, but the two Musubi kami play important roles later on. Takamimusubi is very important among the kami of the heavens, and Kamumusubi is very important among the kami of the earth. There is good reason to believe that Takamimusubi was originally in some way the highest kami, with authority over the heavens and the earth, and that the two kami may have formed an authoritative pair from early on. (Some sources say that they are neither male nor female, while others say that Takamimusubi is male, and Kamimusubi is female.)

“Musubi” originally means the power of creation, development, and growth. It is generally thought that it was originally pronounced “musuhi”, but if you use the later “musubi” pronunciation, it also means “bond”, as in a knot or a relationship. “Mi” is a Japanese prefix indicating respect, but it can also be written with the character for “kami”, and thus mean “sacred”. “Mimusubi” thus represents the sacred power of creation, growth, and bonds, elements that I think are extremely important both in Shinto, and in the whole of life.

The Mimusubi logo is derived from “Mimusubi”. The white elements are knotted pieces of paper, which are referred to as “musubi” in Japanese, and “mi” can also mean “three”; thus, “three knotted papers” is “mimusubi”. Knotted papers were traditionally poetic letters, and the reference to literary creation is also important, as that is what I am doing. The red circle is a reference to Japan, but could also be taken as a symbol of the musubi spirit; the sun is the source of growth, after all. (The logo is also my trademark for this project, as well as being copyright to me, as I designed it.)

“Musuhi” is an element in the names of several kami, and it may be a description of a feature of certain kami, rather than noun for a thing. The same, however, could be said of “kami”; in some ways, it is used more as an adjective that can apply to many different sorts of things, rather than as a name for a sort of thing. In old documents, we find the word “kannagara”, which includes the character for “kami”, and this seems to have the same ambiguity. Sometimes, it seems to be a noun meaning “kami”, while at other times it seems to be an adjective, meaning “like a kami” or “in accordance with the commands of the kami”. For example, in the phrase “Kannagara no Michi”, another name for Shinto, “michi” means “way” (and is the same character as used for the “to” in “Shinto”), and so “Kannagara no” could either mean “of the kami”, or be an adjectival phrase describing the “way”. In fact, the same problem arises for “Shinto”, in that in some of its earliest uses it seems that it may have simply meant “kami”.

This ambiguity between nouns and adjectives is not uncommon in Japanese, and I suspect that it is one of the features that makes it harder for Westerners to understand Shinto. There is a tendency to think that “kami” must be a type of thing, as distinct from “people” or “mountains”, but if it is an adjective, then that is a fundamental mistake. Similarly, there might not be an answer to the question “what is musubi?”. It might be an adjective for anything that is growing, developing, and creating, rather than something that exists independently.

The choice of name, then, reflects my hope that this project will grow and develop in creative ways, while creating links between people.

I have a Patreon, where people subscribe to receive in-depth essays on various aspects of Shinto, about once per month. If that sounds interesting to you, please take a look.

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