Today’s post is based on an article in the Journal of Shintō Studies, an academic journal published by The Society of Shintō Studies at Kokugakuin University. I have mentioned it before; I am a member of the society, and thus get the journal. It is very interesting, but it is published twice a year, while Jinja Shinpō is published once a week, so you get rather more posts based on the latter.
The article I want to pick up today is “The Law of Attraction: Deities and Shrines in Votive Prayer Manuals” by Ōmichi Haruka, an assistant lecturer at Kokugakuin University (Issue 262, April 2021). (The journal provides official English translations of article titles, which I am using — that is why the title says “Shrines”. Everything else is in Japanese. The alphabet transcriptions of the authors’ names are very useful, because otherwise I might not know how to read the kanji.)
The article is about a contemporary genre of books about going to jinja to get your wishes fulfilled. They are an important part of the current “jinja boom”, and Ōmichi has read about a dozen of the most popular of them, and draws out some common features.
The interesting point is that this genre is based on the Law of Attraction, as found in The Secret, a multi-million copy bestseller. (Your starter for ten: define “secret”. Anyway…) The idea is, to put it simplistically, if you wish for something clearly enough and hard enough, you will get it, because your positive thoughts of large amounts of money will draw large amounts of money to you. (I am not aware of any randomised, double-blind trials verifying this.)
As Ōmichi points out, this creates a tension with religious practice at jinja. The Law of Attraction is entirely internal — it is about the power of the wisher’s mind, and does not draw on any external forces. However, praying at a jinja is about asking the kami for help. That would seem to be fundamentally different. How do the authors fit these things together?
She finds two main approaches. In one, the kami are not granted any existence independent of the petitioners. They are a projection, or construction, of the petitioner’s spirit, and so the aid from the kami is aid from the petitioner’s “higher self”. These authors sometimes refer to the fact that you can see yourself in the mirror in a jinja as evidence for the idea that the kami is you, in some sense. (They also seem, from the quotes, to be under the impression that the mirror you can see is the goshintai. I am not aware of any jinja where that is the case.)
The other approach sees the kami as having some independence from the petitioner, and having input to the process. However, this input is about guiding the petitioner to appropriate wishes — wishes for the world and other people, rather than exclusively selfish wishes for yourself. This sort of idea is, apparently, a common feature of the Law of Attraction — it is said to work if you wish for the right things. Ōmichi observes that, ultimately, this means that the kami is reduced to a supporting role, helping the petitioner to get their own spirit in order.
One point that comes out of the article is the difficulty in reconciling the Law of Attraction with traditional practices at jinja, in which the kami have much more initiative and freedom of action, not to mention independent existence. This, no doubt, explains why priests rarely even mention these books.