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Kushimitama, Sakimitama

I feel like writing a blog post that isn’t based on Jinja Shinpō or Jinja Honchō politics, so today’s post is about sakimitama and kushimitama.

One idea that is occasionally seen in Shinto is the belief that each kami has four spirits, with different characters and functions. These are the nigimitama, aramitama, sakimitama, and kushimitama. “Mitama” means “honourable spirit”, which is why it is the common element. “Nigi” means “calm, harmonious”, “ara” means “wild, chaotic”, “saki” means “happy, fortunate”, and “kushi” means “comb”. Sorry, “miraculous”, although there are puns on “comb”, even in the oldest myths.

Now, the nigimitama and aramitama turn up quite a lot in the old records. Jingū in Isë has had separate sanctuaries for the nigimitama and aramitama of Amaterasu Ōmikami and Tsukiyomi since the ninth century at the latest. The Nihonshoki (720) records Amaterasu Ōmikami’s aramitama being enshrined at Hirota Jinja, while the aramitama and nigimitama of the Sumiyoshi kami are enshrined in two different sanctuaries, hundreds of kilometres apart. The Izumo Fudoki (733) records a prayer, attributed to someone in 674, that calls on both the aramitama and nigimitama of the kami. There is no doubt that this was an important concept in early Shinto, although it is a lot less significant in contemporary practice.

On the other hand, the kushimitama and sakimitama appear once, in a single legend in the Nihonshoki, when a kami claims to be the “kushimitama and sakimitama” of Ōkuninushi. This kami is then enshrined at Ōmiwa Jinja, in modern Nara Prefecture. There is another version of this myth in the Kojiki, which does not mention them. Further, an ancient norito, the Izumo Yogoto, includes “Kushimikatama” as one name of the kami of Ōmiwa Jinja. Now, “kushi” is an element found in a number of kami names (Kushiinadahimë, the kami that Susano’o saves from the Yamata no Orochi serpent is probably the most famous), as are “mika” (Takëmikazuchi, the kami who convinces Ōkuninushi to give up rulership, is probably the most famous), and “tama”, meaning “spirit”. This is, obviously, only a small slip of the brush away from “kushimitama”, but it is a name, not a description of part of the spirit — indeed, the norito says that Ōkuninushi enshrines his nigimitama at Ōmiwa as Kushimikatama.

So, at this point in my reading of the oldest myths, I strongly suspect that kushimitama and sakimitama were not actually a thing in ancient Shinto, and that “kushimitama” may, in fact, have started out as a scribal slip — the ancient equivalent of a typo.

Even so, the idea of the four spirits was developed in later Shinto, so it is a legitimate part of the tradition now. Like so much of Shinto tradition, however, the details may not be quite as old as one would think.

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2 thoughts on “Kushimitama, Sakimitama”

  1. Where did the idea of “four souls” in Shinto concept originate historically? For example, was it found in Yoshida Shinto? Or was a doctrine that was first theorized/explained by Hirata Atsutane? I’ve seen the idea on English language forums about Shinto, but it doesn’t seem to be common in popular texts about Shinto in Japanese.

    1. I don’t know where it originated, I’m afraid. The Encyclopedia of Shinto is not helpful on this point — it mentions the existence of the idea, but says nothing about its origins. Yoshida Shinto and Atsutane are both plausible sources for it, but it could go back further. As you mention, it doesn’t seem to be very important in contemporary Shinto, and so it has not come up very much in my research and experience. I’m fairly sure that I did first encounter it in Japanese, but I cannot now remember where…

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