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Avian Fortune-Telling

The February 6th issue of Jinja Shinpō carried a tantalising article about a study group held in Hiroshima Prefecture. This group had several presentations on Shinto ceremonies that involved making offerings to karasu, the corvids native to Japan. (On looking this up, it seems that the term normally refers to two species, one of which is the carrion crow, and the other the jungle crow. The former is found in Europe, the latter is not.)

There were two kinds of ceremony reported. The first are conducted at jinja, and involve making offerings to the karasu, and determining whether the omens are good or bad depending on whether the karasu eat the offerings. The second are conducted by lay people around funerals, and whether the karasu eat the offerings indicates whether the dead person has safely passed on to the next life.

The article was tantalising because it went into no more detail than that. Given corvids’ dietary habits, I hope that good fortune is indicated by the offerings being eaten, but it didn’t even say that.

This is a form of divination that I haven’t come across before within Shinto, although divination by seeing what birds eat is found in other traditions. (I’m pretty sure that there is an example in classical Rome, for example.) It is yet another example of the diversity of Shinto practice.

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3 thoughts on “Avian Fortune-Telling”

  1. Oooh this is something I know something about! You are correct – not only is there “an example” from classical Rome, there are *many examples*. The Romans were very into bird-based omens, and had whole systematized way of performing bird-based divination. And they took it seriously too: for example at least once, as I recall, they decided to not engage in a battle on a particular day because the omens were not good. (Or was it that they decided to engage in a battle despite bad omens and were defeated, confirming the omens? I forget. Knowing the Romans, both things probably were said to have happened.)

    There’s a lot here, but for a good high-level overview check out the Wikipedia page on the subject:

    1. Thank you. I had vague memories of divination by birds flying or feeding, but didn’t have the time to check, so I avoided saying things that might be wrong. Good to see that it wasn’t!

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