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New Book: Shinto on Ethics and Death

I have released a new book on Amazon collecting two of my Patreon essays: Shinto on Ethics and Death. These essays have been available separately on Gumroad for some time (Ethics and Death), and will remain available there.

These essays cover topics that are often considered to be central to “religion”, but which are not at all central to Shinto. Indeed, for much of its history Shinto avoided having anything to do with death, and it has never been entirely clear on what, if anything, it thinks happens to you after death. Ancestor veneration has been an important part of the tradition, so it seems unlikely that many practitioners thought that death was the end and you simply ceased to exist, but things do not seem to have been much more definite than that. The essay on death covers what evidence we have for Shinto beliefs about the afterlife, and Shinto rituals for the dead, including funerals and jinja that enshrine dead people.

The situation for ethics is nearly as unclear, and that essay looks at what the contemporary Shinto establishment seems to think about ethical issues, based on its public statements and actions. The result is not very systematic, but community and tradition are important, as you might expect.

I wrote these essays because people in the west expect religions to have something to say on these topics. I wrote them several years after starting this project because they are not remotely as important to Shinto as that. For most of its history, Shinto has outsourced both of these issues to other religions — Buddhism and Confucianism. Still, that is not the case today, and so it is important to say something about the topics. If you are interested, please take a look at the essays.

I have a Patreon, where people join as paid members to receive an in-depth essay on some aspect of Shinto every month, or as free members to receive notifications of updates to this blog. If that sounds interesting to you, please take a look.

2 thoughts on “New Book: Shinto on Ethics and Death”

  1. “Unfortunately, she says that she has eaten the food there, and so normally could not come back.”

    That’s an interesting parallel with other ancient myths. In Greek myth, Persephone is kidnapped by Hades and when her mother Demeter comes to get her back, she can’t go because she ate some pomegranate seeds and has to stay as Hades’s wife.

    In Babylonian myth, Nergal insults the ruler of the underworld, Ereshkigal’s, messenger (and possible son). He goes to the underworld to apologize. He’s told to not eat or drink anything or have sex with Ereshkigal. But hey, she’s hot. After he returns to heaven, the gods tell him he has to go back and be Ereshkigal’s husband.

    The marriage aspect is missing, but the idea of interaction with the underworld keeping you there is there.

    “priests would avoid contact with people in mourning”

    There’s a similar idea with ritual impurity and priesthood staying away from mourners and the dead in Judaism.

    “Ninomiya Sontoku”

    Ninomiya was also promoted by SCAP as an example of anti-Feudalism and self reliance.

    1. The parallels between the myth of Izanami in the underworld and those of other cultures are well known, and the topic of considerable study. There is also the parallel with the idea that you must not eat in fairyland if you want to get home. (And there is the argument that fairyland was originally the land of the dead.)

      There are a number of interesting parallels between Shinto and Judaism, and between Shinto and Graeco-Roman paganism. I’m not sure that we have enough evidence to say any more than “oh, that’s interesting”, however.

      I didn’t know about SCAP and Ninomiya. Interesting.

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