reviewed by Geraldine Charles
This was a very pleasant surprise – I wasn’t expecting the book to be a fascinating read, but that’s what it turned out to be.
I have never been particularly interested in Eastern spiritual traditions, having got totally bored in the 60s and 70s when all my contemporaries seemed to be getting themselves gurus (and talking about nothing else). So I resisted, believing that there must be wisdom in the West – which I later found (not wisdom, but at least a path towards it!).
But Shinto had an odd fascination. Something entirely strange; my only knowledge of it through reading of Amaterasu, that beautiful and enigmatic Goddess. I did investigate a little, but always got sidetracked into something else. But there is such beauty in Shinto! The faith, which can be traced back directly to spiritual practices some 14,000 years old, sees nature as a gateway to something deeper, something higher, reminding “humanity to live as if nature mattered”. An excellent message for our times. A faith based on forests and rivers, snow-capped mountains and waterfalls, that sees the divine in trees and rocks. There is no concept of sin, and little interest in an afterlife, instead concentrating on living in and improving on the present.
Of course, some of us will associate the tradition with the regime in Japan in the period before and during World War II, just as we may be nervous of approaching our own Northern tradition because it was abused by the Nazis. But clearly any faith can be perverted in this way and manipulated to produce racist and patriarchal, militaristic values. The Christian faith has also been manipulated in this way, of course, with witch burnings and also some of the terrifying fundamentalist, right-wing ideas spreading today. It’s nothing more than theft, cynically using people’s faith for political and militaristic purposes and nothing to do with the real spiritual forms, which are entirely separate.
I love the idea of a spiritual life based on the appreciation of beauty and especially that the built environment is included – after all, humans are part of nature and so, therefore, our works are also to be appreciated in that way.
This is a well-written introduction to Shinto, and the author’s sincerity shines clearly through. I shall be investigating further.
I opened this book in duty, but closed it in joy, the better for reading it.
Shinto: A Celebration of Life is published by O Books and available on Amazon.
A web designer and all-round computer person, Geraldine is responsible for a number of websites. In her spare time she writes articles and poems, loves researching Goddess in mythology and also produces artwork on her beloved computer. She also runs an online correspondence course called "Getting to know the Goddess".