I’m not exactly a Japanophile but there’s a lot that I respect about Japanese culture. In particular, two things: the way that traditional food still lives on in part of the culture and that their traditional religion (Shinto) lives on.

I’m not going to get into the details of Shinto (there are far better resources than I) but it is both polytheistic and animistic. It celebrates the beauty of Nature as well as the seasons. Traditional Japanese cuisine as well. In particular, kaiseki cuisine…the cuisine of the ryokan (the country inn).

It celebrates freshness and seasonality of vegetables and other food. It is traditional. Everything is made by hand and often plated on traditional hand-made plates.

Now, just to be upfront, I’ve never been to Japan. So I’m looking at this through idealistic lenses based solely upon things I’ve read and documentaries I’ve watched.

One of my interests outside of religion is food. Specifically, traditional (and healthy) foods and, even more specifically, fermented foods. Japan has a lot of esoteric forms of fermentation and that caught my interest.

Naturally, as a result of researching traditional Japanese culture, one comes across Shinto.

I’ve already seen attempts by Westerners to bring Shinto to the West and while I find it intriguing, Shinto is about the most ethnic religion you can find. Very folkish. It’s baffling to modern Japanese why a non-Japanese would want to be Shinto.

Additionally, while it’s one thing to want to revive lost ancient polytheistic religions, Shinto is still a living tradition. It seems to me to be a form of cultural imperialism for a Westerner to become Shinto (unless, maybe if one were in Japan or married into a Japanese family).

I have similar misgivings with some Westerners practicing Hinduism as if it’s a fashion statement, but then I also have a relationship with Sri Ganesha  As long as it’s done with a respectful attitude towards the existing culture and there is an attempt to worship traditionally, I don’t mind. But then, I’m not the arbiter of what is or is not acceptable..other than for myself. In the end, it is all about what the gods want.

I bring all of this up because I think that in recreating Western polytheism, it’s good to look to how surviving polytheistic cultures integrate their ancient religious practices into the modern day.

Perhaps one should be cautious, though, because if you go too modern, you risk contamination by the overculture.

Our Western polytheisms are still young. We are in a place where we, as individuals can shape it.

I believe that a Shinto-like aesthetic where Nature and seasonality are still revered is an important aspect. Sure, one can argue that Paganism already offers that, right? I mean, there are the Sabbats…and the Sabbats celebrate the four seasons.

But that’s part of my issue with the Sabbat-based format. It takes the four seasons (which are based on the British Isles) and imposes it artificially upon all of Paganism. I lived in Florida for 14 years. Florida seasons are not the seasons of the British Isles. Neither, I imagine, are those in California.

Yes, the gods are the essential aspect of polytheism but we must not forget about our connection with Nature and the place we live in.

Shinto takes great care to respect the beauty of Nature. I believe the future of Paganism must do the same.

~ by R.M. McGrath on 07/11/2016.

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