Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that the West still hasn’t properly grasped the Shinto definition of the term Kami properly. Unfortunately, the term kami is often compared with terminology found in the Abrahamic religions, making the true meaning of the term difficult to understand. Until one truly understands the process of the kami, they can never fully grasp the essence of Shinto. A good definition of the term kami can be found in the recently published Yi Jing Apocrypha of Genghis Khan; under the topic Kami, we read:
“Kami is usually defined in the West, as the Japanese word for effigy, a principle and any supernatural being. While many attempts have been made by Western scholars to define the term Kami, it would be a grave error to compare such to the gods and spirits of Biblical mythology. This is not to say that it is wrong to define the term kami as gods, spirits, and sentient beings, but this perspective is quite different from how Christians revere Jesus Christ.
The term kami consist of two parts, ka meaning fire, and mi meaning water in Old Japanese. Therefore, an accurate description of the term kami would be the alchemy of fire and water. Still, for the Western mind, and those outside the view of ancient Japanese thought, this in itself may not be clear definition.
The fire referred to in our discussion so far, is the radiating energy over a particular environment. For example, the appearance of a rose garden triggers a certain amount of emotional influence upon all other objects in that same environment. This radiating emotional energy is the ka or fire. The ka of an object can be suppressed or expanded based on the atmosphere it exists in. While the radiating force of a rose garden may thrive in a certain atmosphere, like a sunny day in the month of June, its influence would not be as strong during wintertime. The different atmospheric conditions play a large part in how much emotional energy any given object can radiate. These atmospheric conditions, or atmosphere, are symbolic of water or mi. In a previous work entitled, The Dark Knight of Nyarlathotep, we find the following under the chapter True Religion:
“In the so-called modern world, terms like polytheism seem to denote some sort of primitive form of spirituality, when in fact, it was a synthesis of how to define the subtle energy that permeates throughout all objects and animates all living things. So in ancient times, a body of water, or an ocean, was considered to be a deity. Now the fact that this ocean was considered to be a deity should not be interpreted in the same manner of how Christians worship Jesus, but as a force of influence upon the environment. Other objects of nature were also deified based on their influence over the environment. These forces were scientifically categorized based on how much subtle energy they emitted into the atmosphere and their influence on objects in the surrounding area, which led to its placement in the hierarchy of natural forces.
These forces were recorded in history as pagan gods, making it easy for the layman to understand them. These forces were also measured by the influence they had on the emotional constitution of animals and humans. Since man possessed an abundance of subtle, or life-force energy, he could use this energy to alter the influence of a powerful force by calling its name (vibrational formulae) and speaking to the energy that resonated behind the said object, be it animal, plant, or star. Speech is vibration, and how words and letters are put together affect other objects vibrating on a subtle level. The enunciation of the names of these forces matched their vibrational level, and in turn they responded in favor of man. The subtle force that is radiated by all animated life was known as fire, and the atmosphere was considered to be water.”
Understanding the Kami from this perspective redefines Japanese spirituality for the Western mind. A Japanese deity that rules over the auto industry is not some pagan god, but a force of influence upon the modern world. The force that is responsible for automotive technology can be called upon once it is given a name. Calling upon this name will allow Japanese automotive engineers access to the same ideas that led to the invention of the automobile. Thus, after entreating the emotional energy or kami that is behind the engineering, manufacturing, and technology of the automotive industry, they will be given the knowledge to advance such. Within Shinto lies the understanding of how to manage and curb the emotional energy, the ki that radiates from objects, thoughts, and ideas in one’s experience, for the personal benefit of all, or that of a village, or the nation at large. This way of thinking was an inherent result of the hunter-gatherer culture of ancient Japan. In pre-historic Japan, it was important for ancient man to have a working relationship with the environment that he lived in. It was due to this relationship with nature that men learned how to detect the emotional energy found in all objects and procure such to the benefit of his people. This “technology” enabled prehistoric man with the ability of curbing disastrous weather conditions, flooding, and etc. Through a loving, reverential relationship with his environment, early man found that the vibration of his words expressed in certain emotional states, the fire, motivated a favorable response from the world around him. In a classic work on the topic of Shinto, by Sokyo Ono entitled, Shinto: The Kami Way, the author defines the Kami as follows:
“Among the objects or phenomena designated from ancient times as kami are the qualities of growth, fertility, production; natural phenomena, such as wind and thunder; natural objects, such as the sun, mountains, rivers, trees, and rocks; some animals; and ancestral spirits. In the last-named category are the spirits of the Imperial ancestors, the ancestors of noble families, and in a sense all ancestral spirits. Also regarded as kami are the guardian spirits of the land, occupations, and skills; the spirits of national heroes, men of outstanding deeds and virtues, and those who have contributed to civilization, culture, and human welfare; those who have died for the state or community; and the pitiable dead. Not only spirits superior to man, but even some that are regarded as pitiable and weak have nonetheless been considered to be kami.”
After having considered the true meaning of the Kami, Ono’s statement can be easily conceptualized, as they all refer to forces of emotional influence. It is with this perspective that we begin to understand Shinto not as a religion, but as the science of life; a science that explains how energy is exchanged between objects existing in the same environment. We also become aware that the rituals conducted in Shinto is a way to curtail these energies to suit ones’ needs and strengthen their ancestral line.”