Standing before the shrine, the Shintō priestA priest is the leader of a religious community or congregation, specially trained and often ordained to service, who leads members of the community in the rituals and practice of shared and individual life. Many traditions have forms of priesthood.In the... waves a simple wooden wand to which paper streamers have been attached. It is a gesture of purification, and these rites of purification are called haraiHarai (honorific: oharai) are rites of purification in the Shinto tradition.. The priest waves the wand of white streamers toward the shrine where the kamiKami, often translated as “god,” “deity,” or “spirit,” are manifestations of divine presence or awe-inspiring power. The kami rest upon or dwell in a particular place, especially in natural settings of unusual form or stunning beauty. They are... will be called down. He waves it over those assembled for the ceremony. This sweeping, dusting gesture of purification is one of the most important ritual components of Shintō ceremony.
The sweeping away of impurities or misfortune serves to restore the clear beauty and harmony of life. It is a ritual gesture as natural as it is universal. The Shintō tradition understands and ritualizes the regular human need for such a sweeping. As worshippers approach the kami, they wash hands and face in the cold water at the entry to the shrine. The distinctive gateway called the torii marks the worshipper’s entry into the sacred space where the holy power of the kami is present. People approach the stone water holder to dip water to wash their hands and mouths before approaching the shrine. The priest purifies the way as the door to the shrine is opened and purifies the altarAn altar is a raised platform or stand which bears the central symbols of a religious tradition—whether in a temple, church, shrine, or home—and at which offerings are made, worship is offered, or prayers are said. where the offerings of fresh fruit will be made.
Other rites of purification take place in many contexts. A car will be purified by harai before it is driven, or an airplane purified before it takes off in flight for the first time. The Shintō priest at Tsubaki Grand ShrineTsubaki Grand Shrine is located in Japan’s Mie prefecture, 300 miles west of Tokyo. It is one of the oldest Shinto Shrines in Japan, with a 2000 year history. The Tsubaki Grand Shrine is the first Shinto organization to have sent priests to the United S... of America is sometimes called for purification ceremonies related to groundbreaking, building, and business. For example, Japanese companies building in America will call the priest for groundbreaking ceremonies. The Reverends Iwasaki and Ochiai who served the shrine in its early years in Stockton did the purification ceremony of the Bishamon Corporation in Ontario, California and the Takashimaya Building on Fifth Avenue in New York. They offered purification at the Cypress Golf Club near Los Angeles and opening purifications for Tony Roma’s chain of restaurants in cities throughout California. Here purification is performed and tamagushi, evergreen branches, are offered to the kami.
Another distinctive rite of purification is called misogi. This is a rite of water purification. Misogi can be performed in a rushing river, but traditionally it is purification by waterfall, literally placing oneself under the pounding cascade of a cold waterfall. The Reverend Yamamoto and many others near the Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Japan make this a daily practice, even in the chill of the winter. Women in white kimonos and men in white loin cloths and headbands wait patiently in the cold for their turn to enter the plummeting waters of the waterfall. This rigorous ascetic discipline is to purify oneself. As Rev. Yukitaka Yamamoto put it, “Misogi-shuho is the shortest and quickest way to approach and assimilate the kami nature.”
In the United States misogi is also being practiced. A group has practiced misogi at Gypsy Falls near Lake Tahoe in California. Near Seattle, at the Kannagara Jinja, now the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, an American-born Shintō priest leads a group into the chilling rush of the Pilchuck River for river misogi. In 1993, a Berkeley Unitariana belief in one God that rejects the three persons of the Trinity that has much in common with the belief in the early Christian church about the superiority of God over Jesus and the Anti-Trinitarian writing that emerged during the Protestant Reformation... ministerMinister is a general term for a member of the clergy in the Christian church. The term has also come to use in other religious traditions to designate a member of the clergy (as in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and the Nation of Islam). and one of the priestsA priest is the leader of a religious community or congregation, specially trained and often ordained to service, who leads members of the community in the rituals and practice of shared and individual life. Many traditions have forms of priesthood.In the... of the Tsubaki Shrine in Stockton jointly led a misogi for eighteen people, mostly Unitarian Universalists who were heading for their national assembly in Charlotte. It took place at a waterfall near Highland, North Carolina. The Reverend Richard Boeke wrote in the Tsubaki News, “The mountain staff and I went to the Misogi waterfall for preparation on the morning of June 22. We put a safety rope in place and roughened slippery stones around the waterfall. Reverend Iwasaki and participants arrived at the waterfall around 4 p.m. They were surprised at its magnificence. We changed clothes and started the exercises. After the exercises, we did Misogi [sic] under the waterfall. That night, participants talked about the experience. Everyone said they had never felt like Misogi [sic] had made them feel. At the end, we made a circleIn some Pagan traditions, a “circle” refers to the people who gather for a ritual. When standing in a circle, all the participants are able to see each other, with no one member elevated over any other. This practice is often felt to encourage egalita... and promised to do it again.”
Harai and misogi are two forms of purification rites. The simplicity of being dusted with a paper wand and the austerity of submitting to the torrent of a waterfall create very different experiences. Both are important. As one Shintō priest puts it, “One must always do misogi and harai. In Shintō these rites are to renew, to refresh, to be reborn.”