Noilly Prattle: Getting Reacquainted 10 -- Visiting 天照大御神 - Goddess of the Sun

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Getting Reacquainted 10 -- Visiting 天照大御神 - Goddess of the Sun

first impression on entering Ise Shrine
If I were a religious person I suppose I would be an animist. There is something about living in a world in which everything has “soul” that imparts a profound feeling of rightness, of belonging. That was my impression as I wandered around the Grand Shrine of Ise in Mie Prefecture, Japan. This is the Vatican of Shinto, but, having visited both, I can’t help but feel that they embody diametrically opposed expressions of the spiritual longings of man.

Vatican City, Rome
In the Vatican, you feel detached and isolated in the splendid stone vastness of the Bellini colonnade in the square and overwhelmed by the remoteness of any sense of “soul” in St. Peter’s Basilica. This is architecture designed to impress with the wealth and power of a potentate—power on a truly imperial and impersonal scale—the longest lasting empire the world has ever known. Yet, you don’t feel the presence of, for want of a better expression, God, there—only the presence of wealth and unapproachability. 

fancy-tailed rooster
Ise Shrine is also impressive. Natural tones of greens, browns and grays predominate. The colossal pillars here are randomly scattered, enormous and alive. They thrust their leafy crowns high above the surrounding sun-dappled greenery with the wooden buildings, torii and bridges of the shrine complex blending in harmoniously, intertwined with the carefully tended though mostly natural forest that contains them. Everything is alive here, the running water, the growing trees, the chirping birds (even a few chickens) and buzzing insects—the very rocks seem alive as the sun streams through the overhead canopy and dances on the stone—the seemingly endless stream of humanity drifting along, gazing at the natural and unnatural world around them, hugging trees shiny with a patina of millions of hands caressing them over more than a thousand years. This place is ancient beyond imagining and, at the same time, as approachable as this morning’s breakfast.

shadow and light

worshipers or weekend tourists?

feel the vibrations

drink the cool aid

you can almost feel the presence of the goddess

this old fellow became our guide

this exquisite little shed is for rice storage
food for the gods, of course

detail of roof thatching craft work

approach to the main shrine complex

That endless stream of humanity flows in the general direction of the “holy of holies”, the main building complex that is the home of Amaterasu-Omikami [天照大御神] (shining in heaven), the Goddess of the Sun. (Unlike in the western tradition where the sun deity is usually associated with the male principal and the earth the female, in Shinto, the sun deity is the Goddess Amaterasu.) Japan’s Emperors claim direct descent from Amaterasu who, according to legend, gave her descendant the three Imperial Regalia, the mirror, sword and jewel, symbols of the emperors’ power. The mirror, which is never seen, is said to be kept here.

torii gate to the main shrine -
you can't go beyond the white veil

nature and artifact blend perfectly

impressively unadorned simplicity 

our self-appointed guide

wooden footbridge merges beautifully with the surroundings

All the shrine buildings are built on two adjacent sites. Every 20 years the old buildings are destroyed after exact new copies have been built on the adjacent site and rededicated in a ceremony that has continued unbroken since the 7th Century known as Shikinen Sengu

you can see the new (left), and the old (right) shrine complex not yet destroyed

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