Wednesday 22 March 2017

Purifying Paper and Sumo Spirit Magnets

A picture showing a gate to a Shinto shrine with white jagged shide paper hanging down form a thick rope
Entrance to local shrine, with shide hanging from the shimenawa rope
At the gateway to a shrine you will commonly see white jagged zigzag-shaped strips of paper (shide) attached to a thick rope made of rice straw or hemp (shimenawa). As with many other symbols and rituals in Shinto, these are related to purification: here, they mark the boundary between the sacred (pure) and the profane (impure). The shide, sometimes attached to a staff or wand (called haraegushi) and waved by a Shinto priest, ward off evil spirits, remove impurities, and keep bad luck at bay. For example, Japanese sometimes hire a priest to wave a haraegushi (祓串) over their new car or as part of a ground-breaking ceremony before building a new house. They may even pay a priest to "sweep" away any bad luck in a yakudoshi (unlucky) year, said to be 25, 42, and 61 for men and 19, 33, and 37 for women.

A wooden or stick or gohei decorated with two shide streamers at the entrance to a houseIf one looks carefully, shide can also been found in many other places in one's neighbourhood. They may be tied around yorishiro, objects which attract and house spirits, such as trees and rocks. One can also occasionally see gohei (pictured right), shide inserted into a split wooden stick the size of a chopstick at the gate or entrance of older houses. Shide can even be seen hanging off a sumo wrestler's belt when he enters the ring at the beginning of a tournament, signifying the wrestler as a kind of living spirit magnet or host! The pleasant rustling sound made by the shide as they blow in the wind or are waved slowly and rhythmically from side to side in a start-stop sweeping motion is certainly soothing: the short video below captures this sound. For those wishing to make their own shide, follow the simple instructions here.