Central to the Shinto tradition is the concept of purity. Further, the primary means of purification is said to be ritual practice. These two features of Shinto--purity and its ritual production--invite the questions: can rituals purify, and if so, how? Our limited aim in this essay is to offer an interpretation of the Shinto ritual tradition that explains how and in what sense ritual practices can mirror, or provide images of, the Shinto ideal of purity.
The answer lies, we believe, in the aesthetic dimension of Shinto rites and festivals. Our first task will be to sketch the Shinto tradition's world-view and clarify its concept of purity. Then a brief discussion of Shinto ritual will be illustrated by segments from a video documenting a daily purification ceremony at a Shinto shrine. Lastly, we will turn to an analysis of the role of artful performance in Shinto ceremonies.
to the Kami and Yamamoto Yukitaka,
Part I is largely descriptive. Parts II and III are interpretive and more analytical in nature. For further detail and documentation, see our article "Artful Means: An Aesthetic View of Shinto Purification Rituals," Journal of Ritual Studies, Volume 13, Number 1, Summer 1999, pp. 37-52.