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"Good" and "Evil", and Shinto  (Read 16942 times)

Offline Tashiro

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"Good" and "Evil", and Shinto
« on: Feb 18 2011, 11:06 PM »
"Good", "Evil", and Shinto
I have been doing a lot of study on Shinto for the Fox Magic Companion that I am working on -- a companion guide to my RPG that goes into more detail for the kitsune people will play, and on Shinto as a whole.  The one thing I found is that Shinto morality is a difficult thing for people to wrap their heads around.  Why?  Because Shinto has no interest in 'good' or 'evil'.  These are not cosmic forces, and have no place in Shinto philosophy.  Instead, Shinto concentrates on spiritual harmony, and spiritual pollution.

Good and Evil are social constructs, morality defined by humanity, rather than by the world or the gods.  If you have read Japanese myths, you will notice that the gods can do horrible things -- things humanity would consider "evil".  For example, Tsuki-Yomi kills the Goddess of Food because the way in which she prepared dinner for the gods was rather -- disgusting.  Amaterasu decides to no longer associate with him because he did was considered a horrible breach of etiquette -- rather than because it was an "evil" action.

There's a few things you need to keep in mind when dealing with kami...  1)  A kami is a sacred being, and thus any action done by the kami is considered to be in harmony with the world.  Kami do not perform impure actions -- only humanity is capable of this.  Humanity creates spiritual pollution by acting in a manner which is impure.  Kami are not capable of this.  2)  A kitsune is a kami.  Thus, a kitsune's actions are considered to be in harmony with the world.  A kitsune can not perform an impure action -- by the very fact that a kitsune is a kami.

But what about those stories where a kitsune plays tricks on someone or torments them?  What about the deaths caused by Tamamo-no-Mae?  Actually, this is very simple to answer -- as long as you remove "Good" and "Evil" from the equation.  A kami acts according to its nature.  All kami has a Benevolent Aspect and a Wrathful Aspect.  A kitsune is a mentor and trickster figure -- a pretty archetypal role.  Thus, a kitsune acts as both a guide and a teacher to those who they encounter.  They may help someone through giving lessons and aid, or teach someone through sharing wisdom.  However, if a person is impure -- the kitsune's wrathful aspect may manifest.

What defines impure?  Well, being impolite counts.  Having dark thoughts.  Having done selfish deeds.  Having an inflated ego.  Not bathing.  Not paying proper respect at a shrine.  Not cleaning your hands or rinsing your mouth.  Being loud or obnoxious.  Being impious.  Performing peasant labour.  Touching dead things (including working leather, open wounds, or blood).  Being near sick or injured people.  The list goes on and on.

If a person is impure / unclean, they create spiritual pollution.  Kami may get upset in the presence of this, and may become (briefly) contaminated.  Thus, a kitsune in the presence of someone unclean will become agitated and probably violent depending on the degree of spiritual contamination in the area.  So, if someone is, for example, loud and obnoxious, the kitsune may take offence and teach the person a lesson.  A samurai who forsakes their duty for selfish reasons may find themselves the target of a kitsune's pranks.  Someone who is cruel and greedy may find a kitsune willing to strip them of all their worldly possessions.  A person who trespasses on sacred ground without paying the proper respects and cleansing themselves may find a kitsune more than willing to kill them for their ignorance.

And then there's Tamamo-no-Mae.
She is responsible for the destruction of two Empires, and almost a third.  Or is she?  She endeared herself to the rulers of these empires -- and asked these rulers for favours.  These favours, of course, involved torture and torment.  Consider that a test.  If the ruler was a proper ruler, he would have refused.  However, these rulers did not.  They gave the orders, and people suffered.  And they continued to suffer until they rose up and took down their cruel ruler.  Of course, Tamamo-no-Mae was long since gone by then, her work done.

The twist comes when she works her magic within the Japanese Courts.  The Emperor was infatuated with her, and neglected his duties and obligations to be with her.  That's bad.  The duties of the Empire surpass any personal desires.  She is, of course, discovered by a descendent of Abe no Seimei -- an powerful onmyoji who has fox blood running through his veins.  He knows what she is, and exposes her.  She does not seek retribution for being discovered, and simply flees -- while the Emperor calls for his soldiers to hunt her down.

She asks for mercy.  Strictly speaking, mercy is an act of purity -- something Shinto approves of.  And the guards, following the code of the warrior, should have granted it.  But the archer did not, and Tamamo-no-Mae was killed.  Of course, death for a kami is a little thing, and she became a tamashi (a disembodied spirit).  She possessed a rock, and her wrath caused a blight upon the area -- anything that touched the rock would die.  This is actually fairly normal for a wrathful spirit -- the retribution inflicted by a wrathful kami extends beyond the wronging party, and will affect anyone in the region.  This will last until the kami is appeased, in which case the bad fortune (or disaster -- the Japanese word is synonymous) will continue.  A monk passes through the region, and Tamamo-no-Mae warns him of her nature.  She explains what she has done, and what has become of her.  The monk, in return, offers his sympathy and shows compassion.  This is an act of purity, and she is appeased -- her wrathful aspect is submerged, and she leaves the rock, heading to the High Plain of Heaven (the land of the gods).

Is Tamamo-no-Mae evil?  From a human's perspective, perhaps.  But strictly from the perspective if Shinto -- it doesn't matter.  She is a kami, and she acts according to her nature.  She goes into the world, and deals with those who are impure, causing them to destroy themselves.  This is what a nogitsune does.  They are teachers, and their method of teaching can be terrible to behold if the target of their lessons deserves their wrath.  But notice, also, that when you petition the myobu to protect you from a nogitsune's wrath, it does not involve the two fighting one another to the death -- the myobu approaches the nogitsune, goes 'don't do that!', and the nogitsune usually departs.

Is that the act of an "evil" creature, or a creature doing what it thinks is proper?
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