Today I had the privilege of representing the university at the Shinto ceremony to prepare for the construction of our new Child Development Centre. Before the diggers rumble in, the spirits who inhabit the place have to be warned and apologized to for the disturbance. There is an elaborate ceremony in 32 degree heat during which there is a series of incantations from the priest, miming of slashing, digging and hammering by the major players, a blessing of the four corners of the site, offerings of branches the significance of which I have forgotten, then finally sake drinking. It takes about an hour. It is really hot!
I have to play a significant role as host. First I have to mime slashing down undergrowth with 3 swipes of the sickle, emanating a convincing mixture of grunt and screetch at each gesture. There is much bowing before and after. I worry about getting it wrong.
I then have to offer the branch of er, um, I forget with complex bowing and clapping.
Anyway as I am sitting there I mull over the fact that Shinto is not that different to west highland belief. For example the holy Rowan tree must not be cut down lest disaster falls on those implicated. Also there was a strong tradition of not insulting the Broonie, a kind of familiar spirit, for he would certainly have his revenge. Indeed various lochs and hills also had strong spiritual connections. My Father blocked the construction of a house in the village for many years as it meant the felling of a Rowan.
After his death the house was built and lo it is the very house in which I stayed during Bobby’s wedding. I lie not in stating there was a moment of incertitude as to whether it was a good thing to sleep a house built over the site of Rowan abuse.
As you know from previous blogs, my journey home was blighted by the loss of my suitcase and the mysterious uncorking of a bottle of whisky whose contents were distributed around the interior. As I bowed before the Shinto altar I realized that the Broonie had punished me justifiably for sleeping on ground tainted by unhappy spirits.
Ashes to Ashes.