Last year, I took what’s perhaps the most significant step in my Shinto path to date: acquiring a kamidana.
A kamidana (literally, “kami shelf”) is a miniature Shinto shrine, designed for home worship. Previously I have had altars to the Shinto kami Inari Ōkami set up in my house – first outdoors, and then indoors when I moved house – but nothing that could be truly called a kamidana.
This is because kamidana are quite specific. The most important part of the kamidana is the ofuda; a paper charm obtained from a jinja (public Shinto shrine) that embodies the essence of kami. The ofuda is then enclosed in an omiya, a protective “spirit house” designed to look like a miniature jinja, which is accompanied with other items and other offerings. I’ve written more about ofuda here.
Because an ofuda is believed to contain kami essence, it is a very sacred object and must be treated with care. Failure to treat an ofuda correctly can mean that one’s connection to kami is not fully realised. So I took the decision to acquire one extremely seriously, seeing it as a big step forward from my previous practise of tending a more Pagan-style altar to Shinto deities with symbols of kami rather than an ofuda containing kami essence. That’s why it took me so long to get around to getting one!
In case you’re also thinking of getting a kamidana for your home, I thought I’d share my own experiences here as it may be of help.
One of the reasons I didn’t get an ofuda and kamidana straight away was because I lacked shelving high enough to put it.
Kamidana should ideally be placed in the highest point in the room (preferably, the highest point in the house). This isn’t always practical, but the kamidana should at the very least be kept above eye level, as a sign of respect for the kami. At first, I didn’t have any shelving suitable high enough in the spare room where my original Shinto altar was kept; it was simply kept on a small bedside table. When I made prayers there, I would do so on my knees in order to lower myself below the altar. But I felt it just wouldn’t be respectful to set up a true kamidana until I had put up some kind of shelving.
Then it happened that, out of the blue, a friend of ours told my husband and I that he had some bookshelves he wanted to give away, for free! We of course agreed and I put one of the bookshelves in the room where my altar was. It was a perfect size.
I took this wonderful piece of luck as a clear sign that the time was time right to get a kamidana.
Next page: Preparing for the kamidana and buying one