Otakiage: Cremation Ritual For Old Shinto Charms

Otakiage: Cremation Ritual For Old Shinto Charms February 3, 2018

I’ve written previously about my kamidana – my household Shinto shrine. I talked about how the most important part of the Shinto shrine is the ofuda; a paper charm that carries the essence of kami.

New-Kamidana03
Ofuda contained within the kamidana

One thing I didn’t mention was that ofuda, like many other Shinto items, are traditionally not considered to be permanent. On January 15th, it’s traditional to return the ofuda to the shrine where it was purchased, so it can be respectfully cremated in a ceremony called otakiage.

I purchased a new ofuda back in November. My ofuda is originally from Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine, my favourite Shinto shrine of all and the main shrine dedicated to the main kami I venerate, Inari Ōkami. But I didn’t order the ofuda directly from the shrine. The fact is, shrines in Japan generally don’t offer a mail order service – partly for practical reasons, and partly because you’re supposed to make a pilgrimage to the shrine to obtain the ofuda in person. But living in the UK, going to Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine every year to get a new ofuda just isn’t going to happen!

So instead I use a proxy seller – the Yappari-Japan shop on Ebay. Obtaining ofuda in this manner isn’t without controversy. Some Shintoists frown upon this practice, because they do not consider it respectful for someone to re-sell an ofuda for profit and then post it to someone else. While it might not be ideal to obtain an ofuda in this manner, it really is a good practical solution for Shintoists who live abroad and who want to get an ofuda from a shrine in Japan. The mark-up on the items isn’t unreasonably high, and in my experience Yappari-Japan always packages them really well and sends them very quickly.

And one other thing that Yappari-Japan offers, at no extra cost, is taking your old charms to an otakiage ceremony.

All you need to do is post the items back to Yappari-Japan before January 15th, and they will do the rest. This year, they were kind enough to send pictures and footage of the ceremony!

otakiage3

This year, the proprietors of Yappari-Japan took all the items to a shrine called Yatachine-jinja, in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture. Of course, this isn’t the same shrine where my ofuda came from. But seeing as the proprietors had a number of items from several different shrines to cremate, it seems reasonable to bring them all to one shrine.

otakiage

Here are all the items to be cremated. As you can see, there are also omamori (protective charms) and decorations in the mix.

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The kannushi (Shinto priest) setting up an altar and ritual bonfire.

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The otakiage ceremony itself. Throughout the ceremony, the kannushi intones norito (Shinto prayers). You can even view a video of the ceremony here.

I think it’s great that Yappari-Japan offers this service, and goes to the trouble of sending photos and film afterwards.

Of course, this option isn’t for everyone who owns an ofuda. You may have purchased your ofuda from somewhere that doesn’t offer this kind of service, or you might find it too expensive to send it back to Japan. In this case, the best way to dispose of old charms is to sprinkle them with salt to purify them, and then wrap them in paper before disposal in the normal way. If you’re more Pagan-inclined, you could burn them yourself or bury them after sprinkling the items with salt and wrapping them, which is how many Pagans would dispose of other sacred or magical items once they have served their purpose.

And for those who would rather buy ofuda and other sacred items from shrines directly rather than using a re-seller, both Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America and Shusse Inari Shrine of America offer international shipping.

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