The mystery of Ōnusa (大麻) used in Shinto rituals.

Ōnusa (大麻) is a tool used for purification at Shinto religious services. Ōnusa (大麻) can also be read as “Taima” in Japanese. ‘Taima’ is a plant of the hemp family.
I did some research on Ōnusa and found that hemp had close connections with Shintoism.
I’ll show you Ōnusa and Taima, and their connection with Shinto. 

2018-09-06   Buddhism & Shinto,


A Shinto priest

Ōnusa (大麻); the tool that Shinto priests use at purification ceremonies

When worshipping at shrines, have you ever seen a wand with Japanese paper streamers tied on to its tip? This is an instrument called Onusa and is used by Shinto priests for purification at Shinto religious services.

Shide (紙垂)

The Japanese paper streamers are called ‘Shide’ (紙垂), and are uniquely cut and folded pieces of Japanese paper.
Zig-zagging Onusa Japanese paper streamers are commonly used, but they were originally made using cotton cloth and hemp (麻). This tool was named ‘Ōnusa (大麻: literally ‘big hemp’). Ōnusa made with hemp are still used today.
During purification ceremonies, Ōnusa is waved to the left, right and left toward the subject of purification, thereby extracting the impurities of that subject.

When it is waved, Ōnusa is used to purify objects. They rub it to extract sin and impurities from people.

A sacred straw rope and Shide

Seima is used in Shintoism for purification.

The hemp used in Shintoism is Seima (精麻). It is a well-sharpened bast fiber derived from the stalk of a hemp plant. Seima is used in many aspects of Shinto rituals and for Ōnusa. Ceremonial ablution has been performed to cleanse impurities in the rivers and Sea of Japan since ancient times. Japanese people considered hemp to have greater purification powers than ablution, therefore seima has been routinely used at sacred shrines for purification.

’Miko’; the shrine maidens

Hemp is used for sacred ropes at shrines as a boundary for a holy place, and as a string used to bind the hair of Mikos.

It is also used as ‘Yorishiro ’(依り代). This refers to an object that a divine spirit is drawn or summoned to.

Hemp leaves

The kanji ‘大麻’ refers to ‘Ōnusa’, as well as ‘Taima’ as cannabis. Domestic production of hemp (麻) since ancient times has been deeply involved with Shintoism. It’s a sacred plant that supports traditional Japanese culture.

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Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.