Author:  Aidan Rankin
Publisher: John Hunt Publishing
ISBN: 978 1 84694 438 3

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Shinto: A Celebration of Life introduces you to three of the most important ideas associated with the Way of Kami, or Shintoism, the native faith of Japan. By presenting an alternative way of thinking, Aidan Rankin offers you a way into the world of Shinto, hoping that you will embrace at least some aspects of it in your awareness of what is most important in both your social and environmental milieu. In addition to explaining about Kami (animating principles, spirits, essences, or deities), Rankin also explores the two concepts of Kannagara, the process of tuning in to Kami power and learning to live with the principle of nature, and of Musubi, which is the principle of organic growth, in accordance with which all that is in the universe acts.  
 
Shintoism has a number of features that the average Westerner finds appealing, as does it a number that do not. Part of the appeal of Shinto lies in its recognition of the centrality of natural forces to the well-being of humankind. For example, the worship of the Sun Goddess as “the continuation of an ancient solar cult” no doubt appeals to those of us who revere the sun as a source of life-giving energy and of universal renewal. The appreciation of nature that
lies at the heart of Shinto likewise is bound to find favor with all who appreciate the multiplicity and diversity of natural form.

 
However, there are aspects of Shintoism that have led to this way of life being regarded with less favor by some. Rankin explains how Shintoism has “on occasion been abused or manipulated for sinister ends. During World War II, especially, Shinto imagery was used by an oppressive and expansionist regime.” Rankin points out that such misuse of iconography routinely occurs in Europe and North America today as the extreme right exploits symbols of both Christianity and paganism for its own nefarious ends, so in no way is it unique to Shintoism. Such abuse should in no way be allowed to sully the integrity of the original faith and practice.
 
Rankin also explores the hierarchical nature of Shinto, pointing out that at times in the past the Emperor has been regarded as a “deity in his own right, descended from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu.” However, any hint of the exclusivity of Shinto and that it is a faith that is only intended for the Japanese people is also refuted by Rankin. As he indicates, the evolution of Shintoism has been influenced by a number of other faiths, including Taoism and Buddhism, resulting in its universality and non-exclusivity.
 
Rankin’s style is highly accessible and his fluent description of the various aspects of Shinto flows freely throughout Shinto: A Celebration of Life. Rather than referring to numerous experts on Shinto by name in the body of the text, Rankin uses endnotes to explain the finer details of some of the points that he wishes to make, as well as to source the most salient writings that he has used in his work. In addition to clearly explaining each Shinto concept to which he refers in the text, he also provides a short explanation of the term in a glossary at the end of the book. The only relatively minor fault that can be found with this introduction to the ancient faith and practice of Shinto is that it is not illustrated—even a border of relevant symbols would have given this work added vibrancy.    
 
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