The Fortress of Xie'e Wu Xing
Nipponese religion is a mixture of indigenous animism (Shinto), which acknowledges a vast assortment of natural and supernatural spirits and deities (kami), and a form of esoteric illuminism (Bukkyo), which reveres enlightened post-human entities (hotoke), and was imported along with many other features of high culture from the once-great Dragon Empire to the west. These beliefs are not seen as being in conflict, but are combined in both philosophy and practice in Nipponese culture and life.
The native religion in Nippon is Shinto, a peculiar mix of nature and ancestor worship. It reveres the kami, invisible spirits – all things and places have at least one patron kami, from a simple knife to a mountain glade to a samurai clan to the Sun herself. The kami of a clan are usually its founders and legendary warriors; the kami of a particular craft are the greatest masters of the craft. The kami of a particular location depend on the place: some are inhuman, elemental beings that come from the land; others are the spirits of men who have died there and watch over it. The Great Kami are essentially deities, representing the most significant aspects of the world. The Imperial bloodlines is said to be descended from Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. Kami are neither universally benevolent nor malicious; they have their own goals and methods, often inscrutable to mere mortals.
A kannushi (Shinto priest) is something of an interpreter for the kami, a middleman between the world of spirits and that of men. He (or she) can entreat the kami for favors, most often through complex rituals or sacrificial offerings. Sacrifice to the kami never entails the slaughter of animals; offerings most often include flowers, rice, gold, or other items that might be of value to the particular kami. To offer a kami the wrong sacrifice, or a shoddy or poor sacrifice, is worse than making no offering at all: the spirit will likely be insulted, and often exact retribution. Anyone can theoretically offer sacrifice and request aid of the kami; kannushi simply know how to do so correctly (read: traditionally). Dealing with spirits is a dangerous endeavor, best left to holy men.
Blood, alcohol, and other impurities are anathema to a kannushi. According to tradition, the kami will only commune with one who is pure. A kannushi may not touch blood, partake of meat, wine, or sex, nor be impure in any way. If he becomes unclean, he must ritually purify himself before attempting to commune with the kami. The means to purify oneself depend on the nature of the impurity: fasting, meditation, and bathing are the most common. A purification can take anywhere from a few hours to several days or even weeks. Most kannushi seek never to become impure, as one never knows when he will need to address the kami.
Introduced a thousand years ago by monks from the mainland to the west, this religion has so infused the ways and beliefs of the people of Nippon that it has become part of the official religion. The contemporary form of the religion is not identical to that taught by those monks, but has been adapted to Nipponese sensibilities, subsumed into the people’s own belief system. Its core tenets are esoteric, but almost deceptively simply: in order to most successfully control your environment, you must first completely control yourself – your every emotion and impulse must be the product of intent, and never of unconscious reaction. Likewise, you must expect nothing and be surprised by nothing, but fully perceive and understand every moment as it occurs. This control is accomplished by a rigid Path of meditation, asceticism, mental and physical discipline. The goals of the Path include freeing oneself of desire, passion, or attachment; it emphasizes seizing the initiative, striking without hesitation or reservation.
A busso (Bukkyo priest) attempts to be an exemplar of those who would walk the Path, but not all busso are Enlightened. In fact, it’s only the rare masters who have truly achieved Enlightenment, and they tend to spend their time in contemplation. They tend to be more uniformly benevolent than kannushi (who have no particular moral code, besides the need to adhere to proper ritual) — many busso are wandering mendicants, exorcists, and healers. A busso doesn’t often explicitly communicate with the kami, but can perform exorcisms and other such rites and miracles by virtue of his innate holiness.
The tenets of Bukkyo have especially found favor among the samurai – its austerity and emphasis on acting with intent appeal greatly to their code of Bushido. Sohei warrior-priests also frequently take up the Path of Bukkyo.
An esoteric blend of acetic Shinto and Bukkyo, Shugendo is the strange and mysterious religion of the shugenja, solitary mendicant nature-priests who combine the discipline and contemplation of the busso with the spirit-savvy of the kannushi, and seek enlightenment through communion with Nature and its kami. Shugenja are generally recognized as priests, even though they have no central order or temple to vouch for them; this has lead to more than one wandering ne’er-do-well claiming to be a shugenja, resulting in some suspicion of unfamiliar shugenja. The yamabushi are a sect of warrior-priests who hold to the esoteric ways of Shugendo.
Sohei & Yamabushi
Warrior-priests – sohei (Bukkyo holy warriors) and yamabushi (Shugendo warrior-monks) – tread a treacherous path. They dare to carry the weapons and armor of a bushi by claiming religious exemption from the laws that forbid non-samurai from bearing such things. The legal status of a warrior-priest in any given province depends largely on his temple’s relationship with the local daimyo – those with good relations are left unmolested, while those who might cause trouble are treated as criminals. The yamabushi, who lack a central temple or order, face problems in many places, and must rely on their individual reputations to avoid trouble with local samurai.