The Japanese Do Animism So Well — But So Can You

Two things I was reading this week came together. One was this article in The Atlantic: “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo Isn’t Really a Makeover Show,” about the Japanese author of  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, who now has a show on Netflix.

[Kondo] worked as a [Shinto] shrine maiden in Japan during college, and there are elements of the KonMari technique that borrow from Shinto beliefs, specifically the notion that inanimate objects are bearers of kami, or divine essence—in the same way that plants, animals, and people are. That’s why Kondo taps piles of old books to “wake them up,” folds clothes so that they can rest more comfortably, and asks her clients to thank pieces of clothing for their service before setting them aside. Paradoxically, the exercise of cultivating empathy for the things that surround us, rather than encouraging materialism, seems to lead Kondo’s clients to also have empathy for one another, and for themselves.

Marie Kondo

Podcaster Fire Lyte at Inciting a Riot picked upon the animistic, Pagan-ish elements too:

It’s a show where a nice little Japanese lady comes into your home and teaches you how to keep your home neat and organized. (I SWEAR IT IS PAGAN-ISH…keep reading…stop rolling your eyes. …put that tongue back in your mouth, too.) Kondo spent 5 years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto shrine, and the religion’s animism is apparent throughout the show. Before Kondo begins, she greets your home, and teaches everyone she meets how to appreciate the spirit and effort immanent in all the things in your life. If the events of this show are not an example of magic in action I cannot think of a show that is. Her clients discuss how the energy in their homes and personal spaces changes as they move through her method of tidying, which includes giving a heartfelt blessing to any items being discarded and a focus on keeping that which gives you joy.

But wait, there’s more. I was also reading a passage from Aidan Wachter’s new book, Six Ways: Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic. I might have more to say about it later, but let me just say now that if you played a round of “If you had just one book on magic, what book would you have?” Six Ways is definitely a contender. Whether your path is Heathen or Hoodoo, there is something here for you.

In a section on “Warding Your Home” (how many of us do that regularly?) he writes of washing windows:

Now take your bucket [of spiritually charged vinegar and water that you have prepared] and clean your windows and doors, again asking what you wish. “Window, allow only helpful spirits and allies into this house, and send away all harmful influences that seek ingress into this place.” Do this with all the windows and doors . . . . When you operate your windows or doors, thank them for their work, being clear what you are thanking them for. This is important. In modern terms, be proactive, not reactive. Ask your door to protect your home when you leave, and thank it when you return!

We train ourselves as we train our house of spirits By being clear to the others around you, we become more clear to ourselves. Expect feedback if you are doing this right!

It’s all about maintaining relationships, right? And thank your old sneakers before you put them in the trash.

4 thoughts on “The Japanese Do Animism So Well — But So Can You

  1. Kalinysta

    How interesting!
    “Her clients discuss how the energy in their homes and personal spaces changes as they move through her method of tidying…”
    This struck me as I finally decided just before the Solstice to do what is traditional in Balto-Slavic custom, namely clean the house top to bottom (didn’t quite get to do that!) and start celebration items (altar, food etc.) up properly. My kitchen has been used as a potting shed for the last 15 or so years because I have many shelves in the kitchen that are set up as indoor vegetable patch during the winter, and because I don’t, at present, have a potting shed. (On my list of things to do after I can get the cement mixer’s wheels fixed so I can move it.)
    Anyhow… I managed to more or less reorganize the kitchen so I can actually use my kitchen table as a place to eat meals (instead of in front of the computer!). The change in atmosphere in the kitchen is nearly palpable. Even my pagan-friendly neighbor commented on it! Looks like I should be doing more “Swedish Death Cleaning” (where you pretend you’re dead and go through your stuff as if you were someone else) in the future.

    As far as the “warding your home” – I remember back in 1961, about nine months after my father died, my mother had the Polish priest come in the house and he went around to all the windows and said a prayer and then placed a cross with some other letters (don’t remember what they were) around the cross. He did this on every window in the house and the doors too, if I remember correctly. I also remember going to my now ex-mother-in-law’s house in the 1970s, and found all these pennies in the corners of the rooms in the house. I asked my ex (he’s Cuban) what gives and he explained that his mother had one of the Santeros come to the house to roll the coconut around it for protection and apparently the pennies had something to do with either warding and/or bring in money/luck.

    Personally, quite a few years ago I was having a lot of problems with some neighbors who lived to the south of me. I did something like that warding, but also put pieces of mirrors in the windows to reflect the negative energy of those neighbors back at them. They moved out about five years ago and the new neighbors were delightful people.

    Also thanks for the book recommendation. I shall look that up.

  2. She is a brilliant spark of joy. So inspiring! I love her gentle energy. At no time does she judge. She teaches people how to make conscious decisions using their own values. This is the practice of animism demonstrated for all.

  3. Pitch313

    There also exists a manga titled “The Life Changing Manga of Tidying Up.” I found it a delightful and charming way to learn about some of Kondo’s approach to change.

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