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The Will of the Kami and the Role of the Sa°«niwa
How to determine the will of God, or the will of the gods, is a question of central importance in religions around the world. Waking revelations, revelations in dreams, prophecies and oracles (takusen), and the spiritual possession of mediums and shamans (kamigakari), all refer to different ways in which people believe gods convey their will to humans. In a polytheistic religion like Shinto, the question is compounded by that of determining what type of kami is relating the message to humans. To that end, Shinto traditionally employed a type of °»spirit-expert°… known as sa°«niwa. When a kami is °»riding°… and speaking through a miko shamaness, for example, the sa°«niwa is responsible for determining what type of kami has possessed her. Among the kami, there may well be ill-intentioned kami, or demons, thus, someone who can determine its character becomes necessary. In Shinto there is a long tradition of this pairing of °»spirit medium°… (who is actually possessed by a kami) with a °»spirit expert°… (who is responsible for identifying that kami) dating back to ancient times. Even in contemporary Japan, some Shinto-derived New Religions (Shintōkei shinshūkyō) still carry on this traditional form. The fact that today, with training, an ordinary person can become a sa°«niwa speaks to the popularization of the role. The main person responsible for this popularization was undoubtedly Deguchi O°«nisaburō, a co-founder of the New Religion known as Ōmoto.
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