Ofuda (神札) are talismans distributed by shrines for use in one’s home or business. Generally made of paper or wood, they are usually inscribed with the name of the shrine or the shrine’s gosaijin (main enshrined kami). They function as the focal point of home worship, and are placed in the kamidana (if one has one) or on a stand. However, they are not mere symbols. Ofuda, in fact, contain the essence of the kami.
There exists a special kind of ofuda, variously pronounced: oefuda, miefuda, or omiefuda (always written 御絵札). These ofuda have a picture drawn on them, often complex and steeped with meaning. Below, the oefuda of Fushimi Inari Taisha, the head shrine of Inari Ōkami, is shown (Fushimi Inari uses the pronunciation “oefuda”). It is designated as sainanyoke (災難除), or warding off of calamity. The first picture shows the printed image itself, and the second picture shows the wrapped oefuda (note: one should never unwrap an ofuda).
The image itself has been the subject of much scholarly study in Japan. After reading some Japanese academics texts and discussing with scholars in Japan, may I present some information about the present scholarly understanding of these symbols… Please note, it is unclear whether certain details of these understandings (especially regarding the snakes) are agreed with by Fushimi Inari Taisha, but one of the professors plans to talk with the kannushi to see if they agree with this current academic consensus…
First of all, at the bottom is inscribed the text, 宇迦之御魂神, UKA-NO-MITAMA-NO-ŌKAMI. This is the most central gosaijin of Fushimi Inari Taisha, and also the most central kami of Inari Ōkami’s essence. Other Fushimi Inari Taisha ofudas have the name of the shrine written on them… in contrast, this oefuda is in fact an ofuda to Uka-no-Mitama-no-Ōkami solely and directly. The ancient symbols here speak to the essence of Uka-no-Mitama-no-Ōkami…
The drawing is hierarchal in nature, with three levels…
The bottom level shows two kitsune/myōbu (fox spirits/intercessors of Inari Ōkami). On the left is a white kitsune (白狐, modern Japanese: Shirokitsune; ancient Japanese and norito: Byakkō). The inner shrine of Fushimi Inari Taisha, Byakkōsha, is dedicated to a white kitsune such as this one. (the “inner shrine” is not the main shrine as the wording implies… it is simply further up the mountain from the main shrine). On the right is the black kitsune (黒狐, kurokitsune). The contrasting colors portray duality, an extremely strong element of Inari shinkō which we will visit another time. Overlaid in red atop both kitsune are nyoi hōju (Inari’s wish-fulfilling jewel), marking Inari-sama’s providence over the kitsune as Inari’s shishi (divine animals of a kami).
The middle level shows snakes, one with a branch of sugi (Japanese cedar) in its mouth, and the other with a key (kagi) in its mouth. Sugi are the sacred tree of Inari. The key is a deep symbol in Inari shinkō… the outer meaning is that it is the key to the rice granary — the inner meaning merits later discussion. As for the snakes themselves, they are not shishi or animal familiars of Inari. In fact, the snake was the original symbol of Uka-no-Mitama-no-Ōkami — or even, possibly, the original kami, dating back to prehistoric snake worship. Gradually, over time, the conception of Uka-no-Mitama-no-Ōkami’s symbol (or even the kami itself) evolved from that of a snake, to that of the spirit that dwells within the rice — the source of life itself. And thus, from the middle row, this evolution brings us to the top row…
The top row shows more sugi branches on the left, and what is believed to be more keys on the right (this requires confirmation). At the top center are three jewels that can be understood to variously represent:
- the spirit of rice, Inadama
- the three peaks of Inari-yama, also strongly associated with the three original kami of Inari worship, Uka-no-Mitama-no-Ōkami, Satahiko-no-ōkami (Sarutahiko Ōkami), and Ōmiya-no-Me-no-Ōkami (Ame no Uzume no Mikoto).
- Nyoi Hōju
Taken all together, this oefuda is a very important and divine tool to helping us tune our hearts to the essence of Inari Ōkami and Uka-no-Mitama-no-Ōkami. Although there is much that can be said and studied, ultimately it is up to each person to look at it themselves, meditate upon it, and experience the indescribable communion with Kamisama yourself…
50 shades of pissed off
It’s too much.
The dam will break.
And goodness knows
What happens next.
Enjoy the Silence - Depeche Mode
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Goddess Drawing a Bow (弓を引く女神)
Katsushika Taito II
1832 (Tenpô 3)
untitled on Flickr.
Inari is the most important kami to ME, but others have different kami they worship :) You need to find which god/deity/kami fits best with you :)
Here are some lists if you would like to do some research:
Hi there! In Shinto and Paganism, there are thousands of different deities to worship! To me, a patron deity is a deity you feel a particularly strong connection to, who has protected you for a while, who you work with on a constant basis etc. The web definition for ‘patron deity’ is ‘A tutelary is a deity or spirit who is a guardian, patron or protector of a particular place, geographic feature, person, lineage, nation, culture or occupation.’
People in Shinto do not necessarily have a ‘patron’ kami but it is common to have a particular kami enshrined in a home, as a protector of commerce/business etc As I am Shinto-Pagan, I have adopted the patron system.
Inari is one of thousands of different kami you can worship in the Shinto faith. To me, Inari is the most important kami, but to someone else, it may be Amaterasu, Ebisu etc So it really depends on your own personal views, lifestyle and spiritual experiences.
If you are interested in Shinto, here are some resources which may help you: