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Japanese Salt Ceremony

-Seishiro Hokazono and Melanie King Kawashima Velez

A story from the Kojiki (“Record of Ancient Things” -one of the oldest Japanese texts written about 712 AD), old tales of the creation of the 8 islands of Japan was formed by two gods, Izanagi and his goddess wife Izanami, who stirred the ocean by spear. The first island of Japan was created by the drips of ocean water as salt crystallized while they withdrew the spears. With that first island formed, they landed, and they birthed all the other islands.

Salt is considered sacred by the Japanese. Indeed maybe considered sacred by many cultures. For people who find no spiritual connection to salt currently, we invite you to consider what we have heard about salt. Salt is also a sacred offering in Greek consecrations and in Jewish temple offerings, and from doorway boundaries in the Americas to Wicca and pagan protections to the birth and death rituals of Cameroon, and throughout many African cultures, we find salt repelling evil spirits. Covenants of the Old and New Testament were also sealed with salt and this is the origin of the word Salvation). Catholics also use blessed salt to invoke divine protection and sometimes add it to holy water.

In some Buddhist traditions of Japan, salt is used to repel evil. In Shinto tradition, salt is also used to purify an area or room.

Not so long ago (maybe 300 years or so until refrigeration methods became more common), Salt in Japan was used to prevent the worms that infest on dead body from getting onto live bodies. This practice also influenced how people use the salt to take off the benign, helpful spirit (haigorei) -usually one’s ancestor or (onryoh) - a bad or evil spirit related the the western concept of possession or emotion off the body (neck and nape), notably after attending funerals. The neck is the place known to be an easy entrance of evil spirit due to its usual exposure to the air (most clothings do not cover the neck all the way in Asia except in cold climate). Thus, people believed that the cleansing of the area of neck/nape is important if a person had visited an area where dead or evil spirit may loom. This superstition may apply to unwanted emotion and Qi. In Japan, a person needs to stand outside of the entrance door, facing outward, the other person throws salt over the shoulders.

In many cultural traditions of Shintoism, the salt is often used to cleanse the land, objects, and body. Salt is seen in many areas of life, even in Sumo wrestling where handfuls of salt are thrown into the ring to cast out evil spirits. At weddings it is sometimes spread on the ground to purify and foster force of life. One of the ways to cleanse a space is to make a mound of salt on a small plate, then, surround the space with 8 salt plates. The plates are placed at the four cardinal directions and the four inter-cardinal directions. If a person feels the imminent arrival of rough spirit, you may ask a person to lick a grain of salt.

In our cultural bereavement work, and sometimes as a way for immigrants, multiracial or multicultural-identifying individuals, we invite people to find meaning in the dualism of sacred salt inspired by the work of author and teacher at the Dharma Rain Zen Center of Portland, OR Sallie Tisdale, for salt is free-flowing and permeates water so completely when it dissolves…..yet when it is in its dry form with air that it is boundaries, siloed, and solid as a rock.

In an age of concerns about cultural appropriation, we offer that you, regardless of your race, creed, or culture, may choose to keep this practice for your own and use salt cleansing as it fits your own cleansing needs and the needs of your clients. For salt is elemental to each human’s homeostasis. So, salt represents the concept of universal access. 

Finally, we also offer the following idea to all of you as our brothers and sisters on this earth: Consider placing in your own spaces a combination of salt and fire light such as a salt lamp or salt votive holder to set a warm, cleansing glow that cherishes the relative universality of salt’s value across all cultures and most species and some spirit worlds too. May this glow serve as a unifying protection and symbol of nonviolent unity that is sacred to our interconnected web of life.


**You are invited to email Melanie and share your cultural Salt Story.**

From India, The Salt March (aka the March of Dandi), Mahatma Ghandi’s first major public act of civil, nonviolent disobedience aimed at disrupting the British salt monopoly by drying universally accessible ocean water in troughs to make salt. (Added by TJ.) 60,000 Indians were imprisoned for violating the British Raj salt laws as a result.

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