OHARAE 大祓: “The Great Purification”
Since ancient times, the Japanese have practiced a ritual to purify and rid themselves of misfortune, called yakunan 厄難 (illness, accident, injury, bad luck, etc.,) and/or kegare 穢れ(withered spirit). Twice each year on the last day of June and December, Shinto shrines in Japan conduct a ceremony called Oharae (pronounced “O-hah-rah-eh”). On these specific days, people come to the shrine to participate in a purification ritual. It is believed that this ritual purifies the person from all the bad things one has committed in the past year and removes any bad luck or suffering. In doing so, one can cleanse and refresh their energy and recharge their spirit for the upcoming year.
As part of the ritual, the shrine provides each participant a paper doll called a katashiro 形代, which are slips of paper that are cut into the shape of a human being. First, people write their name and date of birth on the front of the katashiro. Next, they wipe it on a body part they want to improve or renew or infuse it by thinking about the misfortunes and qualities they wish to release. Lastly, they blow on the paper doll 3 times to help transfer one’s sins and impurities into the doll. The katashiro are then collected, blessed by the Shinto priests and in a beautiful ceremony are released individually into a nearby stream. Participants then watch their katashiro float on by, purified by the water and can envision releasing and surrendering the burdens they have created and carried all year long.
2021 was a challenging year for many. Life unfolded with constant changes that gave us opportunities to reflect on what we truly believe. If you had a challenging year, I want you to reflect on all the beliefs that you have about yourself, your life and others. Are your beliefs about these things absolute truths? An absolute truth is something that is true at all times and in all places no matter what the circumstances. It is a fact that cannot be changed—like the fact that there is no such thing as a round square.
As you reflect on your beliefs, you will soon realize that in life, there are very few absolute truths. What makes your beliefs feel like absolute truths are the choices you make on a daily basis. Make the same choices, out of sheer habit or unconsciously, then you will undoubtedly arrive at the same exact outcomes or results—every single time.
So as you examine your beliefs, simply ask yourself: “How are my beliefs working for me?” If the answer is not very well, then just know that you can always change your beliefs by doing one simple thing: Consciously make a new choice! As we proceed into the new year, imagine what things you'd like to release or surrender so that you don't carry it forward into the next year. Then imagine releasing your own katashiro and watch how beautifully your life unfolds.