From the seas of Japan to the deserts of Sumer…

As announced in the previous days, here comes an article which delves into some unexpected parallelisms between Shinto and the Sumerian Religion in the wake of a complex research whose fruits we hope you will learn from.

Despite writing about what is for us a very distant faith, as in time so in space, we of Ume no Hana Shinto will be completely impartial and respectful in this analysis. Enjoy!

Let’s get started with our journey

At a shallow glance, the ancient Sumerian Religion and Shinto may seem utterly unrelated having flourished in very distant regions of the world, among different people and unique cultural landscapes. While this is true, there’s more than meets the eye indeed we are still able to identify a lot of similarities between these two faiths… 

Some context before we dig into this fascinating topic : the Sumerian Religion was the religion practiced in ancient Mesopotamia by Sumerians (from the Akkadian “Šumeru” indicating the language spoken in what are now Kuwait and southern Iraq) probably as soon as 6000 BC though there is no written evidence until millenia later. Shinto (from “shin” “deity” and “to” “way, path”) is a Japanese religion which was born as an evolution of Ko Shinto around 350 BC and it’s currently the seventh world religion by adherents. 

Under a deeper inquisition, we come across other similarities : “honden” and “ziggurat”. More often than not inside a Shintoist shrine you’ll discover a space you will be blocked from entering, a room called honden where a Kami (the term for “deity” in Shinto) is physically present, channeled in an object which takes the name of “shintai”. The most famous example is the sacred mirror which incarnates the spirit of Amaterasu-Omikami, but, truth be told, there are countless other instances of this such as Mount Miwa being seen as the shintai of the Kami Omononushi (needless to say that the mountain is not contained by a honden). Likewise, in the Sumerian Religion, temples known as Ziggurat were thought to be the physical dwelling of the Gods. A Sumerian deity could be present in more places at once (Inanna’s presence was revered at about sixty different houses of worship) and the same is true of the Kami Who can possess multiple shintai in various shrines or in other sacred environments. 

As far as the afterlife is concerned, Sumerians believed that the dead would go to a location called “Kur” characterized by gloomy light, dust, bare rock, shadows with terrible demons (referred to as “Galla”). Even though the concept of afterlife in Shinto deserves its own article and it is extremely intriguing and variable, some followers believe in Yomi which is a deep cave immersed in shadows and dusts where the dead are supposed to go, with plenty of ghosts (“yurei” in Japanese) included. Both religions don’t seem to put that much emphasis on the relationship between behavior in life and reward or punishment after death. 

Undoubtedly not in an Abrahimic sense, but both Shinto and the Sumerian Religion have got a form of paradise respectively named “Takamagahara” and “An” (which is also a Sumerian deity, also known as “Anu”). These heavenly realms are described as the abode of some of the Gods, not meant for deceased people to roam except for rare cases; for instance the Sumerian hero Ziusudra and his wife were brought up there and given immortality after saving humankind from a global flood (the Abrahimic myth of Noah comes from this story). 

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