Kegare (穢れ・汚れ, uncleanness, defilement) is the Japanese term for a state of pollution and defilement, important particularly in Shinto as a religious term. Typical causes of kegare are the contact with any form of death, childbirth (for both parents), disease and menstruation. In Shinto, kegare is a form of tsumi (taboo violation), which needs to be somehow remedied by the person responsible. This condition can be remedied through purification rites called misogi and harae. Kegare can have an adverse impact not only on the person directly affected, but also to the community he or she belongs to.
Kegare is not a form of moral judgment, but rather a spontaneous reaction to amoral natural forces. Whether the defiling was caused by a deliberate act, as for example in the case of a crime, or by an external event, such as illness or death, is secondary. It is therefore not an equivalent of sin.
Death as a source of kegare
The concept of kegare from death still has considerable force within Japanese society, even during Buddhist funerals. Death and everything having to do with it are seen as a primary source of defilement.
This is why, after the death of one of its members, a family will not send to friends and relatives the usual postcards with seasonal greetings during summer and winter, replacing them with letters of excuses. Those who attend a Buddhist funeral receive a small bag of salt to purify themselves before they return to their homes, in order to avoid bringing kegare to their families.
The family's kami must be protected as much as possible from contact with death, blood, and disease. A still common consequence of this is the habit to give up the traditional New Year visit (hatsumōde) to a Shinto shrine if a death in the family has occurred within the last year.
Shinto priests (the kannushi) are expected to pay particular attention to avoid this kind of kegare, and must be careful to deal correctly with death and disease. Given how important dealing with death is in religion, this strong death taboo cannot have been part of kami worship from the beginning. The exclusion of death from religious rites became for the first time possible when another religion, Buddhism, could take charge of it.
- The Glossary of Shinto for an explanation of terms concerning Japanese Shinto, Shinto art, and Shinto shrine architecture.
- Sacred–profane dichotomy
- Nishioka, Kazuhiko. "Kegare". Encyclopedia of Shinto. Kokugakuin University.
- Iwanami Kōjien (広辞苑) Japanese dictionary, 6th Edition (2008), DVD version, "Kegare"
- Iwanami Kōjien (広辞苑) Japanese dictionary, 6th Edition (2008), DVD version, "Tsumi"
- Scheid, Bernhard. "Kegare". Religion in Japan (in German). University of Vienna. Retrieved 2 Nov 2010.
- Eyfells, Eyjolfur. "Shinto's spiritual value in the past and present" (PDF). Skemman. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
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