Women of the Sacred Groves: Divine Priestesses of Okinawa

Paperback | January 1, 1999

bySusan Sered

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Okinawa is the only contemporary society in which women lead the official, mainstream, publicly funded religion. Priestesses are the acknowledged religious leaders within the home, clan, and village--and, until annexation by Japan approximately one hundred years ago, within the RyukyuanKingdom. This fieldwork-based study provides a gender-sensitive look at a remarkable religious tradition. Susan Sered spent a year living in Henza, an Okinawan fishing village, joining priestesses as they conducted rituals in the sacred groves located deep in the jungle-covered mountains surroundingthe village. Her observations focus upon the meaning of being a priestess and the interplay between women's religious preeminence and other aspects of the society. Sered shows that the villages social ethos is characterized by easy-going interpersonal relations, an absence of firm rules and hierarchies, and a belief that the village and its inhabitants are naturally healthy. Particularly interesting is her discovery that gender is a minimal category here:villagers do not adapt any sort of ideology that proclaims that men and women are inherently different from one another. Villagers do explain that because farmland is scarce in Okinawa, men have been compelled to go to the dangerous ocean and to foreign countries to seek their livelihoods. Women, incontrast, have remained present in their healthy and pleasant village, working on their farms and engaging in constant rounds of intra- and interfamilial socializing. Priestesses, who do not exert power in the sense that religious leaders in many other societies do, can be seen as the epitome ofpresence. By praying and eating at myriad rituals, priestesses make immediate and tangible the benevolent presence of kami-sama (divinity). Through in-depth examination of this unique and little-studied society, Sered offers a glimpse of a religious paradigm radically different from the male-dominated religious ideologies found in many other cultures.

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Okinawa is the only contemporary society in which women lead the official, mainstream, publicly funded religion. Priestesses are the acknowledged religious leaders within the home, clan, and village--and, until annexation by Japan approximately one hundred years ago, within the RyukyuanKingdom. This fieldwork-based study provides a gen...

Susan Sered is at Bar-Ilan University.

other books by Susan Sered

Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 9.09 × 5.98 × 0.91 inPublished:January 1, 1999Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195124871

ISBN - 13:9780195124873

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Table of Contents

IntroductionPrologue: Okinawan History, Henza Village, and MethodologyPart I: Divine Dis-order1. Divine Dis-order: On Social Planes2. Divine Dis-order: On Cosmological PlanesPart II: Questions of Gender3. Gender in an Egalitarian Society4. Gender Separation and Social Integration5. Women and Men and RitualPart III: Sitting in the Seat of the Gods6. Priestesses and Ritual: Feeding the Kami-sama7. Divine Dis-order: Signs, Symptoms, and Sitting in the Right Seat8. Born to Be Kami-samaPart IV: Questions of Power9. The Problematics of Power10. Priestesses, Yuta, and Ogami PeoplePart V: Deconstructing Gender11. Un-gendering Religious Discourse12. Gender Bending(?) and Ritual DeconstructionConclusion: Religion, Power, and the Sanctification of GenderAppendixes:1. Glossary of Japanese and Okinawan Words2. Dramatis PersonaeNotesReferencesIndex

Editorial Reviews

"The value of this sensitive study rests in its close attention to gender-related issues....This is a valuable addition to the literature on this relatively understudied area of the world."--Religious Studies Review