Psychogeographic Shintoism With a Cup of Tea
We came across an ornate Japanese tea set some time ago last year, while excavating the old house. It is likely from the early 20th century. We generally drink tea, for lack of a better word, “haphazardly” – at random times, and from whatever mug is sitting on the front of the cupboard shelf. So we didn’t have much occasion to use a beautiful and somewhat fragile tea set… until the holidays. And then we used it a lot.
My brother, his girlfriend, and her family visited for about a week, her father having come directly from China. We gave them a tour of the house, and by the end of their first night there, the Japanese tea cups came out.
Over the course of their stay, it became a ritual, after dinner, to break out the tea set and spend time at the table, talking and simply being together. We never directly addressed it as a ritual, and I don’t how much the parents normally treat it as such in China (I assume it helped relieve some of the culture shock of flying from a metropolitan city in China to a town of 2,000 people in Vermont), but to my mind, the ritual aspects of our after-dinner teas offered them something special.
The specifics of tea rituals vary probably at least as widely as types of tea, from place to place, and person to person. (The phrase “not my cup of tea” seems to support this idea.) Whereas Orwell believed that the “water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact” (in addition to ten other golden rules he had), our guests said that ideally the kettle should come to a boil, then sit off the burner for a minute or two before joining the loose tea in the pot. Beyond that, we didn’t have too many rules, other than the timing (after dinner) and the continual refilling of the cups. The importance lies not in the specific aspects of the ritual, but simply that we had a ritual at all.
This new ritual – based on a simple practice and a found old tea set – brings to mind Shinto, a ritualistic Japanese religion intended in part to bridge past and present. My only experience with Shinto came from a Corvid College weekend workshop, “Psychogeographic Shintoism.” On the first day we conducted a dérive, a purposeful wandering about the city based on desire and chance, gathering inspiration and artifacts. And on the second day we constructed shrines based on our dérive, and installed them in the city for the purpose of ritualistic “worship.”
It only just occurred to me that this practice of psychogeographic Shintoism serves as an apt metaphor for what we’ve been doing while living in this house in Vermont: gathering material from a psychic past that lends itself to new rituals, conviviality, and a direct connection to the past from whence it came. In our case, it took the chance finding of an old tea set, its preservation, and its enactment in a new ritual – one that will hopefully continue from here on out.
(Top image note and source: “Still life of a dinner table,” pixabay)
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