While I volunteered at the Tsubaki America New Years event, I was offered the chance to perform Misogi with Rev. Barrish and some of the other volunteers. At 6:00am on 1 January some of us went down to the river and performed misogi.
Rev. Barrish has a description of misogi on the Tsubaki America page, and John D. has a description of his experience in Japan on his Green Shinto blog. Both of those show misogi in the summer. The Pilchuck river was cold.
The group of us changed into rental loincloths, went into the shrine and started the ritual. We then went outside, and continued. At first, I was a little worried because I didn’t know the words very well – some of the people perform misogi daily, and were very familiar with it. The further we went, the less it mattered.
There’s several stages of purification going on, as you prepare, and then purify yourselves enough to enter the river (which is kami itself) and then to finally wash the purification from yourself with the last part of the ritual.
The ritual builds to a sort of droning call-and-answer chant, which rattles you through and through. One of the parts of the process is referred to as “soul shaking” and it’s easy to understand why, when it is done in a group.
The ritual is short, or we’d all have had frostbite. No one did, and we went back into the shrine to dry off, put our long johns back on, and warm up.
In prior parts of my life, I’ve been to “spiritual” events that left no mark on me. This was not true of the misogi. It left me feeling clean and full of energy. That feeling persisted quite obviously for days. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it’s really easy to see where the idea that this was purification came from.
It also made it easier to work with everyone in the group. Not only had we all been filled with energy at the same time, but we had a powerful shared experience.
I hope I have the chance to do it again this year.