Ways Religious Syncretism Happens

Perhaps the most obvious form of syncretism in my own practice is Honji Suijaku, or the merging of Shinto with Buddhism. Benzaiten-sama was the Indian goddess Sarasvati, but was absorbed into the Japanese pantheon after becoming associated with the goddess Ichikishima-hima. She was eventually so thoroughly nativized that she was again syncretized with a Buddhist figure – this time Kannon, better known as Guanyin.

The Lefthander's Path

Syncretism is when you combine two things together to create a new thing, and it’s very common in many religions. It happens both historically and in modern times, for a variety of reasons. I’ll start by discussing historical examples, and will cover ways to approach syncretism yourself in another post.

Syncretism in the Roman Empire– We’ll Go to War with You and Then Add your Gods to Our Pantheon!

As Romans added territory to their Empire, they encountered people who worshiped other gods. Being polytheists, they didn’t really care so long as the Gauls, Germannii and so forth obeyed them. But the Romans liked to say “oh, that god you call Wodan is kinda like Mercurius”, just as they had done earlier with the Greek gods. This is referred to as Interpretatio Romana. Sometimes these foreign gods were adopted into Roman religion, often with Romanized names. Sometimes we…

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Sarasvati Lives Here: a Shrine to Benzaiten

Pictures of Benzaiten’s shrine in Inokashira Park, near Tokyo (also within walking distance of the Ghibli Museum). Enjoy!

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 The shrine also had a little worship hall for Kannon (The Japanese version of Quan Yin. It should be pointed out that Kannon is only rarely conceived of as female; The Chinese gendering of the Indian boddhisattva as such by default was unique to them, and did not occur until the 12th century)

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The shrine also has a website. Despite the Japanese that shows up on the browser tab, this is the link to the English-language page.