Shime torii: just two posts and a shimenawa
Ise torii – a shinmei torii with a kasagi pentagonal in section, a shimaki and kusabi
Myojin – kusagi and shimaki are curved upwards
Kasuga torii /myōjin torii with straight top lintels cut at a square angle
Mihashira toriis showing Nestorian influences – records of Konoshima Shrine in Kyoto, hinting at Nestorian influences in the construction of the torii, state that the three pillars represent the heavens, the earth, and mankind
One of the more plausible and elaborately argued theories of the origins of the torii architecture and symbology in Japan is associated with the Indo-Iranian or Persian bird perch.
“The Phœnix, like the bird Feng, is a mystical bird said to live 500 or 600 years and then to build for itself in the desert a funeral pyre of dried grasses and sweet spices. To this it sets fire by fluttering its wings whilst hovering over it, is then consumed, but from the ashes it rises again renewed in youth and in its gorgeous plumage; an idea appropriated by old-established fire insurance offices, the symbol of which is familiar to all.
The Phœnix is believed by the Chinese to uphold their Empire and preside over its destiny; it is also worn as a Talisman for Longevity and Conjugal Happiness; whilst in the mystic sense it typifies the- whole world, its head the heavens, its eyes the Sun, its beak the Moon, its wings the wind, its feet the earth, and its tail the trees and plants.
To the Japanese the Phœnix, or ho-wo bird, is a Talisman for Rectitude, Obedience, Fidelity, Justice, and Benevolence, and they consider it a manifestation of the Sun, its appearance on earth being considered a portent of great events. The torii, a kind of gate elaborately carved and decorated at the entrances of Shinto temples, is erected for the Phœnix to perch upon should it visit the earth (see Illustration No. 40, Plate III).“
Source: The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems, by William Thomas and Kate Pavitt, , at sacred-texts.com p. 38-39 [The phoenix is also a common emblem adorning the top of the roof of the portable mikoshi shrine].
The torii is explained as a sacred perch where the Phoenix alights In the excerpt “The Torii. [Shinto Gateway.] from the 1902 copy of the “Mythological Japan : the symbolisms of mythology in relation to Japanese art, with illustrations drawn in Japan, by native artists” by Alexander F. Otto and Theodore S Holbrook:
“The whispering voices of tradition — how we treasure them — tell us that the Torii, the stately, well poised gateway of Shinto faith, has an office that lifts it far above the commonplace. The Sun at divers times and places, comes down to earth in the form of the great and wondrous Ho- Wo Bird, or Heavenly Phoenix, using for its perch one of the many Torii Gates, which the good people of Japan have built and placed throughout the land for that most exalted purpose.
The traveller may still see the Torii at the entrance to the Shinto temple grounds, where it appears as the signification of the true gateway to a life of grace ; in art, it is used innumerable times in the decoration of Japan’s fairest ornaments.”
This suggests a original and remoter provenance from some Persian influenced ideology upon early relic technology from the area of Anyang’s Yin ruins site, Shandong (or the other early Chinese tribes) where a rare small torii has been excavated from an underground burial tomb chamber. Alternatively, as the earliest torii is said to have been from the Kofun kurgan period, the torii may in fact have been of Indo-Iranic influences from incoming Saka migrants. Torii are gates have been observed to resemble the torana at Sanchi, in India which betrays the Indo-Iranian Saka sun-worshipping tribes who settled mainly in the Northern and Northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent.
In India (at Sanchi), the torana (Wikimedia Commons)
Also in India:
For a further evolution of torii structural styles in Japan see the JAANUS article “torii “for elaboration of the topic.
According to Wikipedia’s entry on “Torii”:
“Because the use of symbolic gates is widespread in Asia—such structures can be found for example in India, China, Thailand, Korea, and within Nicobarese and Shompen villages—historians believe they may be an imported tradition.
They may for example have originated in India from the torana gates in the monastery of Sanchi in central India. According to this theory, the torana was adopted by Shingon Buddhism founder Kūkai, who used it to demarcate the sacred space used for the homa ceremony. The hypothesis arose in the 19th and 20th centuries due to similarities in structure and name between the two gates. Linguistic and historical objections have now emerged, but no conclusion has yet been reached.
In Bangkok, Thailand, a religious structure called Sao Ching Cha strongly resembles a torii. Functionally, however, it is very different as it is used as a swing. During ceremonies Brahmins swing, trying to grab a bag of coins placed on one of the pillars.
Other theories claim torii may be related to the pailou of China. These structures however can assume a great variety of forms, only some of which actually somewhat resemble a torii.
This pailou in Xujiang, Jiangxi is similar to theMiwa shrine’s torii below.
The Korean hongsalmun (紅箭門) is the most likely actual relative of the torii.[note 2] Structurally, being red and composed by two vertical posts crossed by two horizontal lintels, it strongly resembles it. Hongsalmun also stand free in front or near a sacred location, and are just a symbolic borderline between sacred and profane. The major difference between the two lies in the fact that in Korea the two horizontal lintels do not lie on top of the pillars, but are surpassed in height by them. In spite of these obvious similarities which suggest a relationship, it is still unclear whether this is a case of parallel evolution, or if either one gave birth to the other.”
The above ambivalent position taken on the origins of the torii notwithstanding, we would like to examine the possibility of the torii architecture being derived from Indo-Iranian (proto-Persian) religious symbolism and attendant influences upon mainland religions.
The Simurgh(Simorgh)’s Perch
The Persians have a mystical tale of the Touba was a (pomegranate) tree in Paradise where the mythical bird, the Simorgh loved to perch, according to Persian literature “Touba and the Meaning of Night” by Shahrnush Parsipur, Havva Houshmand. Although according to Hafiz, the Persian Poet, the Simorgh perched ” on the dewy boughs of stately pine”
The Simorgh was a creature of Middle Eastern mythology which took hybrid form of a human head and figure of a bird. The legendary Simorgh was believed to be so old that it had seen the destruction of the world three times over.
M. C. Escher owned this Simorgh figurine, a gift from his father-in-law, who acquired it as a wedding gift in Azerbaijan Photo courtesy: Cordon Art B.V., Baarn, The Netherlands
The tale of the Simorgh
“there was a carved wooden statue of a phoenix at the tip of the cliff. What’s that I asked my mother? It’s a phoenix, it’s really like our bird. The Simorgh she explained was a mystical bird, the leader king of all birds thousands of years ago . One day the birds were summoned and asked to undertake a journey to reach their king They accepted, though it was a hazardous journey fraught with obstacles and Some of the birds, the nightingale, the sparrow dropped out along the way. …in the end, the birds made it to the final valley gathered and waited expectantly to meet their leader. Their guide turned to them and announced there was no leader, no Simorgh, just themselves. That if they looked around them–they would realize that they themselves were the Simorgh. The tale relied on a play of words. In Farsi ‘si’ meant thirty, ‘morgh’ meant bird. The birds looked around and realized there were thirty of them. The goal of their journey which they had imagined as a quest for their king, was actually their quest for self.”
Source: “Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran” By Azadeh Moaveni.
The tale of the Simorgh is found in the tale of Zal or Zaal, a legendary Persian warrior from the old Persian “The Book of Kings/ The king of books” or Shahnameh, as well as in Peter Sis’ illustrated “The Conference of the Birds“, an adaptation of the classic twelfth-century Sufi epic, see review by Randall Hayes for the Audubon Bird Society excerpted below.
Look at the troubles happening in our world!
Desperate fights over territory, water, and food!
Poisoned air! Unhappiness!
I fear we are lost. We must do something!
I’ve seen the world. I know many secrets.
Listen to me: I know of a king who has all the answers.
We must go and find him
After a good bit of funny and very human arguing, the birds flap off to find their king, called Simorgh. Their search covers half the world, and at the end they realize that THEY are Simorgh….
Sassanid silver plate with a depiction of a simurgh (Sēnmurw), 7-8th c. CE (Wikimedia Commons)
Tomb mural painting depicting of the arrival of Saka(?) warriors with upcurling toed-boots, from across the sea to Kyushu, with their hemp-fans and horse cultures. Notice the griffin-like creature slightly floating above the other figures, which may be the homa / huma bird of the early Iranian-Saka peoples. It is a close match with the griffin-homa creature seen in Iranian art in Persepolis (but less so with the griffins of the Altai region). Homa, is “a legendary bird especially of the Persian branch of Iranian mythology and Sufi fable. It is said to never come to rest, living its entire life flying invisibly high above the earth, and never alighting on the ground…The word Huma which has a Persian origin is reflected in Old Iranian Humāya. In Arabic we find the term Bulah corresponding to Huma. In Turkic mythology, it is referred as bird of Kumay or Umay which was used as a symbol of Çepni, one of the 24 tribal organizations of Oghuz Turks… the Huma bird is said to be phoenix-like, consuming itself in fire every few hundred years, only to rise anew from the ashes. The creature is often referred to as bird of paradise...” — Source: Huma Bird
Excerpted from Simurgh:
“The simurgh is depicted in Iranian art as a winged creature in the shape of a bird, gigantic enough to carry off an elephant or a whale. It appears as a kind of peacock with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion; sometimes however also with a human face. The simurgh is inherently benevolent and unambiguously female…
The simurgh has teeth. It has an enmity towards snakes and its natural habitat is a place with plenty of water. Its feathers are said to be the colour of copper, and though it was originally described as being a Dog-Bird, later it was shown with either the head of a man or a dog. …
Iranian legends consider the bird so old that it had seen the destruction of the World three times over. The simurgh learned so much by living so long that it is thought to possess the knowledge of all the Ages. In one legend, the simurgh was said to live 1,700 years before plunging itself into flames (much like the phoenix).
The simurgh was considered to purify the land and waters and hence bestow fertility. The creature represented the union between the earth and the sky, serving as mediator and messenger between the two. The simurgh roosted in Gaokerena, the Hōm (Avestan: Haoma) Tree of Life, which stands in the middle of the world sea Vourukhasa. The plant is potent medicine, is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it. When the simurgh took flight, the leaves of the tree of life shook making all the seeds of every plant to fall out. These seeds floated around the world on the winds of Vayu-Vata and the rains of Tishtrya, in cosmology taking root to become every type of plant that ever lived, and curing all the illnesses of mankind. …
The relationship between the simurgh and Hōm is extremely close. Like the simurgh, Hōm is represented as a bird, a messenger and as the essence of purity that can heal any illness or wound. Hōm – appointed as the first priest – is the essence of divinity, a property it shares with the simurgh. The Hōm is in addition the vehicle of farr(ah) (MP: khwarrah, Avestan: khvarenah, kavaēm kharēno) “[divine] glory” or “fortune”. Farrah in turn represents the divine mandate that was the foundation of a king’s authority.
It appears as a bird resting on the head or shoulder of would-be kings and clerics, so indicating Ormuzd’s acceptance of that individual as His divine representative on earth. For the commoner, Bahram wraps fortune/glory “around the house of the worshipper, for wealth in cattle, like the great bird Saena, and as the watery clouds cover the great mountains” (Yasht 14.41, cf. the rains of Tishtrya above). Like the simurgh, farrah is also associated with the waters of Vourukasha (Yasht 19.51,.56-57). In Yašt 12.17 Simorgh’s (Saēna’s) tree stands in the middle of the sea Vourukaša, it has good and potent medicine, is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it.
In the Shahnameh
The Simurgh made its most famous appearance in the Ferdowsi’s epic Shahname (Book of Kings), where its involvement with the Prince Zal is described. According to the Shahname, Zal, the son of Saam, was born albino. When Saam saw his albino son, he assumed that the child was the spawn of devils, and abandoned the infant on the mountain Alborz.
The child’s cries were carried to the ears of the tender-hearted Simurgh, who lived on top this peak, and she retrieved the child and raised him as her own. Zal was taught much wisdom from the loving Simurgh, who has all knowledge, but the time came when he grew into a man and yearned to rejoin the world of men. Though the Simurgh was terribly saddened, she gifted him with three golden feathers which he was to burn if he ever needed her assistance.
Upon returning to his kingdom, Zal fell in love and married the beautiful Rudaba. When it came time for their son to be born, the labor was prolonged and terrible; Zal was certain that his wife would die in labour. Rudabah was near death when Zal decided to summon the simurgh. The simurgh appeared and instructed him upon how to perform a cesarean section thus saving Rudabah and the child, who became one of the greatest Persian heroes, Rostam. Simurgh also shows up in the story of the Seven Trials of Esfandiar and the story of Rostam and Esfandiar.
In Azeri folklore
Simurgh also goes by the name of Zumrud (emerald). It was an ancient tale about Malik Mammad, the son of one of the wealthiest kings of Azerbaijan. That king had a big garden. In the center of this garden is a magical apple tree which yields apples every day. One ugly giant called Div decides to steal all the apples every night. The king sends Malik Mammad and his elder brothers fight the giant. In the middle of this tale Malik Mammad saves Simurgh’s babies from a dragon. Simurgh takes pleasure of Malik Mammad and decides to help him. When Malik Mammad wants to pass form The Dark world into the Light world Simurgh asks him to provide 40 half carcasses of meat and 40 wineskin filled with water. When Simurgh puts water on its left wing and meat on its right wing Malik Mammad is able to enter the Light world….
In Kurdish folklore
Simurgh is shortened to Sīmīr in the Kurdish language. The scholar Trever quotes two Kurdish folktales about the bird. These versions go back to the common stock of Iranian Simorḡ stories. In one of the folk tales, a hero rescues Simurgh’s off-springs by killing a snake that is crawling up the tree to feed upon them. As a reward Sīmīr(Simurgh) gives him three of her feathers; which the hero can call for help by burning them. Later the hero uses the feathers, and Simurgh carries him to a distant land. In the other tale, Simurgh carries the hero out of the netherworld; here Simurgh feeds its young with its teats, a trait which agrees with the description of the Simurgh in the Middle Persian book of Zdspram. “
From the above, we can see that the Simurgh symbolizes purity, divinity, and the gateway to the Netherworld and the journey from the Dark World into the Light World.
Parthian city of Simorghian bird and tori is residence of sacred bird and Asuka was the capital city of Japan in Asuka era (500-645). Asuka was derived from Persian word “Ark Saca” which means the sacred place of the Saccas (Scythians). Parthian “Arsaces” has the same origins. Hi 飛 means flying, Tori 鳥 means bird. Asuka 飛鳥 means “flying bird”. The bird is Simorgh (Goddess Div).
TOJO Masato concluded in his great treatise “An introduction to Simorghian Culture and Mithraism in East Asia” on Persian influences in Japan:
“Torii is the gate of Shintô shrine. Tori 鳥 means bird, I 居 means residence. Therefore Torii 鳥居 means a residence of a bird (Simorgh). Shintô shrines are residents of Simorgh. This word is also Iranian origin. The shape of torii is symbolical representation of Simorgh as the winged disk widely used in Persia” (Source: Imoto. Ancient Iranian Culture and its influences on Japanese Culture, Panel Discussion, 2007 January 21th Sunday).
While in the Asuka period, Asuka 飛鳥 means “flying bird” and its symbolism is strongly associated with the phoenix or as argued by scholars, the Simorghian bird, as a bird perch the tori architecture is also often strongly associated with the rooster or cock perch, therefore showing perhaps a stronger Sraosa affinity as gate to the Underworld or possibly paradise, since Sraosa was better known as accompanied by messenger cockerels (with ancient statuary found in Luristan).
Another more remoter but possible early prototype of the shrine gate is the Jewish doorpost and gateway:
Lechis – Strip used to represent a doorpost. Can be made of anything solid from a length of twine to a 2×4 or I-beam. In the Boston Eruv, lechis are usually made of black plastic U-guard, of the type employed by the telephone company for protecting ground wires coming down the side of a utility pole. The lechis are affixed to the pole using U-shaped nails. The lechi is attached to a utility pole side starting at the ground and continuing upwards until just beneath whichever cable is being used as the vertical member of the Tzurat HaPesach (see below).
Korah The lintel portion of the Tzurat HaPesah (see below). This horizontal member can be an existing physical structure such as an existing utility (phone or cable, usually phone) cable that is already in place between a set of two poles. If no cables are located where the two Eruv poles are being used (for example along the Massachusetts Turnpike where the Eruv erected standalone poles), a length of plastic (polypropylene) baling twine is stretched between the tops of the two poles. The twine is insensitive to moisture and cold and only mildly sensitive to sun, i.e. ultraviolet radiation exposure. It holds little moisture and does not tend to build up ice during the winter. It does suffer from abrasion damage if tree branches rub against it. However, since it is electrically non-conductive, the various granting agencies allow the Eruv to use it.
Tzurat HaPesach A doorway opening. The construction of two doorposts and an overhead lintel. This construction is used when the Eruv fence or border is open and some way must be found to maintain perimeter continuity. In one case, two poles can be erected at the edges of the gap and a length of non-conducting twine is stretched carefully between the two pole tops. It is critical that the twine be attached to the pole over the absolute top of the pole and not to the pole side.
The term eruv refers to the act of mixing or combining, and is shorthand for eruv hazerot–the mixing of domains, in this case, the private (rashut hayahid) and the public (rashut harabim). An eruv does not allow for carrying items otherwise prohibited by Jewish law on Shabbat, such as money or cell phones.
Having an eruv does not mean that a city or neighborhood is enclosed entirely by a wall. Rather, the eruv can be comprised of a series of pre-existing structures (walls, fences, electrical poles and wires) and/or structures created expressly for the eruv, often a wire mounted on poles. In practice, then, the eruv is a symbolic demarcation of the private sphere, one that communities come together to create
Despite its symbolic nature, the eruv is intended to mimic in some way the form of walls, which need doorways–defined as two posts with a crossbeam over them, strong enough to withstand an ordinary wind. The eruv likewise needs openings, consisting of crossbeams resting or passing directly over the top of the doorpost (lehi). This is how modern rabbis arrived at the solution of having the eruv be made of a wire: The poles holding up the wire represent the “doorposts,” and the wire itself represents the “crossbeam.”
Many communities construct their eruvim by using lighting (or utility) poles to fulfill the requirement of doorposts and a continuous cable, string, or wire to represent the crossbeam. In order for this arrangement to be acceptable, the “beam” must rest directly above the top of the doorposts
It has also been nicknamed–using the Yiddish word for carrying–“the magic schlepping circle.” Since the social aspect of Shabbat is one of the most significant elements fostering community bonding, the eruv proves to be instrumental in enhancing the Shabbat experience, though disagreements and disputes surrounding its very nature and essence are likely to continue.
It may be that early forms of the eruv doorpost emerged from and were carried by an extremely ancient migratory lineage of Semitic-Arab origin who are represented by haplogroup D-bearing (Y-DNA) ethnic population groups including the Druzes, the Kalash(pre-Vedic culture of Pamir-Hindu Kush mountains), the Sindhi of Pakistan, etc. (see the map of the haplogroup D trail) who eventually reached Japan during the Kofun Period in substantial numbers as bearers of pre-Vedic rituals and horse and sacrificial culture with them.
Another bird-symbolism cultural zone may be associated with the Y-DNA haplogroup N. Haplogroup N1b forms two distinctive subclusters of STR haplotypes, Asian and European, the latter now mostly distributed in Uralic-speakers and related populations. Haplogroup N1b (N-P43)..is defined by the presence of the marker P43 and is found frequently among Northern Samoyedic peoples; also found at low to moderate frequency among some other Uralic peoples, Turkic peoples, Mongolic peoples, Tungusic peoples, and Siberian Yupiks.
Haplogroup N1c (N-M46)is approximately 14,000 years old. The mutations that define the subclade N-M46 (old name N3) are M46/Tat and P105. This is the most frequent subclade of N. It arose probably in the region of present day China, and subsequently experienced serial bottlenecks in Siberia and secondary expansions in eastern Europe.
In Siberia, haplogroup N-M46 reaches a maximum frequency of approximately 90% among the Yakuts, a Turkic people who live mainly in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. However, it is practically non-existent among many of the Yakuts’ neighboring ethnic groups, such as Tungusic speakers. It also has been detected in 2.4% (2/85) of a sample from Seoul, South Korea and in 1.4% (1/70) of a sample from Tokushima, Japan. The haplogroup N-M46 has a low diversity among Yakuts suggestive of a population bottleneck or founder effect. This was confirmed by a study of ancient DNA which traced the origins of the male Yakut lineages to a small group of horse-riders from the Cis-Baïkal area.
Subclade of N-M178 Haplogroup N1c1 (previously known as N3a) is defined by the presence of markers M178 and P298. Miroslava Derenko and her colleagues noted that there are two subclusters within this haplogroup, both present in Siberia and Northern Europe, with different histories. The one that they labelled N3a1 first expanded in south Siberia (approximately 10,000 years ago) and spread into Northern Europe (Finns -60%; Latvians – 40%; Estonians – 35% frequencies) while, the younger subcluster, which they labelled N3a2, originated in south Siberia (probably in the Baikal region). Source: Haplogroup N (Wikipedia)
The upshot of the above is that given the two ancient migratory lineages Y-DNA haplogroups D and N present in Japan, both regions have strong bird-death-netherworld cultures, the former from the Middle Eastern semitic-Arab lands, and the latter from Siberian lands, the theory (see Wikipedia’s “Torii”) advancing the bird-Netherworld association that is strongly associated with the Middle East becomes highly plausible:
Because in Japan birds have long had a connection with the dead, this may mean it was born in connection with some prehistorical funerary rite. Ancient Japanese texts like the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki for example mention how Yamato Takeru after his death became a white bird and in that form chose a place for his own burial. For this reason, his mausoleum was then called shiratori misasagi (白鳥陵?, white bird grave). Many later texts also show some relationship between dead souls and white birds, a link common also in other cultures, shamanic like the Japanese. Bird motifs from the Yayoi and Kofun periods associating birds with the dead have also been found in several archeological sites. This relationship between birds and death would also explain why, in spite of their name, no visible trace of birds remains in today’s torii: birds were symbols of death, which in Shinto brings defilement (kegare)
The last sentence is however, somewhat incorrect since rooster symbolism and sacrifice remains associated with Ise Shrines and the Amaterasu myth, and are seen on Rooster Market Day (Tori-no-ichi festivals) held at O-Tori-jinja shrines, as well as Tengu- or three-legged-crow- motifs that are widespread and iconic in many mountain shrines). The rooster symbol was a messenger for Sraosa as well as for early Jizos, and rooster fowl sacrifices are known all across India, the Bengal into Austronesian parts of Asia. The same mythical components of the rooster crowing and sun hiding in the cave, are shared by both the Japanese Amaterasu myth as well as the Miao legends (both lineages share the same ancient mtDNA M7 genetic pool). It is possible that the rooster was coopted as the bird symbol for the royal myth rather than the phoenix because firstly, the M7 lineages had arrived in Japan earlier than the Saka royals and elites, and secondly, because they were more heavily involved in agricultural rites in which the sun’s seasonal return had the greater significance. The rooster for the Iranians/Persians was also more central to funerary rites as an escort in the Afterlife Passage through the Underworld, while the Homa bird, Simurgh, Phoenix are more auspicious symbols of good fortune and are thus appear widely in conjunction with matsuri-festivals. Due to constraints of space here, for deeper treatment of this bird symbol, please see Rooster Symbolism and Rooster rituals and sacrifices in various cultures and since ancient times.
It is thus suggested here that the early toriis were architecture that came whole and parcel together with the Indo-Iranian Saka sun-worshipping lineages (and their sun-kings and rock-sky-vault and Earth-Womb-Cave-Passage-Netherworld burial culture) that had arrived in Japan from the mainland continent in China as well as Korea, especially associated with the elite royal lineages.
Sources and references:
Eruv By Sharonne Cohen
James Edward Ketelaar.Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. p.59
Derenko M, Malyarchuk B, Denisova GA et al: Y-chromosome haplogroup N dispersals from south Siberia to Europe. J Hum Genet 2007; 52: 763 – 770
Malyarchuk B, Derenko M: On the origin of Y-chromosome haplogroup N1b. Eur J Hum Genet. 2009 Dec;17(12):1540-1; author reply 1541-3. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2009.100. Epub 2009 Jun 17.
The Huma bird (Wikipedia)