In Noragami, not only do we get to know the origin of the Gods but also the importance of their instruments. In every religion, Gods are seen to be adorned with weapons or objects, which gives them a sense of identity. While Gods of War are seen with sharp weapons and garb; Gods of Wisdom and Knowledge often possess instruments of literary importance.
These instruments are none other than the Shinki they give names to.
The Shinki or Regalias(神器) are spirits whom the Gods use for various tasks and purposes. They are the spirits of people whom they think to deserve a second chance in life. They are provided with reasons and determination in the afterlife. Shinkis have the ability to transform into items or weapons and serve their god when their name is called.
Noragami has always placed heavy emphasis on names – be it Gods themselves or their trusted shinkis. While the names of Gods differ from culture to culture and even through ages, a shinki’s name is sacred.The act of receiving a name, is a prestigious badge of honor to a mere human spirit.
How are shinki named?
When a God decides to make any dead spirits or shiryou(死霊) as their Shinki, he/she must give them two names: one for the human form, and another for the vessel form. The Kanji character of the name will then be imprinted on the soul’s body, marking the ownership for the said spirit.
Their imprint also contains the god’s greatest secret, in which details regarding their past life, including their deceased name and cause of death, are sealed. When the creation process is completed, the god immediately becomes aware of the details of the shinki’s life.
The Shinki naming incantation
To give shinki a name, either for the first time or to someone who’s had a name before, a special incantation needs to be chanted. Names play a huge role in Noragami, and the naming process actually says a lot about the hierarchy of these living spirits.
The process of naming a spirit to become a Shinki, was first presented by Yatogami in Chapter 3 page 39.
“Grasping thy true name, I bind thee
With borrowed name, I dub thee my servant.
The name answers, the vessel to sound
I call thee as my divine instrument.
The name Yuki, The vessel Setsu. Come, Sekki!”
But a lot of meaning gets lost in the translation. So, if we look at the original incantation it says the following:
名は雪 器は雪. 来い雪器！
imina o nigirite, koko ni todomen.karina o motte, wa ga shimobe tosu
na wa shitagaite utsuwa wa oto ni. wa ga mei nite shinki to nasan.
na wa yuki,ki wa setsu. koi, sekki!
Now, if we do a breakdown of the incantation into several parts we can amass a lot of meanings in connection to the Japanese language.
Grasping thy true name, I bind thee
First, Yato mentions the word “imina(諱)”. It means “the name of the deceased person”, which we can also comprehend as the true name of the spirit. This name changes to a posthumous name after the person has died that should never be revealed again; a forbidden name. And to protect this name from falling into wrong hands, the God “grasps” and “binds or conceals” it- for which the word “nigirite(握りて)” and “todomen(留めん)” are used.
With borrowed name, I dub thee my servant
Next, Yato mentions “karina(仮名)”. It means “borrowed name” or an “alias”. Karina is the one that seals away the true name that should never be spoken of. The God gives the pure spirit a new name to suppress the “imina” and repetition of “yobina (the name the gods call their shinki in human form, like Yukine)”. Followed by declaring that from now on God is their master and they own the spirit as a servant for the rest of its life.
The name answers, the vessel to sound I call thee as my divine instrument
Finally, the trickiest part of the incantation instruction connects the two souls in an unbreakable bond which uses the beauty of the Japanese language.The kanji word for “shitaga(訓)” here can be also read as “kun(訓)”. And this “kun” literally translates to “the native Japanese reading of a Chinese character”.
So in other words, the “karina” is called in native Japanese reading or kun-yomi(Japanese reading form a kanji) and the vessel name is called with the sound reading or on-yomi(Chinese reading form a kanji).
Thus when a God gives a name to a Shinki, he/she has to give two names. One for the human form which is the native Japanese reading of the kanji, and another for the vessel form which is the sound reading of the kanji.
And the word “mei(命)” comes into play in a different aspect here. It can mean both “command” and, “life” and even “destiny”. This explains why the last line was translated as “I use my life to make you my servant” in the anime. The Gods’ use their lifeforce to name them and give them a second chance in life. It may make them pay when their Shinkis are in psychological distress but in return, they also try their best to keep their Gods unharmed.
Wiki says that the reason why gods and shinki have this connection that can end up killing the god is that they use their life to create shinki. Also, if we take “mei” as “destiny” then it hints to the Shinki to become a guide to carve the path for his/her God’s righteousness.
Why do Shinki/Yukine have 3 names?
Apparently, Shinkis must be given 2 names to form the bond between them and the respective Gods. They are named with a human-form name and an instrument name. But many Gods in Noragami, name their Shinki with a third name. This is done to give them a familial feeling.
So when Yatogami and his Shinki went to meet Tenjin-sama, he asked Yukine about his names. And Yato gives 3 names to shape his Shinki.
Human Form Name:
The “yobina” is the name given by a God to revert the Shinki’s vessel in its human form. The name is formed using the native Japanese character or kun-reading which is visible on the body of the Shinki. Yato’s naming skills are not very impressive that’s why he names his Shinkis based on his surroundings. For example, Yuki(雪) means snow and Yato found Yukine on a snowy night. Similarly, Tomo(伴) means companion, whom Yato needed to slay Ayakashi.
The vessel name is given by the God to transform the Shinki into an instrument or weapon. In Japanese, an instrument for God is represented by “ki(器)”. To form the vessel name, the same kanji used for “yobina” must have a Chinese reading as well. This sound reading or on-reading becomes the vessel name. For example, the kanji 雪 is yuki in Japanese reading and setsu in Chinese reading. And pairing up with the vessel name and the word for instrument (ki 器), the weapon name is born. Like, if we take Sekki(雪器) we will see that it is made up of Setsu(雪) + ki(器).
Note: “Setsu” becomes “Sekki” because, when a kanji that is more than 1 syllable long ends in -tsu and is combined with another kanji, the “tsu(つ)” is suppressed and the first consonant of the new kanji is doubled in romaji–thus why it’s written Sekki, not Seki. This brings forth a slight difference in pronunciation (like there’s a slight “pause” between the syllables) and hiragana spelling (regular tsu turns into a ‘small tsu(っ)’, indicating the next consonant is doubled), too.
A Mortal Name:
Shinkis are spirits of humans. And humans are social animals who love to form families.That is why most Gods use a specific character at the end or beginning of the “yobina” to distinguish their family of Shinkis. It is a great honor for a Shinki to receive a family name. And this tiny detail differentiates a Shinki from a Nora.
Yato unites his Shinki family with the character ‘ne(音)’ at the end of the ‘yobina’, while Kofuku uses ‘dai(大)’ in front of her Shinki names. Thus we get the Shinki names as Yukine(雪音) and Daikoku(大黒) respectively.
Importance of shinki names
A name is given to a shinki by their master. It is a blessing… and a curse.
For the shinkis, it is a matter of pride and honor to be named. In fact, even after a shinki is released or excommunicated, in their eyes, the God who named them holds a certain degree of respect. This respect is why Mayu (or Tomoné) emphasizes that Yato is a God who gave her a name and asked Tenjin to let her help him.
Names are so crucial for a shinki that the worst fear Gods hold is the erasure of their shinkis’ names. On multiple occasions, we saw that Gods go to great lengths to protect the names of their shinkis. In Yukiné’s ablution, too, we came to know that once a shinki’s name is erased, they will turn into an ayakashi.
However, naming a shinki is not merely a decision for a spirit; it is also a determinant for the God who names it. Why? Because it essentially influences the kind of God they turn out to be!
A God will become whatever their shinki makes of them. Shinkis guide their Gods and are responsible for their God’s nature. We are not short on examples of this fact from the story. Let’s take Yato for the sake of simplicity. With his three prominent shinkis, he was directed differently.
Hiiro pushed him to realize his nature as a God of Calamity by asking him to “play” with her( on Father’s wishes of course). Even though Hiiro was a child, too, her company took Yato’s humane side away. Meanwhile, in Sakura, Yato found a new side of himself. He learned of compassion, vulnerability, and humanity.
And at last, we have our beloved Yukiné. His firm resolve to turn Yato into a God of Happiness is a new chance at Yato’s nature and identity. However, this is a two-way thing. Shinkis are able to guide their master, BECAUSE the God first chose to give them a name.
A Name to give them purpose:
One can call shinki’s names the direction souls receive from the Gods. After a person dies, their souls are vulnerable to externalities and corruption. Sometimes they don’t have the sense that they are dead yet either. But receiving a name from a God gives them a purpose in their afterlife; they exist to serve their God.
By giving the spirits a purpose, Gods also protect the souls from turning into ayakashi. The prime example of saving a soul in need comes from Bishamon. While she is a Warrior God, Bishamon is known for having numerous shinkis because of her kind nature.
When she came across an ayakashi haunting a dead spirit, she immediately stopped and asked Kuraha to kill the ayakashi. And despite Kazuma’s wishes, she went ahead and saved this broken spirit. If a soul is infected by ayakashi once, it can never become a proper shinki. Thus, when Bishamon named the spirit Minéha, she turned into a broken mirror.
A sense of self and identity:
All shinki desire to be called upon by their God and be of the greatest use to them. This desire does corrupt them sometimes, like in the case of Kugaha, but otherwise, shinkis revere their positions next to their Gods. And they patiently wait for years for their God’s wish to call them too, like Suzuha. When a God calls them, it gives them a sense of self and identity.
The epitome of desiring this very sense of self that comes from shinki names is seen in Nora. She has a bunch of names on her body that she doesn’t want to hide and is actually somewhat proud to be needed by so many Gods. Be it the Gods’ dirty little secret, but she is still needed. She tries her best to remind Yato that he turned her into a stray and, thus, should call on her.
Despite her history with Yato, she also continually compares herself to Yukiné. Yato’s attitude changes towards her, and not calling on her name Hiiro forced her into this comparison. Her resentment towards herself and sense of loss grow exponentially when even Father refuses to call her.
Additionally, a shinki risking their name for their master is perhaps a tremendous honor for both the God and the shinki. When a shinki willingly puts their name at stake, i.e., takes on a blow that could “kill” them to protect their God, they turn into a Blessed Vessel or hafuri.
Yukine staked his Yuki name against Bishamon while Kazuma refused to give up his precious Kazu name to Yato. They both wanted to devote themselves to their masters and return their given name to them. Later they both came to be known as the “Blessed vessels”. Every Shinki is given a name so that they serve their masters faithfully even inspiralling of death.
Creating a family:
The Gods’ consideration and kindness can also be seen in their naming patterns. Most Gods want to create a familial environment and a sense of belonging for their shinki and keep a commonality between their names. Usually, this commonality is a suffix, or family name, of the shinki names.
For example, Yato uses “né,” Bishamon (now) uses “ha,” and Tenjin uses “yu” at the end of their shinkis’ names. The Gods cherish this feeling of a family as well.
Sometimes, for the Gods, the suffix is more than just the creation of a familial sense. Take the example of Yato. His shinki name suffix “né” is a memory of Sakura, who had the name Tamanoné. Even for Bishamon, she kept Kazuma’s name the same as a remembrance to her shinkis’ “ma” family.
A name also establishes a very close relation of a soul with their God, as even the slightest irritation in shinkis causes backlash to their God. At the cost of shinki names, Gods bear the physical pain for their shinkis. Actually, you could even say that a thread connects shinkis and Gods. The death of a shinki gives pain to their God like the agony at the death of a human. At all times, the Gods are aware of how their shinkis are feeling.
Guarding the God’s secret:
If you thought that a Shinki’s name only holds metaphorical and symbolic importance, then you’re wrong!
The shinki names also guard the God’s Secret. The names suppress the shinkis’ memories of their past lives as humans, which otherwise would corrupt them. Why is this so important?
The relation of a Far Shore being with Near Shore life is a disastrous, even detrimental, matter. If a shinki even has an inkling of their death or past name, they become obsessed with it. This obsession is exceptionally contagious and impossible to cull. It brings incredible pain to both the shinki and the God. And it eventually leads to a shinki’s death.
When a shinki’s name fades or cracks, past memories start seeping in. Initially, the shinki might dream the same dream of their death in their past life. Eventually, they start recovering their memories and realize that their “given” name is not real. The obsession with knowing their real name and past life grows to the point where they turn into ayakashi. Their God has no choice but to slay such a shinki who has realized the Gods’ secret.
This happened with one of Bishamon’s Shinki, named Tsuguha. She was attacked by stray and over time, she found out about God’s Secret; and turned into an Ayakashi. Kazuma killed the corrupted Tsuguha to save Bishamon. (Tsuguha)
Amongst shinkis, too, names hold a valuable place. Yukiné’s training with Kazuma revealed a lot about the hierarchy (more on that later) and the weight of shinki names.
The importance of names to Shinkis:
One of the first and foremost needs for a name to a Shinki is to protect themselves. A Shinki without a name cannot draw a borderline. And a borderline is what guards them from ayakashis and even spells. A Shinki without a name is the same as an ayakashi fodder.
To add more to the power scale of a Shinki, they can cast spells and incantations as well. Though it is absolute that a shinki must know another shinki’s name to cast any spell on them.
Like Kugaha explained, a spell binds a name and forces its owner into submission. It also creates a hierarchy. But, to do that, the opponent’s name must be known. Thus, a name also binds a shinki because, fundamentally, spells take advantage of their names.
In this respect, strays or Noras are terribly frightening. The most prominent feature of Noras like Kugaha and Hiiro is that they have more than one master and thus, also have multiple names. A shinki with a single name is at an obvious disadvantage here. Their names are visible on their bodies in most cases, if not known. This fact clears up one of the biggest hurdles in the battle for strays.
This difference in power was painfully evident in Yukiné’s fight with Kugaha near Yomi. While Yukiné fended off Kugaha’s use of Bafuku and tried attacking him, they were equally matched in powers. This equality should not have existed between a hafuri and a normal shinki. Well, provided Kugaha was a normal shinki.
He was a stray, and even though Bishamon had released him, his other name was unknown. Yukiné’s training with Kazuma came crashing down when Kugaha informed him of the power of strays. Our hafuri ended up with a disadvantage as he started to believe that Kugaha is more informed and experienced, and Kugaha managed to break through Yukiné’s mental borderline.
Hierarchy matters; not just name:
Of course, the hierarchy between shinki also plays a dominant role in such clashes. A fantastic example to understand the hierarchy of normal shinkis, hafuri, and Noras is Kazuma’s critical interactions with Kugaha, Hiiro, Yukiné, and Amaterasu’s shinkis.
Even if a normal shinki knows a hafuri’s name, they cannot cast any spells like Bafuku or Roro on them. However, the other is possible because, under normal circumstances, a normal shinki like Kugaha is below a hafuri like Kazuma. In chapter 17, Kazuma tried using Bafuku against Kugaha and was shocked when it did not affect him. He was unaware that Kugaha was actually a stray and had another name that gave him the edge in the battle. (chapter 17)
Kugaha made use of this power differential and cast the Rokusai spell against Kazuma, which further sent him spiraling. Thus, while hafuri are above normal shinkis, strays shake up this hierarchy.
But, there is another factor that comes into play when it comes to the shinkis’ hierarchy. The shinkis’ emotions regarding each other are crucial in determining the hierarchy as well. When Kazuma was training Yukiné, he told him that it is essential for him to look down upon their opponent.
The spells that bind names work when such a superior-inferior relationship is established in a battle. On the other hand, if a shinki looks up to their opponent, the place of hafuri over a normal shinki and strays in the hafuri’s weapon form tumbles.
Since Yukiné admires and respects Kazuma, he will lose to Kazuma despite being a hafuri himself. And for Kazuma? He feels grateful to Hiiro for accompanying Yato to slay the “ma” family of shinkis and saving Bishamon.
However, above all shinkis lie the sacred treasures of Amaterasu. Being the shinkis of the ruler of Heavens, it is evident that no spell can work on them, be it from a hafuri or a stray. One can think of them as absolutes even among shinkis.
During Bishamon’s “treason” against the Heavens, some shinkis met Kazuma after his capture and used Roro on him. He expected that it would not work on him, but he was oblivious that they were actually Amaterasu’s sacred treasures.
To summarize, the names of Shinkis are a crucial aspect of Noragami. It gives them the power to draw borderlines. It guards them from the nearshore temptations and gives them another chance in life. The blessed vessels act as a messenger of God and guide them to a righteous path to protect the mortal realm.
The world of Noragami has so much to offer that we might never be able to put it in one article. It takes a deep plunge into the world of Gods and their Shinkis. Their connection to the human world and their influence on it. To make matters more interesting they play a lot with the Japanese folktales and the writing system as well. So, it is a great chance to get exposed to Japanese culture.
Well, what do you think about Shinkis? We find it to be an amazing concept, do you too? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!