Tama has two meanings, depending on the character with which it is written. One character for tama also pronounced 'gyoku' means precious jewel, as in tamagaki the 'jewel-fence' surrounding a shrine or tamagushi a branch offering. The more common meaning of tama in a Shinto context is the tama also pronounced 'rei' meaning soul or spirit. Tama is an entity which resides in something to which it gives life and vitality, whether this is human, animal, or a natural feature etc. Disembodied, the tama may be a kami or aspect of a kami, or a spirit of an ancestor or other dead person. The honorific form is mi-tama or go-rei. Tama is a key and variously interpreted term in the spiritual psychologies related to Shinto, and various kinds and functions of spirit have been distinguished. Shikon, the 'four tama' for example are (1) ara-mitama, a violent or coercive spirit and (2) nigi-mitama, a gentle and pacifying spirit which has two aspects, namely (3) saki-mitama which imparts blessings and (4) kushi-mitama which causes mysterious transformations. Mitama-shiro is the representation or seat of a spirit, i.e. a sacred object through which a kami is worshipped, a shintai. Tama-furi refers to spiritual exercises. Tama-shizume is a ceremony to prevent the soul from leaving the body. Tama-yori-hime is a maiden in whom the spirit of a kami dwells. Kuni-tama is the spirit of the land.
   See also Ireisai.

A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. .

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