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The Korean Shamans Start Their Rituals: Diving into the Specifics of the Ancient Culture Reflective Essay


There is hardly anything as weirdly mesmerizing and at the same time ridiculous for a modern person as shaman rituals. However, taking a retrospective into the primitive, one will find out that shaman rituals served a definite purpose and even glued the primitive community together.

Despite the rapid economical downfall, which Korea witnessed several times over the course of its long history, with the help of religious fundament that the shaman rituals provided for the Korean population, the state managed to avoid a number of conflicts within, which Korea owes to its religious traditions.

Korean shamanism embraces many concepts, yet the most important ones are Mudang and Misin. Often confused, the given notions have much in common, yet still have very distinct features and take their corresponding places in the Korean art of shamanism.

According to the existing definitions, Mudang is a female shaman in Korea; literally translated as “spirit,” Mudang is typically portrayed as a mediator between the world of the spirits and the realm of human beings.

However, there are different ways to read into the meaning of the Korean terms for the shamanist practices. According to what Kendall says, there was a point in the Korean history when Mudang became almost a pejorative term for a shaman1.

However, the term has managed to keep its key meaning over the centuries and is nowadays translated as “a woman shaman” or “a female shaman”2.

It is rather remarkable that at present, a change in the attitude towards the term can be traced, mostly because of the false advertising that the so-called Mudangs create to promote their newly acquired “skills” without taking into account that the position of a Mudang has been somewhat sacred for centuries in the Korean culture3.

Compared to Mudang, Misin is a more general term that signifies the shamanism procedure itself. Therefore, while Mudang is a person, usually a woman, which tells much about the Korean unusual approach towards assigning people with their gender roles in society, Misin is the process that the given person carries out.

Analyzing the given word as a Korean derivate from the words “mi” and “sin,” meaning deluded (mi) and belief (sin) correspondingly4, one can notice that the Korean people did not have any illusions concerning the Sahnism practices – the part “mi,” “deluded,” speaks for itself5.

Hence, Korean shamanism can be considerd as a conscious entrancement for the sake of success in some ventures, e.g., a fight, a travel, etc.

Another important concept from Korean Shamanism is kut. Though the word sounds rather mysterious, it, in fact, simply means a ritual performed by Korean shamans. Also referred to as gut6, it means a ceremony: “The nuclear of Korean shamanism is the gut ceremony”7.

It is important to keep in mind that kut means no particular ritual; only when certain adjectives are added to the word, the type of a ritual can be specified, e.g., naerim kut (initiation ritual)8.

However, there is always an essential element of the kut; called kori, the ceremony that starts the whole ritual is supposed to chase the evil spirits away and, thus, set the stage for the ritual to take place.

Judging by the tiem that the rituals of kori take, it can be assumed that the protection of the venue from the evil spirits is actually the most significant part of the whole ritual; as Yang says, in some of the rituals, kori takes the greatest part and is under the greatest emphasis: “The Taetak Kut consists of twenty-four kori, which are performed over a period of seven days,”9 not to mention that the kori ritual is by far the most spectacular one in the entire performance.

However, it is worth admitting that Christianity affected the Korean culture greatly, wiping traditional rituals off the face of Korea. Yet the elements of shamanism are still in their places, performing their basic function, i.e., “protecting” Koreans from harm.

While clinging to the old-time traditions might seem somewhat weird, especially in the face of progress that Christianity had to offer Korean people, it is still understandable that the latter wanted to retain certain elements of their culture and, therefore, identity.

As Kendall put it, it was the fear of the evil spirits, which did not actually exist in Christian belief – at least, not in the way in which the Koreans saw them – and yet were so deeply implanted into the Korean culture that the local people had to use the traditional misin rituals to make sure that evil spirits would not harm them10.

Therefore, it can be concluded that shamanism performed not only its obvious traditional function, but also was used as a means to reassure the citizens that the state and the shaman have taken the matter into their own hands.

Weirdly enough, performing the rituals and believing that they are going to lead to a certain result is enough for people to calm down and wait for a better future to come. A peculiar study on human psychology, a retrospective into the Korean shamanism offers lot of food for though.

Reference List

Kendall, Laurel. Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009.

Yang, Jongsung. “Korean Shamanism, The Origins of Indigenous Culture.” 2013. Web.

” 2013. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009), ix.
  2. Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009), x.
  3. Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009), 127.
  4. Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009), 4.
  5. Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009), 4
  6. “Korean Shamanism: The Training Process of Charismatic ‘Mudang’”.
  7. Jongsung Yang, “Korean Shamanism, The Origins of Indigenous Culture”.
  8. Jongsung Yang, “Korean Shamanism, The Origins of Indigenous Culture”.
  9. Jongsung Yang, “Korean Shamanism, The Origins of Indigenous Culture”.
  10. Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009), 6.
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IvyPanda. (2019, October 21). The Korean Shamans Start Their Rituals: Diving into the Specifics of the Ancient Culture. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-korean-shamans-start-their-rituals-diving-into-the-specifics-of-the-ancient-culture/

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"The Korean Shamans Start Their Rituals: Diving into the Specifics of the Ancient Culture." IvyPanda, 21 Oct. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-korean-shamans-start-their-rituals-diving-into-the-specifics-of-the-ancient-culture/.

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IvyPanda. "The Korean Shamans Start Their Rituals: Diving into the Specifics of the Ancient Culture." October 21, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-korean-shamans-start-their-rituals-diving-into-the-specifics-of-the-ancient-culture/.

References

IvyPanda. 2019. "The Korean Shamans Start Their Rituals: Diving into the Specifics of the Ancient Culture." October 21, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-korean-shamans-start-their-rituals-diving-into-the-specifics-of-the-ancient-culture/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Korean Shamans Start Their Rituals: Diving into the Specifics of the Ancient Culture'. 21 October.

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