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What Is Korean Shamanism?

Korean Shamanism is the polytheistic and animistic ethnic religion of Korea which dates back to prehistory and consists of the worship of gods (신), ancestors (조상님) and nature spirits. When referring specifically to the shamanic practice the term Muism is used.

1. The Influence Of Korean Shamanism

Korean shamanism has influenced some Korean new religions such as Cheondoism (천도교) and Jeungsanism (증산교). Some Christian churches in Korea make use of practices rooted in shamanism. The mythology of Korean shamanism is orally recited during gut rituals. In Jeju, these are called bon-puri (본풀이).


2. What Makes One A Shaman?

People who become shamans (무당) are believed to be “chosen” by gods or spirits through a spiritual experience known as shinbyeong (신병) or divine illness. This state is said to manifest in symptoms of physical pain and psychosis. Believers assert that the physical and mental symptoms (증상) are not subject to medical treatment but are healed only when the possessed accepts a full communion with the spirit.


3. What Illnesses Do The Shamans Go Through?

The illness is characterized by a loss of appetite (식욕), insomnia (불면증), visual and auditory hallucinations. The possessed then undergoes the naerim-gut (내림굿) : a ritual which serves both to heal the sickness and to formally establish the person as a shaman.


4. What Do These Shamans Experience?

Korean shamans also experience shinmyeong (신명) which is the channeling of a god during which the shaman speaks prophetically. Shinmyeong (신명) is also experienced by entire communities during the gut hold by the shaman and is a moment of energisation which relieves from social pressure, both physical and mental.


5. What Rites Do These Shamans Carry Out?

The gut (굿) is rites performed by Korean shamans involving offerings and sacrifices to gods and ancestors (조상님). They are characterised by rhythmic movements, songs, oracles and prayers. These rites are meant to create welfare, promoting commitment between the spirits and humankind. Through song and dance, the shaman begs the gods to intervene in the fortune of humans.

The shaman wears a very colourful costume and normally speaks in ecstasy. During a rite, the shaman changes his or her costume several times. Rituals consist of various phases, called gori (고리). There are different types of gut (굿) which vary from region to region.

We hope that this was a fun and interesting post for all you. Do share this blog around with any of your friends and family members who want to know more about Korean culture in depth!

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