Witnessing a Shamin Ritual

Shamanism: The belief that there is a connection and ability to communicate with spirits. A rare practice throughout the world

The day that I went to Namhansanseong, everyone I was with piled back into their two cars after a great day of mild hiking. However, a split decision to make a random right turn back up the hill and park near some statues brought on a once in a lifetime opportunity.

We ended up stumbling across dozens of stone carved statues of all kinds in a small area in the middle of the woods.

Some of them were beautiful:

and some of them were... inappropriate and unexplainable?

There was a tiny driveway that led back up the mountain that was lined with statues of men with various animals representing the Chinese New Year.

As we kept walking up and up we came to a smaller driveway in front of what seemed like a house, where people were banging a drum and looked to be setting up some sort of ceremony, wearing traditional korean hanboks and colorful robes.

My director stopped us all and told us that this could be a Shaman ritual, and that we were lucky to have come across it as it's very rare to actually see one performed live. She, herself had never seen one before. As we're standing in the small road, the group of revelers waved us to come and join them - something I would consider an uncommon honor bestowed amongst foreigners randomly walking through the woods.

In Korea Shamans are primarily women, called Mudangs. Occasionally, although rare, you will see a male shaman or Beksoo Mudang. We fortunately hit the double whammy and saw a Beksoo Mudang perform a walking on knives ritual. After a bit of research apparently this type of ceremony is meant to intimidate evil spirits. Shamans will work themselves into a frenzied trance with music and jumping and dancing in order to feel no pain, or drop any blood. At one point, the beksoo mudang use an extremely sharp razor to cut apples and handed me one during the ceremony. I barely wanted to get near this thing as it was noticeably sharp, and he had just then put it on his tongue. He was doing things that should have left him in excruciating pain, not to mention bleeding profusely.

The ceremony lasted about 10 minutes, all of which I captured on video. It ended with the beksoo mudang putting an entire butchered cow carcass on his back and jumping up and down on the knives. It was impressive and fascinating to say the least.

Shamanism is an interesting religion, if you'd like to call it that. It has no written scriptures anywhere, and it is extremely adaptable. According to an article found in the New York Times, when Korea hit the internet wave, Shamans were the first to jump on the bandwagon to create websites geared towards fortune tellings and events.

Also, one cannot become a Shaman, they must be called. Generally they will go through life normally until one day a grave unexplainable sickness will fall on either them, or someone they love, and once they give in a cure will take place. An interesting thing about Shamanism in Korea is that there are something like 10,000 gods that can be worshiped.

What I find more intriguing than anything else, is the fact that Korea has the largest populations of Christians in Asia (roughly about 25% of the country reportedly is Christian), a thriving Shamanist community, and a large number of practicing Buddhists all surviving and coexisting peacefully. It's endearing...