Yang Soon-im says she began communicating with the spirits of mountains and ancient warriors more than 50 years ago, when she was only seven.But it was decades after that, when her son miraculously survived a knife wound, that she decided she had no choice but to become the spirits' full-time channel with the living - a mudang, or shaman."I found her sitting on the roof chanting at 4am," her husband, Choi Jong-sam, 62, said of that day about 25 years ago. "She was puffing away at four packs of cigarettes. She said her mountain godshad saved our son in a sort of bargain.
I slapped her face to help her get her wits back.
"Then her eyes blazed like those of a wild dog about to bite a man."
The deal Yang said she struck with her spirits eventually paid off in other ways.
Now 60, she is one of the
most sought-after shamans in Seoul - a leading member of a profession
that has survived centuries of ridicule and persecution and is now
enjoying a seemingly incongruous revival in one of the world's most
technologically advanced countries.
There are an estimated 300
shamanistic temples within an hour of Seoul's bustling city center, and
in them, shamans perform their clamorous ceremonies every day. They
offer pigs to placate the gods. They dance with toy guns to comfort the
spirit of a dead child. They intimidateevil spirits by walking
barefoot on knife blades.
"We used to do our rituals
in hiding," said Yang, who performs two or three rites on a busy day.
"Our customers kept it secret from even their own relatives. Now we
have no shame performing in public. I can hardly take three days off a
Korean shamanism is rooted
in ancient indigenous beliefs shared by many folk religions in
northeast Asia. Most mudangs are women who say they discovered their
ability to serve as a mediator between the human and spirit worlds
after emerging from a critical illness. They believe that the air is
thick with spirits, including those of dead relatives, a fox in the
hills behind a village, an old tree or even a stove. These spirits
interact with people and influence theirfor......
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