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Observations placeholder

Concept - Korean mystic shamanism – Death



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Korean Shamanist Ritual - Symbols and Dramas of Transformation - Daniel Kister


Kut for the dead affirm a belief that an individual's death, like birth, is not just a matter of chance or fate. It, too, is a wondrous, sacred event. Kut for the dead devote an enormous amount of ritual time and energy to show loving care for a member of the family who has died and to insure his or her peaceful passage to the other world, or “other shore" (p'ian, or nirvana). If the level of artistic creativity accorded an experience is any gauge of the place it holds in the hearts of kut worshipers, death and contact with deceased ancestors is a primary realm of sacred encounter. Kut for the dead unfold in elaborate, individually tailored rites that continue all day or night, demand the active participation of the grieving family in interaction with the deceased, invite all present to come to terms with their own destiny in the presence of the gods and ancestral spirits, and imbue the sorrowful event of an individual's going to his or her final end with beauty, wonder, and a sense of trust in divine assistance.


The elegant dance of the royally robed Abandoned Princess Spirit as she leads the deceased to peace before the flower-covered "gate of thorns" to the other world in a Seoul Chinogwi-kut makes death a sacred event of peace and beauty.

The graceful release of loops knotted in a long white cloth in the ritual dance of a Southwest Ssitkim-kut presents death as a god-guarded event of peaceful release from life's binding pain and frustration.

The solemn splitting of a long white cloth with a staff tipped with paper flowers in an East Coast Ogwi-kut transforms the painful rupture of death into a event of flowering fulfillment.


Varying from region to region, the climaxes of kut for the dead are masterpieces of ritual art. With little recourse to unusual feats or extraordinary signs, these climactic rituals give expression to prayer for the peace of the deceased in aesthetically moving symbolic gestures that soothe and spiritually enrich bereaved family members. They bolster ties with the gods and ancestors while extending participants' spiritual horizons through the acceptance of death as something wondrous and beautiful.


The climactic ritual symbols point in the direction of release, peace, and fulfilment, but what life’s filfillment consists in is left a mystery. Participants pray simply that the deceased go to the "good place." A Chejuda shimbang once surmised that in the end this "good place" will involve union among loved ones; but the ritual symbols do not in themselves suggest this either. The deceased simply remains in a radically altered state, the nature of which is quite ambiguous. The passage through death is a sacred, hierophanic process that unfolds in union with the gods; but as expressed in the symbolism of rites for the dead, what one finds at the end of this passage seems of little concern to the kut community.


The source of the experience

Korean mystic shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Enacting ritual and ceremony