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Observations placeholder

Concept - Korean mystic shamanism – Psychopomp



Type of Spiritual Experience


From the Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry – edited by Peter Lee

Korean folk songs began to be collected systematically from the twentieth century.

The lyrics of some folk songs were recorded earlier in such works as the Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms (1285) in hyangch'al orthography and Yi Chehyon's "A Small Collection of Folk Songs" (So akpu), but in Chinese.

Folk songs sung in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, such as those preserved in Words for Songs and Music and Notations for Korean Music in Contemporary Use, were recorded in the Korean alphabet in compilations dating from the early sixteenth century. Those from the Choson period appear not to be very different from those that are sung today.

After the 1930s scholars of Korean literature began collecting folk songs in a concerted effort to preserve indigenous Korean culture. A project undertaken by the Academy of Korean Studies resulted in the compilation of some six thousand songs from all over the country (I984).


Also called "The Seventh Princess" (Paridegi, Ch'il kongju), the shamanist narrative song translated here as "The Abandoned Princess" (Princess Pari) is performed at a ritual (known as chinogi kut) to pray for the transfer of the soul of the dead to the underworld.

Some thirty extant versions can be traced to four regions: central Korea including Seoul, Hamgyong (the northeast), the East Sea coast, and Cholla (the southwest).

The central Korean version emphasizes the princess's heroic acts. In that version her deification is narrated according to the law of cause and effect, and her mythic character can be understood in connection with her attainment of sacred status. In a version transmitted in the Seoul area, she becomes a deity from whom all shamans are descended.

In the east coast version she is a deity of the underworld. In the present version she is not a shaman but a princess, and hence does not possess magic power. But because she has revived her dead parents, she becomes a deity who cures illness. In her travels in the underworld, morever, she helps and saves grieving spirits and thus becomes a shamanist deity who takes charge of the underworld, reflecting the human wish to return from death. The princess embodies the virtue of filial piety-even though parents may abandon their child, the child cannot abandon its parents. But her means of reviving her dead parents and recalling the spirits from the underworld are anomalous, for the typical shaman accomplishes it by borrowing the power of a deity.

The version translated here is from Akamatsu Chijo and Akiba Takashi, Chosen fuzoku no kenkyu (Studies in Korean Shamanism; Tokyo: Osakayago shoten, 1937-1938), narrated by a shaman named Pae Kyongjae in Osan, Kyonggi province, and annotated by 56 Thesok and Pak Kyongjin, eds., Sosa muga (Seoul: Koryo taehakkyo Miniok munhwa yon- guso, 1996), pp. 213-253.

The Abandoned Princess

This is a temple the state built with great effort,
And the temple's origin is in the southwest.
Know the heavens!

Above, the indra heaven, blow, the twenty-eight mansions
The great generals of eight directions, Namong and Muong, all
have guarded it.

South of the Yangtze lies the Great Han; east of the sea lies Choson.
The clan site of the founder of Choson is
Yonghung, near Tanch'on, in Hamgyong province.

Above, on the hundredth memorial day, I lead the living to paradise.
Below, on the days of offering, I lead the dead to paradise.
Red mountain wine made of red peonies, white mountain wine
made of white peonies,

Quietly burning candles, incense fragrance, a cup of wine, and wailing,
Today is the day of hope for the spirits.


A description of the experience

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

After chanting the tale, the mudang, still dressed in the royal robes of the Abandoned Princess, does a slow, graceful dance around the tables of offerings and before a "gate of thorns" to the other world that is bedecked with colorful paper flowers. She reverently leads the deceased, symbolized by white funeral clothes carried on a small table by a family representative, to his or her destined end.

Moving now forward, now back, and then slowly around in a solemn trance-like dance, the mudang, as the Abandoned Princess Spirit, processes twelve times around the tables to the accompaniment of the stately music of drum, cymbals, and pipe.

She makes three rounds as a butterfly, three rounds displaying long flowing sleeves in a gesture of leading, three displaying a fan to sweep away evil that lies in the way, and finally three rounds displaying a knife imaginatively to cut away obstacles as she tosses it back and forth to an assistant over the offerings and through the flower-covered gate.

Through the shaman, the Abandoned Princess thus serves as the psychopomp who leads the deceased peacefully on his or her journey through death to the other world. The itinerary is not one to which the shaman alone has privy knowledge through the kind of visionary trances recorded by Eliade in accounts of Siberian shamanic rituals (1964:215 ff.). In this Korean rite, all present equally accompany the deceased on the journey as it is dramatized symbolically in the ritual dance. Participants lovingly pray for what they seek ritually, perhaps magically, to effect through this symbolic action-that the deceased go in peace to the "good place."

At the same time, they themselves have their vision of human destiny deepened as they are drawn by the elegant dance gestures and solemn, gentle rhythms of the accompanying music to accept death peacefully as a sorrowful, yet beautiful event of life carried out under divine care.

The source of the experience

Korean mystic shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps