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Observations placeholder

Korean mystic shamanism – Methods – Laughing



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

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

When witty repartee and playful joking bring the gods, ancestors, family problems, and even death down to the level of friendly give-and-take, the tension finds release in laughter.


Shamanist ritual, awe in the presence of the gods, is seldom far removed from humour; psycho-dramatic healing is achieved in part through the catharsis of side-splitting laughter; the shaman's clarifying and objectifying creative role of giving "ever-renewed shape and fresh life to the images that live in his group's imagination" (Lommel 1967:14O), is as likely as not to be fulfilled through ribald farce; and the drama of life in which kut rituals engage worshippers is ultimately sacred comedy.


….. with a Brechtian “alienation effect,” they alienate participants from "the tragic feeling of the dead" by provoking "almost senseless laughter" in the midst of sorrow in "conscious defiance of tragic emotion" (1989b:278).

At one point in the kut just mentioned, the hostess suddenly fell flat on the floor, struck, it was believed, by a spirit who turned out to be her dead sister-in-law and who wept loudly in the voice of the hostess for twenty minutes. Then the chief shimbang, who was sitting at a distance,

called upon the woman shimbang who was attending on the possessed hostess. He started to interrupt her act by saying filthy words and making fun of her personal life. The woman was finally disturbed so that she gave up the patient and ran to the chief shimbang. The shimbangs' playful games among themselves successfully drew the attention of the audience. In the midst of this noisy display by the shimbang at a distance, the possessed hostess gathered herself up and left the floor. (1989a:299)


If Korean society wants Confucian rule, it is out of a rage for order. If the Korean kut community seeks laughter and comic play, it is out of a need for the unsettling, but revitalizing realms of chaos to which Kim Tae-gon says all kut activity returns (1981:150 ff.).


The source of the experience

Korean mystic shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps