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Observations placeholder

Kum-Hwa Kim – Her skill at 'riding knives' has been particularly popular



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Korean Shamanism – The Cultural Paradox – Dr Chongho Kim

…..the audience was wildly excited at the Riding Knives Phase (jakdugeori). This phase began with fast and noisy music, as if some very powerful gods (janggunsin) were about to descend into Kim's body.

Before setting up the two fodder chopping knives, she showed how sharp they were. When she put a piece of cloth on the knives, it was easily cut. Then she demonstrated that the knives could not hurt her despite their sharpness. She tried them out on her tongue, cheeks and containing rice, itself standing on top of a high table. The total height was about 170 cm. A number of people held the edges of the knives and the wooden box in order to keep the knives stable.

Kim began to dance wildly in front of the knives, and the musicians beat the gongs and drums as hard as and as fast as they could. The noise of musical instruments was so loud and fast that even an ordinary audience might have been able to fall into ecstasy. Kim took off her shoes and then her socks.

This meant that she was going to ride the knives with her bare feet.

The music went faster and faster. The audience held their breath, and their eyes were wide open. Suddenly she climbed up to the top and stood on the knives. Thunderous applause followed. This phase, the highlight of her performance, had enraptured so many audiences in so many places, including New York and Sydney.

Standing on the knives, she gave some 'possessed speech' (gongsu), but it could not be heard because of the noise. When she came down to the floor of the stage, many people approached her and gave money to express their appreciation for her performance. For their convenience, she spread out her skirt, and a large number of 10 000-won notes piled up - so many that an assistant had to bring a big bag to contain them. Holding the hands of her colleagues, Kim bowed to the audience at the end of her performance, just as an actress would in a theatrical performance.

Covell, A [1986] – Folk Art and Magic:  Shamanism in Korea

During the summer of 1982, for the celebration of the Korean-American Centennial, two dozen performers, representing all the main provinces ... were flown in to dance at the Mall in Washington D.C., as well as at Knoxville's World Fair. Also these practitioners of the folk faith type of singing and dancing helped inaugurate a folk painting exhibit at Los Angeles County's Craft and Folk Art Museum...

In every city, the millions who attended appreciated one dancer the most; she was the acknowledged star. Interestingly, this stellar shaman dancer is among those who fled south during the Korean War. Called by the spirit world at eleven to become a manshin [Korean shaman), she was in her twenties when the Korean War came. Now in her early fifties, Kim Kum-hwa is the acknowledged leader in the tradition of northern-type ecstatic Shamanism. ... She had disciples, including the first American citizen initiated into this difficult profession.

Her skill at 'riding knives' has been particularly popular. I imagine that there is no Korean and, probably, nobody in the world who has done this as many times as Kim, who has performed this feat, on average, at least once a week for over 50 years.

The source of the experience

Kum-Hwa Kim

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps