Mudang spiritual experiences – An East Coast Ogu-kut for one who has drowned at sea
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Korean Shamanist Ritual - Symbols and Dramas of Transformation - Daniel Kister
An East Coast Ogwi-kur (or Ogu-kut) for one who has drowned at sea commonly begins at the seashore with a rite to call the soul of the deceased to shore for the kut. One such kut was held on a clear winter morning for a young Mr. Kim, a widow's eldest son who was swept out to sea on his first day out as a fisherman. To the rhythm of the waves and the beat of a gong, the shaman called on the Village Spirit, the Buddha, and the Dragon Spirit to send Kim's soul to shore. As his mother held a bamboo pole topped by a white flag fluttering in the breeze, an assistant enticed the soul to shore by tossing a live chicken and covered bowl of rice into the sea and drawing them back by cords. The shaman meanwhile intoned a slow, mournful chant that, punctuated by others' cries, blended with the breaking waves: "Kim-, Kim-, come to shore! Come to shore!"
As anyone who drowns at sea calls out, "Mother, Father." It can well be imagined that, along with the han of suffering a sudden, premature death, Kim's soul was burdened with the remorse of having caused his widowed mother grief by his death. As enacted by the mudang, he went on to complain,
"Money is the enemy. If we had money, I could have entered a university in Seoul and got a good job. I would not now be food for fish. "
He poignantly recalled that at the time he set out to sea he said,
"It would be better if I didn't go."
If his mother had urged him, nonetheless, to go, her heart, too, must now have been laden, not only with sorrow and loss, but also with bitter regret. In the faith-dynamics of the kut, this encounter provided the deceased son with an opportunity to give vent to pent-up feelings of han; it also provided a concrete confessional sign-mechanism to heal the mother's feelings. The mudang commented,
"Some say this is all just superstition, but this woman needs to hear her son's words."
As in the beliefs of many peoples (Huntington:1979; Bloch: 1982), the soul of the deceased is thought to remain for a time after death in an intermediary state, unable to go immediately to his or her final end. The soul needs purgation, not of personal guilt as in Christian thought or, if possible, of bad karma as in Buddhism.
The soul needs purgation of han, a complex feeling of frustration, resentment, and sometimes rancour that constitutes a preoccupation of Korean culture in general and kut in particular.
A married person who dies peacefully of old age at home surrounded by loving family may not feel han; but the soul of an unmarried person who, like Mr. Kim, has suffered a sudden, unnatural death in the prime of life is sure to be greatly disturbed. Such a soul is thought to wander about between this life and the next, a fearsome threat to those still alive until a kut provides purification, release, and reconciliation - reconciliation not with God or the gods, but with loved ones left behind and with mortal destiny.
Cho Hung-yun rightly cautions against a tendency on the part of some scholars to focus kut activity too narrowly on han-filled spirits (1990:300-303). Nevertheless, as a part of a kut for the dead, the deceased, enacted by the mudang, and in some instances believed to be using her as a spirit medium, is thought to be able to address bereaved family members, release whatever pent-up feelings the deceased may have, and speak final words of farewell.