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Observations placeholder

Mudang spiritual experiences – Korean-Australian woman, Mrs Baek is violently possessed by the Spirit Stick, but is cured of her headaches



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Korean Shamanism – The Cultural Paradox – Dr Chongho Kim

In the course of writing the book, I came to know a Korean-Australian woman, Mrs Baek, who had had an experience of being possessed with a Spirit Stick. I met her in Brisbane, where she lived with her family. Her hometown is Busan, a city in the south of the Korean peninsula (see Map 1), where she was born and lived before her migration to Australia. While in Korea, she suffered a head injury for which she held a shamanic ritual, despite her husband's opposition, in 1990.

There are several reasons why I report her case here.

  • First, it helps to illustrate that Professor T:G. Kim's geographic distribution of the types of Korean shaman is no longer valid in contemporary Korea. According to Professor Kim, Busan is an area in which the tangol-type Korean shaman works (T-G. Kim, 1991 [1981J: 14a). However, the shaman Mrs Baek hired in her hometown, Busan, was the mudang-type Korean shaman.
  • Second, I do not think that the form of shamanic ritual using the Spirit Stick is particularly unusual in Korean shamanism, although it has been rarely reported.
  • Third, I do not think that the use of a specific shamanic technique is a very important consideration when people select a shaman; Mrs Baek said that she had decided to hold a kut without asking what techniques the shaman in charge would use.…., ordinary people are not familiar with the shamanic world.
  • Finally, Mrs Baek's experience of being possessed with the Spirit Stick was remarkable.

This is her account:

It was actually the first time I had been involved in a kut, although I had consulted a diviner (jeomjaengi) a couple of times over my husband's business matters. I had never been to a kut place before. Nor had I held a kut. The shaman, whom I consulted over my illness, said that my kut would be held on a remote beach in Busan. Because of a severe headache, I couldn't drive, so I had to ask my husband for a lift.

At first, he seriously criticized me, saying, 'What the hell are you going to do? 'However, he finally gave up his objection because it was, in fact, my last resort. When we arrived at the kut place, three female shamans were awaiting me. For the kut performance they worked in a team. My husband did not want to watch the kut, and stayed away at a distance. The light from his cigarette could be dimly seen in the dark. The shamans asked me to hold a Spirit Stick, and beat a drum and a gong.

Oddly, in my mind I was determined not to be possessed. However, on the contrary, I was possessed soon after. The Stick shivered, waved, and moved regardless of my intention, so I jumped here and there, waving the Spirit Stick up and down. I must have looked like a crazy woman. The possession was so serious that my waving became violent. I could not stop the waving and the dancing.

My husband, who was waiting at a distance, was frightened and rushed into the kut place. He asked the shamans in charge to stop the music immediately. However, I was hopeless even after they had stopped it. They were frightened too. They washed me with salt water [which is believed to expel spirits]. But it was in vain.

Then they poured liquor (soju) on my head. But this was to no effect, either.

My husband was very angry and abused them, 'Are you going to kill my wife? I'll sue you if she dies. No, no. I'll kill you first!'

The embarrassed shamans took out a pin from their clothes, and pricked my fingers and body. Blood came out. When they pricked the area between my nose and my upper lip (injung), the waving eventually stopped, and I fell down to the ground. I clearly remember the events because I did not lose consciousness during the possession.

After the kut,I recovered considerably from my illness.

The source of the experience

Korean mystic shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps