Mudang spiritual experiences – The healing of Mirim's Mother’s Father
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Korean Shamanism – The Cultural Paradox – Dr Chongho Kim
In Soy, I heard of many cases relating to the proverb, 'The hands of the dead are thorny!' Mirim's Mother was among these cases. She was 43 years old, and lived with her husband, three children and mother-in-law. Their village was not far from Willow Village where I was living. I had known Mirim's Mother in 1986 when she worked as a village health worker on a casual basis, just like Gilsu's Mother. The following is a literal rendering of what Mirim's Mother told me in 1995:
This happened in the beginning of 1983. My husband was sick after he had been to the funeral ceremony for one of his best friends, Sangdo's Father. He said that he couldn't digest properly, even though all he ate in that ceremony was a piece of pork and some crude wine. I provided him many times with digestive medicines which I bought from pharmacists, but they didn't help him. One month later his body was beginning-to swell up. This seemed to be a bad symptom.
Because we had no medical insurance cover at that time, I first took him to a herbalist, who told me that he had a kidney problem. My husband took a lot of herbal medicines at that time. But they didn't help either. I took him to physicians working in Central Township. They also said that he had a kidney problem. He took plenty of medicines provided by them is well, but his condition was getting worse. All of the local treatments he received were useless, so I decided to take him to a big hospital located in Chungju City (60 km away from my place).
He was hospitalized there for one month, but that was useless too. His feet were so swollen that he couldn't fit into-any of the slippers provided by the hospital. I was really afraid that I might lose my husband. So, I decided to take him to Seoul where there were lots of big hospitals. Fortunately, one of his relatives was working in a big hospital as the head nurse of its health screening department. With her help, he was able to be hospitalized quickly in Seoul.
The medical doctor in charge of my husband was famous for his frequent visits to America. He gave many injections of Ringer's solution to remove the swelling from his body, but these did not work very well either. Although he had been hospitalized for over one month again, he was getting worse. During his illness I had not been able to manage my housework and everything was in a mess.
The medical expenses especially worried me. It cost me over 5 million won, which was a big burden to my home finances. I spent all the money which I'd saved for buying some rice fields, and was forced to sell a large amount of land. A great deal of money was also spent on transport. I felt that I was scattering my money in the street. It was spring time, but I was not able to sow seeds by myself. So, I also had to spend money on labour. My kids had a terrible time as well. They had to feed themselves and could not study hard. The illness brought a crisis to my family. I really felt a crisis at that time.
It seems to me that people seek a shaman's advice only in a crisis. I'd never consulted a shaman before then. I did not like to go to shamans.
It was my sister-in-law who consulted a shaman about my husband's illness. She had heard of her brother's illness and came to Seoul to see him from Danyang (located approx. 160 km south of Seoul and 80 km east of Soy - see Map l). She advised me to consult a shaman, because she doubted the medical diagnosis of his illness. In her opinion, he did not have some of the symptoms of inflammation of the kidney: he could walk and breathe properly. She argued that most of the patients she observed who suffered from inflammation of the kidney could not walk and breathe properly. But my husband was able to walk, even though his feet were swollen, and to breathe.
As I told her that he got sick after his visit to his friend's funeral ceremony, she insisted that we needed a shaman's consultation. She said to me that she would go to a shaman whom she knew well soon after she got back to her home in Danyang. A few days later she telephoned me at the hospital, where I was still looking after my husband, and asked me to come back home. According to what she said on the phone, the shaman had diagnosed my husband as having been shot by 'Arrow from the Dead' (sangmunsal).
The shaman seemed to be reliable, for she could tell exactly what Mirim's Father looked like without seeing him. Also, she made a good guess about Sangdo's Father's character as well. He was very avaricious. One of the reasons why he would not go to hospital was that he was afraid of spending a lot of money for medical treatments if he were hospitalized. I had no alternative but to do what the shaman recommended.
From the beginning he had not wanted to go to the funeral. We Koreans do not go to other family's funerals if we are having chesa [regular offering rite to ancestors] for our own family ancestors in the near future.
There was chesa for my father-in-law the night before the funeral.
But Mirim's Father had to participate in the funeral for Sangdo's Father, who had been one of his best friends for years. In addition, he felt a bit guilty for his friend's death. Sangdo's Father died of an accident on the way to buy more wine. He had become drunk at a party which my husband was at as well. When they had drunk all the wine, Sangdo's Father insisted on buying more. When he crossed a creek, he fell down on a slippery stone and broke his bladder. Even though he was seriously ill, he didn't go to hospital. He did not have a medical insurance policy. He took plenty of herbal medicines, but they were not helpful, so then he died. When he died, his body was very swollen.
The shaman advised us to have two sorts of ritual treatments (cheobang). One was for the spirits surrounding my house and the other for the spirit of my husband's friend. There were four people in these rituals: the shaman, my sister-in-law, mother-in-law and me. I went back to my place only for these rituals. We held a kut ritual, called 'Ritual Pressing Down Household Spirits' (antaek kut).
It took place in the absence of my husband. And also we had a small ritual to send Sangdo's Father's spirit off. The shaman said that some of his hair was necessary, but I couldn't get any as he was already buried. Instead, we burnt some underpants he put on before he died. I persuaded his wife to give them to me. That's all we had done.
The shaman told me that my husband should be able to be discharged from the hospital three days afterwards. But I didn't believe what she told me. It was unbelievable! How could my husband get well in three days! He had swollen up so much that he looked like a pig!
However I was really surprised at his appearance when I went back to hospital. The swelling had gone! He was so different that I almost couldn't recognize him. The nurses working in the ward said that they hadn't provided any special treatment. What a surprise! He had no significant problems any more in the blood tests. He was discharged and was able to come back home on the exact day that the shaman had predicted.
After the kut rituals, I had a dream about Sangdo's Father one night. In this dream he passed my house while looking in. When I asked him, 'Where are you going?', he replied, 'I've got to go to heaven, although I do not want to go.'
After this dream, I never dreamed of him again. Even though I was so indebted to this shaman, I have never been in favour of shamanism. I do not like to see kut rituals, where there seem to be lots of spirits around. It feels like worms going around my body. I am afraid that I might get possessed.
You must know that feeling. I've never had a kut since my husband got well, although I've sometimes consulted a shaman when I needed to. As you know, people do not go to the shaman often these days and it's getting less. People would consult a shaman when they are worried about their family.
But, you know, kut is addictive. Kut is like a narcotic. The spirits will come again if they really enjoy the kut which is held for them. Once the drug has worn off, they can make trouble again. So if we hold a kut, we have to do it again and again. They especially like to go to someone who is not determined. I've been trying to be determined not to hold a kut again.
I find that Buddhism helps me not to go to the shaman. There is a temple which has been newly established in my village. The nun working in that temple is the same age as I. She charges much less than a shaman does. In her divination practice, she doesn't use the possession method like a shaman, but a writing method based on Juyeok [Book of Changes). She is studying that book quite hard. I offer a Buddhist service, instead.