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Mudang spiritual experiences – The healing of Muno’s mental illness

Identifier

027194

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

A description of the experience

Korean Shamanism – The Cultural Paradox – Dr Chongho Kim

Muno, a 15-year-old boy, was suffering from mental illness which made his mother so desperate that she tried almost every available treatment for her son. Because she used my car as her transportation for the treatments, I was able to observe very closely the therapeutic process she arranged for Muno.

One morning, when I was helping my landlady, Chisun’s Grandmother, with her agricultural work, Muno's Mother came over to my place. Asking me for a lift to visit a psychiatrist working in the nearby city of Choongju (see Map 1), she said, 'Muno has been getting worse. He did not sleep at all, but annoyed me all through last night. I need at least some "psychiatric medicines” (jeongsingwa yak) to settle him down.'

Muno was so uncontrollable that I Iocked the child-lock on the car door next to him before driving. Then I had to attend as his guardian when he was called into the psychiatrist's clinic because his Mother was unable to hold her son by herself. The following dialogue took place between the psychiatrist and Muno's Mother:

Psychiatrist: Has he ever been treated?
Muno's Mother: He was treated for two months in a psychiatric hospital six months ago.
Psychiatrist: And what sort of treatments did he have?
Muno's Mother: Well ... nothing in particular.
Psychiatrist: Really? Is it right that you're his mother? Does it make sense that he has not been treated for several months although his condition is pretty bad?
Muno's Mother (embarrassed): I have given him hospital medicines and herbal medicines several times.

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A Party for Spirits

Of course, exorcism was included in the shamanic rituals for Muno, as well as beating and threatening. The sticks used for exorcism were made from jujube wood, which is, arguably, the most dreadful for spirits. Beating the patient with the jujube sticks, the shamans shouted, 'Get out, or you will be beaten to death!'

However, exorcism was not predominant throughout the shamanic rituals, which were rather, in my impression, a party for the ill-fated spirits. Many offerings, such as food, wine, fruits and clothes, were arranged to please the spirits, and the shamans danced and sang. The party was held at night because spirits were not very active during the daytime, according to the shamans. Even the uninvited wandering spirits (jabkwi), which were generally malicious for humans, were offered some foods at the end of the rituals (dwitpuli).

Instead of the jujube sticks, the shamans used another stick, called the 'Spirit Stick', for the purpose of mutual understanding with the spirit causing the trouble. In the process of shamanic consultation concerning Muno's illness, Muno's deceased sister emerged as the spirit the most strongly involved in the illness. She had died eight years earlier of an abdominal disorder. At that time her family was very poor, and the current medical insurance scheme for peasants had not yet commenced.

Furthermore she was female, and the youngest daughter among three girls in her family. Consequently her parents did not pay full attention to her illness; her father did not even permit her to visit a medical doctor at the initial stage of her illness. She was taken to a doctor only when she was suffering from such severe stomach pain that she doubled over and collapsed to the floor in agony, unable to rise.

Her mother struggled a long distance to the doctor carrying the girl on her back, but medical intervention was too late and insufficient.

Furthermore, she died unmarried and, because her life was incomplete, she had no right to a proper funeral. This resulted in her not receiving any chesa offering rites after death. Her parents buried her on the mountainside and did not even provide a tomb for her.

Muno showed several symptoms during his illness which could be regarded as being related to the misfortune of his dead sister.

When the girl died, she was 15 years old. Muno was the same age when he fell ill. Furthermore, Muno often said that there was a baby in his body. Because he often repeated this, people interpreted it as spirit-possession.

Also, on a couple of occasions, Muno, after running away from home at night, was found at his sister's burial place. Muno's Mother was able to sense this connection as well. One night she dreamt of her daughter. In the dream her daughter said, 'I like Muno. I like him so much that I cannot live without him,' and hugged him.

Choi Bosal, the shaman whom Muno's Mother had consulted, also confirmed this relationship of misfortune, and identified the girl's anger at her family's neglect as the principal reason for Muno's illness. The two big misfortunes came to be related to each other in the framework of shamanism.

A special event was arranged for the spirit of Muno's sister - a ghost marriage ceremony (yeonghon gyeolhonsik). The shamans prepared a few things for this wedding. For the bridegroom, they borrowed a male spirit, who had died unmarried, from one of their clients. They made two small straw figures, one representing the bride and another the bridegroom. Very colourful costumes, mimicking wedding costumes, were put on the miniatures. At around midnight the shamans began the wedding ceremony.

The first procedure was to invoke the spirit of Muno's sister. A shaman took this role and danced. It did not take long. As soon as the shaman became possessed, the spirit started to cry and shout, 'Mummy, my resentment was so great that I had to annoy Muno. I could not bear your happiness. Don't you remember how badly you treated me! You didn't take me to the doctor even when I was crying from pain.'

In another session of the kut, a Spirit Stick was used. Muno's Mother held it and was possessed, as mentioned earlier. During the possession, the mother was hit many times on her head and face by the Stick – or by the spirit of her deceased daughter with the Stick - although she was holding it herself.

The shamans and participants consoled the spirit and said, 'Now your parents regret the matter thoroughly. Here is a nice wedding prepared for you. Forget the past and go to Heaven.'

However, Muno's sister was not easy to persuade, and it took the shamans quite a while before they could commence the main wedding ceremony. Eventually the wedding began with a bow between the miniature bride and the bridegroom. And then the shamans laid the two down on a mat and put a blanket over them. This represented the wedding night for Muno's deceased sister, who had suffered from a great deal of misfortune.

My interpretation of this ritual is that the wedding was intended to make the life of Muno's sister complete, by resolving her attachment to This World through reaching a mutual understanding with her. Because of her inauspicious death, she had been doomed to wander as a ghost between two worlds, the world of the living and the world of the dead. This was why Muno's family and neighbours, and the shamans, believed that she was the cause of the misfortune which Muno and his family were suffering.

Shamanism is a powerful theory of misfortune in Korean society, and, in the shamanic framework, a matter of misfortune does not occur independently, but is related to the misfortune of one or more wandering spirits-an unresolved problem in Korean cultural terms. The purpose of the shamanic healing for Muno, especially the ghost marriage for his sister, was to solve this cultural problem. In this context, shamanic healing is a cultural response to the experience of misfortune.

The source of the experience

Korean mystic shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items

Symbols

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps

Commonsteps

References