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Observations placeholder

Mudang spiritual experiences – The kut for Chisun's Grandmother – 02 The preparations and attendees



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Korean Shamanism – The Cultural Paradox – Dr Chongho Kim

A Practice of Cultural Rebellion

Three people participated in the kut preparations. As usual, my primary role was driving. I drove many times between Chisun's Grandmother's house and Soh Bosal’s office, and to the markets for shopping. Chisun's Grandmother said to me, 'I owe you so much. '

It was also I who took Soh Bosal to Chisun's Grandmother's place at around 5 pm on the day of the kut ritual. Immediately on our arrival, Soh Bosal began to make offerings with Chisun's Grandmother in the kitchen. Chisun's Grandmother often asked Soh Bosal how to cook, because offerings are not an ordinary meal. 'What is delicious to people is also delicious to spirits. Don't worry, too much about cooking. Cook as usual,' replied Soh Bosal. The cooking smell was delicious and made me hungry.

I was asked to assemble the ritual kit, with which I decorated Chisun's Grandmother's room, where the ritual was to take place. It was like preparing for a party. Nobody was upset, crying or seemed depressed. The atmosphere was totally different from Oki's Mother's kut, …..It was also different in that Soh Bosal cooked and performed her ritual in her client's house. In the case of the kut for Oki's Mother, she cooked the offerings at her office, and performed the kut ritual in a mountainous area, in order to keep it secret.

While they were cooking, both the shaman and her client, Chisun's Grandmother chatted a lot. Chisun's Grandmother even joked to me, 'You must be happy with this kut because, tonight, you don't have to be frozen with the night cold outside.' However, Chisun's Great-Grandmother was entirely excluded from the preparations for the kut. Even though she was the only other person, except for me, living in the house, nobody had told her about it. Because of the conflict between the two old widows, I was always caught in between the two. When I had nearly finished the decorations, she surreptitiously called me aside and asked, 'What's going on? Is my daughter-in-law having a kut tonight?'

In the event, Chisun's Great-Grandmother entered the ritual room and joined the ritual when Soh Bosal began to beat the drum. Also present for the kut ritual were other members of Chisun's Grandmother's family: Chisun's Father (the eldest son), Chisun's Mother (the first daughter-in- law) and Yoonchi's Mother (the second daughter-in-law). However, they arrived just before the kut, without bringing their children. As far as I am aware, no ordinary Koreans regard the kut as suitable for children. Chisun's Grandmother's second son, Yoonchi's Father, did not attend either. Yoonchi's Mother asked her mother-in-law to excuse her husband, saying that he had to work a night shift that evening. He was a bus driver. Chisun's Grandmother did not expect Yisul's Mother, her eldest daughter, to come, as she was 'married outside the lineage' (chulgaeoin). Furthermore, Soy was too far from Seoul, where she lived and ran a small beer bar, for a one-day trip. Nor did she expect her youngest daughter Minji, who was staying at her sister's (Yisul's Mother's) place in Seoul at the time.

During a telephone conversation the previous evening, Chisun's Grandmother had said to Minji, 'I don't care whether you come over or not. It's up to you.' After the telephone call she said to me, 'Minji is still urging me not to have the kut. Her voice was so loud that it still rings in my left ear. I thought I would go deaf in one ear.'

In a way, Minji was excused by her mother owing to her strong opposition. To my surprise, Chisun's Grandmother invited many of her neighbours, who were mostly of her own age. I found this surprising because most of the kut rituals I observed in Soy were 'rituals without audience', like the one for Oki's Mother. By contrast, the kut for Chisun's Grandmother was not a 'ritual without audience', but a 'ritual with plenty of audience'. Chisun's Grandmother had informed her neighbours, on the telephone or in person, that she was going to hold a kut that night.

They came over after dinner, around nine o'clock, and sat down in the ritual room, Chisun's Grandmother's bedroom, which was not big enough to hold that many people. In the room there were also two offering tables which had been specially set out for the ritual: one for the shamanic gods (halabeoji sang - literally, the offering table for grandfathers) and one for the spirits (josang sang – literally the offering table for ancestors).

In addition, Soh Bosal had her own space for the performance, where a drum, a gong, a drumstick, and a Spirit Stick (sinjangdae) were arranged…… , there were so many people in the ritual room that everyone was squeezed together and could not move. Because the room was so crowded, Chisun's Father wondered where to stay, and asked me if he could rest in my room during the ritual. I agreed. He did not seem to find the shamanic ritual at all interesting, and was probably feeling ashamed about it. As soon as he had entered my room, he lay down and went to sleep. The kut was a women's affair, in which there seemed to be nothing he could do. It was just boring for him.

The source of the experience

Korean mystic shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps