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Observations placeholder

Mudang spiritual experiences – The kut for Chisun's Grandmother – 04 Ritual Murder



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Korean Shamanism – The Cultural Paradox – Dr Chongho Kim

Ritual Murder

'Chisun's Grandfather! Please sing a song! We'd like to listen to your lovely singing,'

Inho's Mother asked Chisun's Grandmother who held the Stick.

Pilsok's Grandmother supported Inho's Mother's request. 'You're right! Chisun's Grandfather sang very well when he was alive. If this man does not sing very well, he cannot be Chisun's Grandfather! Sing a song, Chisun's Grandfather!'

All the participants supported the request, some of them clapping their hands. This request transformed the situation which hitherto had been very serious. Now the participants wanted to have fun. Scholars report that the kut ritual played a significant entertainment role at gatherings in traditional Korea where there were few occasions for fun (H-W. Ch'ae, 1983; H-Y. Cho, 1983, 1987). In contemporary Korea, this is no longer the case, except occasionally in kut for tourists.

As we saw in Oki's Mother's case, kut rituals take place mostly in secret. However, in this ritual, the older neighbours were tired of the serious atmosphere. They prompted Chisun's Grandmother who was holding the Stick. Pilsok's Grandmother was the most insistent of the neighbours. She took a spoon from the offering table and gave it to Chisun's Grandmother. 'Use this mike! We are waiting for your favourite song. Can anybody tell me what was his favourite song?' she called.

People answered, 'Foggy Jangchungdang Park!'

Pilsok's Grandmother clapped her hands. 'Yes, it was! Please sing Foggy Jangchungdang Park! We all miss your lovely singing.'

However, Chisun's Grandmother, possessed by Chisun's Grandfather, did not sing, but just smiled. At this point, I was eagerly awaiting his/her song, because it might show whether or not Chisun's Grandmother was really possessed by Chisun's Grandfather. However Chisun's Grandmother did not grant my wish. She began to dance instead.

The neighbours clapped time. Pilsok's Grandmother stood up and began to dance with Chisun's Grandmother, as did some of the others.

'Please be seated,' Soh Bosal ordered the Stick, after people had enjoyed dancing for a while. Following her order, not only the Stick, but also everybody else stopped dancing and sat down. Soh Bosal then resumed her probing of the issue, which had not yet come to a conclusion. 'I'll let you be more entertaining if you promise not to take your wife in the near future. Will you promise?'

However Chisun's Grandfather was obstinate and continued to shake the Stick. At this point, Chisun's Grandmother's face looked like a spoiled child who keeps asking for something. She shook her whole body.

Soh Bosal proposed another deal. 'What about a postponement? Would you like that?' At last, the shaman received a positive answer from Chisun's Grandfather possessing Chisun's Grandmother: 'It can be postponed.' Soh Bosal exclaimed, 'That's great! You're very generous! For how many years then? Ten years? Twenty years?' The Stick shook sideways. But Soh Bosal was also a stubborn negotiator.

'You said no, didn't you? You are so stubborn that I am not interested in you any more. I'd better go to sleep now.'

The shaman stopped beating the drum and the gong and lay down with her head on the gong.

Chisun's Grandfather's spirit repeatedly tried to get Soh Bosal up with the Stick. It seemed to be keen to play more, so it was encouraging Soh Bosal to beat the drum. But Soh Bosal was not an easy adversary.

'I am wondering whether you are father of a bitch or a spirit. I don't care who you are and what you want. But, if you're stubborn, I won't let you play any more.'

Pilsok's Grandmother was much more aggressive and suggested, 'Stab his neck with a knife! He'll give up when he sees blood.'

Inho's Mother added, 'You know, humans are stronger than spirits. You must be subordinate to us! You must not take Chisun's Grandmother if you are her husband.’

Chisun's Father also participated in this transaction. He wiped away his tears and asked, making kowtows on his knees, 'Please save my mother's life. I beg you.'

Finally, Chisun's Grandfather's spirit gave up, and made several bows to Soh Bosal. Soh Bosal asked again, 'I can't understand what you really mean. Do you mean that you will take Chisun's Great-Grandmother? Is that right, sir?'

This was the first mention of Chisun's Great-Grandmother and this question brought her into the main stage of the ritual. To this question, Chisun's Grandmother (or Chisun's Grandfather) shook her Stick strongly, together with her body.

Objecting strongly, Chisun's Grandmother (or Chisun's Grandfather) shouted, 'You'll be like "an acorn in dog food" (gaebabe dotori - someone nobody wants) after I die! Nobody would want to look after you. Who would have you?' I was sitting next but one to Chisun's Great-Grandmother so I was able to see Chisun's Grandmother's eyes when she looked at her. Her eyes shined blue under the light of a fluorescent lamp hung on the ceiling, and looked like the eyes of a fighting animal. I had never seen her eyes look so frightening before. She seemed to be expressing her extreme hostility toward her mother-in-law.

At this moment, I was bewildered about the identity of the subject. Who was talking?

Chisun's Grandmother was supposed to be being possessed by Chisun's Grandfather, but the 'I', which Chisun's Grandmother had spoken of just before, obviously meant Chisun's Grandmother herself.

Chisun's Grandmother (or Chisun's Grandfather) continued to talk to Chisun's Mother, 'Oh! My miserable daughter-in-law! You'll have to receive another great burden in future. How miserable you are!'

It was obvious that 'another great burden' meant Chisun's Great-Grandmother.

At this point, Soh Bosal interrupted, 'Why don't you take Chisun's Great- Grandmother instead?' Obviously the question which Soh Bosal asked must have hurt Chisun's Great- Grandmother's feelings. Soh Bosal seemed to mind Chisun's Great-Grandmother's being there to watch. She asked Chisun's Great-Grandmother, 'It is such a late night for you, Grandma. Why don't you go to bed?'

Hesitantly and falteringly, Chisun's Great-Grandmother answered, 'Well ... I'm not sleepy yet. I'm not ….'

But Soh Bosal put further pressure on her. 'You see, we're too squeezed up here. People will be able to sit comfortably if you go to bed in your room. Would you please go to bed?'

Chisun's Great-Grandmother, lost for words, was compelled to stand up and leave the room. As she walked out, many eyes followed her. Her rounded back looked so powerless and lonely. Yet nobody stopped Soh Bosal from behaving so rudely to her. Once Chisun's Great-Grandmother had left, the 'ritual murder' really got under way.

Soh Bosal asked the Stick, 'How long will Chisun's Great-Grandmother live? How long? One hundred years?' The Stick nodded. Soh Bosal shouted, 'You're kidding. It's too long! It's unfair! Your wife cannot lead her life comfortably if that is so. As her husband, you must take your wife's side.'

Many of the others supported this request sympathetically. Daljung's Grandmother, who was Chisun's Grandmother's best friend, said, 'Please don't take my friend! If you really want someone, you must choose somebody older. It's nonsense if you take your wife. You must keep the right order.’

Pilsok's Grandmother was much more aggressive. 'You must be crazy. I must say that you are crazy because you keep insisting on taking your wife. You must take your mother if you are really Chisun's Grandfather.'

Inho's Mother added, 'You must be a crazy grandpa. Your wife still has plenty of days to live. She is still young! You must be crazy or a wandering spirit.'

In response, Chisun's Grandmother (or Chisun's Grandfather) smacked Inho's Mother with the Stick many times. But the protests did not stop.

Soh Bosal said, 'Get away, you crazy grandpa! I'm not interested in you. There is no husband who wants his wife to die soon. You must say that you'll take Chisun's Great- Grandmother!'

As the protest intensified, the Stick flew in the air and hit the heads of the protesters, including the shaman. The papers of the Stick became detached from the stick and flew up in the air again.

'Please be seated!' Soh Bosal ordered the Stick, after letting the fuss go on for a while. As Chisun's Grandmother put the Stick down on the chopping board as the shaman had requested, the audience also calmed down. Now the shaman proposed another deal, saying, 'To change your mind, I'll sing a song for you.'

Beating the drum in a slow rhythm, she began to sing part of a traditional ballad (minyo chang) liked by elderly people. The drama Soh Bosal was conducting was making the kut atmosphere very melancholy.

Chisun's Father wiped away his tears with his hands: he seemed to be thinking of his mother's harsh life. Several women's eyes moistened with tears, too. The ritual had begun to look like a lively melodrama performance, with Soh Bosal as a very good director. ….. Korean shamanic ritual has many characteristics of drama. As the climax of the kut ritual, the possession phase aroused intense emotions in the participants. The possession phase finished at around 2 am.

Most of the neighbours left at this point not only because it was so late, but also because they knew that there would be nothing interesting after this phase. As usual, Soh Bosal burnt all the items that had been used in the ritual, including the paper kit and the spirit clothes. She also burnt the jacket which had been pointed out as the cause of Chisun's Grandmother's illness. This task was carried out in the front yard of Chisun's Grandmother's house.

Beside Soh Bosal, Chisun's Grandmother was gazing at the flames. As she burned the jacket, Soh Bosal was speaking some ritual words, but I could not follow her mumbling. …..…., I could not understand the ritual words (chukeon) which the shaman was now reciting. Chukeon is not an ordinary form of discourse, but a shamanic (or ritual) discourse for communicating with spirits. The purpose of the words which Soh Bosal was reciting was to send off the spirit invoked, not the people invited. These two mutually different types of discourse should not be mixed up in an analysis of ritual, even though both are spoken in the same language and in the same ritual.

After finishing the burning, Soh Bosal went to sleep in the kitchen, where Chisun's Grandmother had made up a bed for her. Chisun's Grandmother slept with her son and daughters-in-law in her own bedroom. The next morning, Soh Bosal left after having had her breakfast. It was again me who gave her a lift to her office in Central Township.

The source of the experience

Korean mystic shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps