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Observations placeholder

Mudang spiritual experiences – The kut for Chisun's Grandmother – 05 Aftermath



Type of Spiritual Experience


The background to the ritual murder is too long to provide here but it is a similar story of grievances and wrongs done.

A description of the experience

Korean Shamanism – The Cultural Paradox – Dr Chongho Kim

As a close observer of her therapeutic process for the back pain, I was entirely lost during the shamanic ritual and continued to be puzzled for a while after the ritual. How on earth could she expect her back pain to be cured by the shamanic ritual? Her pain had been very clearly diagnosed as a disc problem. She herself must have clearly understood this, because she said to me that she had seen the X ray of her spinal discs. Why did she need the spirit of her deceased husband to cure the illness?

Did she really trust his spiritual/mystic power more than the medical equipment of the big hospitals she had tried? Or did she regard the shaman Soh Bosal as a better healer than the physicians she had consulted? Then, what was the ritual murder all about? Did she really think that the, ritual murder would cure her back pain? What nonsense the shamanic healing was! Furthermore, she visited physicians again, even after the ritual. I really felt lost. It seemed to me that the pain was merely a cover story for the ritual murder, which she had plotted with Soh Bosal because of her feelings of hatred towards her mother-in-law.


This reconstruction is focused on how her back pain was transformed from an illness to a misfortune through the shamanic process. In particular, since this study is patient-oriented, I am concerned less with the spirit of her deceased husband than with the reasons why she needed the spirit to heal the pain. Although her case is not altogether typical, as she was a widow, this case study will provide an insight as to why the shaman’s clients are mostly older women.


‘I've had enough headaches from him.'

Throughout Chisun's Grandmother's life, her eldest son had always been a potential source of misfortune. In this context, I understand the shamanic ritual she held as a prevention against prospective misfortune. She probably wanted to control her son's misbehaviour by using the authority of his deceased father. The property which she owned had originally belonged to Chisun's Grandfather, so his authority might have been best medium through which to say something about the inheritance of the land. Furthermore, the father-son relationship is much more strict than the mother-son relationship in the patrilineal system of Korean culture.

As Chisun's Grandfather could not talk as he was already dead, we could say that she was borrowing her husband's mouth through the shamanic ritual. For this purpose, Chisun's Grandmother hired Soh Bosal, for whose services she paid 400 000 won, which was a large sum of money for her. Using his mouth, she was able to criticize her eldest son's misbehaviour as seriously as possible, without harming her own relationship with him. Verbally and physically, she was able to put him into a corner, to her great satisfaction and without any damage to herself. As Ioan Lewis notes in a similar context:

Thus the women who succumb to these afflictions cannot help themselves and at the same time bear no responsibility for all the annoyance and cost which their subsequent treatment involves. They are thus totally blameless; responsibility lies not with them, but with the spirits. (Lewis, 1971:31)


In this highly money-oriented society, Chisun's Grandmother was bewildered by her daughter, who had delayed marriage because she wanted to marry a high-class husband such as a medical doctor. The daughter's wish to make a high-status marriage was also the mother's wish, but at the same time it was a great burden for her as a poor woman. She often said with a sigh, 'I have carried big burdens on my back throughout my life. Those are my children. They caused my back pain.'

At first, I thought that this was merely a metaphoric expression, like the 'waves of life'. But the metaphors were working powerfully in the shamanic process, and they eventually brought her to a shamanic healing. In other words, she did not bring her back pain to the shamanic healing as a biological problem, but as a cultural problem….. I argue that illness is transformed into misfortune (or, illness-misfortune) in the shamanic process. This is the 'shamanization' of illness, and it may lead to the need for a shamanic intervention.



The source of the experience

Korean mystic shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps