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Hi-ah Park

Category: Shaman

 

Hiah Park is a korean shaman (mudang) who specializes in the art of ritual dance. She has worked as a court musician and dancer in the korean classical tradition, has received a master of arts degree in dance, and has taught korean dance and ethnology - as well as sound and movement improvisation - in universities.  

Since her initiation as a mudang in 1981, Park has traveled extensively, performing shamanic ritual dance, trance dance, and traditional korean dance throughout the United States, Europe, and Korea. She also conducts lectures and workshops dealing with spiritual healing and techniques of ecstasy.   

Her international work has sparked a renewed interest in and respect for the ancient korean spiritual practices, as well as providing a catalyst for spiritual healing and transformation. 

Meeting With Sanshin:  An Interview with Hiah Park, Lover of the Mountain God BY Lauren W. Deutsch, First published Kyoto Journal 1993 (KJ 25)  (Subsequently published as The Sacred Mountains of Asia John Einarsen, ed., Boston MA, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1995)

Hi-ah Park, Manshin*, Korean shaman, specializes in ritual dance. Original artist, healer and teacher, she works at the level of the primordial state through ecstatic trance. Skilled in the healing arts, she communicates the needs of humans to the spirits and oracles of the spirits to humans.

 

I met Hi-ah Park during the 1990 Los Angeles Festival during which she participated in a multi-cultural program about spirit and art, along with several Native Americans and a bevy of Buddhists. I had heard a report that the Native Americans earlier had tried to cancel their plan to do several sacred ceremonial rituals at this program if TV cameras or newspaper photographers were present. What is ritual for, she remarked, but to engage the spirits on behalf of people. “Sharing the experience of rapture I have nothing to hide.” She seemed a wise, old person, though she looked only 40. She told me she had “died many times.”

The night of the presentation, she “performed” several dances of a traditionally longer kut, ritual, going into a trance and deftly wielding a sword and a rainbow of flags before an altar resplendent with dogk, the many-layered Korean rice cake, fruit, sticks of incense and other offerings placed on the altar in front of a gilded statue of Buddha.

Out of whirlwind of colorful costumes, loud drums (native American and Korean), cymbals and gongs, and some 200 people dancing ecstatically, the “performance” stopped into complete stillness. It was the trailhead, the ken, keeping still, of the I Ching, that great mountaineer’s bible. The buzz of mountain-top seeking mind dissolved into silence, then plunged through formless ecstatic trance, leaving no footprints, taking the memories, too! It was as if a weather front moved in and blew the clouds away.

At that point all I knew about Hi-ah Park was that she was born in Seoul and is considered the finest Korean traditional classical dancer of her generation. The first woman to be admitted to the National Classical Music Institute and into the esteemed ranks of Court Musician, she gave by any standards an exquisite “performance”, but this was not just a dance recital on the second floor of a downtown Buddhist temple. She literally went a giant step further.

 

I have since come to realize that her life mirrored that of an intimate of Sanshin. As Canda explains in Korea Journal, Sanshin is a “tangible, specific and personal entity,” evident to human senses through vitality, power and mystery of the physical landmass as well as in dreams and visions. This, I was to learn, was Hi-ah Park’s history. His observation of Sanshinʼs “having awesome natural power in service of sacredness and wisdom,” became her destiny.

Manshin is a title of respect identifying a mudang, a female Korean shaman. For centuries manshin had been openly persecuted, their practices disrupted and shrines destroyed, their artistry desecrated to entertainment. The prevailing religious and social order forced the practice of shamanism “underground”. It is still considered a curse to suggest that someone would grow up to be or to marry a mudang. That one of Korea’s most acclaimed artists, an American citizen and university lecturer became a mudang has had impact in Korea as well as globally.

After a number of years of quiet reflection, Hi-ah Park decided to fulfill her destiny as Manshin, to put her art in service of the spirit and the people who seek her out. She currently works in Europe and the USA, teaching through performances, workshops and lectures, including many prestigious universities and mental health centers.

Whether clad in a manshinʼs colorful robes performing a formal kut to the accompaniment of changʼgo, hourglass drum, and cymbals and gongs, or in a simple flowing white tunic dancing to the sounds of steel cello, bow chime, Chapman Stick, Mongolian drum or a wall of gongs, HI-ah Park shows us how the shaman warrior climbs the mountain, and dances atop the peak in mu-a, ecstasy

 

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