SHAMANISM: THE RELIGION OF HAN
Sounds of music. 'The whole town is already excited by the clang of symbols and the beat of drums. Neighbourhood children are dancing towards the house where the music comes from. But there is no circus in town. There is trouble, perhaps sickness or death. It is the mudang's music for a kut. The troubled house must be exorcised of evil spirits. Neighbourhood women are so curious as to what is happening to that house that they have to go to see the mudang and the kut.
I too want to go and see what is happening. I like that kind of music. I like to see the evil spirits being exorcised. I want to see the mudang dance. But I cannot go. My father is a Christian minister, and I am a Christian. My mother wouldn't let me go to see the mudang, because Christians are not supposed to be mixed up with other religions such as Shamanism. For me, they say, it is a sin to see the mudang and participate in the kut. Besides, I am supposed¦ be contaminated by the evil spirit just by watching the kut.
Korean Christians have been isolated from the other religious cultures of Korea. The missionaries taught us thati accept Christianity means to cut ourselves off from the
old way of life — the old way of religion. To become Christian means that we must get rid of the household spirit shrines and forget about them. This is conversion, and an act of conversion. We were told that Mudang and kut have nothing to do with Christianity; or in other words, Christ is against our culture, no matter how old and how strong it may be. Christianity is different from other native religions, and it is better than the rest. This we were to accept and believe.
Despite the missionaries' teaching, Shaman music and dances are still attracting women and children and sometimes men. And Shaman faith or custom is the most pervasive form of religious culture in Korea. There are many shamans around an urban neigbourhood, with green or white flags on the roof alongside the tall television antennas. Korean Christianity, although so western in its liturgy and appearances, is obviously quite shamanistic in its belief and behaviour. In the final analysis, we may be all shamanistic and Korean Christianity may be characterized as Shamanistic Christianity. The Shaman ritual, the kut, gives expression to the very soul and essence of the Korean people and their culture.
Shamanism is the pervasive religious custom and culture? of the Korean minjung. But Shamanism has no hierarchy, no church, no building, and no doctrine. It is practised inside and in the courtyards of ordinary houses. A mudang, a Korean female shaman, comes to a house to perform a kut. She brings a drummer girl with her for the music and dancing. But for a special occasion, one could arrange a big kut in a shaman shrine on top of the nearby hill in Seoul. There are two shaman shrines in Seoul. But the one that I visit regularly ha a seating capacity of les than 30, in contrast to a big Christian church in Seoul that seats more than 10,000. Basically, Shamanism builds no temples. It is practised at home, or even in front of an elm tree on the road leading to a village.
Mudangs/Female Religious Leaders
Mudangs may be called the priests of Korean Shamanism. A mudang is usually a woman. Some are very young and some quite old; most are middle aged. Most of the mudangs I have seen and met have husky voices, rather refined body movements, are beautiful, and stand out from the other women attending shaman rituals. Korean shamanism has no known founder or prophet, or leading priest(s). Korean shamanism is a religious practice centered around the mudang. A mudang's dance and her music are the liturgy of Korean shamanism. In her ritualistic trance she utters the "words of spirits" or "words of god". There are no scriptures, no written rubrics of religious practice. Therefore, the mudang is the single-most important figure in Korean shamanism.
The group of women who perform kut or the shaman ritual, are known by different common name for women who mediate between gods and people.
The shaman is a recognized professional who manifests the gods in her own person at will and interprets the words and visions they send her.
One does not become a mudang through a process of education, examination and ordination. Mudangs simply learn the mudang "skill". They usually inherit the tradition from their families, learning an orthodox ritual preserved in the family for five or six generations.
Most revered and respected are the “real” mudangs who have become mudangs through divine inspiration or “spirit illness” or (shinbyung). In the literal translation, they are described as women who “entered into the gods” and “upon whom gods have descended”. When spirits and gods enter into a girl, she becomes sick. This “spirit illness” or shinbyung syndrome seems to be a form of mental illness, hysteria or psychosomatic disorder. The [symptoms of one destined to be a shaman' include a
persistent illness without apparent cause, loss of appetite, unwillingness to eat meat and fish, craving for cold water, weakness or pain in the limbs, dreams, hallucinations and crazed wandering.
During and after the spirit illness the mudang-to-be sees hallucinations and dreams about mountain spirits or soldier spirits on horseback. Then she goes to a mudang for consultation or for exorcism. There and then she may begin to dance in the kut or just start fortune telling for others. Thus, a new mudang begins her apprenticeship for the professional job of practicing kut.
A distinction can be made between a god-descended person and someone struck temporarily insane. According to the mudang, "insane people look like they are in pain, but god-descended people wander here and there, singing out, 'I'm this god, descended person,’ an initiation kut is performed in which the initiating mudang invites the gods to complete their descent and allow their chosen one to dance and sing as a mudang. Thus ushered into mudang-hood, as it were, the initiated is called upon to bring blessing to the living by appeasing spirits and gods in the invisible world, am curing illness by exorcism.
A 1972 survey estimated that there is one mudang of some sort or other for every 314 people in Korea. This is a very high density. By comparison, the 1982 government! statistics indicate that there are some 35,000 Protestant ministers in Korea, or one for every 1,000 people. According to the same statistics, there were even fewer Buddhist monks (20,755) than Protestant preachers. It is interesting that the 1982 government statistics do not include the number of mudangs, or the number of people who go to a mudang for kut and on various occasions for religious need. The Ministry of Culture and Information, which complies and issues such statistics, does not classify
shamanism as a religion. This is understandable, since mudangs have no church where they practice their religion. There is no mudang organization which produces statistics for the Ministry which oversees the religious affairs of the nation. And mudangs would be the last to acknowledge, on their "citizen's identification card" or on their tax return, that their profession is mudang.
Scholars of Korean shamanism carefully avoid the term "religion" in defining the mudang phenomenon. In Korea, they call it "customs of mudang"; not "kyo" (religious teaching) but "sok" (custom). And Musok, or the customs of mudang, may be defined as "a form of people's faith in traditional religious phenomenon centered around the mudang". When scholars call this religious phenomenon "customs of mudang", they contrast it with religion, which has teachings and doctrines. They want to call it "people's faith", or "folk beliefs".
Despite its lack of teachings or doctrines, Korean Shamanism still deserves to be called a religion. The Latin religio is derived from religare, which means "to bind" or "to attach" and "to relate". The original meaning of the term religion, "a contractual obligation with a divine being", is fulfilled in the "customs of mudang", which is the Korean folk religion or the faith of Korean people. This religion is "folk", "popular" or "people's" and now "minjung", not only because it is shared by the majority of the Korean people, but also because it has been officially ignored, if not openly persecuted, first by the literati of the Yi dynasty, and then by the new and modernized governments both Japanese and then Korean. This is a proper Korean religion because it predated Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism or Christianity. It is a religion which is pervasive in Korean minds, and which is alive in the Korean way of life. It may not be properly called shamanism and we have no popular Korean term for
it. It cannot strictly be called an "ism" because it has neither an explicit doctrine nor sacred texts. It is no ideology, nor does it have systematic teachings. It may be called the religion of mudang, but it is not practised by mudangs alone. It is the basic religious mind-set of the Korean people — both high and low and hence, the basic religious mentality of the Korean people. It is an old, indigenous, informal and nearly unconscious kind of popular religion and can be rightly called the religion of the Korean minjung.
Although Korean shamanism is not organized with am established hierarchy and political representation, it is I pervasive in Korean political life. And although it has no permanent shrines or sheltered places of assembly, no institutions for the training of workers, no press or any other audio-visual means of propagation, it is everywhere in Korean life — in all the formal religions, in the educational system and in the media. It is a religion completely secularized in the everyday life of the Korea people; and it is more than any other religion, for it incorporates the traditions and the spirit of the Korean people. Because the customs of the minjung, the common folk, do not involve a dogmatic belief system, they can¦ exist side-by-side with other religions. It is a nameless entity, a nameless religious phenomenon without a belief system. But it is a religion, and the religion of the Korean minjung has sustained them through the crises and perils of this world and the other-world.
The Shaman Rituals
Korean shamanism is a religion of wish-fulfillment and it is practised by the deprived. Since it is practised by female mudangs and by the women of the household, it may be called a religion of Korean women. Women and oppressed groups in Korea participate in mudang religion — a primitive or peripheral religion — in order to redress
the deprivation inherent in social peripherality. Or perhaps, the Korean mudang religion is primitive and peripheral because women and the oppressed minjung participate in it. Shamanism in Korea is the least respected religion sometimes even despised. Its practitioners are the most despised and oppressed. Korean shamanism is a religion of the Korean minjung. The Korean minjung turn to the Korean mudang religion out of their social deprivation, poverty, ignorance, suffering and misfortune, imposed upon them by their social fate. In this religious practice Korean minjung can bring their han, their troubles, their tears, and their frustrations. The Korean mudang religion is an expression of the powerlessness of the Korean Minjung.
Besides the rather simple form of household kut for blessings or for a sick patient, there are two kinds of full-dress mudang kut: one for the cure of the sick and another for the dead in the family. Commonly in these elaborate mudang kut the mudangs follow twelve steps to complete the whole ceremony. The steps may be divided into five parts: (a) prelude, (b) protection, (c) exorcism, (d) blessing, and (e) postlude. No matter what the external form or name of the mudang ritual, the basic structure remains essentially the same. First, an invitation to the gods to descend. The mudang dances and sings "Chungbae-Ka", — the song of divine invitation:
When you come, oh gods of eight provinces come
to the sons and daughters;
around their neck
tie the iron necklace
of long life...
We pray and we pray
Please accept our small offerings
oh, fathers and gods of the mountains and rivers.
While the mudang sings and dances slowly to staggered beat of the drum, she goes into a trance. Eventually the drum beat becomes faster and the mudang jumps higher and higher. During this ecstatic dance, the spirit comes down and possesses her body. The mudang might look like she has blurred vision, for her eyes seem to lose focus; she looks at no one around her, but gazes into nothingness.
The second general step is to "play" with the gods with songs and dances. In between songs and dances the mudang relays the message of the gods to the participants, usually the sponsoring person or family, friends and visitors. The messages of the gods are usually from the spirit of an ancestor summoned by the mudang in trance. A dialogue ensues between the ancestor-spirit and the family. The mudang and the family talk back and forth about the situation. Sometimes the deceased comes back through the mudang to describe his or her tragic death in a traffic accident. At other times, a deceased father may Complain about the mistreatment of his son or daughter- in-law; or sometimes the ancestors and the spirits called upon by the mudang will ask for more money and more food and drink. And sometimes, the members of the sponsoring family will negotiate with the summoned ancestors or the spirits for more blessings for the family, in return for more offerings and money. (This is the way the mudang receives generous "tips" for the kut). At the end of this part of kut, the mudang concludes by singing:
Thus says the spirit
he will receive your small offerings
as a big mountain; and
he will bless you;
put aside your worries, for
he will take care of you.....
During this dialogue the summoned ancestor or the powerful spirit, speaking through the mudang, give directions for the family well-being, suggests medicinal remedies for sickness, and gives good counsel to various members of the family. Sometimes, the mudang will cry aloud, become hysterical or angry and smoke cigarettes and drink rice wine as the summoned relative or ancestor would have done while they were alive. At times she will joke with the members of the sponsoring family. This is a lively session, with songs, dances, costume changes, tears, shouts, jokes and laughter. This is essentially an entertainment session, bringing all the family troubles and problems into the open.
The third and final stage of the kut may be called a postlude in which the mudang sings and dances briefly. The songs of the final stage are usually pleasant ones which praise the good and big-hearted spirits or the ancestors and bid farewell to them. The mudang will come out of her trance or possessed state. And she will sing:
Please stay and play;
Play with us,
O gods and spirits of the mountains
and spirits of fathers.....
The most elaborate and lavish kind of mudang kut is the kut for the dead. It is sometimes called Chinogi kut, a peace-giving ceremony for the dead, or the releasing of the soul of an ancestor. Chinogi kut is usually performed three months after the death. A kut performed immediately after the death, for the "freeing" of the dead, is usually called "shikim kut". The kut for the dead is to guide the dead soul to "heaven" in peace. When it is mixed with the Buddhist ideas, this kut is to free the souls of ancestors imprisoned in Buddhist hell and allow them to enter heaven. In the northern provinces of Korea, it is called a
"bridge" kut (dari kut), building a symbolic bridge to enable the dead soul to cross the chasm between this worldl and the other world. In a sense this is a mudang farewell ceremony for the dead, praying for a safe and peaceful journey to the nether world. People in this world do not want to be bothered or harmed because they did not send" dead parents and relatives safely and properly to the place where they belong.
When a person dies he or she dies only physically. The soul lingers around the body "observing" what the relatives are doing. The soul is not dead yet: that is, the soul has not departed to its proper place. A farewell kut is needed to help the soul to go to the place for the dead. Some. dead are not ready to die; some die by accident and some die too young. But the death itself is something sad and unhappy and unpleasant. There is a lot of "han" in a¦death. Thus, the kut for the dead is to release the sad feeling, or han, which the dead person has accumulated during his life time. Even if the dead person led a happy life without any han (which is most unlikely), the death itself is a great han for him, and the person needs release from the han of death itself.
At a kut for the dead, the dead soul is called back by and through the trance of a mudang. And through the words of then tranced mudang the dead person talks about the enacts of his han-ridden life. Through such talk and enactment, the soul releases its han, leaves its last words in the form of a will and blessings to the family present, and sets off peacefully on its final journey. The whole kut alsok asks the heavenly officials of death (Buddhist origin) to¦ lead the souls to the proper place. When this is done, a white cotton cloth is spread out in front of the foodofferings, to symbolize the road to the gate of heaven.
From the mudang ritual for the souls of the dead, we learn an interesting idea of "life after death". Korean shaman rituals do not describe heaven or hell except by
borrowing from Buddhism and other religions. There is no good place or bad place to go after death. But it is good to die completely. That is, one's soul should not linger around somewhere indefinitely, neither here nor there, to bother the living. This is the most unfortunate state a soul can be in. One should die "completely", and go to the proper place for the dead.
Another point in the mudang ritual for the dead is that the soul of the dead is not necessarily rewarded or punished by what he or she has done in this life. There is no reward and punishment system in the mudang "theory" of life after death. The unknown area of death is primordial chaos, from which life probably sprang. Life after death is immortal and the human soul is eternal, but death is morally neutral; it is not caused by any form of "original" human sin. And the nature of life after death is not determined by the moral life of the living. The proper death is completed by the mudang ritual. Dying is sad and horrible; therefore, the soul wants to linger among the living. The soul should be sent off properly by sincere performance of a mudang ritual. And the han-ridden soul of the dead has to be gotten rid of, so that the living can live in peace.
Another feature of mudang understanding of the dead soul is that there is no notion of rebirth of the soul, as in Buddhism or Hinduism. Once one dies and moves into the eternal primordial chaos, that is the end of it. But an interesting irony is that the living will not let the dead stay dead. The people call the souls of the dead back again and again, through the help of a mudang's trance, and ask for blessing. The living want the dead to be so, but at the same time they want the souls of the dead to come back at their convenience to cure the sick in the family and for blessing. Dead or alive one cannot escape a tight relationship with family and community.
Mudangs and Minjung
A kut is full of symbols, gestures and objects, and only a few words are spoken. There may be some words of admonition and a few words of consolation. But a kut is essentially a religious ritual without words or linguistic explanation. There is no sermon to speak of. There is singing, chanting, drumming and dancing to induce the spirits to this world and to please them. The mudang provides blessings in the present visible world by invoking the spirits of the invisible world. The mudang invokes the spirits of family ancestors — the spirits of the past which "reside" in the invisible world. The mudang-shaman is an intermediary between the world of the living beings (visible) and the world of spirits (invisible). In order to make contact with the other world, the shaman altar is laid out with a pig's head, cooked meat, sweet rice cakes and white rice wine. Cooked grains are used to exorcise; dried fish and live chickens to expel evil; and balanced swords to indicate blessing. The entire kut is a drama between humans and spirits, the spirits of the past come into the world to give blessings to the people of the present. It is a drama of cosmic fighting between spirits. There is singing and dancing. There are tears and weeping which soon turn to joyous laughter and happiness. There are jokes, and consolation and harsh words, all coming from the nether world of the past.
No religion in Korea has been more suppressed and persecuted than the mudang religion. A nationwide and systematic persecution was launched by the neo-Confucian government of the Yi Dynasty. The old Confucian kingdom prohibited all mudang practices inside the four gates of the capital. The mudangs were pushed out of the royal palace ground and into the countryside. The king's court ordered all mudang books to be confiscated and burned. The mudangs were outcasts and despised as the lowest class of people. Despite such persecution, the
mudang religion persisted among the minjung of Korea and even among the people of the king's palace. The colonial government of Japan saw the mudang religion of Korea as an embarrassment to a modernizing nation. The Japanese despised the home mudang rituals, and barred community mudang festivals on political, rather than on religious, grounds. The Japanese wanted to eradicate anything Korean and they did not want village people to gather together for religious festivals for fear that the group might turn into a mob demonstrating against the foreign rulers. In spite of such suppression, and the persecution, the minjung clings to this most despised, primitive mudang religion.
The Korean mudang religion is the religion of minjung's "han". A han-ridden Korean woman comes to visit the mudang, or invites her to her home for a short mudang ceremony. The han of a woman is revealed to the mudang, and the mudang exorcises it for her, chasing the evil spirit out of the household. The mudang gives the han-ridden woman consolation and prays for blessing. For the Korean minjung, there is no other way to cure sickness in the family which has not been cured by the modern doctors in a Western-style hospital. A modern hospital is a prohibitive place for the Korean minjung too expensive, too foreign and too clean. Family misfortune and family sickness are attributed to neglect of the spirits of the dead in the family. One's fortune is directly related to the doings and feelings of one's dead ancestors. These worldly happenings are directly connected with the world of the invisible spirits. The helpless minjung of this world have no other place to turn, except to the invisible spirits of their ancestors. After all, parents and relatives are the only reliable support, dead or alive, in this world of political suppression and economic exploitation.
Psychological studies of the mudang religion of Korea have shown clearly that the mudang kut is a dramatic
process of counselling. Projection, catharsis, transference, consolation, admonition, release or salvation — all these steps and processes are present. Projection and the power of suggestion call forth excuses or reasons for a woman's illness and misfortune. Her misfortune is projected out of herself. It is not her fault; it is because the dead ancestors' spirits are bothering her worldly affairs. Since her misfortune is the result of the doings of the spirits of her dead ancestors, she can talk about it. That is, she can talk about, her han-ridden, unfortunate life. This desensitizes her guilt feelings through the above action by means of the mudang's trance, talking with dead parents and explaining away her worries. And she will have a catharsis. She can cry out loud. And through her tears, laughter, rage and expressed frustration, she will relieve pent up emotions and han, the unexpressed and unresolved resentment. She reveals all her han to the mudang. It is a common thing to see — during the mudang dance — a daughter-in-law beating her mother-in-law, or the lady sponsoring the kut beating the mudang.
Evil spirits and feelings are expelled by the use of
chickens, swords and other exorcistic devices. The
transference technique of the mudang removes the
cause of evil in a human body or family and "transfers" it to other
objects. The most interesting thing in the whole process is its community
centeredness. The kut is a family affair, if not an
affair of the whole village. Particularly in the mudang
kut for the spirit of the dead, the entranced mudang will give the whole family didactic instructions —
admonishing them to mutual cooperation, filial piety, to love each other, share the wealth generously among the relatives and so on. Fundamentally, the mudangs seem to believe that the basic cause of sickness and misfortune in the family is a lack of giving, care and concern and love among the members of the family. When such an admonition is given through the mouth of the entranced
mudang to the whole household, it turns out to be group therapy. The mudang kut brings about a renewed spirit of love among the members of the family.
The mudang religion of Korea, in spite of and because of its pervasiveness among Korean minjung, has been criticized for its projective approach towards all human problems. All problems are attributed to spiritual causes or forces apart from individual awareness and responsibility. Sickness comes from the petty anger of the spirit heroes of the past, of an ancestor who is still suffering in purgatory. It is not because of the behavior of the living; it has nothing to do with loose living, bad food, or poverty, or an immoral life. One has no responsibility for sickness or misfortune, and thus does not have to take action to eradicate suffering. The mudang is asked what to do. And the entranced mudang will provide a message from the most feared ancestor or powerful spirit.
The mudang religion does not teach any sense of moral responsibility, or give a sense of independence to do whatever is necessary to eradicate pain and suffering in the family and in the society. A complete dependence on ancestral or unknown spirits of the past in the invisible world is encouraged. The minjung is completely powerless, and the minjung of Korea has been told repeatedly that they are incapable of doing anything for themselves. They have no other place to turn for help and salvation from the worldly suffering and pain of han. The han-ridden minjung of Korea has been taught to rely on the spirits of the family dead. Only the dead spirits of their ancestors can help them — they are much more powerful and benevolent than the living members of the family. The dead spirits of family ancestors are much more reliable than any powerful government. The government has betrayed minjung many times, but their father's spirit will not betray them. This illustrates dramatically the complete
powerlessness of the Korean minjung, their han, and the han-ridden life of helplessness.
The mudang knows what to do. The mudang will not preach to them. The mudang understands them, their han-ridden life of trouble and tribulation as powerless and oppressed persons. She will listen to their han-ridden story of life, and she understands, for she herself has experienced the han-ridden life of the oppressed and despised, as a woman and as a Korean mudang. The mudang was once sick with a mental sickness (Shinbyung). She was once called mad and spirit-possessed. The mudang has the experience of overcoming and transcending her illness, spiritual illness and the suffering of mental sickness. Therefore, she understands her patient's grievances and suffering. She will resolve their han. Shd¦ will cry with them, she will laugh with them, and she will hold his hands tightly and give them sincere and heart warming consolation. The mudang is full of Jung (heart- warm feeling). Han can be resolved only through the jung of others. And when han is resolved, the feeling of jung is created between persons. A persons han being resolved, he or she can live in this terrifying world with the warm feeling of jung in the family and among the people of his society.
Michael Saso has this to say about the "positive" or humanistic approach in understanding the mudang religion:
In the best sense of the kut's social and cultural impact on the community, the Shaman rites definitely promote a sense of peace and smooth functioning of society in the Korean traditional mentality. A sense of historic significance, of social importance of touching the deepest sensitivities inside the human psyche, perhaps for years behind social sublimation, are a part of the kut experience.
One feels that the best and worst of the human condition is touched and appreciated in the symbolic drama of the mudang.
The mudang religion may be criticized as manipulation of the Korean minjung for submitting them to their fate and to the powerful. But this mudang religion has enabled the Korean minjung to survive their fate and the exploitation of the powerful.
Another point to be mentioned with regard to the humanistic approach to understanding the Korean mudang religion is that while it projects problems to unknown and invisible spirits in the other world, it does not project life itself into the other world. The Korean mudang religion is thoroughly 'this-worldly'. It affirms the importance of the living and the life of this world. It is not pessimistic about this world, and it does not long for the other world. It is not cynical about this life, although it is filled with suffering, pain and han. One's lian-ridden life is still precious, it should be cured and blessed with health, wealth and success. The Korean mudang religion does not question the importance of this world and this life. Religious salvation in the mudang religion is not a release from the life of this world. The mudang does not pray for a better life in another world, but for this life in this world.
Earlier, I mentioned the festiveness of the mudang kut. There is plenty of food, and there is a lot to drink. The whole process of mudang kut is singing and dancing. It is a festival religion. There is laughter and joy. It is a free religion. People come and go, take a break for coffee or for lunch or dinner. This is a religion of dialogue between the mudang and "congregation" — a lot of give and take occurs between them. Anyone can participate fully in the mudang kut, singing and dancing together with the mudang and the other participants. It is in a way a liberating religion, liberating the people from the stiff
proceedings of a religious ritual. It gives a sense of liberation. People loosen up and sing and dance together. This is a religion of songs and dances. It is a very dramatic religion. Although it has no cathedral to speak of, it is filled with color and art and symbols. It has no wealth to boast; it has been the religion of the poor and oppressed minjung for many centuries.
The Shamanized Christians in Korea
When Christianity came to Korea, conversion meant conversion from the mudang practices to Christ. The mudang religion was despised by Christian missionaries and Korean Christians. It was a "Christ against Culture" model par excellence. It required a radical conversion — burn all the mudang stuff — before one came to Christ. Early mission success stories featured the new converts burning all of the house spirits of the mudang religion. But now we ask whether the success stories of Christian mission did not come about because of the culture of the mudang religion in Korea. The growth of Koreanj Christianity has a lot to do with the shamanistic mind-set of the Korean people, despite the fact that Christianity in Korea opposed Shamanism and set out to destroy the mudang religion. Korean Christianity was able to set deep roots in the religiously fertile soil of the mudang religion. And the branches, the healthy leaves and the various fruits of Korean Christianity grew out of the soil of the Korean mudang religion.
Korean shamanism is by no means monotheistic. It is a religion of many gods and many spirits, as we have seen. There are debates and disagreements among scholars on the question of whether there is a supreme being or spirit or god in Shanamism which stands above all other "nature" and house spirits. To the Shamanist, perhaps, the Christian or Western missionary God is much more powerful than Shaman gods. The Western missionary God
will do better things for the people; this God will bring more .money and success to your family, and this God is modern, enlightened and enlightening. But in Shamanistic "monotheism" there is no sense of history, prophetic function, or moral understanding of a supreme being. The Shaman concept of Hananism (God) is ahistorical and amoral. To this ahistorical, amoral and even asocial notion of Hananim the Judeo-Christian God was added, making Korean Christianity conservative, ahistorical, amoral and asocial in many ways. The ahistorical, asocial or apolitical parts of the Judeo-Christian deity were readily accepted by the religious mind-set of the Korean people. But the moral and political aspects of Judeo-Christian deity have to be understood by way of another element of the Korean religious tradition, Confucianism.
There is almost a complete lack of a framework in Shamanism to understand Christology as such. There is no understanding of a personal Hananim who would "send" His only begotten son to this world. There is no concept of divine incarnation, coming to this world for the salvation of the secular world. There is no "humanity" of God or the spirits to facilitate understanding of the human Jesus. Jesus might have been a great mudang who performed miracles, cured the sick and cast out evil spirits. Jesus might have been the greatest counselor mudang for the poor and deprived. But in the shamanistic mind-set, the idea of Jesus as the son of God is beyond comprehension.
However, the possession of a mudang may be very directly connected with the Christian charismatic movement. The mudang's possession-sickness is directly interpreted as the possession of the Holy Spirit. To receive the Holy Spirit in Christian terms and be converted to the Christian religion is to be possessed by the Christian spirit. With the power of the Christian Holy Spirit of Christianity, one can speak in tongues and cure the sick as the mudang used to do. To be a Christian is to be possessed
by the Holy Spirit. The mudangs' understanding of the world of spirits and spirit-possession, in other words, make it possible for Koreans to understand the nature of receiving the Holy Spirit of Christianity and its great power. Christian faith is almost exclusively interpreted as receiving the Holy Spirit, as the mudang falls into possession-sickness. The signs of receiving the Holy Spirit are similar to the signs of the possessed mudangs who cure the sick and exorcise evil spirits. But the Christian pentecostals in Korea who claim to cure the sick and exorcise spirits disclaim the mudang origin of their practice and understanding, although many of them come from shaman backgrounds. It is a matter of degree in different churches in Korea: spirit-possession is transferred to faith in the Holy Ghost. The practice, theology, and structure of spirit possession is the same in the mudang religion and Korean Christianity. This may be the strength of Korean churches. But it is also an extreme case of the seduction of the spirit, as Harvey Cox has seen it. Korean Protestantism has almost been reduced to a Christianized mudang religion. That is, the form and language of the worship service are Christian, but the content and structure of what Korean Christians adhere to are basically the mudang religion. Although missionaries rejected shamanism and thought it had been destroyed, Korean Christianity has become almost completely shamanized.
When Christianity was accepted by the Korean people and the Korean minjung, it was accepted within the mind- set of Korean shamanism, for Korean Shamanism is the religion of the Korean people and the Korean minjung. For the powerless minjung, the power of the spirit, more particularly the power of the Holy Ghost, is most respected and awed. To become a Christian is to believe in the power of the Holy Ghost which is much more powerful than their shaman spirits. Korean Christians have made the Christian worship service more casual and freer than traditional
Western style worship. They sing loudly and well, like in a mudang kut. There is a sense of joy in their service, and even the sense of festivity they experience in the mudang kut. They experience a close sense of community, relatedness and togetherness with other persons in the serivce, as in the case of the mudang kut. They share their sorrows, sufferings and pains as the poor and deprived and oppressed, and they also share a sense of liberation and salvation in the act of sharing. The mudang pathos is embodied in Christian worship and Christian pastoral care. A young Korean Presbyterian pastor who works in a Seoul slum church once remarked that he is not ashamed of being called a "Christian mudang". He does not want to seduce and manipulate religiously the spirit of the people. He acts as a Christian mudang to take care of the "han" of the people. He would be with the people, suffering together with them in the midst of their everyday existence and sharing their tears and laughters. He would exorcise the evil spirits in people and the evil spirits in the politics of society, to set free the oppressed and deprived, the poor and the sick.