Madang-gut (Kor: 마당굿) is a type of Korean shamanic ritual performed in an outdoor space which goes back to prehistoric periods, existing long before the influence of Taoism and Buddhism, Confucianism were introduced in Korea. Korean shamanism shaped the Korean civilization dating back to the mythical Dangun in 2333 B.C.E, the Northern Korean civilization, centred in Manchuria, and southern Korean civilization, centred in Gyeongju, and present.
It includes various indigenous beliefs, rituals and traditions that draw inspirations from Buddhism and Taoist practices. These rituals were performed mainly by the female shamans or a mudang (Korean: 무당), their performances aiming to serve as a medium to highlight the concerns of the commonalty and suggesting that reformative figures are required in the underdeveloped and rural parts of the society. The mudang served as a channel between the Divine Beings and the mortal beings. These were performed in times of difficulties, for invoking good health and well-being of their clients, for curing diseases by means of exorcism of evil energies and spirits from the bodies of their clients. Offerings to Gods, chanting, dancing were also a significant part of these rituals.
According to the contemporary Korean terminology, "shaman" is popularly known as "mudang" (Korean: 무당). The term "Mudang", associated directly with the Siberian term for female practitioners i.e. "utagan" or "utakan", refers to the female shamans. They are considered as the specially chosen people. "Gut" (Korean: 굿) refers to the rituals performed by the "mudang" which includes several stages such as, chanting, dancing, offering sacrifices to the ancestors, spirits and the Gods. During the time of crisis or the significant events of life, the shamans act as a mediator between the heavenly beings and the human world and provide their assistance through the "gut" rituals.
The shamans are divided into four categories-: "mudang", "dangol", "simbang" and "myeongdu" depending on the place of origin. The "mudang" shamans are generally found in the Northern part of Korea which includes Hamgyong, Hwanghae, Gyeonggi, Pyongan and the capital, Seoul.
The Initiation Process of the "Mudang"
"Mudang" is chosen through "Shinbyeong" or "divine or shamanic illness". This ecstatic state of mind includes possession of the shaman by "mom-ju" – the deity of the body, resulting in a state akin to "self-loss". To the non-believers, these symptoms can be presented as physical or psychological ailment. For the believers, these cannot be treated medically but by submission and complete acceptance of communication between the spirit and the possessed person. This state includes insomnia, auditory as well as visual hallucinations, loss of appetite and leads to the official initiation of the shaman through a ritual called "naerim-gut". The colours of the attire of the shaman who is to be initiated and the one who initiates the ritual is also heavily metaphorical. Red colour symbolizes protection against the evil spirits and demons, blue symbolizes the vitality, yellow refers to rebirth, black symbolizes the ability to understand and deliver the deity's message accurately. The shaman who is possessed is supposed to wear only white apparel to symbolize the cleansing and purification process.
Duties of the "Mudang"
Shaman ("Mudang") first introduces the story of the deceased. Participants, mostly family members of the dead, then pray for the dead to go to the "geungnak" (heaven) with the aid of purifying ritual and other participants to have a good luck. The main formats of narratives and songs of "Ssitgim-gut", have been orally transmitted from the past. Shamans memorize the traditional creation myth chants with long rhymes. With the sounds of drum and pipes, Mudang chants, songs, and dances for hours and hours. The experience may be similar with a "Shamanic State of Consciousness". While participating in gut for the dead and the lost, participants keep on praying, dancing together, eating, drinking, weeping, and sharing their pain and the stories of the deceased people. The gut eventually builds up energy for the participants to eventually encounter a healing moment. All the movements are strongly charged with emotional vigor.
Effects of the "Mudang" on the general Korean society
The rituals performed by "Mudang" have significant effects on the socio-cultural and political aspects of Korea. The theatrical performance of the shamans in the public space provided a democratic voice to the so-called lower section of the society. The mass gathering and ritualistic performance in front of the collective eyes showed leniency towards an equal society.
Most Korean shamanic rituals are held by female shamans and participants are mostly women. Traditional Korean culture has been patriarchal and male-centric, but the shamanic rituals have been exceptionally female-centric. In most Korean shamanic creation myths, powerful and masculine gods like Indra, Zeus, Allah or Yahweh are not observed. Instead, male gods and female goddesses instead are harmoniously and mutually staged and interact. Shamanism has played a role in balancing patriarchal masculinity of Korean peninsula with its feminine counterpart. Most people believe that tribal societies seem to stress participation in the collective activities and to be very different from the modern individualized societies. The concept of ego in the modern societies is often closely attached to the collective ideals and pressure, hindering the true individuation process.
The shaman dance or "mudong madang" is one of the key stages of the Korean masked dance-drama performance. Some of their songs or "muga" are prayers to specific deities and some are explanation of the several origins of each deity. Studies show that these songs are closely associated with the Korean vernacular oral literature such as, folk tales, poetry and songs from the eighteenth as well as nineteenth centuries. In the modern days, "Madang-gut" still holds an important position among not only the religious beliefs of Korea but also socio-cultural ones.
Shamanism in Present Day
According to the Korea Worshippers Association, which represents shamans, there are an estimated 300,000 shamans, or one for every 160 South Koreans, who are fiercely independent and adaptable, following different gods, sharing no one body of scriptures. When the Internet boom hit South Korea, shamans were among the first to set up commercial websites, offering online fortune telling. Many younger shamans maintain blogs on the Internet.
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