An Introduction to Cheju Island’s Shrine Shamanism

Cheju Island’s particular form of shamanism, which should be considered distinct from forms of mainland Korean shamanism, is focused on its hundreds of shrines scattered across the island. Shrines are usually built into the natural environment. Although some shrines in recent years have been moved, I would contend that this is not a normal practice in Cheju shamanism. On the contrary, that many of Cheju’s shrines were positioned deliberately at grottoes, promontories, or near natural springs or access to running water is evidence that some forms of geomantic thought had influenced their placement. A departure that I make from Cheju Studies in general is to clarify ‘Cheju shamanism’ in terms of a more communally-oriented village ‘shrine shamanism.’ Whereas private kuttang 굿당(shamanic ritual halls) have come to characterize mainland shamanism have been making headway in Cheju due to their advantages in urbanizing life, most of Cheju’s ‘shamanic’ activity is still anchored to specific shrines and communities. Community worship and shrines do exist in the mainland, but sacred geography maintains far stronger importance in Cheju Island. A clear example would be the fact that Nŭng 능당 and Tonomi 도노미당 Shrines in Cheju City or Sŏgwi Ponhyang 서귀본향당 Shrine in Sŏgwip’o are actively maintained despite the absence of a tang maen simbang 당맨심방 (shrine shaman) indicate that the notion of senjari 센지리 (sacred seat of power) remains crucial even in urban Cheju.

Cheju’s 346 shrines can be categorized as follows: ponhyangdang (village main shrines), ilrwedang (seventh-day shrines), yŏdŭredang (eighth-day shrines), and haesindang (sea deity shrines) (Yi YK: 2005: 236-237). Ponhyangdang 본향당 are of prime ritual importance for most communities while the haesindang 해신당 service seaside communities. Ilrwedang 일뤠당, visited on days with the number 7, are for individual worship, are among the most common types of shrines, do not require a full ritual, and are usually for women who pray for to Samsŭng Halmang 삼승할망 (Kr.: Samsin Halmŏni 삼신할머니) for childbirth, the health of children, or curing of children’s skin diseases. Even to the present ilrwedang remain important. Women typically leave hardboiled egg offerings with the intention of hoping that children’s skin would become as pure as the egg white, but prayers nowadays are for more general family welfare concerns. The yŏdŭredang 여드레당 are similar to ilrwedang in that they are for personal prayer, but as their name suggests they are visited on days with the number 8.

Ponhyangdang are the loci of community ritual and possess specific ponp’uri (origin epic myth) for the tutelary gods. Since each shrine historically had a ponp’uri, shrine origin myths historically numbered in the hundreds, but few remain in their totality, except for the most prominent shrines such as Songdang. Only the twelve ilban ponp’uri (general origin epic myths) of Cheju’s most important deities are known to all Cheju shamans. The Yŏngdŭng 영등 myth, the myth of the wind deity who visits Cheju every year in the Lunar 2/1 to 2/14, is a de facto must-know myth though several different versions exist in both oral and written literature (Mun MB 1996: 242-243). Probably due to a combination of pure accident and a passing curiosity, visiting mainland officials documented instances of the Yŏngdŭng-kut 영등굿 ritual during the early Chosŏn Dynasty. Samsŏnghyŏl 삼성혈, the ancestral shrine of Cheju’s three demigod ancestors, was said to have been a shamanic shrine until as late as the 15th century and the Samsŏng myth was probably related to Songdang’s and Kwaenaegit Shrine’s ponp’uri. The ilban ponp’uri, notably Segyŏng ponp’uri, the epic tale of the cross-dressing warrior goddess of agriculture Chŏch’ŏngbi 저청비 (Kr.: Chach’ŏngbi 자청비) and her lover Mun Toryŏng 문도령, became popularized stories as local and mainland émigré artists reproduce the story in musicals, manhwa (Jp.: manga), and various other performing and visual arts.

Some caveats come with defining ‘Cheju shamanism’ and it is necessary to note that overlaps with Confucianism and Buddhism are common. Where Buddhism, Confucianism, and shamanism begin and end can be ambiguous. A Buddhist monk in rural Hado noted that “when one goes to a temple, one goes to a shrine” (“신당도 가고 절도 가고”) a sentiment also echoed in the now-urban neighborhood of Chŏngsil 정실 in Cheju City where the people who pray at Tonomi Shrine are the same people who attend Wŏlchŏngsa 월정사 temple’s services. Annual male-led ‘Confucian’ maŭlje (village-wide ritual) sometimes take place not at a ‘Confucian’ altar, but rather at the village shrine to greet the tutelary shamanic gods, whom the local tang maein simbang later serenade in a kut.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. immobilienkredit
    Jun 08, 2017 @ 08:27:37

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    Reply

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