Religion in Modern Asia Newsletter

Shaman Newspaper


The Mu-sok mun-hwa shin-mun ("Folk-shaman culture newspaper") is a unique biweekly newspaper issued in Korea. Although shamanism was considered a base occupation in the Lee Dynasty, and it continued to be disparaged as superstition in the modern period, the paper was founded in 1991 with the intention of dealing positively with the practice, under the belief that it represented a core of national spiritual culture. The paper has a nominal circulation of ten thousand copies, and some sixty percent of the readership is believed to be shamanistic practitioners known as mu-dang.

Lee Chun-Sub (born 1957) is a former member of a protestant Christian church, and has served in the Korean navy. He states that his faith was strengthened as the result of dangerous encounters at sea, but one time, he had a decisive experience. The military vehicle he was riding in was involved in an accident, and all aboard were killed, with the exception of Lee, who himself suffered serious facial disfiguration in the accident. In the midst of this extreme condition, Lee had a vision of his mother praying to village tree and rock spirits for the safety of her children. He suddenly realized that that prayer was as much a part of him as his pulse, a stream passed down from distant ancestors to grandmother and mother, and that when he died, he would likewise become part of that stream. Further, he realized that at the root of that stream lay Korea's indigenous tradition of shamanistic folk religion. That experience signaled Lee's divorce from the Western religion of Christianity. He related that while he did not himself become a shaman, the accident in which he was the lone survivor and gave him the resulting stigma of disfiguration, was a divine message.

This episode represents a fascinating symbol of the religious situation in a modern Korea which is experiencing increasing emphasis on ethnic identity. Since Korean ethnic tradition has suffered relativization in the context of modern Western culture, the movement to emphasize that tradition is functioning to give a new sense of self-respect to the mu-dang themselves. That function is evident not only from the numerous advertisements posted in the newspaper by these "superstition mongers" (as they have been previously labeled), but also from the fact that the academic significance of this folk culture is now being broadly discussed at the quarterly "shaman culture college" hosted by the newspaper.

-- Jul 1, 1995, MANABE Yuko

Last updated: 2001/11/28 14:33:42

Copyright © 2001 Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University. All Rights Reserved.