There are different types of mudangs. We can come from all over the world, and be called to do very different yet specific things. I am from the “ecstatic shaman” line, a certain type of mudang where we experience the gods and spirits directly. We channel them, we hear, see and communicate with spirits.
Our energy is connected to the Heavens, the physical plane, and the Underworld, as well as the Unseen. This also means when we receive new gods, they will come as they like. We do not need to be in trance to see them. To properly “seat” them and have their energy connected to us in the most efficient way is to have a renewal kut (grand ceremony). This is, in all sense of the term, a higher tier initiation. If our initiation gut sets the foundation of the home, the renewal gut customizes the walls and overall architectural design of the home. The renewal kut helps us re-attune and recharge our spiritual batteries, helps send off the gods who have finished their work and bring in new ones to keep us going.
We have vast responsibilities.
The other type of mudang generally inherits their responsibility. These mudangs learn how to hold rituals and ceremonies but they do not experience direct contact with the gods and spirits as we do. People who want to be a mudang or paksu don’t realize that this profession is highly technical, taking a lot of time, money and energy from the person who is initiated.
We have vast responsibilities, both mundane and spiritual, which is why we are often termed as shaman-priests. We purify, exorcise, help the dead pass on, initiate, bring in good luck and anything else a client might need. We have rituals with strict formulae and others that are more lenient. It is our way of life.
I became a mudang because of the things I was experiencing. The mudangs who vetted me confirmed my destiny as a mudang. It began with electrical pains shooting down my spine and shoulders. It would happen so suddenly that I would have to keep myself from shouting out. I was only in middle school. My spirit sickness symptoms only got worse from there. I began having premonition dreams, dreams where my ancestors came to me and told me things I never would have known – having woken up, I found out everything from my dream was true.
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Initiation ceremony: Nae Rim Gut
My lungs started to hurt as if I couldn’t breathe. My heart started to have palpitations. I would hear loud gongs and bells whenever a premonition dream came true. It even got to the point that my eyesight would have static running through – I could see nothing. The day came where I became initiated. I underwent the initiation ceremony and those symptoms all but dissipated (the premonition dreams stayed, without the loud sounds).
The other day, as I was finishing up prayers for clients, a bearded man appeared while he rode a large black horse. He wore light armor and held two large curved swords, similar to geommu (Korean sword dance) in design. Immediately he was shouting in loud Korean, which my mind automatically translated. But because my grasp of the language is still infantile, the message came through very brief with short sentences.
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I asked, “Why are you here?”
“To teach you how to exorcise spirits.”
“Are you here to stay?” “Yes.”
His black horse stared me down as did the new War God that rode him. War Gods are difficult. They are loud, brash, cutting. They are uninhibited and crass. They love to eat, drink and experience a rush. I didn’t want more War Gods. Already there was another waiting for me at the ocean. A Dragon War God. Those are a bit more regal, refined and chaste. But they still retain a lot of aggression and ferocity. Two new War Gods mean I have experienced a sharp increase in frustration, aggressiveness, reactivity. Even the new Mountain God’s arrival did little to quell their energy. And this is also because new Gods generally will bring an influx of chaotic emotions. With them came another God of Mudangs as well. Those usually helped with some form of divination.
Blades of anger.
I was overwhelmed and did not know how to expel the excess energy. And so I rode the blades of anger, unintentionally lashing out at those around me. That experience brought yet another level of humility I needed to be reminded of. I am not above, I am not less. I exist as my Gods need me to. Nothing more.
Have to set up a local Shrine.
What does this mean for me 무궁화보살 Mugunghwa Bosal? My renewal ceremony will need to be done. I need to learn what they’re here to teach – dance, gut, music, talismans. They’ve already begun to share it with me. And a proper set up in the mountains and the ocean, a natural shrine space for the local gods there. Anyone can visit them and pray there.
Typically with these natural shrines, it is a placement of huge boulders with flat surface area and a nook or cranny to burn incense and candles. I am very hopeful for the future of Korean Shamanism, and how myself and others will bring together Korean diaspora to connect with their heritage. Korean diaspora has a very hard time connecting to our culture and its traditions.
This is one such tradition they should at least be aware of.