Discarded Talismans: The Bujeok (부적) Chronicles

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As an urban explorer, I am motivated by the possibility of discovering clues that provide a glimpse into the former resident’s life.  A person’s material possessions can say a lot about a person. Sometimes the objects left behind are, in my opinion, boring and not worth documenting or writing about. Other instances, like the Shaman Hoarder’s house, are experiences that will live with me for the rest of my life. The more stuff left behind, like IDs and yearbooks, the easier it is to form a sketch of what the former resident. Sometimes it’s highly personal stuff like diaries, holiday cards, or even…Uhm… “marital aids” that shed light on the previous household occupant(s).

The former resident of the Shaman Hoarder’s House had some difficulty letting go of stuff, but the things they collected continues to fascinate me to this day.  It was the first time I noticed small pieces of yellow paper with red, abstract scribble-like pictographs. They were posted all over the house; on walls, on doors, and even on Buddhist statues.  I am now aware the resident’s home was an extreme case in the usage of talismans called bujeok (Korean: 부적 Chinese: 符籍).

 Bujeok are amulets used to bring about good fortune and ward off misfortune. They are typically yellow and red, as both colors are blessed. Yellow is supposed to fend off evil ghosts, and red represents blood, fire, and life itself. I have seen them made of white paper and black ink as well. Down below, you will see one printed on multi-colored paper, a version I haven’t seen since. Bujeok are usually made by shamans called mudang (무당, 巫堂) but can also be created by Buddhist monastics.  These spiritual guides draw them to meet the specifics needs of individual supplicants.

mudang or sunim (스님,比丘 ) will instruct the supplicant to place it in a particular place in their house. Most of them bujeok I have discovered had been placed over doorways. A few have been found in or behind cabinets. Bujeok have animals, Chinese characters, or even Sanskrit incorporated in the design, but the majority of them are composed of uncomplicated, primitive shapes and lines.

I wish I could tell you what each bujeok that I have photographed meant, but I am not at that level. I admire these Korean style amulets on a purely aesthetic level, hoping that in the time the residents used them in their houses that it helped with the quality of their lives.IMG_7405IMG_1369IMG_09713.4.2015dIMG_7349IMG_7348IMG_6821IMG_8765IMG_5160IMG_5155IMG_5157IMG_0939lLzN3nqdIMG_6817IMG_6818

This is the most common type I have encountered. It’s bujeok for people to have a prosperous spring.


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