Shamanic Ritual House, Gyeonggi-do

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While exploring, we encounter many good luck charms like bujeok (talisman) taped or yeomju (Buddhist bracelets) hung on walls to protect the inhabitant from sickness and misfortunate. We also regularly come across places where shamans lived and conducted their business with clients; these places are where shamans would make offerings and commune with guardian deities. From what I gather, shamans travel to the client’s house, or other designated space, for a gut (pronounced goot, a shamanic ritual). Shamans perform guts to clear the area of spirits/ghosts that bring sickness and misfortune. Sometimes the gods are displeased and ask for repentance in offerings.

I’ve seen people leave food and alcohol offerings before in former shaman houses. Still, I’d never seen evidence of a recently performed gut until a visit to a massive redevelopment in southern Gyeonggi-do two weeks ago. It was a highly successful trip, and the neighborhood itself will get a post in due time. We found a few other shaman houses, and this was only a sliver of the redevelopment zone. 

As for this house, it appears the exorcism took place months after the residents vacated the space. Did they call a shaman to have the place purified? Why would someone try to cleanse a cursed house before it bit the dust? I don’t have any answers, only conjecture. Perhaps the former occupants moved on an inauspicious day; the bad luck/ negative energy followed them around a shaman suggested they perform a cleansing ritual and appease the spirits.

Usually,I see bujeok taped to the walls; I’d never see it hung like this before, suggesting a recent gut had taken place.

Korean Shamanism is colorful and noisy; The shaman (female shamans are mudang and their male counterparts are baksu) performs offerings/sacrifices in multiple song and dance sections with a vibrant array of costumes to represent each god they communicate with. These sections of the ritual are called a gori. Even though I’ve never seen a gut in person; however, I can attest from the evidence left behind in abandoned shamanic houses that colors play a significant meaning. Dancheong motif wallpaper covers the main altar of a shaman’s house. Blue, red, white, yellow, and green have important significance; sometimes, it can represent the five directions (east, west, north, south, and center); other times, these colors stand for various spirits. Shamans have a backing band of percussive musicians to help keep time for the shaman; from what I can tell, the musicians and shaman are attuned to each other and know when a gori is over and when another begins. I imagine seasoned gut musicians know the habits and patterns of their shaman, much like jazz or other improv-based performers can read each other when a change is about to occur. 

I am not a Korean Shamanism expert; I can’t tell you what the colorful strips of cloth all over the house mean. I remember seeing these same strips while hiking up to Inwangsan, a famous shamanic mountain in Seoul. Along with material scattered all over, we found slightly used candles on small, portable tables, along with one of the coolest bujeok I’ve ever seen!

Perhaps the most eerie sight was seeing paper clothes taped to the wall in one of the bedrooms. The child-sized clothes were adorned with repeating circular patterns of the Sanskrit phrase “om mani padme hum” and traditional Korean coins. I’ve seen this same set of ghost clothes before in another shamanic abandonment alongside two straw effigies.

I will share the artifacts mentioned above and other exciting finds in my subsequent visits to this neighborhood in Dongdaemun-gu in the following post. As of my last visit, the area is about 65- 70 percent demolished. It seems like a good time to write a eulogy for the place.

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