Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shamans: At the East Sea

A book, a breeze and some Shamans

Kangneung is my getaway place. Several times a year I do my grand escape from Seoul to just relax on the Kangneung beaches and walk around the adjacent lake park. Sometimes the weather cooperates for a lot of beach-walking, and other times like today, the cold icy wind strikes and prevents me from lounging too long with a book.

Today for some unknown reason there were a lot of shamanic rites in progress along the beach. Some had more elaborate tables of food prepared, a couple were just older people beating the timpani (drum) while bowing continuously over wafting incense as they faced and hid their faces from the Buddhist shrine just feet away. One particular family had rented a large low-platformed house, threw the floor-to-ceiling windows open wide and spread a very complicated arrangement of food - fruits, meats, fish, nuts and candies - on the open verandah-floor and were conducting a less sandy ceremony on the polished false-wood floors.

The best arrangement was a beach setting. A low table carefully spread with colorful fruits and two dried fish and faced the ocean. A tent was set up to protect the drummer and the mudang during the long two to three hour ceremony. Tea and hot coffee were brewing to offset the briskness blowing in from the ocean.

This particular gut might have been to thank the water gods for their abundance during the summer. If the gut had been held in spring, I would think it would be more likely for the appeal for spring and summer fishing blessings and overall abundance for the coming year.

Central to the shamanic rituals are mudang (females who function as intercessors between the physical and spirit world) presiding. They preform a gut (loosely translated as 'exorcism', as in an exorcism to rid one of a bad spirit, bad luck, etc.) And to perform the gut they offer sacrifices to the gods and consider their own ancestors and the ancestors of those they are performing the ceremony for. Through rhythmic dance movements, songs, prayers and spirit encounters the rites are thought to create a connection between the spiritual and mundane world to re-establish harmony, confer blessings, and promote welfare. This particular gut was soon to start, and since it's a private affair to appeal to the spirit world, I moved quickly on.

Along the secluded walk along the beach and getting further away from the several Shamanic rituals was my own peace - gulls frolicking above the waves, peaceful sandy spots for digging my toes in, and a quiet place to hear myself think and escape into my book.

The beach got a bit cold so I left the beach scene to go to the adjacent but more protected Kyungpo Lake, where I walked the four kilometer circumference trail around the lake. And wahlah! I've been to Kangneung many times but this was the first to see 해파리 (jellyfish) in the lake. And there were tons of jellyfish, but only along the western shores where the water was warmer and furthest from the ocean. Koreans really love to eat jellyfish - jellyfish salad, jellyfish in stews - so wasn't surprised that many Koreans were getting all excited about seeing the clouds of jellyfish off the menu and probably thinking about how to put them on.

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