The movie “Fortune Salon” is about a beautiful fortune teller, Tae-rang태랑, who falls in love and has to choose between her destiny and her love. Lacking confidence and not sure of what to do, Tae-rang’s predicament in the film mirrors what we go through every day. People who go to the fortune tellers’ do so to get some inkling about what the future holds for them and prepare for what may come. Here’s Director Cheon Jingi of the National Folk Museum of Korea to explain more about the folk custom.
It’s more like an interest in one’s future than a culture of divination. We don’t know what is going to happen even one second into the future. We experienced the past, and are living through the present, but don’t know a thing about the future. That’s why there are many religions and customs in different cultures to predict the future.
Ahead of the lunar New Year’s Day, a soon-to-wed couple is at a fortune teller’s shop to find out about their compatibility. This is not a rare occurrence, especially around this time of the year. In addition to finding out whether their future marriages are going to work out, at the start of a new year people consult fortune tellers to see how the year would pan out.
- I came to see what my job prospect is going to be like. It’s my first time at a fortune teller’s shop. Things didn’t work out that well for me last year. I came here today just to ease my frustration.
- Since it’s the New Year, I got curious about my future career and financial situation.
- This is my new year’s fortune. It tells whether my job or overall situation would be okay this year.
Everyone who comes to have one’s fortune told wants basically the same thing. Some denounce the practice as a superstition and unscientific hocus pocus, but still many people seek divine advice about their future. What about fortune telling entices normally rational people?
- The fortune’s either good or bad, but once I hear what my life is going to be like, I think I’ll have some peace of mind. My wish for this year is to get a good job and save up enough money to get married.
- When I am in trouble, I consult a fortune teller for advice and get some relief. I get psychological comfort.
- I am told some good things, but also some things that I should be concerned about. That gives me a chance to prepare myself and work harder to avoid that situation. What do I wish for this year? I want is to study harder and live the year 2012 to the fullest.
In whatever age we live in, people are generally curious and anxious about their future. So, both the west and the east have a culture of prophecy. The most widely-used book of divination in Korea is “Tojeongbigyeol” written by Lee Ji-ham in the Joseon era. This book of magic helps determine the fortunes over the twelve months of the year, which is why Korean people used to consult this book at the start of a new year to find out what the year holds for them. Prophecy for the coming year has long been a folk custom for the Korean people. Here’s Director Cheon Jingi of the National Folk Museum of Korea to explain more.
Most dailies have a “today’s fortune” section. There was an experiment to see how newspaper circulation differed with the fortune-telling section out. Sales figures showed a definite difference between the editions sold with the Oriental zodiac section and those sold without. Even modern people look at the daily predictions first in the newspapers, so much so to influence the paper sales. Predicting the future appears to be a fundamental desire for people both in the east and the west.
People all over the world are similar in their desire to know the future, but how they do it varies widely. In the west, astrology-based zodiac signs and tarot cards are most popular. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was known to regularly consult an astrologer to schedule events. Asians prefer palm reading, saju-palja or fortune-telling based on birth date, and physiognomy. Saju, which means “four pillars”, refers to the year, month, day, and hour of one’s birth. Each pillar is composed of two letters and a person has eight letters, or “palja”, in total that determine his or her destiny. As you can see each culture or region has its own unique way of predicting the future. Here’s Director Cheon Jingi of the National Folk Museum of Korea again.
It is natural for humans to wish for a glimpse into the future. The way people look into the future differs by nation and culture. Chinese people, for instance, reportedly consult fortune tellers more often than Koreans do and their predictions appear to influence people’s daily lives to a wider extent. The same can be said for the Japanese as well. Japanese people tend to believe that a spirit resides in an old item. There are even Shinto shrines built with used pencils and old brooms. The degree of influence exerted on people’s lives by fortune-telling varies by people’s general disposition or cultural tradition. For example, fishermen have a stronger tendency to rely on future divinations, because their livelihood is very unpredictable.
These days there is a church in every neighborhood. Similarly, in the past every village had its own shaman, who took care of the villagers’ religious issues. The shamans were a part of the villagers’ life, not a godly group living apart from the main group. They carried out religious roles on behalf of ordinary villagers.
Fortune teller’s shops, with such names as “philosophical centers” or “the house of shaman,” have always been easy to spot in any Korean community. But now they have penetrated even deeper into our lives. It has become commonplace to find a fortune teller at a café or at a street corner forecasting customers’ future with saju or tarot cards. Here’s fortune teller Kim Su-hyeon.
I have so many customers that my voice became hoarse. I have more than a hundred customers a day. Most teenagers ask about their love life, rather than their academic progress. There are some future-oriented teenagers who want to know more about their studies or dreams. People are generally interested in their careers, families, and, above all, in their financial situation. They want to know when they will come into money or when their house will be sold.
Kim’s shop is located inside Lotte World, Seoul’s largest indoor theme park, a telling sign that fortune-telling has become a mainstream practice. Future divination methods favored by Koreans have also diversified to include tarot cards and physiognomy.
- Tarot cards are fun. I’m comforted by the good things the tarot card reader told me. I don’t believe it wholeheartedly, but it still made me feel good.
- I came to get a prediction on my love life for fun. I feel like I’m going to meet my love this year. The tarot card reader also told me that I’d find a good man.
The younger Koreans prefer tarot card readings, one of the most popular tools for life introspection and spiritual advice. Here’s fortune teller Kim Su-hyeon again.
Saju is more like a statistical database built over 5,000 years in Korea, while tarot card reading is a fairly new western import. Tarot reading seems to work well when addressing immediate concerns, like the trouble one is in right now or what one’s lover is thinking these days or what is going to happen this month.
With the recent mass penetration of smart phones, a saju reading app has become a given. Other popular divination-related applications include the daily fortune forecast app, the physiognomy reading app, or the find-your-future-spouse app.
It has become easy to get a look into one’s future anytime, anywhere. One edge that fortune tellers have over these modern and convenient apps is that human fortune tellers focus on advising their patrons to live happier lives even when the reading outcomes are not so fortunate. Here’s fortune teller Baek Un-san.
I once had a customer whose luck in life would be bad throughout his life. If I told him that, he would go throw himself off a bridge. So I instead told him that his luck would get better within the next four or five years. That encouraged him to live his life to the fullest with a hopeful heart.
Korea’s fortune-telling custom centers on delivering happiness with hopeful readings, and dispensing advice when bad fortune is predicted. This is why customers are comforted emotionally and psychologically when they visit the fortune tellers.
- It depends on what you want to believe. If you obsess about the bad things that may or may not happen, your life would work out negatively. If you don’t care, bad readings wouldn’t matter to you that much.
- If the fortune teller says something good, I wish for it to come true. I simply forget anything bad that he tells me.
In some cases a word of comfort from a fortune teller has the power to rescue someone out of despair. Here’s psychology professor Kwak Geum-joo of Seoul National University.
Some people are psychologically comforted by what fortune tellers tell them. As a result, they may make more efforts and become more optimistic based on their fortunes.
People gravitate toward future predictions, hoping that someone would show them the way to a better future. But nobody can provide them with accurate or correct answers, for future is unknown to all. The only right answer we can find is that every obstacle in life can be overcome with human willpower and effort. The year 2012 is the year of the dragon, the fifth and only imaginary animal in the twelve Oriental zodiac signs. But the dragon is counted among the most godly and revered creatures in the east, together with the giraffe, the phoenix, and the turtle. Being a supernatural being, the dragon is worshipped as a powerful creature, which makes the year 2012, the year of the dragon, more hopeful for many people. Good fortune is already in the lot of those who see the positive and hope in everything.
The propensities and virtues of the dragon are reflected in this year’s fortune. Fortune tellers have been making forecasts based on the nature of each year’s patron animal. Korean ancestors thought the dragon, an imaginary creature, was a perfect being, which rationalized seeing many good omens for the year of the dragon. I believe it is always better to see the positive and stay optimistic at the beginning of the year.