Some people look down on Korea’s traditional shamanistic belief as superstition, but many scholars regard it as a valid, widely accepted religion. As in other religions, there are shamanistic rituals presided by a shaman priestess or a priest, just as there are Buddhist and Christian services. Nowadays, shamans are generally equated with fortune tellers who are sometimes possessed by spirits, but shamans are professionally trained people who are authorized to preside of ‘gut굿,’ a blanket term for shamanistic ceremonies. In the area north of the Hangang River, there were shamans called ‘gangsinmu강신무,’ meaning a possessed shaman, who learned how to hold gut ceremonies after being possessed by one or more spirits, whereas in the southern or eastern regions, most of the shamans were seseupmu세습무 or hereditary ones, who naturally became shamans because they were born into the families of shamans. When holding a gut ceremony, a shaman tries to please the spirits or gods with song and dance. In the process, those participating or watching the ceremony also enjoy and get energized, turning the whole ceremony into a sort of a party. The first song we have for today’s Sounds of Korea is “Seowuje Sori서우제소리,” a Jeju-do folksong sung in a gut ceremony. It is sung by Aengbi, a female gugak quartet specializing in Gyeonggi-do folksongs.
Seowuje Sori/ Sung by Aengbi
“Seowuje Sori” was sung during the yeungdeung영등 gut ceremony, usually held in lunar February when women divers of Jeju called ‘haenyeo해녀’ welcomed yeungdeungsin영등신, the god of winds. This god supposedly traveled among the islands in the south sea to plant seeds of seaweed, kelp, abalones, conches and other seafood so that women divers can gather them later. In the yeongdeung gut ceremony, haenyeo divers would have sung along with the shaman and probably memorized “Seowuje Sori” in the process. The cheerful song was perfect for diving in the sea or working out in the fields, so it eventually became a Jeju folksong.
Among the gut songs of Jeju, many are ‘bonpuri본풀이,” songs that recite a god’s history. The narratives of ‘bonpuri’ songs are largely about how the world was created and how human beings came to live on this earth. The songs also contain stories about various gods, such as a ‘chasa차사,’ a sort of Grim Reaper who travels between the land of the living and the underworld. The gods mentioned in the bonpuri songs are just as varied and interesting as those of the Greek and Roman mythologies. Shamans are called “simbang심방” in Jeju. Bonpuri songs were usually performed alone by a simbang from start to finish.
Coming up next is a song titled “Pudasi푸다시.” Pudasi is a simple ceremony that wards off evil spirits. The ritual begins by reciting the names of powerful gods, such as the Jade Emperor, the mountain gods, and the god of the underworld. And then, the stories of evil or lost spirits are told, like who they were and how they came to be wandering souls. Those who lived comfortable, happy lives wouldn’t have become these sorry spirits, so they probably needed someone to listen to and empathize with their troubles. Some of the spirits recited in the pudasi ceremony are those who died during World War II, so the role of gut ceremonies is to remember the painful times in history and those who suffered. Now here’s shaman Kang Soon-sun singing “Pudasi.”
Pudasi/ Sung by shaman Kang Soon-sun
Many musicians today are interested in the shamanistic music of Jeju. Today’s last song is Chudahye Chagis singing “Soul Birds,” inspired by saedorim새도림, one of Jeju gut songs. In the shamanistic belief, birds are the intermediaries between the heaven and man. When mankind faces a catastrophe, it is the birds that come to warn the world. So, in the old days, birds were sometimes regarded as evil beings that bring disasters. Saedorim was sung to ward off evil spirits or harbingers of bad news before gods are invited to the gut ceremony. It is described in the song how hungry birds were given rice and thirsty birds water. Such compassion was an underlying sentiment in Korean shamanistic faith. So, let’s listen to Chudahye Chagis singing “Soul Birds” with deep compassion for all living things.
Soul Birds/ Sung by Chadahye Chagis