Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF
South Korean Popular Religion in Motion
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
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In the late 1970s, I lived in a Korean village and wrote about a shaman I call “Yongsu’s Mother” and her colleagues and clients. In the intervening decades South Korea became an urbanized, high-tech, and relatively prosperous place, and all of us got older. This book contains observations on a changing world of shaman practice in the years before and after the turn ...
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A project of long duration engenders enormous debt. My gratitude to “Yongsu’s Mother,” her colleagues, and the many other shamans and their clients who took the time to talk to me and allow me to observe their rituals goes without saying. The knowledge, energy, and insight of my field assistant from 1994 to 2005, Kim Sung Ja (“Ms. Kim” in the text), made this ...
Introduction: Shamanic Nostalgia
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When I asked the shaman Yongsu’s Mother how things had changed, she time of the Korean War, the mountains’ power was fierce! If we tell us everything. If our gods told us today that a certain person arrive, just as they’d said. And if some polluted person came to clear. That’s how it was. Nowadays, we have to make a thousand ...
1: Shifting Intellectual Terrain: "Superstition" Becomes "Culture" and "Religion"
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Modernity, Nicholas Dirks suggests, is a story that a people tell themselves about themselves in relation to Others, history mobilized to distinguish the present from the past (Dirks 1990; Rofel 1992, 1999). Shamans have figured in Korean modernity’s story, but in inconsistent and sometimes contradictory ways. This chapter takes shape around three Korean encounters: with a ...
2: Memory Horizons: Kut from Two Ethnographic Presents
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At the end of March 1977, angry spirits accosted a certain Mrs. Min and drove her mad. Shamans labored throughout a chilly spring night to save her life and restore her sanity, and I took fieldnotes. This experience accosted my own ethnographic imagination and pushed it in some of the directions that would generate Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits. In that ...
3: Initiating Performance: Chini's Story
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The three shamans meet again in Chini’s dank little rented room on the day before her kut, filling their student’s cramped quarters with drum and cymbals, cheap vinyl suitcases bulging with the gods’ costumes, and the flurry...
4: The Ambiguities of Becoming: Phony Shamans and What Are Mudang After All?
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The stakes were high and Chini had failed, failed to gain sufficient inspiration during her kut and failed at the expectations of apprenticeship, losing her nerve and fleeing her teacher. This chapter continues the discussion of inspiration and skilled performance that began with Chini’s kut, asking what it means to become a shaman in the present Korean moment. I am ...
5: Korean Shamans and the Spirits of Capitalism
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The flavor of the new Korea burst upon me one autumn day in 1989 when Kwan Myôngnyô arrived at a kut in a state of great laughter and excitement. Kwan’s sister, who runs a clothing shop in the South Gate Market, had been told at one of Kwan’s kut that the supernatural Official who governed her shop’s prosperity wanted a drink of wine. The sister was instructed to fill a ...
6: Of Hungry Ghosts and Other Matters of Consumption
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This chapter extends the shamans’ observation that “money makes nobility.” It explores as contradictory impulses the desire for and the moral disdain of new wealth and what it can buy. Shamans, gods, and ancestors enact this contemporary paradox through the medium of material goods, as well as words, making the business of kut resonant with the emotions and...
7: Built Landscapes and Mobile Gods
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This story falls somewhere between a field anecdote and a fairy tale. As anecdote, I have reconstructed it from my fieldnotes, transcripts, and memory without conscious embroidery, elaboration, or fabrication. As fairy tale, it resembles a genre of stories sometimes attributed to Buddhists or Taoists where illusions are at play and a lesson may be learned by confronting them. ...
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I began this account of a changing South Korean shaman world with Yong-su’s Mother’s nostalgic observation that Korean mountains have less power to inspire shamans than in the past, that war and precipitous real estate development drove gods down from the mountains and into people, creating an overabundance of lackluster shamans. In the final chapter, I returned ...
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Index and Glossary
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Publication Year: 2009