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Book Reviews Die Religionen Koreas. By Frits Vos. Religionen der Menschheit, XX: 1. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1977. 268 pp. Maps, illustrations, tables, bibliography, index. DM 64. The book under review forms part one of volume twenty-two in a series called "Religions of Mankind." The purpose of this attempt at surveying the religions of Korea, Frits Vos, professor of Japanese and Korean studies at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, tells us, is to stress what is typically Korean in the subject, the understanding of such indigenous elements occasionally reinforced by citations from classic literary works, legends, and folk tales. Hence he gives little space to Buddhism and Confucianism (pp. 7-9). The book is divided into ten chapters: (1) mythology and indigenous religion; (2) shamanism and popular beliefs; (3) geomancy; (4) Buddhism ; (5) Confucianism; (6) the spread of Western civilization and the pragmatic school (sirhak); (7) Taoism; (8) the birth of a new religion—Tonghak/Ch'öndogyo; (9) new religions; and (10) Shinto in Korea. The first chapter starts with a consideration of early neolithic finds, shell mounds, dolmens, menhirs, and five types of old tombs. Noteworthy is the menhir, which served as a boundary marker or a guardian spirit and, after the introduction of Buddhism, as a Maitreya statue. The oldest religion was characterized by a belief in the sacredness of nature. At that time the state and the church were one, and the ruler was also a chief shaman. Vos notes certain similarities between the Tan'gun myth and the Japanese tensón myth. Hwanung, the son of the heavenly king, descended on Mount T'aebaek, the sacred mountain; Ninigi descended 194vos from Takamagahara to the top of Takachiho in southern Kyushu. Hwanung received from his father three heavenly seals; Ninigi brought the three sacred treasures, symbols of the Japanese imperial house. Hwanung descended under the sandalwood tree, the cosmic tree; another name of Takamimusubi, the uncle of Ninigi, is Takagi no kami, "god of the tall tree." The importance of impregnation by sunlight in the foundation myth of Koguryö is noted and compared with a similar story about the wife of Ama no Hiboko, the son of a Silla king, who went to Japan. Another story recorded in the Samgukyusa (Memorabilia and mirabilia of the three kingdoms, c. 1285) tells how, after Yöno and Seo went to Japan, the sun and the moon lost their light in Silla. An astrologer divined that the cause of eclipse was the flight of Yöno and Seo. They refused to return to SiUa but instead gave the Silla envoy a piece of silk and instructed him to offer sacrifice to heaven. When the ritual was performed , the sun and the moon shone again. Like the wife of Ama no Hiboko and Amaterasu (sun goddess), Seo, who represents the sun, is a woman. The miraculous birth from an egg, as in the story of Kara, also symbolizes the sun. The egg is an object of religious awe because it appears lifeless but contains life within (p. 43). After a brief mention of the foundation myth of Koryö, Yi, and Cheju Island, Vos studies the concept of heaven in early Korean belief and suggests, based on unconvincing—and perhaps wrong—evidence, that heaven was conceived anthropomorphically (p. 59). As usual, Ch'öyong is read as ch'ung or chung, meaning mudang (shaman, p. 63), and the wönhwa, the early leaders of the hwarang, are said to have had the functions of the female entertainer and shaman (p. 64). The second chapter, on shamanism, is the longest and perhaps the most informative (pp. 66-126). A brief introduction touches on the characteristics of Korean shamans (from the Tunguso-Manchurian word Saman): they seldom make a journey to heaven or hell but instead are possessed by a spirit while in a trance or ecstasy (passive ecstasy). There are three types of shaman: hereditary ones; those who are chosen by the world of spirits; and those who chose the profession for practical reasons. But regional differences in their character are left unmentioned. Hereditary shamans (tan 'gol) are mostly in the south, and they can only exorcise but lack magical power. A...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 193-199
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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