PiU (samedi) wrote,

Syncretism in Changdong (창동)

One of the remarkable things about Korea is the degree of syncretism that takes place between religions. While there are several 'universal truths' to be found within the world's belief systems it's not often that they borrow from one another to the extant that they do here. Take, for example, the following sign that I encountered a couple of weeks ago:

I found this sign on the side of a Buddhist temple near the tomb of King Yeonsangun. One of the more prominent symbols on this sign is the swastika (卍), associated with the Buddhist principles of Dharma and harmony. The left-facing swastika is said to represent love and mercy while a right-facing swastika signifies strength and intelligence. Located within the swastika is a taeguk (太極) image, a reference to Daoism and, in particular, the notion of yin and yang. The first line of Korean - 태백산 산신령 - mentions Taebaek Mountain (太白山) and the mountain spirits (산신) that are an important part of Korean shamanism. The expression 산신령 adds the suffix ~령 (領) to imply possession of a dominion or territory.

The other example I'll share tonight comes from Korean Shamanism and Cultural Nationalism by Hyun-key Kim Hogarth (1999:85). In the chapter on becoming a shaman she includes the following case history:

Mudang K, aged 76, lives in Yangju, Gyeonggi-do. When she was 12, she fell ill with a total loss of appetite, and stayed indoors all the time. One day, she had a dream in which, a Taoist god, mounted on a crane, appeared and grabbing hold of her hair, went away. The following morning, she dashed out of the house all naked in the snow which had fallen the previous night, feeling as though somebody was tempting her. She ran on, until she reached a haystack, situated outside a house, some twenty or thirty ri away. Jumping on top of it, she danced like mad until she fell unconscious. It transpired later that the house was that of a shamaness, who had recently died. Inside the haystack was a shamanic brass mirror (myeongdu), which had been hidden there by her son after her death. She was found, half dead, by her family, who tracked her down by her footprints in the snow, having been worried about her absence. She later hung the mirror in her shrine and kept it as her guardian spirit. (Akiba 1950/1987:69)

Many of the case histories she presents in the chapter include some combination of Buddhism and Christianity in addition to Shamanism.
Tags: anthropology & society, buddhism, daoism, identity politics / migration, korean temples, shamanism
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