Monday, October 10, 2011

Shamanism in Korea

"All Koreans when they mingle in  society are Confucian; when they deal with philosophical questions they are Buddhist; when they come up against difficulties in life they are shamanistic." This was the way a  Protestant missionary described the Koreans back before the colonial rule of the Japanese, as reported in a Peace Weekly Series on different religious groups in Korea, the first article beginning with Shamanism. The writer agrees that there is much truth in the description: Those who go to a shaman when faced with life problems, no matter their alleged affiliations, belong to Shamanism; those who go to the Catholic Church are Catholics.

Korea has  over  300,000  shamans. They are, for the most part, not registered and are spread out into all areas of society. In the past, they were mostly found in certain sections of a city. Today they can be seen in market areas and wherever people congregate; they have become fashionable.
Although some consider Shamanism a religion, with  rituals to drive out evil spirits; others say it has only the appearance of a religion. They have no systematic teachings and have no ultimate concerns with life or death, good and evil, and have no world vision. Much of their ritual is focused on the shaman achieving an ecstatic state, which at times is also experienced by those participating in the ritual.
The history of Shamanism has little to do with the myth of Tan-gun, which deals with the history of Korea, says the writer. The shamans of the past were called to the royal court in the early kingdoms of Korea to offer sacrifices for rain, and other sacrifices similar to the rituals of Confucianism.
Some see Shamanism as rooted in the indigenous culture of Korea and for that reason should be preserved. Buddhism and Confucianism, and now Christianity with its 200-year history in Korea, have to be considered the religions of the Korean people. Those who consider Shamanism the native religion of the country want to see it develop and thrive. The writer agrees that preserving its contribution to Korean cultural history makes sense but to see that it develops is another completely different question. 
Concluding  her article  she  gives us the words of Pope Paul VI, taken from his apostolic exhortation, "Evangelization in the Modern World," as a guideline on how to communicate with Shamanism:
Here we touch upon an aspect of evangelization which cannot leave us insensitive. We wish to speak about what today is often called popular religiosity.

One finds among the people particular expressions of the search for God and for faith, both in the regions where the Church has been established for centuries and where she is in the course of becoming established. These expressions were for a long time regarded as less pure and were sometimes despised, but today they are almost everywhere being rediscovered. During the last Synod the bishops studied their significance with remarkable pastoral realism and zeal.

Popular religiosity, of course, certainly has its limits. It is often subject to penetration by many distortions of religion and even superstitions. It frequently remains at the level of forms of worship not involving a true acceptance by faith. It can even lead to the creation of sects and endanger the true ecclesial community.

But if it is well oriented, above all by a pedagogy of evangelization, it is rich in values. It manifests a thirst for God which only the simple and poor can know. It makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of manifesting belief. It involves an acute awareness of profound attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence. It engenders interior attitudes rarely observed to the same degree elsewhere: patience, the sense of the cross in daily life, detachment, openness to others, devotion. By reason of these aspects, we readily call it "popular piety," that is, religion of the people, rather than religiosity.

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