Apparently, there was going to be a large Gut on display today.
Fortunately, I’m not talking about Newcastle United fans. Gut (굿) is the main ceremony of Korean shamanism, and is held to exorcise evil spirits, or bring about a piece of good fortune, such as a bountiful harvest. Since mountains are considered sacred places, it is common for such ceremonies to be held at altitude.
The main mountains in Seoul where Gut are held are Inwangsan, and Namsan. Inwangsan is home to the former royal shamanic shrine, Guksadang. To the untrained eye (ie. mine), it looks very much like a small Buddhist temple, and indeed, the fact that there are temples very close by – as well as Seonbawi (‘zen rock’), could make it easy to confuse the two. Shamanism and Buddhism though, in Korea at least, are very closely related. People who follow shamanism are also often Buddhists, taking whatever they need from each.
I found out about the Gut from a friend, but apparently, this was false information. When we got there, what we saw was something like a ‘practice’: serious Mudang (shaman priests, for want of a better term) apparently go there for a few hours each day, incanting spells, and making ritual use of dried pollack (Buk-eo), fruit, alcohol, and even pig entrails (not pictured), which are sliced up with a ceremonial knife, sharpened rigorously for the occasion.
It was clear that they didn’t want us around. There is a suspicion among those involved in Musok (shaman practice) that the current (pro-Christian) government is out to get them, and thus, they tend to be averse to people coming along and poking their noses in. There are in fact signs around the place prohibiting ‘prayer and shaman activity’, so maybe it is understandable that they don’t want the publicity.
What is interesting is that right next to Guksadang is a little convenience store, selling dried pollack along with their instant noodles and soft drinks; you can also buy ‘josang-ot’ (ancestors’ clothes), to be ceremonially burnt in honour of one’s forebears.1 comment