Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life

Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life

Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life

Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life

Excerpt

Clanging cymbals and the steady thump of an hourglass drum draw women and children to the gateway of a Korean house. They know from the flood of sound in the alleyway that the shamans are doing a kut, and a kut is high entertainment. This account of shamans and housewives begins with a kut. My own interest in Korean women's rituals began with a kut, a boggling event in color, sound, and costume. To plunge into the kut means to be overwhelmed, amused, and possibly bored. Most spectators experience this gamut of responses. Women are the most numerous and enthusiastic participants, both as loquacious shamans and as delighted, slightly tipsy spectators. Sometimes the women drag their reluctant menfolk into the center of the action, tugging at their clothing or pulling them by their ears. These are the same women who, on village lanes and city streets, walk demurely behind their husbands. Why, then, do women dominate the world of kut, and what place do kut and the many other rituals women perform hold in Korean social and religious life?

This is an ethnography of Korean women's ritual realm -- the rites that demarcate it, the supernatural beings who inhabit it, and the shamans who diagnose its vicissitudes and heal its ills. The rituals women perform in public and private, alone or with the help of shamans, reveal a complex system of belief and practice encapsulating significant notions of household, family, and kin. Some scholars consider these events the survivals of an ancient faith discarded by civilized men . . .

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